Venice,¬† Fondazione Cini, San Giorgio Island
Sala Carnelutti: Interior
Mostra “Beyond Entropy: when energy becomes form‚Äù
A cura di AA (Architectural Association ‚Äì School of Architecture) ‚Äì Castello Carlo V, viale XXV Luglio
Il progetto Beyond Entropy √® il primo progetto interculturale per l‚Äôesplorazione di nuove forme di ricerca artistica e scientifica nel complesso mondo dell‚Äôenergia. Una dinamica convergenza di arte, architettura e scienza, che offre straordinarie e inesplorate opportunit√† per dare vita a nuove idee, nuove sinergie e soprattutto nuovi percorsi cognitivi.
Verranno esposti i progetti preliminari di otto gruppi di lavoro, ognuno composto da un artista, un architetto e uno
scienziato che stanno realizzando opere innovative per raccontare l‚Äôenergia. Un percorso a tappe, che verr√† presentato in anteprima assoluta a Lecce e si sviluppa attraverso una pluralit√† di appuntamenti internazionali, per approdare alla Biennale di Architettura di Venezia, dove le installazioni definitive saranno presentate e promosse con il patrocinio del Festival dell‚ÄôEnergia.
Oltre al curatore e ideatore del progetto, Stefano Rabolli Pansera – docente presso la AA School of Architecture, a Lecce saranno presenti Massimo Bartolini (artista), Dario Benedetti (architetto), Riccardo Rossi (scienziato), Alberto Garutti (artista), Vittorio Pizzigoni (architetto), Giuseppe Luca Celardo (scienziato).
Talk show “Beyond Entropy: quando l‚Äôenergia diventa forma”
Sala della Torre del Castello Carlo V ‚Äì viale XXV Luglio
La contemporanea, dinamica convergenza di arte, architettura e scienza offre straordinarie e inesplorate opportunit√† per dare vita a nuove idee, nuove sinergie e soprattutto nuovi percorsi cognitivi.
Beyond Entropy √® il primo progetto interculturale per l‚Äôesplorazione di nuove forme di ricerca artistica e scientifica nel complesso mondo dell‚Äôenergia.
Moderatore: Maddalena Tulanti, Vice Direttore Corriere del Mezzogiorno
‚Ä¢ Stefano Rabolli Pansera, Direttore di Beyond Entropy
‚Ä¢ Energia elettrica: Massimo Bartolini, Dario Benedetti, Riccardo Rossi
‚Ä¢ Energia nucleare: Alberto Garutti, Vittorio Pizzigoni, Giuseppe Luca Celardo
Spheres Theory:¬† Talking to Myself about the Poetics of Space
by Peter Sloterdijk
(Harvard University Graduate School of Design, February 17, 2009)
Mr. Sloterdijk, as part of your trilogy on the spheres,1 you set out to create a theory that construes
space as a key anthropological category. Why this emphasis?
We have to speak of space because humans are themselves an effect of the space they create. Human
evolution can only be understood if we also bear in mind the mystery of insulation/island-making
[Insulierungsgeheimnis] that so defines the emergence of humans: Humans are pets that have domesticated
themselves in the incubators of early cultures. All the generations before us were aware that you never camp
outside in nature. The camps of man‚Äôs ancestors, dating back over a million years, already indicated that
they were distancing themselves from their surroundings.
In the third volume of your trilogy there is an extensive chapter on architecture, ‚ÄúIndoors:
Architectures of Foam.‚Äù Why did you choose such a provocative metaphor?
First of all for a philosophical reason: We are simply not capable of continuing the old cosmology of ancient
Europe that rested on equating the house and home with the world. Classical metaphysics is a phantasm on
an implicit motif that was highlighted in only a few places, e.g., by Hegel and Heidegger, namely that the
world must itself be construed as having the character of a house and that people in Western culture should
be grasped not only as mortals, but also as house residents. Their relation to the world as a whole is that of
inhabitants in a crowded building called cosmos. So the questions are, ‚ÄúWhy should modern thought bid
goodbye to this equation of world and house? Why do we need a new image in order to designate how
modern man lives in social and architectural containers? Why do I propose the concept of foams?‚Äù
The simple answer is: Because since the Enlightenment we have no longer needed a universal
house in order to find the world a place worthy of inhabiting. What suffices is a unit√© d‚Äôhabitation, a
stackable number of inhabitable cells. Through the motif of the inhabited cell I can uphold the spherical
imperative that applies to all forms of human life but does not presuppose cosmic totalization. The stacking
of cells in an apartment block, for instance, no longer generates the classical world/house entity, but an
architectural foam, a multi-chambered system made of relatively stabilized personal worlds.
Is this deterioration of the world house or the all-embracing sphere into foam bubble an image of
On the contrary, in modernity far more complexity is established than was possible under the classical
notion of unity. We must not forget that metaphysics is the realm of strong simplifications, and thus has a
consolatory effect. The structure of foam is incompatible with a monospherical mindset; the whole can no
longer be portrayed as a large round whole. Let me use an anecdote to indicate the immense change: In his
memoirs, Albert Speer recollects that the designs for the giganto-manic new Reich Chancellery in Berlin
originally envisaged a swastika crowning the dome, which was to be over 290 meters high. One summer‚Äôs
day in 1939 Hitler then said: ‚ÄúThe crown of the largest building in the world must be the eagle on the
globe.‚Äù This remark should be taken as attesting to the brutalist restoration of imperial monocentric
thinking‚Äîas if Hitler had for a moment intervened in the agony of classical metaphysics. By contrast,
around 1920, in his reflections on the fundamentals of theoretical biology [Theoretische Biologie], Jakob
von Uexk√ºll had already affirmed: ‚ÄúIt was an error to believe that the human world constituted a shared
stage for all living creatures. Each living creature has its own special stage that is just as real as the special
stage the humans have. . . . This insight offers us a completely new view of the universe as something that
does not consist of a single soap bubble which we have blown up so large as to go well beyond our horizons
and assume infinite proportions, and is instead made up of millions of closely demarcated soap bubbles that
overlap and intersect everywhere.‚Äù Le Corbusier himself used the image of the soap bubble in order to
explain the essence of a good building: ‚ÄúThe soap bubble is completely harmonious, if the breath in it is
spread equally, and well regulated on the inside. The outside is the product of an inside.‚Äù2 This statement
could be taken as the axiom of spherology: Vital space can only be explained in terms of the priority of the
In your exploration of the ‚ÄúArchitectures of Foam,‚Äù you write that modernity renders the issue of
residence explicit. What do you mean by that?
Here I am developing an idea that Walter Benjamin addressed in his Arcades Project He starts from the
anthropological assumption that people in all epochs dedicate themselves to creating interiors, and at the
same time he seeks to emancipate this motif from its apparent timelessness. He therefore asks the question:
How does capitalist man in the 19th century express his need for an interior? The answer is: He uses the
most cutting-edge technology in order to orchestrate the most archaic of all needs, the need to immunize
existence by constructing protective islands. In the case of the arcade, modern man opts for glass, wrought
iron, and assembly of prefabricated parts in order to build the largest possible interior. For this reason,
Paxton‚Äôs Crystal Palace, erected in London in 1851, is the paradigmatic building. It forms the first hyperinterior
that offers a perfect expression of the spatial idea of psychedelic capitalism. It is the prototype of all
later theme-park interiors and event architectures. The arcade heralds the abolition of the outside world. It
abolishes outdoor markets and brings them indoors, into a closed sphere. The antagonistic spatial types of
salon and market meld here to form a hybrid. This is what Benjamin found so theoretically exciting: The
19th-century citizen seeks to expand his living room into a cosmos and at the same time impress the
dogmatic form of a room on the universe. This sparks a trend that is perfected in 20th-century apartment
design as well as in shopping-mall and stadium design‚Äîthese are the three paradigms of modern
construction, that is, the construction of micro-interiors and macro-interiors.
Le Corbusier once said that we had to choose between revolution and architecture. He decided in
favor of architecture. In your interpretation does that mean that he voted for the explication of
Revolution is simply the wrong word chosen to describe explication. An engineer always opts for the better
technology. Everything successful is operational, while revolutionary phases achieve nothing as long as they
do not contain real potential abilities. Which is why no one today still asks what programs are being
announced but what programs are being written. Writing is an archetype of ability: The invention of script
marks the beginning of the operational subversion of the world as it exists. Only that is effective which
popularizes getting a new handle on things. Incidentally, modern apartments are full of technical appliances
that explicate life in the household: Current tools no longer have handles, because handles belong to an
outdated stage‚Äîthey have given way to devises with buttons: We have arrived in the world of finger-tip
To return to Benjamin again: To what extent should we read his reference to the major interiors as
an explication of capitalism?
Just as Freud tried to make persons‚Äô dreams explicit, Benjamin proposed a kind of dream interpretation of
capitalism. My explicative work refers to the spatial dynamism of human being-in-the-world. I want to show
how every shape of created space entails a problem of projection. Humans are animals who like to move,
who change rooms, space, indeed even the element in which they live. They always live while on the move
from A to B and back again, to quote Andy Warhol, and they are the way they are because they always take
with them into each new space the memory of a different space they previously were in. In other words, you
cannot create an absolutely neutral space, and you cannot invent a completely new space, you always
generate differential spaces that are outfitted in distinction from a different, former space. Homo sapiens
possesses a projective dynamism that stems from the fact that our species is equipped with memories of
I am right in thinking this prenatalism is the leitmotif in the first section of your Spheres project, which you
have entitled ‚ÄúBubbles‚Äù?
Spheres I is essentially dedicated to elaborating a strong concept of intimacy. To this end I develop an
explicitly regressive movement in order to approach the topic of being-in, in reverse gear (as it were). I first
address the phenomenon of inter-faciality. Let me explain: If people look at each other, a non-trivial space
arises that cannot be construed as physical or geometric‚Äîinter-facial space. Here it does not help if I take a
tape measure to determine the distance between the tip of my nose and your nose. The interfacial
relationship creates a quite unique spatial relationship. I describe the latter in terms of mother/child interfaciality,
something we can study in the animal kingdom, too. In my next step I try and interpret the images
of the intercordial relationships that arise when people are attuned to each other affectively so that two hearts
form a resonant space together‚Äîhere, the metaphorical factor increases. And then I tiptoe up to the most
intimate of relationships, that between mothers and children: In the process, I explicate how women are
architectural units‚Äîat least if seen from the perspective of the nascent life.
Women‚Äôs bodies are apartments! Now behind this rather shocking thesis we find a fairly dramatic
perspective on natural history. Among insects, reptiles, fish and birds‚Äîi.e., among the vast majority of
species‚Äîthe fertilized egg, the carrier of genetic information, gets laid in an outside setting that must
vaguely possess the properties of an external uterus or nest. Now something quite incredible happens in the
evolutionary line that leans to mammals: The body of the female members of the species is defined as an
ecological niche for her progeny. This leads to a dramatic turn inwards in evolution. What we see is a dual
use of the female members of a species, as it were: Henceforth they are no longer only egg-laying systems
(in a metabiological sense, femininity means the successful phase of an ovulation system), but they lay the
eggs within themselves and make their own body available as an ecological niche for their progeny. In this
way, they become integrated mother animals. The result is a type of event that had not existed in the world
before: birth. It is the proto-drama that shapes the departure from the primary total setting to arrival as an
individual. Thus, birth is a biologically late type of event and has ontological consequences. The expression
‚Äúto be born‚Äù emphasizes the animal side; the expression ‚Äúto see the light of day‚Äù stresses the existential
difference. A very explicit logic is required to explain this.
Are you saying that the projection of this primary basic experience is operative in all later
Exactly. Here the creative side to projection emerges. Projection evidently does not refer, as in
psychoanalysis, just to feelings (i.e., confused affects) but to process of spatial creation per se. If we thus
ask: What interiors will living beings wish to have if they bear within them the marks of being born? Then
the answer must be: They will no doubt opt for interiors that enable them to project a trace of that archaic
state of protection onto their later shell constructions. The construction of shells for life creates a series of
uterus repetitions in outdoor milieus. Architects must understand that they stand in the middle between
biology and philosophy. Biology deals with the environment, philosophy with the world.
But that does not explain the great diversity of human spatial needs. Not all individuals pass on the
wish for an archaic state of protection in this shape. When in small spaces, many people feel
locked in and develop claustrophobic responses. We could divides people into the cave dwellers
and the tree dwellers‚Äîfor the one, it is the love of the shell the counts, for the other the love of
I couldn‚Äôt have put it better myself. The spheres theory does not seek to explain everything. It is not a
universal theory, but an explicit form of spatial interpretation. Incidentally, you can account for all manner
of different types of space from the vantage point of prenatality‚Äîwide oceanic spaces on the one side and
hellishly confined spaces on the other. Spheres I addresses microspherological phenomena in general. I
understand microspherology as the general theory of the interior. These phenomena are always interpersonal
in structure, and the dyadic relationship offers me the paradigm here. I show how we should construe the
human dyad and follow it back as far as prenatal proto-intersubjectivity. The discovery here is that initially it
is not so much a mother/child, but a child/placenta relationship. The original doubling takes place at a
prepersonal level, by the bond formed by the so-called psycho-acoustic umbilical cord. Here, I draw on the
thought of Alfred Tomatis and other authors who have ploughed this tricky field.3 They regard the fetal ear
as the organ of primary bonding. That is quite irritatingly exciting for those who accept the postulates and
nonsense for those who do not believe there is an issue here.
And what role does the act of explication play here?
Explication is a matter not just of the conceptual instruments that we deploy to illuminate the phenomena of
life‚Äîsuch as dwelling, working, and loving‚Äîit is not just a cognitive process. Rather, it has to do with real
elaboration. That can only be achieved using an expressive logic or a logic of production. Needless to say,
here I‚Äôm following in the tradition of Marxist and/or pragmatist anthropology. If it is true that all of natural
history is necessary in order to explain the formation of the human hand (or rather the difference between a
paw and a hand), then it is likewise true that we need all of cultural history to explain the difference between
noises and languages.
Not everything that implicitly exists needs to be rendered explicit. An explication covers only those
parts of the context of life that can be technically reconstructed. The assumption underlying my undertaking
is a metabiological proposition: What we call technology rests on the attempt to replace implicit biological
and social immune systems by explicit social immune systems. You need to understand what you want to
replace better than a mere user understands it. If you wish to build a prosthetic, you have to be able to define
the function of the organ to be replaced more precisely than if you use the original. Here you move from the
actual functional statement to the level of the general and then back to the possible functional equivalent.
And you can recognize functionalists by the fact they always ask two questions: at first, ‚ÄúWhat does the
system achieve in its current form?‚Äù and at the end, ‚ÄúWhat could be done instead?‚Äù
Architects are pretty good at this. When they build a private residence they ask: What features
should this intimate space have? What should it be able to do? It is above all a protective space,
one that provides relief. How can we represent it with technical means? Architects would probably
think, ‚ÄúWe need to build cuddly spots!‚Äù
And that would probably not be far off the mark. If you ask what a cuddly spot represents, then in terms of
functional analysis you arrive at the concept of the ‚Äúprimacy of the secluding atmosphere.‚Äù And if you have
recognized the primacy of such a secluding atmosphere, indeed the primacy of the atmospheric per se, then
architects can definitely infer from this that they cannot take geometric ideologies as their starting point.
Instead, they need to think in terms of the atmospheric effect of space.
That calls for a strong act of translation. Intimacy is an inter-subjective category that can be
expressed spatially in many different ways.
As said, I construe inter-subjectivity as a non-physical spatial relationship. Creatures of the human type can,
through being together, generate the effect of reciprocal accommodation. As the example of a pair of lovers
clearly shows, lovers are in one or another way already together; they are, when they are together, to a
certain extent in each other. Meaning that the classic question ‚ÄúMy place or yours?‚Äù is actually superfluous.
Moreover, it offers a nice example of explication: This going-somewhere-together-as-already-being-together
is the kinetic explication of what the being-together of lovers implies. Because the two are implicitly already
together, they have a list of options of explicit localizations.
You take the architectural example of the apartment to show what the process of explication can
achieve as regards modern residential living.
I interpret apartment construction as the creation of a world island for a single person. To understand this,
you need to concede that the expression world not only means the big whole that God and other jovial
observers have before them. From the outset, worlds take the stage in the plural and have an insular
structure. Islands are miniatures of worlds that can be inhabited as world models. For this reason, one must
know what constitutes a minimally complete island, i.e., one capable of being a world. In my study on
‚Äúinsulations‚Äù [Insulierungen] I distinguish between three different types of islands: the absolute island, such
as a space station, which is placed as a completely implanted lifeworld into a milieu inimical to life; then
there are the relative islands like greenhouses for plants‚Äîone need think only of the well-known experiment
Biosphere II; and finally the anthropogenic islands, i.e., spaces built in such a way that humans can emerge
in them. They form a self-insulating dynamic system reminiscent of a human incubator. You insert apes and
out come humans. And how it is that possible? How can, to argue in a Darwinian and philosophical vein,
apes enter into conditions of self-ness [Selbstverh√§ltnisse]. How did the anthropogenetic engine get kickstarted?
I describe the human-generating island as a nine-dimensional space in which each of the
dimensions must exist for the human-generating effect to be triggered. If only one dimension is absent, you
do not get a complete human. It all starts with the chirotope, the place of the hand. And what does the hand
have to do with the genesis of the human? The answer to this question provides a first version of a theory of
action, an elementary pragmatics. I then tackle the phonotope, the space of sound in which groups that hear
themselves tarry. This is then followed by the uterotope, i.e., the space occupied by deeper-seated
memberships or of shared caves; the thermotope, the sphere of warmth or the space where you get spoiled;
and the erototope, the place of jealousy and the field of desire. I would like to note in passing on the latter
that the emergence of species-specific jealousy was extremely important for the genesis of human beings‚Äî
for humans are mimetic animals that have always watched what other humans do attentively and jealously,
in fact, even aping those who successfully behave as if they were not watching what the others were doing.
The next dimensions are the ergotope, i.e., the field of war and effort; the thanatotope, the space of
coexistence with the dead in which religious symbols prevail; and finally the nomotope, the space of the
legal tensions that provide a group with a normative backbone. Buckminster Fuller‚Äôs theorem of tensegrities
gives an important role to this.
From this general theory of islands we can derive modern apartment culture, for an apartment will
only function if it is convincing as a minimally complete world island for an individual.
It does not seem that, so far, this description contains the definition of residence, of the human being
as residential being.
You must understand that houses are initially machines to kill time. In fact, in a primitive farmhouse people
wait for a silent event out in the fields, one they cannot influence but which, thank God, happens regularly‚Äî
namely the moment when the seeds planted bear fruit. In other words, people initially only live in a house
because they confess to the conviction that it is rewarding to await an event outside the house. In the
agrarian world, the temporal structure of residing in houses must be understood in terms of the compulsion
to wait. This kind of being-in-the-house was first challenged in the course of the Middle Ages, when in
Northwest Europe a wider ranging urban culture had arisen again. Since then, a growing proportion of
European populations have been seized by a culture of impatience or not-being-able-to-wait. During
Goethe‚Äôs day, in Germany only 20% of the population was urbanized, and 80% still lived under the old
agrarian conditions. Heidegger, whom I would like, in this context, to regard as the last thinker of rural life,
continues to construe existential time as waiting time and thus also as boredom. The event that this waiting
leads to is of course something abysmally simple, namely the fact that things on the tilled field become
mature. The philosopher equates this tilled field with world history without bearing in mind that the worlds
of the cities can no longer assume the form of tilled fields. In the city, things do not mature, they are
I move on from this definition of residential living as being-in-the-world put on hold and of the
house as a place of waiting onto the house as a place of reception, i.e., the location where the important
wheat gets sorted from the unimportant chaff. The original house is a habitation plant. By spending much
time there you unconsciously become a habitual unit with your surroundings; you inhabit by habit. Once that
has been achieved, the background has been created against which the unusual can first stand out.
Residential living is in this regard a dialectical practice‚Äîit makes itself useful for its opposite.
In a third step, I develop the theory of embedding or immersion. Here the philosophical theory of
being-in, as originated by Heidegger, is moved forward. I answer the question of what it means to be in
something. How does that happen? I illustrate these questions by relying on statements by Paul Val√©ry, who
interpreted the being-in in terms of the paradigm of architecture: For him, architecture means that men lock
men into man-made works. Here we touch on the totalitarian side of the art of building.
Finally, as the fourth stage of explication, I expose the essential nerve center of the phenomenon of
residence, namely the house‚Äôs destiny as a spatialized immune system. Here, I focus specifically on the
dimension of designed atmosphere, the air we breathe in a building. Part of the adventure of Modern
architecture is that it has also rendered the apparently immaterial sides of being‚Äînamely human residence
in an atmospheric setting‚Äîexplicit in technical and aesthetic terms. The modern art of dwelling will not be
able to get back to an earlier level of designing human containers.
Once I have taken these steps, it becomes clear that what I mean when I claim that the apartment
(along with the sports stadium) is the primary architectural icon of the 20th century. A monadology is
needed to think the interior today. One man‚Äîone apartment. One monad‚Äîone world cell. . . .
‚Ä¶ and at the beginning of architectural Modernism the adage was: one unmarried person‚Äîone
Right. Modern apartment construction rests on a celibate-based ontology. Just as modern biology defines life
as the successful phase of an immune system, so we could, in architectural theory, define existence as the
successful phase of the one-person household. Everything is drawn into the inner sphere of the apartment.
World and household blend. If a one-person existence can succeed at all, it is only because there is
architectural support that turns the apartment itself into an entire world prosthetic. Early Modern architects
were thus right to see themselves as molders of humanity. If one ignores the shot of megalomania, what
remains is the fact that the architects of the one-person apartments have enabled the mass version of a
historically singular type of human being‚Äîat best it was otherwise prefigured by the Christian hermit
You describe the apartment as a studio of self-relationships. If we bear in mind that the history of
humanity started when hordes formed, with a rudimentary division of labor in hunting and in raising
children, then the emergence of this singular reproducing type of human, who can live almost
autonomously, is slightly worrying. I have two questions here: You just described intimacy, dyadic
intimacy, as something that constitutes space. What of that survives in the apartment culture? And
are there no forms of coexistence that impact on space between the extreme poles of single and
mass, the solitary and the assembly?
The first question is easier to answer: The apartment individualists have discovered a process enabling them
to form pairs with themselves‚Äîincidentally, Andy Warhol, who I have already mentioned, was one of the
first to explicitly show this by claiming that he married his tape recorder. Modern autogamy involves
choosing a stance of ‚Äúexperiencing‚Äù one‚Äôs own life, i.e., viewing it judgmentally from the outside.
Individuals in the age of a culture of experience constantly seek difference from themselves. They can
choose as their partner none other than themselves as the inner Other. Strong individualism always presumes
that you draw inwards the second pole and the other poles that are part of a complete personality structure.
The basis for this psychostructural move has long since been given in European culture, and elements of it
can be traced back to classical antiquity. The archetypal example is the hermit monks who moved to the
Theban desert, a few days‚Äô journey south of Alexandria, in order to pray. As far as we know, they led inner
lives that featured many relationships; the most famous among them was St. Anthony, who was visited by
tormenting spirits so often that there can be no talk of him having lived alone. To put it in modern words, he
shared a pad with his hallucinations.
Today, he would probably reside in a psychiatric ward, dosed to the gills with tranquilizers. How
does this extreme form of individuation differ from autism?
The autistic person does not possess the inner spaciousness that would enable him to be his own company.
The individual‚Äôs self-supplementation structure has deep media-anthropological roots and can only be
explained in terms of media history. The minimal formal condition of self-supplementation consists of the
fact that a so-called individual is integrated into a dyad‚Äîwith a real or imaginary Other. The question of
social life of the isolated individual is harder: What happens to the small-group animal homo sapiens if he or
she sits in pure individualist form as the solitary inhabitant of his or her world apartment? Two possible
answers would seem obvious: One is that the individual on its own plays at being the entire horde. This
implies the task of representing twelve or twenty people within his or her inner world, members of at least
three generations. Thus, in the absence of real Others, a complete social structure has to be simulated.
Psychology regards the formation of a multiple personality as a symptom of illness, a serious
disturbance in personality development.
From our point of view, the multiple personality is nothing other than the individual‚Äôs answer to the
disappearance of his or her real social surroundings, and is thus a plausible response to the chronic lack of
social stimulation. The second possibility relates to the modern practice of networking. The horde returns in
the guise of an iPhone address book. Close physical togetherness is no longer a necessary condition of
sociality. The future belongs to telesocialism. The past returns as tele-horde life.
You use the heading ‚ÄúDialectic of Modernization‚Äù to describe how society‚Äôs empty center is filled
with illusionary images of a center.
In Spheres III, I attempt to explain why we should not only purge the two portentous words revolution and
mass from our vocabulary, but also the concept of ‚Äúsociety.‚Äù It suggests a coherence that could only be
achieved by violent asserting conformism. The conglomerate of humans that has, since the 18th century,
called itself ‚Äúsociety‚Äù is precisely not based on the atomic dots that we tend to call individuals. Instead, it is
a patchwork of milieus that are structured as subcultures. Just think of the world of horse lovers‚Äîa huge
subculture in which you could lose yourself for the duration of your life but which is as good as invisible if
you are not a member of it. There are hundreds if not thousands of milieus in the current social terrain that
all have the tendency from their own viewpoint to form the center of the world and yet are as good as nonexistent
for the others. I term them inter-ignorant systems. And, among other things, they exist by virtue of a
blindness rule. They may not know of one another, since otherwise their members would be robbed of the
enjoyment of being specialized members of a select few. In terms of their profession, there are only two or
three types of humans who can afford polyvalence in dealing with milieus. The first are architects who (at
least virtually) build containers for all; the second are the novelists, who insert persons from all walks of life
into their novels; finally come the priests who speak at the burials of all possible classes of the dead. But that
is probably the entire list. Although, no, I forgot the new sociologists √† la Latour.
In other words, the multiple personality on the one hand and the single networker on the other‚Äî
those are the two options I see open to individualized populations. The way homo sapiens is influenced by
the dowry from the days of hording is no doubt insurmountable, but because the explication of that old
heritage continues simultaneously in various directions, the proto-social elements of the life of sapiens can
be reworked. They lead to an electronic tribalism. In the dyadic motifs, by contrast, the intimate
relationships are explicated to such a degree that intimacy can quite literally be played through with the
technical media of self-supplementation. In the long run, human types arise that are fairly unlike what we
have known to date.
The heyday of the models you describe for the apartment, from early Modernism through to Kisho
Kurokawa, and, for urbanism, through to Constant, was in the 1960s. Then architecture changed
direction, with the city back in focus‚Äînamely the city as something intangible, indefinable,
irreducible. The concept of the capsule disappears; the city is then construed as fabric. The
concept of the net marks the start of the onward march of postmodernism, which leaves the
utopian individualism of the 1960s on the sidelines.
You‚Äôre right to the extent that the critique of capsule architecture means a critique of urban autism. But let
me point to a complementary risk. All the talk of nets and fabrics tends to neutralize existential space, and I
think that is as dangerous as capsule individualism. Net thinking includes only dots and interfaces that
underlie the notion of two or more intersecting lines or curves, giving you a worldview whose constitutive
element is the dot. The net theorists think in radically non-spatial terms, i.e., in two dimensions; they use the
concept of anorexia to interpret their relationship to their environment. Their graphics reveal that the
individual world agency is seen as an intersection between lines lacking volume. I, by contrast, go for the
concept of foam bubble or the world cell in order to show that even the individual element already contains
intrinsic expansion. We should not revert to an ontology of the dot, but take as the minimum variable in our
thinking the cell that is capable of constituting a world. A little more monadology cannot harm us: The
monad is not a dot bereft of extension; it has the character of a micro-world. ‚ÄúCell‚Äù expresses the fact that
the individual place has the shape of a world. The metaphor of the fabric or net at best gives you minute
knots, but you can‚Äôt inhabit a node. By contrast, the foam metaphor emphasizes the microcosmic intrinsic
spatiality of each individual cell.
However, the metaphor implies a question: Where does it lead to if asked in the context of
architecture? Architects tend to take images literally.
That happened ages ago. Frei Otto is one of the Modern architects who tried to derive nature-like or
organomorphic spatial structures from soap bubbles. The foam metaphor supports an intellectual virtue: It
prevents us reverting to the over-simplifying Platonic geometries that were transported by the traditional
history of architecture. There are no rectangular shapes in foam, and that is interesting news. And there are
no longer any primitive spherical structures, at least if foams pass beyond their wet or autistic stage. Within
them, reciprocal forces of deformation are always at work that ensure that we get structures that are not
smooth and in which more complex geometric rules prevail.
What do you have against right angles?
The idea underlying this theory of diverse spaces can only be grasped if we also consider the reflection on
alternative load-bearing structures underpinning the spherology. We live in an age in which the function of
classical load-bearing structures based on pressure give way to structures based on tensile forces, i.e. integral
units of tension. I am of course thinking primarily of Buckminster Fuller‚Äôs well-known tensegrities, and of
pneumatic edifices and 20th-century air structures. The new logic of structures functions throughout beyond
all walls and pillars. Tensegrities form the technical transition from the metaphor of foam to modern
buildings. Foam is a kind of natural tensegrity, especially when it ceases to take the form of ‚Äúindividualistic‚Äù
foam, in which, in a liquid solution, individual bubbles float pass each other hardly touching. If a foam
grows older and dry, a complex internal architecture arises. Many bubbles burst; the residual air from the
burst bubble then enters the adjacent bubbles, and the foam dries up from within. Beautiful, morphologically
discerning structures arise, polyhedron foams. They are completely defined by the motif of co-isolation‚Äî
which is to say the foam cell shares with its neighbor the fact that it is separate from it; my walls are your
walls. What joins us is that we have turned our backs on each other. The concept of co-isolation is
fundamental for the universe of foamy shapes. The adjacency of world projects or living spaces within a coisolated
structure has a quality different from the vicinity of spaces within traditional segmented cultures.
There, everything social is partialized‚Äîthe world is a conglomerate of deserted yards. The image of the sack
of potatoes that Marx uses in his 18th Brumaire to describe the situation of the allotment farmers in France
is a prime description of the state of wet foam. Each cell floats past the other cells, blind to its shared
environment, not touching, for all their similarity.
How much of the psychosocial constitution of space remains in the metaphor of foam, and what
remains of the constructivist side to constituting space?
Foam, in my opinion, is a very useful expression for what architects call density‚Äîitself a negentropic factor.
Density can be expressed in psychosocial terms by a coefficient of mutual irritation. People generate
atmosphere by mutually exerting pressure on one another, crowding one another. We must never forget that
what we term ‚Äúsociety‚Äù implies the phenomenon of unwelcome neighbors. Thus, density is also an
expression for our excessively communicative state, and, incidentally, the dominant ideology of
communication is repeatedly prompting us to expand it further. Anyone taking density seriously will, by
contrast, end up praising walls. This remark is no longer compatible with classic Modernism, which
established the ideal of the transparent dwelling, the ideal that inside relationships should be reflected on the
outside and vice versa. Today, we are again foregrounding the way a building can isolate, although this
should not be confused with its massiveness. Seen as an independent phenomenon, isolation is one form of
explication of the conditions of living with neighbors. Someone should write a book in praise of isolation.
That would describe a dimension of human coexistence that recognizes that people also have an infinite
need for non-communication. Modernity‚Äôs dictatorial traits all stem from an excessively communicative
anthropology: For all too long, the dogmatic notion of an excessively communicative image of man was
naively adopted. By means of the image of foam you can show that the small forms protect us against fusion
with the mass and the corresponding hypersociologies. In this sense, foam theory is a polycosmology.
So each soap bubble is a cosmos unto itself?
No, that would again be an overly autistic construction. In truth, we have to do here with a discrete theory of
coexistence. All being-in-the-world possesses the traits of coexistence. The question of being so hotly
debated by philosophers can be asked here in terms of the coexistence of people and things in connective
spaces. That implies a quadruple relationship: Being means someone (1) being together with someone else
(2) and with something else (3) in something (4). This formula describes the minimum complexity you need
to construct in order to arrive at an appropriate concept of world. Architects are involved in this
consideration, since for them being-in-the-world means dwelling in a building. A house is a threedimensional
answer to the question of how someone can be together with someone and something in
something. In their own way, architects interpret this most enigmatic of all spatial prepositions, namely the
Why do you think the preposition in is enigmatic?
Because it highlights both being-contained-in and being-outside. People are ecstatic beings; they are, to use
Heidegger‚Äôs terms, forever held outside in the open; they can never definitely be included in some container
or other‚Äîother than graves, that is. In the ontological sense, they are ‚Äúoutside‚Äù in the world, but they can
only be outside to the degree that they are stabilized from within from something that gives them firm
support. This aspect needs to be emphasized today in contrast to the current romanticism of openness. It is
spatial immune systems that enable us to give being-outside a tolerable form. Buildings are thus systems to
compensate for ecstasy. Here, the architect should be located, typologically speaking, in the same ranks as
the priest and the therapist‚Äîas an accomplice in repelling intolerable ecstasy. Incidentally, in this context
Heidegger focuses less on architecture and more on language, and it is indeed language in its habitual form
that is a perfect agenda to compensate for an undesired ecstasy. Since most people always say the same
things all their lives, and their language games are, as a rule, completely repetitive, we live in a world of
symbolic redundancy that functions just as well as a house with very thick walls. ‚ÄúLanguage is the house of
being,‚Äù postulated Heidegger, and we are gradually understanding what he meant when he came up with the
phrase. Language is a staunch fortress in which we can ward off the open. Nonetheless, we occasionally let
visitors in. In human relationships, speaking and building usually create sufficient security that you can now
and then permit ecstasy. For this reason, from my viewpoint the architect is someone who philosophizes in
and through material. Someone who builds a dwelling or erects a building for an institution makes a
statement on the relationship between the ecstatic and the enstatic, or, if you will, between the world as
apartment and the world as agora.
1. Sph√§ren (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1998‚Äì2004).
2 [Vers une Architecure, 1923.]
3. See A.A. Tomatis, The Conscious Ear (Paris: Station Hill Press,1991).