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Spatial Practice, Spatial Contest

Updated: Sep 14, 2018

- 2 Vignettes

Published in Caliper Journal Issue 3

01: E1027

“There are always four sides to a story: your side, their side, the truth and what really happened”

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Swiss man, Western philosopher)

An Irish furniture designer pioneers the use of tubular steel, cork, and chrome in artefacts, foreshadowing sensibilities and aesthetic standards of the Modern era. Other men follow and are named as key figures in the Modernist canon.

E1027 interior, furnished with pieces by the architect

Our protagonist moves, then, to consider the space that contains those artefacts, crafting an exemplary work of architecture in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France. While in-process, under construction, this space is co-habitated by a Mr. Jeanneret who is rather fascinated - inspired even - by its spatial logic, the control over form and site, and the qualities it encapsulates as a complete work of Modern architecture. The year that follows, he produces a villa that shapes Modern architectural discourse for decades to come.

E1027 exterior

He returns to Roquebrune-cap-Martin to occupy (without consent) his peer’s original work, ‘livening up the place’ with a lick of paint, adding abstract, sensual female figures on walls, both inside and out. The designer and owner of the house decries this as vandalism, but the ‘artist’ retorts. He knows better. And he was right: many years later this space is remembered and visited for the unsolicited imagery covering its surfaces. After all, the artist did build some neat huts on the nearby hillside, and he did live his last breath on the Mediterranean waters in view.

The ‘artist’

This is a site of architectural historical significance.

The architect
“The house is not a machine for living in. It is the shell of man, his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation”

- Eileen Gray (Irish woman, Modernist pioneer)

02: Society

“You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.”

– Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Swiss man, Western philosopher)

The Tsar fell and so was laid out a field of potential, of centralisation and solidarity; all that was needed was to construct it. The agenda was radical, and the program clear: traditional structures should be dismantled and new ones designed in their place, new forms of society with a new role for labour, capital and the individual.

We can reimagine society.

October Revolution, July Days. The army have just opened fire on street protesters in Petrograd.

October Revolution, July Days. The army have just opened fire on street protesters in Petrograd.

Tatlin’s vision never materialised, but the Social Condensers stood tall and resolute. The best modern family was no family at all, because we are all simply members of the Union.

“All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

– Karl Marx (German man, revolutionary socialist)

We can design society.

Moisei Ginzburg’s Narkomfin, the Social Condenser. Resident quarters were identical throughout, with all cooking, cleaning and recreational spaces in a separate building to enforce collectivised modes of living.

One leader falls but the Party must go on. A design competition and a purge of the Politburo, a reinstatement of the traditionalists, a return to family values and a proud resistance to the architectural vogue of the West. Ornament is no crime when it is the ornament of defiant nationalism, and the Seven Sisters are proof that there is more than one way forward in this day and age.

We can resist society.

Boris Iofan’s entry to the Palace of The Soviets design competition, 1931

Next, the Thaw. The personality cult must be eroded by means of a domestic architectural revolution. No more ‘architectural luxuries’, just housing as a universal standard, the product of an efficient industrialised process. We must learn from the rational advance of our neighbours and re-join the International Style.

We can contribute to society.

Krushchyovka: the typical design of USSR State housing under Nikita Kruschev, referred to as ‘box’ landscapes.

The Wall falls, let society rejoice! Liberation is won for the oppressed. Openness, freedom and the ‘right to buy’ is mine at last. Smaller government is a better government, after all we are authors of our own destiny; we have taken control. Anyone left behind has only themselves to blame.

There is no such thing as society.

Proclamations of ‘freedom’ as the Berlin Wall falls in 1989

By 2050, 66% of the world’s population will live in cities (1). The free movement of capital is the lead author of a global urban identity, the Architect in the marginalia. But if ‘the accumulation of capital and misery go hand in hand, concentrated in space” (2) then as spatial practitioners we have a role to play.

Whose space is this?

We can reimagine society.

New forms of urban development ‘software’ such as the Special Economic Zone are shaping the contemporary urban landscape. (Shanghai pictured)
“We have to think big. We have to imagine big, and that's part of the problem. We're letting other people imagine and lead us down what paths they want to take us. Sometimes they're very limited in the way their ideas are constructed.”

Alexis Wright (Waanyi woman, Author)


1. United Nations, World Urbanisation Prospects [Highlights] (2014 revision), accessed April 16, 2018 at

2. David Harvey, The Limits to Capital (2006), VERSO Edition


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