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Ch. 1, pp. 18-23

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  • The page numbers of the reference quotes in this translation must refer to Japanese translations of the references since, in the case of Kostof at least, they don’t agree with those of the English version. I’m going to leave them as they are, as a sub-editor would sort that out. But please remember that any quote in quotation marks is a translated translation rather than the exact quote in its original language. Quotation marks around individual words indicate that a word has been used in the original in the translation, often to clarity the Japanese translation of it.
  • There is a translator’s note for Arendt’s use of the word privative. The Wikipedia definition I quote is hopefully close to her intended meaning and may even exist because of her use of the word.

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Privacyhas the meaning of “separated

Many polis were colonies and their townscapes were planned as grids and, even if there were occasional variations due to topography or other special circumstances. (Benevolo [ref. History of the City 1, p.107]), all colony cities were fundamentally grids because it was necessary for the “urban landscape to have the clarity of a drawing”. (Kostof, A History of Architecture, p.252) The city was a collection of houses and the plan of each of those houses was also planned as a grid that had a close relationship with the city. Fig. 1 shows the plan of the city of Olynthus. (ibid. p.432) The plan of the housing with respect to the grid of the city is as follows. “As in Mesopotamia, Greek houses (ibid. p.250) were geometrical in shape and had an altar and a courtyard with either a well or a water tank … and the function of each room was not determined. The room known as the andron had a low platform around its edge and was the main room for dining and entertainment.”(ibid. p.250) It was used a dining room and also as a salon for debate. Whereas the other rooms had earthen floors, the floor of the andron was far better finished with small pebbles that had been packed. The space with the andron at its centre was the “no-man’s-land”.

Fig. 1: Right: The city of Olynthus as an expansion of the original Hippodamus-style city (Source: Benevolo, History of the City 1, p.107); Left: Three streets of the expanded Olynthus (Source: ibid, p.109)

But what is the meaning of this? We need more detail. The Ancient Greek house was strictly divided into the andronitis that comprised the parts used by men, and the gynaikeion that comprised the parts used by women. (Sakurai Mariko [Sakurai, M.] , The Women of Ancient Greece, p.143) The andron was central to the male portion was the andron (Fig. 2) and used for eating, drinking and debating. The andron was where Plato’s The Symposium took place, (ibid. p.145) this word “symposium” being the source of our modern word “symposium”. “For the people of Athens, symposia spoke of governance and the building and attainment of culture, and were essential for civic life” (ibid. p.145) or, to be more precise, for the civic life of the men of Athens. With the exception of those present as servants, women did not participate in symposia. The only formal citizens were the heads of households – of the oikos. The andronitis (male region) that included the andron was the place for the head of the household and when a symposium was to take place, the head of the household would invite other citizens and receive them there. In other words, the face of the house with respect to the street was not on the surface but extended into the andronitis.

Fig. 2: Typical floor plans of two houses in Olynthus. The diagonally hatched portion is the andronitis. (From p.108 of Benevolo History of the City 1, redrawn by the author)

Every house had an attractive courtyard, the andron fronted the courtyard and all the spaces around the courtyard comprised the space of the andronitis. (Fig. 3) That space was open to the polis and thus protected (separated) the womens’ space of the gynaikeion as the space having the greatest degree of privacy. This concept of “privacy” describes a state of enclosure and separation. The women’s space that was the gynaikeion was the space holding the women inside or, seen from the perspective of someone inside, it was the place where “one could not be deprived of anything”. (Arendt, The Human Condition, p.160) “The word “private” includes the concept of privative.” (ibid. p.87) [GM: … that denotes “a state marked by the absence, removal, or loss of some quality or attribute that is normally present].

Fig. 3: A house on the northern slope of Areopagus Hill in Athens, Greece (Source: (Sakurai Mariko, The Women of Ancient Greece, p.147)

This means that participating in the public realm takes away that privacy as freedom. This is the state of a servant. To our way of thinking, “domestic tasks” are a kind of servitude. Arendt called the domestic labour that repeats the same tasks day after day “cyclic life processes” (ibid. p.151) that maintain family living along with procreation and other “human expendable life processes” that enable life to continue (ibid. p.261). They are the things humans must do to sustain life. However, and notwithstanding, these processes that are advantageous for sustaining and managing daily life have absolutely no value for the public realm that is the polis. Servants and slaves perform the tasks that are of no value to the public realm. They activities are performed in private places hidden from the public realm and not meant to be seen from it. “Private when referring to the women’s realm being private, means that it is separated from the public realm and also excluded from it. In that personal realm, “women and servants lived together and in the same category and … the women … mixed with their servants for the daily duties of household life.” (ibid. p.130)

That personal realm is the essence of the meaning of “privacy” and this makes the women’s and servants’ realm having this privacy, into an area separated from the public realm. This is to say that the andronitis (male realm) was between the gynaikeion (women’s realm) that was the private realm, and the polis that was the public realm, “and protected and maintained them both while at the same time keeping them apart”. The space of the andronitis (male realm) was the boundary separating the gynaikeion (women’s and servants’ realm) and the realm of the polis. This boundary was “a single space” and this space was the space of “no-man’s-land”.

Spatial characteristics of the polis

Arendt writes about architectural space and, at the same time, shows that it is closely related to the the governmental mechanisms that manage the city in terms of ordering and regulating groups of people, the law, and daily life. Arendt writes about problems of that architectural space that are extrememly fundamental.

We can understand the following from all this.

  1. The Ancient Greek city (polis) was a collection of households (oikos) and the polis and the household were extremely closely linked to the other. The private realm of the house was not an idependent entity but related to the public realm that was the polis. The polis came to exist once this mutual relationship between the private realm and the public realm was established.
  2. The house was not simply for the support and management of daily living but also had the role of separating the male realm and the female realm and of using “privacy” to contain the female realm. The house was designed to strictly separate those who could participate in the political freedom of the polis, and those who were supported by them.
  3. Moreover, this had an architectural “appearance” with respect to the city.
  4. Furthermore, the architectural spaces (physical spaces) of cities and houses made by man are the basis of the laws as the norms for the regulating the lives of people living together. It is not the case that first there is Law and then that Law is used as the basis for the creation of architectural space but, rather, the opposite.

This perception of the architectural spaces of cities and houses is completely different from our perception of them now. Our perception of them and our perception of this special “no-man’s-land” space is at the core of this difference.

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  • It’s not new to say that allowing people to assemble and exchange views is counter to efficient government but we’re not used to reading about how much a part of our history it is. It’s not my thought, but it’s possible to see 20th century suburbanization as the modern extension of this history of isolating households and limiting the opportunity for assembly and debate. The initially Western dissemination of mass (i.e. isolating) media and entertainment accelerated this process and reduced even the desire for it.
  • We’ve been hearing the word “community” a lot recently and particularly with respect to Yamamoto’s concerns but contemporary Western use of the word community is coming to mean either a group of persons who self-identify as a community to highlight similarities in an inclusive manner or, and concurrent with this, a means of others labelling a community by highlighting differences and often with the intention of exclusion. e.g. traveller community, LGBT community, religious community, online community … This word “community” is coming to mean two opposite things and, when I hear it used to describe Yamamoto’s architectural concerns, I can’t help wonder in which sense it is intended, and in which sense it is being understood. And that’s just the noun.
  • For the adjective, we have terms such as “community kitchen”, “community housing”, “community healthcare”, “community education” and “community food bank” to describe systems where local people self-organize to provide essential services that more centralized government either does not or has no interest in providing. For all the real benefits these systems provide, the word “community” becomes associated with something second-best, stopgap, not ideal. In connection with architecture, it often comes with meanings of ad-hoc and self-build. It is never avant-garde or innovative even though there’s no reason it can’t be. The word 共同体 may have nothing but positive connotations in Japanese but unthinkingly rendering it in English as “community” risks some people perceiving it as not “real architecture”. The meanings of words shift to suit whatever people feel needs to be said so, in much the same vein but with much less loss, the word “avant-garde” – or even “starchitect” –  might one day come to me “reactionary” in the sense of sustaining an architecture of spectacle.
  • Anyway, this post brings us to the end of Chapter 1-1. The next will begin from 1-2: The spatial structure of polis and the spatial concept of “threshold”. There’ll be a helpful figure summarizing much of what has been written so far.

• • • 

2024/04/07 Ch. 1, pp. 18-23 (this post)
2024/04/31 Ch. 1, pp.14–18
2024/04/24 The Space of Power vs. The Power of Space: Preface pp. 7-11

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