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Ch. 2, pp.87-92

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  • Yamamoto’s focus so far has been on those parts of houses used as part of public space and that, at least in the case of vernacular housing, are used in ways that are highly codified according to their respective societies yet still turn out to be basically the same thing. In this, Yamamoto sees an essential humanity that spans both time and place. It is however, dependent upon those social codes existing and being respected. Right now I’m in Perth, Australia and looking at suburban houses according to the degree to which they invite public participation into the life of the house, and how much those houses give back to the streets that are their communities. It’s easy to see how suburbia in any country is an extension of the Mulhouse worker housing model that isolated workers and their families in detached houses isolated by gardens. Suburban housing in Perth has tended to become more “private” over the past sixty or so years. On the left below is a fairly modest suburban house from the late 1940s or early 1950s. The front garden isn’t as well tended as it would have been in the past. This itself speaks of an unwillingness to participate in the community outside the house. Contemporary touches are the burglar-proof window screens and the rubbish bins for recyclables (red), garden waste (green) and general waste (a.k.a. landfill, yellow). The living room is the room on the right and, depending on the decade, would have been known as the front room, reception room, “lounge” and mist recently living room with the fireplace and the (then free standing) television in the corner. It’s easy to imagine a well tended lawn and perhaps a line of rose bushes along the path to the front door. Similar houses might have had wall about five of six courses of brick high separating the front lawn from the footpath. Either way, this front space including the porch or verandah would have been part of the house made public. Many houses with this relationship still exist, such as the street in the middle photograph.
  • The process of ‘privatization’ still isn’t 100% complete but, since the early 1970s, the front boundary wall has been becoming higher and more solid. The notion of a hard and opaque boundary between public space and private spaces peaks of notion of privacy becoming more Middle Eastern, although we can’t yet see the three-storey high fences that some back yards in Saudi Arabia have. For now in Perth, some streets are mostly walled, as in the photograph on the right.
  • The concerns that Yamamoto raises are as relevant as ever. What exactly is this privacy that we seem to value so dearly? And what do we lose in doing so? If community awareness and feeling a part of something larger than ourselves is a basic condition for the health of a human being and a society, then how is this to be restored via a more permeable boundary between public and private in places where social norms are less codified and less observed? The 1970s concept of “defensible space” was not the answer.

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Problems with the Collective as a Model

The Cité Napoleon completed in 1851, had a glass roofed atrium at its centre. (Figures, 11, 12) It was collective housing designed to help the labouring classes under Louis Napoleon. “In 1848, Napoleon III was a member of a group espousing the ideas of Fourier.” (Benjamin, Passages, Vol. 4, p.178) The configuration of Cité Napoleon was identical to that of the familistère inasmuch as dwellings were arranged around an atrium. Shared facilities included a kindergarten, baths and a drying room that were open to the local residents. Each floor had its own ablutions block and each dwelling had its own small kitchen. The building was designed so that windows facing the atrium were of transparent glass and could receive sufficient natural light from the glass roofed atrium. I visited it recently and although it is a designated cultural property, it is still being used as housing managed by the city. Several units have been divided and are now provided with the ir own kitchens and bathrooms. Before the entrance of each dwelling is a small terrace wth tables and chairs so that the residents can meet and greet each other.

Fig. 11: Cité Napoleon ① (Source: Nakano, T. “Residents of Prague”, p.20) The dwellings were arranged around a rectangular atrium but the space beneath the glass roof was not designed to be some kind of event space.
Fig. 12: Cité Napoleon ② (Photo source: Omori, Masano) Beneath the glass roof were small access bridges to the dwellings. These created spaces where the residents could meet and greet each other, a configuration that is also seen in monitored spaces.

At their time of completion, both Cité Napoleon and the familistére received criticism on the grounds that they amounted to socialism. Many people at the time thought Fourier’s ideas were extremely close to socialism or, more to the point, they saw the kind of life that Fourier was espousing and understood it as socialism. The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848, the year of the Frrench (February) Revolution. Construction of Cité Napoleon was completed three years later, and twelve years later followed the familistère. At a time when many people were beginning to have misgivings about the word ‘socialism’, many people understood collective living as a manifestation of it and there came to be much opposition not only to the idea of the familistère but also to the idea of Cité Napoleon.

Zola was clearly critical when he wrote that he was not partial to collectivism and its narrow-minded idealism.

Benjamin, Passages, Vol. 4., p.145

In the familistère, joy and dancing and laughter are all preordained.

Nakano, T. “Residents of Prague”, p.27 onwards

The Cité Napoleon was designed by Marie Gabriel Veugny who was, at the time, supervisor of works for the Prison de Mazas which was designed as a panopticon. (Figure 13) It was completed in 1841 at a time of prison reform. “What needed to be known on the one hand by those in positions of authority and on the other by architects, in the context of a system for reforming criminals and dealing with the cases at the root of the various ills of society, was its agreement with the legal system charged with implementing the foundations of virtue.” (Barentalle [?], L., Prison Architectural Drawings, Foucault, The Birth of the Prison, p.247 onwards) [In other words,] prisons were seen as being not only for punishment but as places for improving the character of the prisoners. The panopticon was a device for training and regulating so as to maintain the hierarchy of prisoners being managed by those in authority. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the inventor of the spatial system of the panopticon, believed that by configuring architectural space in this way, it was possible to change the disorderly mass of people who are managed (punished). From the point of view of those doing the managing, arranging living spaces around an atrium creates a facility for observation. The persons in charge of Cité Napoleon understood that, at its core, it was a system for the management and observation of those living there. The people at the time thought this was what socialism was.

Fig. 13: Prison de Mazas (Image source: Michel Balmont (

The Cité Napoleon was a spatial arrangement that infiltrated the lives of the residents in much the same way as an isolation cell in a prison might. There was no such thing as privacy. Another criticism was that the managed space extends into the intimate relationships of the family. Protecting privacy was seen in terms of Christian morality as a husband, a wife and a good wife and mother, and this intimate space was something that had to be protected from things external to it. A stop had to be put to spatial configurations that challenged this orthodoxy by placing families in extremely close proximity. However, it was a fact that, at the time commonplace for the households of laborers to also include persons external to them as lodgers renting either a room or a bed. Questions of the appearance of sexual propriety did not trouble labourers. The conditions of laborers living in cities was, as has already been described, taking forms that would lead to the destruction of the “one household = one house” as the intimate space of the family, and of the virtuous moral code expressed as the “good wife and mother”. Socialism and communism were seen as intruding upon the privacy of the family and destroying it. Because of the duties of childcare, it was difficult for the wives of laborers to leave the precious role of parenting. “Anything that moves away from that would be akin to donning the lead cap of communism.” (Jules Murot (1866), Nakano, T. “Residents of Prague”, p.26 onwards))

At the time, the meaning of the word socialism was still in flux. Tocqueville had observed that there were many different kinds of socialism. In an era of confusion where there was, at the same time, what was described by the new word société, there was also an interpretation of society as those directly involved in it, as well as another thread that would destroy the systems in place until then. An architectural space that symbolized socialism was very powerful indeed. Looking at this architectural space, many people thought that this is what socialism looked like, and that there was no freedom.

In this housing that was the realization of Fourier’s ideas, it’s safe to say that there was an extremely strong emphasis on educating labourers and providing them with [moral] guidance. Seen from outside, there was a ‘doctrine of managing’ that attempted to provide a standardized form of this moral guidance. Even the Cité Napoleon has an extremely high awareness of managing the labourers on the supply side. The same can be said for the Mulhouse housing that provided separated hosing for close family units. Providing privacy was yet but another management system for configuring housing. In this era, managing workers, providing them with (moral) guidance and dealing with the causes of social ills were all part of a system to manage labour. This is something that must have been known to the persons in positions of power, as well as to their architects. In the laborer city of Mulhouse, each of the houses was separated from the others and the ‘higher level’ space was the managed space. On the other hand, there was also housing developed from Fourier’s ideas and in which a group of houses created the intermediate collective of the ‘association’ or the ’société, and that had all the managing performed by this this intermediate collective. The latter became the monitored [observed] space and the name ’socialism’ was given to it. Ever since, the design of housing has followed the Mulhouse model of isolated houses within the managed space of the collective.

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  • I couldn’t help but notice the atrium and bridge arrangement of Figure 12 is still being used today. The “social housing” (a.k.a. shared ownership) component of Foster + Partners Albrion Riverside development in London springs to mind but that’s an open space between buildings rather than an atrium. A more recent example is the much vaunted glassed and bridged atrium access in Marylebone Square I wrote about recently. (c.f. Moneymaking Machines No. 8: Marylebon Square) I’m not sure what this means. It could all depend upon whether the windows overlooking this atrium space are meaningful windows such as kitchen windows, functional but inconsequential windows placed to give the appearance of sociality or whether, for that matter, they are indeed actual windows and not representations of windows. From going back and looking at the apartment layouts, I suspect the answer is “all of the above”. Even if some of those windows in this expensively provided atrium are fake windows for ostensibly decorative purposes then, given what Yamamoto just wrote above, people in that atrium would still have the impression of being observed and adjust their behaviour accordingly whether that impression was true or not. In the end it probably makes no difference as security cameras in the intermediate collective space do the same job.

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2024/06/23 Ch. 2, pp.87-92 (this post)
2024/06/16 Ch. 2, pp.78-87
2024/06/02 Ch. 2, pp.69-78
2024/05/05 Ch. 2, pp.66-70
2024/05/05 Ch. 2, pp.58-66
2024/05/05 Ch. 1, pp.46-55
2024/04/28 Ch. 1, pp.35-46
2024/04/21 Ch. 1, pp.23-35
2024/04/07 Ch. 1, pp.18-23
2024/03/31 Ch. 1, pp.14-18
2024/03/24 The Space of Power vs. The Power of Space: Preface pp. 7-11

Revisited this week:

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