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Ch. 2, pp. 92-100

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5 The Concept of Materialization

Ideas are shared by being “materialized

On actually seeing and experiencing the laborer housing city of Mulhouse, or the familistère of Cité Napoleon, one can see how an idea has been made real. At Mulhouse, living on those mutually separated houses makes it clear to everybody what the meanings of “intimate family space” and “privacy” are intended to be. The familistère of Cité Napoleon make the concepts of collective and socialism real for everybody. Arendt writes that “how an architectural space is, materializes actions, speech, and ideas”. (Arendt, The Human Condition, p.149)

These “actions, speech, and ideas” aren’t real unless they are materialized. It’s not possible to touch them because activities, speaking and thinking are all acts that disappear the instant they are performed. The come to have a reality when their intangibility is changed into a tangibility, and exist when that state continues. “Actions, speech, and ideas” are “seen, heard and remembered” and must be transformed by materialization to have an external appearance. (ibid., p.149) Architectural space has an external “appearance” through which it relates to the city while inside it is the space that protects the humans inside from what is outside. In other words, it is the space into which other humans can be invited. Of all the things we can touch and experience, architectural space is one that influences us very strongly. The actual experience of architectural space is what enables us to feel the reality of architectural space and its ideas. The nemeon and polis are related in that, unless the nemeon (wall) is made tangible, it is not possible to recognize the laws of the polis as a system shared by the collective.

The housing revolution is a petite bourgeoisie revolution

In Arendt’s writing, this ‘materialization” is an extremely important concept. Materialization is what changes something intangible into something with tangibility. “Actions, speech and ideas” cannot, in the states they are, be touched by others and so must be materialized in order to make them “patterns of thought and ideas” and so shared with others. (The Human Condition, p.149) They become “world things [objects in the world]” due to this materialization and “for the first time have a reality that continues to exist.” (ibid. p 149,150) This reality is that of them being shared with others. The job of architects relates to this materialization. Deeply. And so we understand what Arendt is writing about. Materialization is the materialization of ‘actions, speech, and ideas’. However, it is not one-way for there isn’t just the one direction of actions, speech and thought being materialized because these actions, speech, and ideas are also subject to the influence of that which has already been materialized. Arendt writes that it is materialization that makes it possible for actions, speech and thoughts to be shared. Materialization is deeply related to the sharing of ideas. In the case of Cité Napoleon and the familistère, the idea (of socialism) was realized and shared and this is what materialization does.

The difficult part to understand is that we believe actions, speech and ideas to be materialized. For example, whether it is a house or a piece of furniture or an automobile that we make, we have content in mind prior to us making that thing. There is a person who decides upon that content, and there is a person who then materializes that content. This concept of materialization is one of the most difficult for us in contemporary society to understand. Actions, speech and ideas occur prior to materialization and we believe that they have been [correctly?] materialized. There is also the division of roles between the person who has the idea and the person that performs the materialization but this is simply how we understand it now. Building ‘functional’ buildings happens because we believe those ideas can be [correctly?] materialized in accordance with the command that they should be functional. This is the reason we think architecture is a means. The command to materialize must occur prior to any materialization.

// This is the definition of functional and I believe that today many people still think of this as truth. This is why it is viewed as utopian when architecture plays the reverse role and begins with a blank slate. Or, to phrase it the other way, when architecture proposes some kind of new idea, it is not possible to understand that new idea in terms of what has gone before. Engels said that such architectural ideas were imaginary. Fourier’s phalanstère, Godin’s familistère and Robert Owen’s (1771–1858) experimental New Lanark Mill Factory are all “imaginary socialism” according to Engels, because these architectural experiments are no more than accidental thoughts with no recognition of historical concepts of socialism. They have no basis, and so they are imaginary.

For Fourier, Owen and Godin, “socialism was an absolute truth and the expression of rationality and justice and, if that is discovered, then socialism would be able to not only rejuvenate the world through it’s own strength but, because absolute truth has no relationship to time and space or indeed to human historical development, its discovery at an particular time or place is but an accident.” (From Fantasy to Science, pp.48,49) “This allows for many different types of socialism and so, for each of those factions, the discovery of not only a new but a perfect social system, its declaration and, if possible, the production of an actual experimental model will be able to push society from outside of it. These new social theories were for all intents and purposes fantasies and increasingly become illusion the more that is written about them.” (ibid., pp.68,69)

For this reason, those experiments were no more than accidents no matter how much detail was gone into. The ‘historical development’ that entailed liberating the proletariat had absolutely no relationship. Engels thought that was little more than an accidental experiment. He was critical of housing reform itself, believing that the labour problem would not be solved even if housing were reformed and that it was merely some minor bourgeois reform. “Labourers and the housing difficulties faced by one portion of the minor bourgeoisie in today’s large cities are just one of the smaller and secondary harmful effects of an infinite number that arrive with the today’s system of capitalist production.” (Engels, Housing Problem, p.22) Even if one were to solve a housing difficulty as a housing problem, the method by which that would occur would bear no relationship to the problem of labour. “It would remain just one measure for overcoming housing difficulties, and do no more than alleviate the exploitation and pressure on the labouring class by the classes that control them.” (ibid., p.22) “This is to say that a proletariat that has progressed as far as dictatorship could, in the name of society, acquire all means of production and by that the housing problem would solve itself.” (ibid., p.22) For Engels, the housing problem was nothing more than a secondary problem. One the one hand he thought the ideas of Owen, Saint Simon and Fourier were fantasy socialism, and on the other hand thought the experimental housing reforms of Proudhon and Emile Zacs were “minor bourgeoisie socialism” (ibid., p.25) and discarded them as well.

The Platonic separation of Thought and Behaviour

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) began his career as a typesetter and progressed to owning his own printing company and through this experience claimed to have a good understanding of cooperative industry. “The path to solving econbomnic problems in line with the idea of “Mutualism” requires that finance undertake the role of mutual trust providers as “people’s banks”. Proudhon published “The People’s Representative” newspaper in which he made appeals for bank reform in this direction” (Matoba Akihiro et. al., New Dictionary of Marx Studies, p.436 (Saito, E., [Etsuru?]) and this was intended to be put into practice to help not only labourers but all citizens including workers, parents, and managers of shops. Marx criticized this by saying “It was a good plan for moving towards a shared respect for the ills of private property but it is foolish and dangerous to assume etermal happiness from such a communism” while Engels wrote “All labourers must have a dwelling with which they are associated.” (Housing Problem, p.36)

On the one hand we have Austrian economist Emile Zax (1845-1927) saying with reference to example of Mulhouse, “Large cities only have inexpensive land on their peripheries and so single-story housing should be planned for such worker housing districts, and provided with the communal facilities necessary for everyday living. Forming residential districts (colonization) towards the periphery of the city is the end goal of housing reform. Because of this, it is necessary to have an inexpensive means of transportation linking these housing districts with the city and the labour markets. (Kitamura, S. [Shofumi?], German Housing Reform Movements, pp.364-355) This proposal was based on the principles of the Garden City movement. This was a criticism of the petite bourgeoisie [the section of the middle class with the lowest social status, generally composed of shopkeepers, lower clerical staff, etc.]

I believe that this thinking of Engels has had a huge influence on us today. Many of us believe that the housing problem is a social problem and, as such, a political problem, and that “architecturalizing” it in the sense of materialization is something that comes after the political decisions have been made. This is how we think. Even now, many people think the matter of architecture is a secondary problem. “If we are to use our cities rationally, then it is already clear that we have sufficient housing that only serves to immediately alleviate “housing difficulties.” (Engels, Housing Problem, p.42,43) This statement takes no account of the type for housing or how people are to live in it. It creates the housing problem simply as one of numbers. Even now, there are many people who believe that the housing problem is nothing more than a secondary problem.

This has the following consequences – namely, “The Platonic Separation of Knowledge and Behaviour”. This is “the theoretical basis of all control”. (The Human Condition, p.354) Political decisions are thought.’ This platonic separation is “Thought being seen as commands being synonymous with control, and action as subservience synonymous with carrying out.” (ibid., p.355) In other words, the person that commands ‘materialization symbolizes ‘thought’ and the person that carries out the order symbolizes subservience. This is the theoretical basis of all control. Engels’ observation of ‘fantasy’ and that housing is nothing more than a secondary problem is premised on this relationship between a command and its carrying out. It is an embodiment of the relationship between the person giving the order and the person carrying it out. Without a command being given, a labour problem is reduced to a simple problem of housing and is not recognized as a ’thought’ by those who would carry it out. This ’thought’ is on Engels’ side. Engels has the ‘thought’ that the labour problem is a historical problem and this is the base for a command. Materialization in accordance with that command makes it into “an even smaller secondary problem”.

This type of thinking centering on ‘materialization’ is how we think today. We are still under the spell of this relationship between those that give the command and those that carry it out. This is something that is a part of us even thought we don’t notice it. What’s more, Arendt also wrote that this command•carrying it out way of thinking is the basis of a managed society, and warns of its dangers. It is in fact the basis of bureaucratically managed societies (nations).

This does not mean that thought precedes materialization. Rather than saying that thought and materialization are one, it is more correct to say that materialization is the basis for thought. ‘Thought’ is not something that can be felt. It must be changed into something that can be and, by doing this, has for the first time reality and a continuing existence. Materializing the command gives it reality and shows how much the basis lies in that command. This is the “theoretical basis of control.”

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2024/06/30 Ch. 2, pp.92-100 (this post)
2024/06/23 Ch. 2, pp.87-92
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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