Application of theory

Preface: May I apologise for this post. This is not intended, necessarily to be read by others in relation to their project or the studio theme, but as my summary of a weeks work of difficult readings, to aid myself in clarifying my position architecturally and theoretically. Also, I could not think of an appropriate image.

Since I found my site I have been fascinated by its properties and characteristics. There is a true sense of romanticism within it, which, from an architectural point of view, is an odd sentence to attach to what I initially considered to be a simple piece of empty land.

My issue with this is that it seemed to have no weight conceptually, which is why I tried to attribute conventional processes, frameworks and general industry situations to my scenario; to make the fantastical concept more realistic and easier to grip.

Following the advice received at my interim crit (and realising I was on the border of becoming an absolute cop-out in terms of my project), I  have spent this week not designing anything, or strictly considering how to design (as I think I have that perspective solidified: artist/(a)rchitect walking around the site with the actors and designing WITH them, not FOR them), but I have spent the week reading, trying to ground the concept in theory without diluting the beauty and mysticisms. I need this to get my head around how to design the space, I need a stronger starting point than “erm… it feels nice and its special”. I understand the weight of the role played by personal experience, but this needs to be supported.

Introducing, Heterotopias and Terrain Vague. Both European spatial theories (French and Spanish respectively), they overlap in many ways in that they are both fascinated with non-space, space that can only be described as ‘having occurrences happen within them’.

Terrain Vague

Ignasi de Sola-Morales’ Terrain Vague is interesting in both concept and etymology. Beginning with the latter; Terrain implies tactility, earthiness, spatiality and being linked with urbanism (as opposed to land, which has none of the emotionally charged connotations). Vague is rather more self explanatory, implying movement, instability and availability.

Conceptually, Sola-Morales opposes ultra-development of these existing spaces, expressed in the following quote:

When architecture and urban design project their desire onto a vacant space, a terrain vague, they seem incapable of doing anything other than introducing violent transformations, changing estrangement into citizenship, and striving at all costs to dissolve the uncontaminated margin of the obsolete into the realism of efficacy

This quote summarises the driving force of my project, and further, my feelings about architectural design, and has transcended my project, bleeding into my personal feelings towards the profession and my career. But enough of the life and career-choice affirmation, let’s move on to Foucault.


Heterotopia is the significantly more difficult concept. It begins with discussions of the “fatal intersection of time with space” which on a superficial level could be related the idea of one leaving traces and the conceptual collision this has in terms of spatial consequences. This reading of temporary time can be furthered by the, slightly bizzare, immediate disregard for the importance of time, with Foucault suggesting that “time probably appears to us only as one of the various distributive operations that are possible for the elements that are spread out in space”.

Foucault swiftly explores space in a manner that I will quote as, when paired with Sola-Morales’ Terrain Vague quote shown above, can form the basis for my entire scheme and philosophical principles.

We have been taught that we do not live in a homogenous and empty space, but on the contrary in a space thoroughly imbued with quantities and perhaps thoroughly fantasmic as well… our passions hold within themselves qualities that seem intrinsic: there is a light, ethereal, transparent space, or again a dark, rough, encumbered space.

He then speaks of these “counter-sites” (a term which infers relations to other sites and wider society, which in turn references Relational Aesthetics) as being mirrors…yes I know but bare with me… spaces in which one can reconstitute themselves within a virtual, a disconnect from the real, the spaces are “simultaneously mythic and real”.

6 Principles of a Heterotopia follow, and are summarised, to the best of my limited ability, and incredibly shortly, below:

  1. No one type of space: They may have previously being sacred, religious spaces, forbidden places, which can be split into Heterotopias of Crisis and Heterotopias of Deviation.
    1. Crisis: Spaces reserved for individuals who are, in relation to contemporary society, in a state of crisis. Actions often happen here that should happen elsewhere: eg. kids having their first drink/cigarette on my site, or a lonely cat finding comfort in such an unruly space.
    2. Deviation: Spaces in which actions deviate to the required mean; an old people’s home could be seen as this because leisure is key, which, societally and if aimed at a younger age, would be considered idle and therefore a deviation from norms.
  2. Function of Heterotopias are linked to the synchrony of culture: Cemeteries used to be central to a society and city, whereas our contemporary obsession with illness, the waning belief of an afterlife, and fixation on individualism forces the location of ‘death’ elsewhere, becoming a place where each family has their own dark resting place.
  3. “The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several site that are in themselves incompatible.”. I think this can be read literally, that singular forms can unify into one cohesive formation without necessarily relating to one another harmoniously.
  4. Time: Museums and libraries simultaneously accumulate and abolish time; they collect artefacts yet afford you the opportunity to disconnect from the current. This principle is the most difficult, I find, to grasp fully.
  5. Entrance and Exit (in relation to my scheme): There are openings that seem to be pure and simple, but that hide curious exclusions: we believe we have entered an heterotopic site when we feel excluded from the rest of society. We know that entering this space excludes us and therefore Comparisons are drawn with hotels being used for affairs; the activity is absolutely hidden and sheltered, isolated without ever being allowed to be in the open.
  6. Relation: Heterotopias have a function to all space that remains: to either expose all other real space or to create a space which is other.

I don’t suspect that this summary of my weeks work will benefit anyone else, but I felt it important to ground my project in theory. I have thoroughly enjoyed (and struggled with) reading the theories above, and I have every intention to continue to read around them and cement them within my project as the conceptual basis.

Further reading in terms of design will include Hill’s Immaterial Architecture and further precedent explorations of land art and landscape design as I have previously done.


*…and breathe.*


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