~ Michel de Certeau ~ Walter Benjamin ~ Beatriz Colomina ~

De Certeau, Michel. “Spatial Practices: Walking in the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life. Los Angeles, University of California Press: 1984.


De Certeau’s infamous treatment of everyday “spatial practices” in urban context proposes habitual acts of resistance that may be seen to counter Foucault’s emphasis upon the the cultural forces of super¬structural power (panoptic power, for example). The text engenders a situated and performative style of writing that traces citizen circumvention and engagement with their environment. Interpreting practices, and the inhabiting of spaces, as one would read a text. He describes pedestrian paths, for example, as corresponding and intertwining and inscribing upon the landscape narratives which otherwise elude legibility. The author inquires into the anthropological, poetic, and mythic experience of space which perpetually defines the character of that place / neighbourhood / city (New York is the author’s reference). While doing so he refutes the accuracy, and sometimes the relevancy, of operative and functionalist analysis which do not account for meanings, associative concepts, and identities, nor adequately understand the city’s “waste products” (abnormalities, deviance, illness, death, etc).

De Certeau does not dismiss the existence of a relationship between city planning, political intentions, and inhabitant uses, but emphasizes the character of the dynamic individuals contribute. The author therein embraces a phenomenological investigative approach surrounding the invisibility and blindness of the mundane or ‘everyday’, which he views as both concealing and revealing the conditions of social life.The text includes reference to the origins of the ‘concept city’ as an utopian capitalist ideation that did not account for holistic concerns and / or processes through which people adapt and adopt and transform places into spaces (spatializing). He cites the “triple enunciative function’ of pedestrianism in this regard, which is a process of appropriating the topographical system, implies inter-relations among differentiated pragmatic contacts, and the spatialization outside of proper place.

De Certeau’s approach also consists of applying a socio-linguistic analysis, interpreting actions in relation to common speach, and describes the rhetorics of walking, the mythical character of place-identities, and the active role of memory in spatial practices. He explains how narratives can organize walks, journey destinations, and local cultural attitudes. He states that there are as many spaces as distinct spatial experiences.In such ways, the author sets out to distinguish between ‘tours’ and ‘maps’ of locations; the map is described as having an instructive linguistic character, whereas the tour is characterized as a speach act or travel story. Maps constitute proper places in which to exhibit knowledge, stories invert this process and exhibit operations (inserting itself), and practice is an enunciation which actuates the story. Here De Certeau employs the interlocutory theory proposed by J.L. Austin to the character and affective qualities of such stories. The author concludes with reference and analogies surrounding the legitimization of space, the marking out of boundaries and frontiers, as well as bridging and bridges in regard to topological operations and the metaphorai of limits in general.

This text is a rich resource and excellent example of both a performative writing style and a phenomenological analytic approach to spatialization processes. De Certeau’s proposition of heroics in everyday life may well represent an over-statement, or rather the understatement of super-­structural affectivity. Lending nonetheless to a temporal understanding of literality, narrative, and poesis. The text is especially relevant to performative art practices such as public interventions and social-stagings (festivals, happenings, protest art, reclamation projects, walking tours, etc.).

Benjamin, Walter. “Paris-Capital of the 19th Century”. New Left Review, Number 48, March-April, 1968. 77-88.


This selected writing outlines the evolutionary aesthetic character of Paris, France, over the course of approximately one hundred years. The text, however, is delivered as a poetic narrative, as if we are upon a walking tour in which time itself is displaced. and moved beneath our feet, in accordance with the timeline of the narration. In this way Benjamin relates architectural design attributes and spatial uses to the societal significances they espouse; the inception of the arcade and it’s socioeconomic intentions, the use of new building materials acquired through imperialistic means, the older expectations set aside or renewed with indices of future ones.

Benjamin refers frequently to the influences of new technologies and utopian ideations upon older architectural structures and designs,and notes an observable upheaval in the relationship of art to technology. He also points to shifts in pictorial perspective and the focus of emphasis in murals and paintings, and the rise of “phantasmagoria for distraction” (the entertainment industry), and the authority of fashion being extended to objects of everyday use. This he describes as a fetishism, infusing inorganic objects with sex appeal (cult of commodity), which is best illustrated by the World Exhibition of 1867, as the radical manifestation of capitalist culture. The author references the design styles which demarcate a change in cultural attitudes, reaching back to the ideals of Revolution.

Notably, he describes how the allocations attributed to work and private time come into conflict with each other, and how markets and commodities enter into the sphere of the ‘interior’ as expressions of personality. The “gravitational centre” of living spaces become offices, residents become art collectors, a connoisseur-value is divorced off from use-value, and newness also becomes an independent quality. Allegorical interpretations of the city are absorbed and manifested in dialectical imagery, and the market is organized into spiritual values. In among these transformations, the author continues to describe the trajectory of art for art’s sake, the protectionisms of a ‘total art’, the employment of art toward ennobling technologies. Benjamin’s reference to the burning of Paris seems to introduce significations of one dream’s decline even as a new dream emerges, inferring that the indices and dressings of the old, but viewed with informed context, are what evokes that of the new.

Bloomer, Jennifer and Beatriz Colomina et al, eds. “The Split Wall”, Sexuality and Space, Princeton Architectural Press, New York, NY: 1992.


Beatriz Colomina introduces this text’s thematics by citing Walter Benjamin “To live is to leave traces”, and she describes the interior of a lived space as containing such traces, while questioning how the interpretation of these traces might be authored. Such an interpretation comprises the article’s contents, and is contrasted with the architectural design intentions in case study context. The examples provided appear to provide historical insight also, into the philosophical origins of contemporary urban design, and expose the degree to which masculine and capitalist ideology formed the basis of design theory. By investigating the interiors of lived spaces, the author is observing and interpreting familial practices and norms, and locating indices of the gendering of space. Colomina notices distinctions between interior and exterior, social and private, accessible and isolated spaces, and the sociological coherencies therein. She presents two distinct streams of design philosophy and interpretation, that may be seen to describe distinctions between suburban and metropolitan urban residencies (a class distinction may be inferred similarly, however, by each owner’s evident ability to hire an Architect).

In the case of the more suburban example, female spaces are described as resembling theatre boxes, optically and socially accessible from both within and from outside the house. A privately shared space which infers physical intimacy or sexuality, such as a bedroom, is hidden away from these intersecting rooms, where women are placed as “guardians of the unspeakable”. Whereas male spaces, such as a library or office, are public but still isolated from the familial gathering spaces, and such as space is regarded as a “reservoir of quietness closed off the household traffic”.

The author provides ample background into the perceived problems of interior and exterior separation, in multidisciplinary context, and notes accordingly significant shifts in the meaning of design features. She references sociological and psychological theories surrounding the splitting off of the intellect from the senses, and the emphasis upon optics, and relates this to the aforementioned design schema.Colomina also notes a move toward abstractions and fashionable-ness, as means of asserting individuality of existence in metropolitan context. In this case the architectural design of exteriors is increasingly described in similar context with fashion; as a mask or a masking and barrier that redresses and conceals. This masking is described by designers as needing unification, representing a seamless façade, and asserting masculine assurance. Meanwhile interiors harbour, categorize, and frame associations with sexuality and reproduction. The overall analysis describes overt and conscious investment into controlling perception, movement, space identities and functions.

The author suggests that the subject of an Architect’s house then engenders a stranger or intruder in their own space, as devices are employed to dislocate, displace, and contrive the premise of interactions. A particular example is made of Josephine Baker’s home, where the design work frames the celebrity’s activities in a fetishistic manner. Another example is made of Le Corbusier houses, where the panoramic framing of external landscapes and the implementation of technology is crafted to distort and disorder perceptions of both the interior space and the external world within which the house is situated. Colomina supports her analogies with the designer’s notes, and remarks on the extreme emphasis upon generating illusion; houses are free-floating without a site and landscapes are not places but fragmented photographic opportunities. The positioning of windows becomes an issue of communication, of power, and of supremacy (over nature, for example). She relates these ideals to a desire to sustain a perspectival worldview (making passive objects of external world, or anything other than oneself), the stranger-inhabitant is split between being an actor and his/her own spectator.

This text offers intriguing means of reading spaces in accordance with framing intents, and the direct relationship between ideological philosophy and sociopolitical organisation, as facilitated by design. Though the analysis is premised upon photographs and historical documentation, the premise of these correlations may be useful in understanding various contexts for performance or art presentation spaces, as well.



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