Spatial Piracy and Architectural Heresies [Draft II]


The intent is “Illegal Architecture:” architecture as act of defiance. It allows communities activities from which they’ve been barred. It is a thorn in the side of private developers and state power. It allows or intensify the event, possibly to extremes. Illegal Architecture is is transgressive, liberating, and possibly dangerous.

The mad mastermind Anarchitect leads a network of rogue architects and contractors. They utilize alternative currencies, expertise in and access to tools and materials, communications networks, transportation devices, and safe warehouses to build and quickly install architectural interventions. Hijacking urban spaces, the intent is to use architecture as a strategic weapon. This is not utopian fantasy: the usual course of uprising plays out and the users are evicted, the constructions destroyed. But they are never dissuaded. Aware of the modern mediated environment, the band knows the power of the gesture and are is visually and intellectually compelling.

The end product is the narrative: the story of their rise and fall, the objects constructed, the technologies used, the ideas and beliefs of these rogue agents. This includes their motivations, manifestos, the ways that they communicate with each other, and with the outside world, propaganda, mythology, etc. Ultimately, this will include police reports, broadsheets, wheatpastings, message board postings, etc.

But Why?

Please see my previous work for more on the relationship between ritual as a network language and the potential of networks as an organizing principal, which is omitted for brevity.

…While a very important tool, modern western phenomenology it is often considered fact in architectural discourse. Most architecture today is predicated upon it. But it ignores dynamism: the event beyond the control of “being.” This is an attempt to use the robustness of ritual as a “network language” to construct an architecture that lets the destructive, transcendental, and transformative event back into the way we think of buildings themselves.

It seeks to capture the moment of heightened tension and synthesizing what Bernard Cache calls the “interval” between cause and effect. It seeks to give physical construction to temporary zones of autonomy from the forces of domination in our society.

[Another reason? So rarely do students, even though we have freedom to so and those in practice do not, suggest something totally transgressive, liberating, dangerous and/or illegal.]

And How?

Aesthetically, there must be a richness of interrelationships, narrative, and visual expression that renders the architecture immediate and visceral. It must be polemical, dangerous, and striking.

Unbeknownst to those inside the narrative, the five Ritual Typologies and thirteen Elements of a Religion, as outlined by Anthony F.C. Wallace in Religion: An Anthropological View will be used to construct it. This framework will also be used as an ecology of content which will define the aesthetics of the images. And naturally, the relationship between “believers,” and between the sect and the outside world will be structured along these criteria, as well.

OK… Where?

There will be multiple physical sites within the narrative. I am interested in the intersections of the map of the history of power in London and of the history of “mystical” London. The first maneuver will be carried out by our band in the “Aztec Ball Court” adjacent to the newly reopened Marble Arch fountain and the old location of Tyburn Tree. Other locations include the vicinity of the London Stone, Clerkenwell Green, hanging from Blackfriar’s bridge, etc.

Ritual and Communication

“Ritual may, perhaps, most succinctly be classified as communication without information: that is to say, each ritual is a particular sequence of signals which, once announced, allows no uncertainty, no choice, and hence, in the statistical sense of information theory, conveys no information from sender to receiver. It is, ideally, a system of perfect order and any deviation from this order is a mistake.” (Wallace 233-234)”

The possibilities for a ritual system to actually construct architecture stem from the fact that it provides a clear and coherent rule set for communication: a language of signs. A ritual behavior is a quantum of this communication, a single sign, and the ritual object can only be used in concert with a ritual. My previously imagined artifact / machine that “changes perception,” or some system that facilitates knowledge outside one’s own worldview cannot be the meaning of a ritual or the sum of the ritual itself.

So when using ritual as a force for generating objects or spaces, it is necessary to also construct everything around the ritual object. It is in fact necessary to create a system that looks a lot like a religion. The sand mandala is not just the artifact, but a world view and a process of making the world vis a vis the object. (This has a lot in common with the dialectic of materialism, eh?)

Trying to “use ritual to construct space,” as discussed so often, means usually one of two things. The first misconception I have found is that when someone says “using ritual,” they actually mean “using repetition.” They identify ritual with only the repetitive and routine-building function, and leave any discussion of its communicative potential untouched.

The second fallacious method is to pick the ritual you desire and pick how it is used, at will. This is solipsistic and short-sighted. There is no rigor to that without having gone through the process of understanding the nature of how the process of ritual works. For example, my “ritual” in first term was the whole process of constructing the objects, the mystique of their expression, and the actions taken in working the ceremony on Primrose Hill.

My ritual was NOT – and this is a very important point – NOT simply the ceremony on Primrose Hill.

Only in going through the whole assembly of ritual behaviors that actually amount to a “religion of sorts” was I able to understand that coming to grips with the nature of ritual itself. Upon examination of that, I was able to understand what it is, how it manifests and how it communicates, and then could I empower myself to understand how to build the cooperation between the user and the “site,” via the ritual and the object employed with it, extending outward into the world.

Spatial Piracy and Architectural Heresies

My ambition is to imagine the constructions of an architectural anti-office and their army of rogue contractors. Anarchitect, the mad mastermind, will utilize a network of sympathetic architects and contractors with expertise in and access to the tools and materials of construction. They will use a highly organized but flexible network of personal communication and transportation devices, safe warehouses, and highly planned, quickly installed constructions to hijack and re-purpose urban spaces.

(footnote 1) I see this as an agent for occupying the cracks in between the mechanisms of “the establishment” to challenge its methods and values, similar to the idea of the Temporary Autonomous Zones described by Hakim Bey. The further intent is to identify and provide venues for lacking public amentities, anti-capitalist activism, and spaces of dubious value and safety for the public to challenge themselves.

The project consists not only of imagining the constructions of Mr. Anarchitect, but intellectually and visually describing the network they employ, the ideologies they espouse, and the narrative that drives the work. The necessity of building the whole suite and not just visualizing the physical objects or spaces constructed comes directly from my research into ritual and its relation to religion. In sum, a ritual is just a unit of communication of a whole world and viewpoint that it has a recursively constructing relationship with.

I will be building the schema of action and interaction between the “believers” and between the sect and the outside world based on the thirteen elements of a religion, as outlined by Anthony F.C. Wallace in Religion: An Anthropological View.

“…and yet, suggests Bourdieu, nothing less than a whole cosmology is instilled in the words ‘Stand up straight!’ “ (Bell p.99) In her book Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, Catherine Bell discusses the nature of how the performer, through their performance of the ritual, creates the space of their action. The factors – body, ritual, and space construct each other through their interaction. The entire world, interior and exterior of the mind, becomes a “sand mandala,” wherein the practitioner and the thing practiced upon rely upon each other for their very existence. My design is based around a narrative of a network of agents – a sect or in Bey’s terms, a “band” – who employ the communicative and transformative potentials of ritual. As Bell says:

“Ritual mastery is the ability – not equally shared, desired, or recognized – to (1) take and remake schemes from the shared culture that can strategically nuance, privilege, or transform, (2) deploy them in the formulation of a privileged ritual experience, which in turn (3) impresses them in a new form upon agents able to deploy them in a variety of circumstances beyond the circumference of the rite itself.” (Bell p.116)

The cultural values embodied in any tool are to be turned against the culture of their creation and used to confuse, contradict, or destroy its aims. In this case, the tools of the construction of physical spaces and objects will be employed in the construction of pirate spaces and architectural heresies. I am not constructing a building, or an object, I am constructing an uprising that never happened. Or simply hasn’t happened yet.

I embrace this method for its rigor and for its thoroughness because architectural and ritual discourse are so rarely examined together. It allows one to play with subjects usually taboo to the architectural discourse and architectural study. I embrace this method for allowing the construction of a liberated, enjoyable, and meaningful narrative. I am excited to understand the nature of what I am doing and what we’re really doing as architects, to push the boundaries of it, and understand its significance sociologically and personally by using Foucault’s simple and useful idea of understanding what what I’m doing does.

(footnote 1) I apologize for the “preciousness” of this statement.

…more to come – design precedents, intellectual precedents, further commentary upon what was achieved last term, Wallace’s 13 elements of a religion as pertain to my work, recuperated responses to the five initial questions of our “Mission Statements,” key ideas and terms to my discussion, and hopefully a restated Nine Canticles for an Attack Architecture.