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Thoughts on urban planning, city design, architecture, the built environment, social issues, Seoul, Korea, and soon... London

14.2.04

Space is a battlefield... la la la 

Just finished reading Beatriz Colomina's article "Battle Lines: E.1027" in the "Architect Reconstructing her Practice" (editor: Francesca Hughes). My first impression of the article was interesting, well written but that it does not present a straightforward argument – not that that is necessary (but I guess I expect it).

In the article Colomina narrates a path of concepts in telling the tale of how Le Corbusier colonized the work -- specifically E.1027 (built 1926-9) – of Eileen Gray: horizon as enclosure; the violence of the modern concept of public space, i.e. the turning of its back, its opposition against the private; photography/paintings as tools of colonialism, tools of claiming the other via the physical/visual breaking and entering into the space of the other; fetishization of the image/image of the other; the mural as destroyer of architecture. My immediate response was that Le Corbusier was a bit of a bastard – perhaps typical of his time, but a bastard nonetheless.

Upon reflecting on the title of the article, the point of Colomina's came clear: E.1027 was the site of battles -- not only those of World War II (the building incl. the interior had been riddled with bullet holes) --, but these lines, as they came across in the article, were lines of advance. Though there were other acts of violence, which I won't mention here, the one Colomina focuses on foremost in the article is Le Corbusier's drawing of eight murals, of which one is of most interest to Colomina, on the walls of E.1027 -- he also managed to privately and publicly disassociate Gray from the house she designed.

This made evident who was one the one side of the battle line: Le Corbusier, modernism, the colonial master, androcentrism, the Nazis (Le Corbusier included a swastika in one of the murals -- painted in 1938). I said the battle lines were lines of advance as, in the article, there does not seem to be much description/explanation of counterattacking protagonists on the other side of the lines. Colomina does mention that Gray/Jean Badovici (her friend for whom she built and shared E.1027) wrote a letter or two and that Gray had been "outraged" by certain of Le Corbusier's acts, but Colomina does not mention more. It is unfortunate; I would have like to read more of the defences or counterattacks, to stay with the metaphor.

To extrapolate to the level of the overly general, this notion of a place/space as battle line between numerous forces could hold true for many/most/all space, be it public or private. The ideas of power and contestation invest space with a constant possibility for conflict, and on the positive side this means challenges can be made to dominant social forces -- lines of advance can be made against them or those by them can be pushed back. Indeed, the notion that Eileen Gray, a woman born at the tail end of the Victorian Age, could design and build such a house in the 1920s and accomplish the other things she did before and after that attests to these possibilities and offers inspiration. Perhaps, Le Corbusier's murals were actually his counterattack against Gray's building of E.1027.

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