Resist the temptation of a contactless city

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Resist the temptation of a contactless city





© GREG BAKER
At the entrance of a parking lot in Beijing, April 22.

By replacing open space, teleworking calls into question the distinction between private and social space. A problem for architecture, which is not an art of separation but of gathering.

Grandstand. Many of the lessons learned from the crisis are part of our spatial, urban and architectural habits, and the opinions shared in recent weeks are broadly in the same direction. “Paradigm shift”, summarized in the world May 3-4: “Where we met, the architect is summoned to distance.” It is imperative to say to what extent this proposal, even temporary, even exceptional, even reversible, is fundamentally problematic and must be combated.

It is not a question of denying the need for ephemeral protocols of distancing, nor of envisaging more perennial evolutions: a de-densification of the cities and a de-metropolization could thus have good, even if we could then face, as sociologist Richard Sennett believes, to an unexpected “Contradiction between public health and climate preservation requirements” ((International mail, May 14). Major health crises always have their spatial consequences. But, while Haussmann’s remodeling of Paris is today presented as an exemplary reaction to a health crisis without mention of its disciplinary aims, it must be remembered that architecture must ensure that it remains an art of gathering and do not let your old demons go, their temptation to (re) become, as it was at the time of the plague well analyzed by Foucault, a technique of separation.

Architects must therefore be better heard, at least to bring some nuance or contradiction to the debates. On the issue of the workplace, for example. One could experience some relief by seeing the sudden weakening of these development solutions – open space, coworking, and the next stage of the “flex-office” – which we believed to be inevitable and which were working to gradually neutralize any possibility of appropriation of the collective space. But above all, let’s try to develop a more critical look at the alternatives that are already there, served by the same ones: the terrible plexiglass re-partitioning devices do not bode well for the future of work.

We can also understand the attractiveness of a wider use of telework for some of us, those able to take advantage of a confusion between categories, moments, spaces. But for many, the separation between home and work is necessary and protective. Paul B. Preciado, in his fascinating reading of the crisis, saw the risk of letting the private home become the “Center of the economy of tele-consumption and tele-production” ((“Biomonitoring: getting out of the soft prison of our interiors”, Mediapart, April 12). More essentially, the partition between private and social space is the foundation of our organizations. Questioning it, by means of intrusive techniques which further prolong confinement at home, is to deprive the individual of part of his private life at the same time as part of his “second life”, his political life. These are, wrote Hannah Arendt, “Two orders of existence” which are essential to each of us, and we have a responsibility to ensure both their existence and their clear dissociation.

And then it is in public space, that is to say with the very idea that we have of the city, that we must pay the greatest attention. It seems that we have to reconsider the “Hidden dimension” of urbanism that is proxemia, the art of distances theorized by the sociologist Edward T. Hall in a text much appreciated by architects. If this can lead to happy and lasting innovations (widening the sidewalks, of course), let us be on our guard. Public space tends to be redefined as “This place where what connects men is their very separation. Hence the need for strategies and control devices allowing men to live “side by side” without touching each other. “

Based on an analysis of the common etymology of the terms immunity and community (in Community, immunity, biopolitics, ed. Mimesis) the philosopher Roberto Esposito describes there what he calls the “Immune logic” of the city, a logic that he calls us to refute to return to the primary sense of community: a necessarily unstable environment, where everyone opens up to the other, is exposed.

We need, in other words borrowed from the theoretician of care Joan Tronto, watch over our “Common humanity”, our ability to live alongside strangers (our ability, will rephrase Sennett, to “Live in the same place as people who are totally different from themselves”). The public space is the place of construction and maintenance of this common never acquired; the place where you learn to put hospitality before the temptation of hostility. We must continue tirelessly to make this idea heard, which the project continues to hold, and which we succeed in bringing about a common immunity without jeopardizing our common humanity.

Let’s use our culture of architects and planners to think about these questions, rather than wasting our time on inventing separation devices. And if there is still too much of a temptation to learn lessons urgently, let’s first think about the most outrageous housing transformation strategies, so that the next confinement can be experienced with a little less injustice.

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