In the midst of today’s global pandemic and social unrest, this studio will focus on a project of decolonization—a theoretical approach to literary studies that centers on the legacy of global asymmetries of power—in order to ask what its formal expression in architecture might be.
Drawing from the writings of postcolonial theorists Homi K. Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak, as well as the critical geographer Edward W. Soja, we will explore the concepts of thirdspace, hybridity, and liminality. Our focus will be on “the emergence of the interstice—the overlap and displacement of domains of difference,” that, according to Bhabha, can begin to destabilize the binary dialectics that reinforce the duality of colonizer and colonized. This challenge to binary dialectics can also serve to undermine dominant hierarchies within architecture, such as part-to-whole, perception-conception, figure-ground, etc.
Postcolonial theory is especially interested in hybridity for its qualities of otherness and difference. However, identifying difference here does not refer to the act of delineating opposites, or of creating a demarcation that is used to keep the ‘other’ at bay. Rather, by studying hybridity it becomes possible to identify a space between opposites, since the production of hybridity occurs in an interstitial and formative zone that does not merely hold a space between two contrasting elements, but instead disturbs, disorders, deconstructs, and ultimately reconstructs those opposing forces. This gives rise to Bhabha’s use of the term thirdspace: a zone that disturbs the binaries and hierarchies that uphold power, yet that does not erase or resolve difference into a new totalizing or homogeneous ideology. The term is further explored by Henri Lefebvre and Edward W. Soja, who both use the term spatial trialectic in order to understand the difference between perceived space (a given or literal space that is inhabited and perhaps taken for granted), conceived space (a representation of space formed in the mind), and lived space (the resultant space that emerges from the combination of perceived space and conceived space, or how the world is versus how we imagine it to be). While Lefebvre would argue that architecture largely operates within the sphere of perceived space, due to architecture’s ability to create meaning through signs, this studio will ask two fundamental questions: how can spatial trialectics be understood as an architectural concept and what are the spatial manifestations of thirdspace and hybridity?
The studio will begin by exploring the formal and spatial manifestations of thirdspace and hybridity. The goal will be to create an urban and architectural hybrid, and students will employ the idea of thirdspace, as articulated by Homi K. Bhabha, Henri Lefebvre, and Edward W. Soja. Within the discipline of geography, Soja and Lefebvre use the term to indicate a triad that locates the interplay between physical, mental, and political space. In contrast, this studio will focus on the possibility of thirdspace emerging within the space of the city, and as an architectural concept. The goal will be to study the spatial and formal expression of thirdspace as a means to explore how architecture can engage a postcolonial project.
Furthermore, by acknowledging the interplay, or gap, between the way space is perceived and conceived, the concept of spatial trialectics suggests that meaning itself emerges as a hybrid between perception and conception. To further contextualize how the production of meaning relates to a postcolonial project, students will read Gayatri Spivak’s theories of deconstruction.
In many ways, New Haven is a divided city. It is characterized by the separation between the university and town, a legible racial divide, infrastructural barriers, and a strong contrast between pre-existing gridded form manifest in the courtyard typology of Yale College and the object form of post-war architectural works such as the BAC by Louis Kahn, the Yale Hockey Rink by Eero Saarinen, and the School of Management building by Normal Foster. The studio will focus in particular on this latter contrast between fabric and object, as described by Colin Rowe in his essay on the Yale Mathematics building competition. Rowe was particularly interested in the way in which Yale ceased to build courtyard buildings after 1945, in a move that seemed to absorb the progressive discourse of the modern and reject the historical fabric in favor of object form. This studio will frame this contrast between fabric and object form as a specific condition of New Haven that has the potential to produce a condition of liminality and hybridization.
Tony Vidler argues in “The Third Typology” that the city is a typology in itself, one that is “not built up out of separate elements, nor assembled out of objects classified according to use, social ideology, or technical characteristics: it stands complete and ready to be de-composed into fragments.” This “ontology of the city,” as he calls it, negates the reading of the city as a whole, arguing for its implicit fragmentation or reducibility into parts. In this context, students will locate and analyze interstices within the overall form of New Haven, identifying urban elements that create divides within the form of the city. In particular, students should focus on the contrast between courtyard and fabric. Students should redraw the site, looking for zones in the city where liminality can become more than a resultant space between legible figures, but rather an active figure that creates a condition of hybridity.
In defining the concept of hybridity, Bhabha observes that ideas bear traces of influence and as such, do not have fixed boundaries. They are in flux, impure, and change over time. Students will produce a typological study the looks for legible types that have been mutated over time to produce a hybrid. Buildings chosen for analysis should show evidence of hybridity and students will be asked to isolate the opposing forces that have created the hybrid condition. In other words, essential to this exercise will be the explicit identification of an ‘A’ and a ‘B’ that are the original conditions that enter into relation via the production of the hybrid.
Central to the studio will be a resistance to binaries and their resolution via dialectics and as such, the ultimate goal of identifying these opposites will be to ask how liminality might destabilize the reading of those forces. Students instead will interrogate the possibility of a trialectic as a device. While spatial trialectics emerged within the field of geography, as a reaction to Homi K. Bhabha’s work, this studio will explore the trialectic as an architectural device and / or a mode of reading.
Students will work in teams and chose one of three sites on which to design a 70,000 sq. ft. building that can actively produce a hybrid condition within the New Haven context.
The three sites are:
- Hillhouse Avenue: The site will be the northwest corner of Hillhouse Ave. and Trumbull St, the site of the Yale Mathematics building competition of 1970. This site will ask students to contend with Marcel Breuer’s Becton building and plaza. At the edge of the campus, this site also engages the transition away from courtyard buildings towards object buildings.
- An interstice between Chapel St. and Crown St: This site will be the inner block bounded by Chapel St., College St., Crown St, and High St. This site negotiates the boundary of the Yale campus, is active within the nine-square plan of the city, and will require students to respond to strong architectural objects such as the College Street Music Hall and Louis Kahn’s British Art Center.
- An interstice between York St. and Park St.: This site is constituted by a mix of courtyard and object typologies, including Davenport College, Rudolph Hall, and the Wolfshead tomb, which is both an object and a courtyard. Students will intervene upon the U-shaped alleyway that currently frames Wolfshead while re-thinking the currently unwieldy pedestrian passageway from York St. to Park St.
Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture
Colin Rowe, “Robert Venturi and the Yale Mathematics Building” Oppositions, Fall 1976/6, pp 1-19.
Tony Vidler, “The Third Typology.”
Edward W. Soja, “Writing the City Spatially,” City.
Gayatri Spivak, An Aesthetic Education in the Era of Globalization
Gayatri Spivak, introduction to Of Grammatology