Claustropolis: Places For Voluntary Exiles


Eleni Bismpiki

The fear of the ‘Other’ becomes the main instrument that synthesises segregated communities and shapes the mental and physical world. The administration of fear is an action politically powerful that coordinates the ‘mass psyche’. In ‘the age of terror’ we blind ourselves to the regime of separatism that ‘feeds an us-against-them mentality’ (Ellin, 2003). Claustropolis is a fiction dystopian scenario that aims to criticise the contemporary political exercise regarding the administration of the prospective terror. It radically modifies the lived space and promotes a living state under a continuous threat from ‘an elusive enemy that is everywhere ‘we’ are’ (Massumi, 1993). The new universal type of capsule living becomes the parasite that bubbles up within our cities. Compositions of this type of living are formed into host buildings bringing the built environment and the lived space into a deteriorating state.

We live our lives within spatio-temporal zones bounded by artificial and natural extensive boundaries. Whether we are talking about nations, cities, communities, or our personal space, these ‘territories and their boundaries define our identity’ (Delanda, 1999). Every human and non-human organism perceives the territory as the extension of itself, ‘which in animals is marked by visual, vocal, and olfactory signs’ (Hall, 1966:96), while in humans by visible and invisible territorial markers and boundaries. The last decades the formation of territories is facing a contradicted phenomenon. On the one hand, we are facing an apparent ‘fluidity’ in social and cultural relations (especially in Europe) that creates ‘a ‘smooth’ geopolitical map’ (Boeri, 2003), that it is not shaped by sharp lines that divide nations. On the other hand, we have noticed an increasing number of zones and inhabiting spaces that offer a proliferation of borders in a range of scale.Therefore, the variety of inhabited spaces, whether are walled communities, nations, or the domestic spaces, where someone remains isolated from the others, represent the collective or individual desire to project the distinct political ideologies, religious beliefs, and social status. The marginalisation of space describes the everyday life of the individual that according to Lefebvre is both physical and mental. Thus, territorial space and its margin are shaped by the ‘multidimensional tensions that take form between space and society’ (Boeri, 2004). These tensions become the intensive qualities that eventually form the territory by exhibiting two main characteristics. Firstly, the establishment of a ‘heartland’, that is a condition of interiority, and secondly, the formation of its limits (Holding, 1999), boundaries and threshold.

Mobility and cultural flux have grown increasingly over the last decades and this acceleration in the rate of change as ‘a spatial and temporal unmooring has intensified our sense of insecurity’ (Ellin, 2003). We are facing the age of globalisation that has led to the appearance of the ‘private city’ and the return to the walled cities and gated communities that are formed based on an exclusive character. These communities are private territories that are created around the world ‘in quest of the ultimate comfort, (the) internal security’ (Virilio, 2005:68). Hence a sense of sanctuary or safe heaven is developed in these communities expressed through inclusion/exclusion or insider/outsider distinctions (Low, 2008: 153). However gated communities not only tend to separate themselves from the dimension of others in quest of protection but also from the political system at-large. They create a ‘micro government of exclusion and separation’ (Hook and Vrdoljak, 2002), a new urban enclosure, by promoting safety, security, law, and order. These tactics are spatial managements of the communities to facilitate avoidance, distance, and surveillance. According to the post-structuralist writings of Foucault these places as communities are heterotopias since technology and discipline of social order is reconstructed to create new spaces where microcosms of society are transformed and protected (Low, 2008).

The role of heterotopia and therefore the role of gated communities is to create ‘a space that is other, another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well-arranged, as ours is messy, ill constructed and jumbled’ (Foucault, 1986). This main role of the formation of heterotopia composes its definition as a differential space, related to the places which surround it, but remains fundamentally different from them.

People do voluntarily ‘exile’ themselves from the public realm in quest of security and the protection that the personal or the intimate space offers. Whenever the urban space —with the unexpected experiences and the interaction with others— is considered as a source of fear and anxiety people tend to create territories by isolating themselves into gated communities or into the personal bounded domestic space. The ‘fear of others’ that are strangers or foreigners, it’s a multidimensional phenomenon known as xenophobia. The definition of xenophobia as a ‘psychological state of hostility or fear towards outsiders’ (Reynolds and Vine, 1987:28), gives a sense of fright of others. Moreover, xenophobia is related to anti-immigration and is linked to nationalism, the roots of the word, xenos and phobia, give a range of interpretations. The word xenos (ξένος) is mostly translated as ‘stranger’ and is not merely associated with foreigners but with someone or something that is different, new or we are not aware of. Therefore, xenophobia is the fear of people with different culture, social status, and ideological and religious beliefs and is related to racism and the rejection of the other. In every case xenophobia is stigmatising strangers and creates microcosms. The materialisation of this ‘fear not only creates its environment, with its ghettos, gated communities, it has also created its culture, a culture of repulsion […]; there is always a reason to expulse the other’ (Virilio 2012:58-59). The expression of this phobia is mostly depended on how the ‘enemy other’ is represented by the geopolitical narratives that describe the distinction between different groups of people (Abbott, 1995). These narratives are the medium for the conception of the others as enemies since they create a distorted reality.

In the claustropolis the spatial governmentality that is being applied is fundamentally different in its logic (Low, 2008) than the one of the open city as we used to know it. The inner world of these communities soon formed domestic regimes that promote ‘the solitude of the subject, which goes along with the mass individualism that has become our new sociological state’ (Virilio, 2012:51).

Every territory (claustropolis) is a segregated community within existing buildings that expands itself as more pods are being added to the system. Hence every pod is a cell of the organism that co-exists with other pods by keeping an established distance with them. It is a parasite that started to bubble up synchronised into host buildings by altering the existing built environment. Networks of cells through their non-mutual symbiotic relationship with their hosts, eventually create an urban pathology. Following the parasitism theory, the communities of pods ‘feed off the existing infrastructure and the build form’ (Combes, 2005:26) of their hosts as part of the symbiosis. However, the high demand of pods, as the fear constantly unfolds itself, has led in turn to the intractable deterioration of our cities. Moreover, the destruction of the hosts according to the parasitism theory could eventually lead to the decay and the disappearance of the parasite itself.

The development of the concept underlines the prominent role of the narrative as both a research and a design tool. Creating narratives in a verbal way and visual representations of the narrated future are used as tools to examine and represent socio-political forces, dominant technology, social relationships and the way these alter the built environment. The future scope of this projects aims to set a base and create a framework where this type of speculative design can be established in the interior design discipline, in order to disseminate ideas into a wider audience. It aims to present critical thinking and extended research in a way that people out of the discipline can be connected with.



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