Invisible Machines: Toward a Theory of Interiorization

Foster and Partners w/ FREE, Mexico City Airport, 2015
Foster and Partners w/ FREE, Mexico City Airport, 2015

(to be presented at the coming AHRA conference in Leeds)

A range of thinkers have postulated that modernity can be understood through the notion of ‘interior’. Most famously, Walter Benjamin revealed how the glassy interior of the arcades served as a crucial mechanism through which the spectacle of commodity capitalism could flourish, and thus, together with the bourgeois interior, became a metonym for industrial capitalism. More recently, Peter Sloterdijk, revisiting Benjamin’s suggestion, argued that already in Benjamin’s time the arcades were an outdated paradigm: for Sloterdijk, Paxton’s Crystal Palace is a far more apt model to describe the capitalist world as a ‘world-interior’. Paxton’s ‘hot house’, for Sloterdijk, operates as the telos of a process of ‘globalization’ set in motion from the 16th century—a metaphorical end point of a history of plunder and securitization, whose contemporary condition is characterized by an overarching aversion to risk. Interiorization for him stands as a catch-all tendency marked by sprawling insurance policies, unchecked security measures and an oligarchic power structure whose effort to totally annihilate risk comes at the expense of closing off the exterior world altogether.

For both Benjamin and Sloterdijk, the notion of ‘interior’ remains allegorical, deploying architectural paradigms to describe another set of tendencies. This paper postulates that architecture discourse lacks a theory on interiorization that can build on and push forward such ideas. It contends that a tendency interiorization can indeed be traced through architectural history as both a theoretical conjecture and a material and spatial condition. It argues that, over the past century and a half, architecture has become increasingly a technology of interiorization, one which has grown in scale over time. Along this development, the ‘interior’ has become the site of a far more machinic relation between the body and architecture; between space and law; between gesture and materiality.

With the increasing interiorization of architecture—the evermore vast interiors that architects design today—there is a kind of schizophrenic split of perception that occurs between building-as-form and building-as-interior, in which the two become completely separate problems addressed by separate interests. By examining a number of projects, from Foster and Partners’ Mexico City Airport to BIG’s Google Campus, this paper will interrogate how this split articulates a politics of the interior through both representational motifs and technological interventions. From afar, such buildings appear as pure, iconic forms within a landscape. From the interior, however, such forms become imperceivable: architecture all but disappears. In its invisibility, architecture-as-interior conducts itself instead as an architectonics of behaviors, activities, objects, desires and movements all mobilized as a vast technology of microclimates, security and comfort. If such architecture, in its transparency, organic topographies and its ability to contain everything, ‘speaks’ of its inclusive withdrawal from monumental formalism or from its imposition of limits, it is also precisely by doing so that it enacts its machinic totalization, conditioning an interior space as the site of radical securitization, modulation and control. Architecture at once so large as to swallow the city, and yet, at the same time, invisible—a silent sky under which life reproduces its most innocent gestures.

1 Comment

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