Richard Sennett, “Interiors and Interiority”

Richard Sennett, “Interiors and Interiority”

So first thing, I thank
you all for coming, for being here with us
today because it’s really– we’re very aware
it’s a very tricky, a very busy time
in the semester. So thank you so much
for choosing to be here. I really think it’s a
very special occasion and definitely think it’s
worth the choice of being here. So I know it’s– we
always say the same. But it’s difficult,
it’s almost impossible. Rick Sennett doesn’t
need an introduction. But it would be really almost
verging on the ridiculous to go through a list
of his publications, to go through a list of
his academic positions, of his awards and
prizes received. But it would be also
equally unnecessary to introduce him in the
more literal or even phenomenological sense of
the word “introduction.” So we don’t need to bring
him in with a introduction, to bring him into the
GSD because he’s already part of the GSD. So in a sense, I would say that
he’s already part of many of us through his writings,
through his books. On the other hand, Richard
is an old friend of the GSD and a part of the [inaudible]. Richard, he wrote his
PhD here at Harvard in the History of
American Civilization. And then he stayed for a while
as a fellow of the Joint Center for Urban Studies,
at Harvard-MIT for a number of years. And then later on,
he came back as– I don’t know exactly the
title, but something like the senior researcher,
senior visitor, senior fellow, senior something. Definitely senior, sorry about
that– of the Loeb Fellowship program, just four years
ago, something like that. And then I had also the
pleasure and the privilege to teach with him
for a couple of years in the Elements of Urban
Design Studio here at Harvard, at the GSD. So that’s what I
need to start with. When we were
discussing about how to address these
symposium together with the whole committee, this
symposium on inside matters that Keil Moe has so
intelligently and really carefully put together,
one of the first names that came to our minds to
really open the conversation and definitely frame
the possible questions was that of Richard Sennett. Richard Sennett has
definitely spent most of his intellectual
life addressing issues of inside and outside,
inner and the subjective, as well as the outer
and the more physical, the self and the
city, the belief city and the physical
city, living and dwelling, all of those. And he’s trying to basically
analyze, understand, inhabit, and bridge those divides. And I think that’s something
which is absolutely relevant and very important. On a final, more
personal note, I would say that I first
encountered Richard Sennett through his writings,
through his books, through a very special book for
me, which was Flesh and Stone. It was a book that
changed the way I saw a lot of
things, that really opened lots of doors for me. And then I tried to read
as much as he had written. And at that time, I never
really imagined, it never crossed my mind that
I would be meeting the man behind the books. So when I finally met
the man behind the books, I was surprised– really,
not surprised at all, actually, because
in the end, that’s one of the few things that
gives you a little bit of faith in mankind, that the
great people happen to be great people sometimes. So really, I enjoyed the fact
that the mind behind the books was even more or at
least equally interesting as the books themselves. And that was a real pleasure. So we enjoyed, really,
being with him. He was disproportionately
generous with our students and with ourselves. And I have to say that. And he always shared so
many insights with us. So lastly, I’d like to say
that– I had a few notes, but I really didn’t read them,
so– to try to define Richard, it’d be, once again,
really difficult. He’s a social analyst, a social
intellectual, a thinker, an educator, definitely. And borrowing from his own
definition of craftsmanship as the skill of
doing things well, I would say that he’s a
craftsman of thinking, a craftsman of teaching,
and a craftsman of living. And actually, what’s really
nice is that he continuously reminds us that craftsmanship
or being a craftsman is not a professional
skill, but a life skills. So definitely, interior matters. Keil will talk about
that in the afternoon. And Richard Sennett matters. So really, join me in
welcoming Richard Sennett back to the GSD. [applause] Thanks, Richard. Thank you so much. [laughter] I’ll see you later. Wow, well, after that
wonderful introduction, I’m really going to
disappoint you because I’ve been thinking about something. And the thoughts I have
about this are– I’m just trying to think
out with you now. And the background
to this is that I had a big shift in my own
life as an urbanist when, three years ago, I became
involved in a project that the UN puts on every 20
years, called Habitat III. And this is something
sponsored by UN-Habitat, which is based in
Nairobi, Kenya, which does not have a great airport. And it’s an assessment of the
state of the built environment. And this year, it’s
focused on cities. And I and my team are
readying a manifesto for it with its director, Joan Cos. Has he ever spoken here? Joan Clos? He’s the former
mayor of Barcelona. You have to get him here. So this was, as you’ll see,
something unexpected to me about thinking about
a theme that I’ve thought about a lot in
my life in other ways. And I guess you have
to tell me what’s wrong with the account
I’m going to give you. I’ll talk for about 50 minutes. It may seem that what
I’m talking about has nothing to do
with urban design. But at the end, I
want to make clear that it has everything
to do with it. I’m interested in
the relationship between the interior and
interiority, that is, between the enclosure
of physical space and the notion of subjectivity. Oh, and I should
say, I’m not going to show a single slide, not one. I’m interested in
this relationship. And there is an account which
says that the two are deeply linked, that the articulation
of interior space was part of what enabled the
development of a certain kind of bourgeois–
initially, bourgeois– European sense of
the subjective life, something sheltered
and enclosed. And what I wanted to do is
give you an alternative account of that, where
interiority is actually linked to the exterior
rather than the interior. OK? That’s the theme
I want to pursue, that this standard
account leaves out a different way of
thinking about interiority as subjective experience and
behavior in exterior spaces. And as I say, what has
jogged my own thinking about this is
experiences that I’m going to describe to you,
particularly in Cairo. Let me first give you a
brief account or a summary of this standard account of the
relation between the interior and interiority. The standard account begins
with the fact that in the past– it’s so wonderful. I think that means the
15th and 16th centuries– that interior space
was not differentiated. People slept in the
same rooms they ate in. Bedding was brought
into the room. They slept there. It was taken away
in the morning. They ate. They did their business
there, and so on. The interior was a
space in which there was no concept of privacy. And this is a standard
account that historians give, including things that,
for instance, what we think of as very
private acts like sex were things that happened in
the presence of other people. This is Lawrence Stone, who was
a great historian of sexuality, argued this, that
basically, sex was not a private experience, that
people– well, they didn’t tell other people where
to sleep, or they drew the curtains around the bed
if they could afford curtains, and so on. But the people– there was not
a private room in which people had that kind of intimate life. And Stone argues from
that, as have many others, that the notion of privacy
and the interior, there was no real correlation
between them. The next stage in
this standard account is that a new ideal
of domesticity that appears in the
middle of the 18th century among the European
bourgeoisie dictates a kind of new interior
space, one in which separate rooms perform separate
functions, particularly sleeping, which is segregated
from other activities, and that the space
of domesticity is not the space in which
the public is received inside, that is, visitors. And you can see this in
the development of housing in the 18th century in
London, for instance, in the 1740’s, where
you have differentiated rooms for different functions. And the idea about this
was– and it’s initially an idea of Rousseau’s,
which is that in the shelter of private
domestic space, that subjectivity is set free. He argues this in Julie,
the famous novel and also la nouvelle Eloise, that a
different kind of subjectivity, one which guards the
self, is something to be protected
against the outside, is enabled by the development
of the division of labor in interior space. I should say that this is
not merely the interior. This story about the interior
is not merely architecture. It’s also something
about the clothing that people wore because
it’s certainly true that in the 1830’s and 1840’s,
the idea for ordinary people is that they would
dress differently when they were in the
family than when they were in the realm of strangers. Amazing to us that it should
ever be thought otherwise. But a lot of the iconography
of people’s clothing shows that it’s something
that before the 18th century, that clothing is clothing. You wear it wherever. And that this
differentiation begins. It’s further articulated
as houses got warmer in the 18th century by
the adoption of women, of negligee clothing, the
wearing of muslin dresses, for instance, very thin. Women even sometimes
wetted them down to show off their breasts
and things like that. This became intimate
behavior, so that when we talk
about the interior, we’re also talking about a
kind of bodily comportment and bodily dress, as well
as an architectural space. What’s deduced from this is that
this private realm, according to this story, creates a kind of
zone of openness and frankness and sharing that constitutes
what we think about as interiority, that it’s a
space in which people feel free to show themselves as they
really are, either physically or in terms of their behavior. It’s a story told
by people like Stone or by, in a different
way, Phillippe Aries. Have any of you read this book? Is it still– I don’t
know if it’s still read, Centuries of Childhood,
fabulous book which tries to detail all of this from
the worlds of children, what it meant to be in an increasingly
interiorized, privatized space, that the nursery,
for instance, becomes an aspiration for
middle class people to segregate children
in the nursery. It is something you can read,
this subjective aspect of it, in 19th century novels like
Balzac’s Le Pere Goriot, where the interior becomes a space of
revelation, a revelation that doesn’t occur in the street. And in my domain,
in social theory, it is behind ideas like Gaston
Bachelard’s notions of shelter in The Poetics of Space. Another book people read? It’s a great book. And the idea is
this mythical hut that he has– the
interior space, is a space of opening up. In his famous statement,
[speaking german]. That is, being is
something rounded. It’s enclosed. So that’s a standard account. The contrary account–
a contrary account is given by Georg Simmel. And that’s in an essay called
Metropolis and Mental Life. And it starts in a
totally different place. It starts actually in
Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. And Simmel was
the first theorist to think, what is the
theory of the street as embodied by Potsdamer
Platz, which was a huge shopping
street filled with a diversity of people. Most people in Berlin tried to
get as far away from the lower classes as possible. We’re talking about people. But for shopping, they
were brought together. And it was a very
dynamic street. And Simmel said, what can
we make theoretically of it? Very, very sympathetic
to my way of thinking. And his answer was
this, that in a street, what you get is a kind of
overstimulation physically, and that the response to that
is what he calls blase behavior, on the one hand, that is,
wearing a mask so that you show nothing to people. You’re not really there. You’re blase. And on the other hand,
behind that mask, there is the
feelings that you’re having by being in the street. And these feelings,
these sensations, are your subjectivity. That is what urban
subjectivity is about. It’s a reaction to being exposed
to difference and complexity, which divides perception
so that on the one hand, there is very much indifference
or seeming indifference. Simmel takes this a
further step in saying it articulates rational
behavior, which is very instrumental. And on the other,
behind the mask, you’re still
feeling all of this. In other words, you are divided. You know what he’s talking
about in terms of eye contact, how important it is on
the street to manage it so that it’s not challenging. Right? You can feel dissed if you
stare too much at somebody else or complimented. But we won’t go there. That’s the experience
of old age. But the notion is that you’re
managing your comportment so that you’re very
neutral on the outside. But you’re still
stimulated by that. You’re aware of this other
person coming towards you. Is he of another race
or something like that? The importance about
this is that this is an urban account
of interiority, that is, of subjective
feeling, linked to an exterior condition, that
is, of exposure to others. You try to show
that you’re cool, but you aren’t cool inside. There’s an inside-outside
divide, Simmel says. But it’s one that’s
made by the street rather than removed
from the street. And furthermore, he says
that your subjective feelings are actually heightened by the
exterior stimuli of the street. Rather than trying
to neutralize them, as in the standard account,
to get away from them in order to open up and
shelter, the notion is you’re feeling more the
more you’re on the street, on that exterior. So these are two
contrary accounts, one which links the
interior with interiority and the other which
links interiority in the sense of
subjective feeling to living exteriorly
in the street. Now, this is a huge
long prologue to what I want to talk to you about. I have been a part
of this UN work. I have been spending a lot
of time in Islamic cities. And particularly, I’ve
spending time in Cairo. And through a variety of
circumstances, I, as a man, have been able to talk
to various women in Cairo about wearing the burka,
this full covering. And ‘m interested in clothing
and appearance on the street. And somehow, there were many
male minders in the room the times that I have done this. But so I was interested
in women and the street. And someone said to me, in full
burka said to me, you know, what this going into
the street allows me to do as long as I’m
dressed is become free of my mother and my children. And if I could put
words in her mouth, that there is a kind of relief
from the tyranny of intimacy in a more anonymous realm. And we began hearing a lot
about that because we we’re interested for this UN project
in the relation between gender, interior and exterior. The bourgeois
construction of that is that gendered space
is interior space, right? That’s part of the
standard account. But we were finding
something else made complicated
by the fact that, in this religious
culture, being exposed didn’t actually mean
being protected. You could imagine the burka
as a kind of mask in a way. But it’s not really accurate
because wearing of it made people feel free to go
into public with this tinge, as our researchers
are now finding, that it’s a relief from the
domestic realm in which they become the prisoner of
children, even more than men on the inside. I and the researchers
working for me were hearing this story
in a variety of contexts. And we decided– and this
is not an Islamic story– that freedom from Gemeinschaft,
from something warm, opening up to other people,
is something that is inflected by young people
making voluntary moves from country to city. The idea of being free from the
intimate knowledge of others is something– now, this
is a restricted thing– of people who
could move that was added onto the
economic imperatives for wanting to move. So this was an account which
was not Simmel’s account. And it wasn’t Eurocentric. It seemed to us that
this relationship of the exterior to
something, to the self, was something that had much
more modern overtones to it. But what is a kind
of interiority, of subjectivity, that
people gain by getting away from interior spaces? Come back to Europe. Is it Degas who
painted “The Absinthe”? [inaudible] d’Absinthe? Antoine. Was it Degas or was it–
was it Toulouse-Lautrec? Anyhow, but you know the image. I should have shown this image. This is one image I
should have shown. It’s a woman sitting alone at a
table with a glass of absinthe. And we can think of that scene
of being alone in public, even more by the table itself–
because one of the things that happened in the 19th
century was long common tables the people
sat at in bars– well, they didn’t have
bars, but pubs, cafes, were replaced by
ever smaller tables so that the space,
the exterior space became more of a space that
was hospitable to single people alone, whereas in
the 18th century, there were only long tables. And if you sat at them,
anybody could talk to you. And you could intervene
in anybody else’s affairs. So there is something
about privacy forming in public which
is counter to, I think, the standard story. But it asks a question. What’s happening here? Or consider again the
fact that 30% to 35% of adults who live in big
cities now are single. This is a phenomenon researched
by my friend, Eric Klinenberg. It’s incredibly
important for us. And they’re single
in the proper sense. The number of
people who co-habit or are married to other
people is constantly shrinking in big cities. All of these conditions, is
this a sign of urban loneliness? Are they looking for
[? baslov’s ?] design? Are they deprived
of the opportunity of having a rich emotional
life because they are alone? I would say not necessarily. And here’s my own argument. I believe that being alone
in impersonal conditions enables a certain kind of
interior work, a certain kind of subjective activity. First of all, it’s reflexive,
that the opportunity of being alone is a chance
to ask, what’s it all about, without the intrusion of others. That is, you don’t
have a stimulation from– this is something
I think against Simmel. That kind of just being alone,
detached from other people, is not a state of being blase
or being defensive against them. It’s a state in which
reflection is possible because you are released
from Gemeinschaft, and from the physical
stimulation of other people. The second aspect
of this interiority could be called
observational cruising. And not just gay people do it. Most psychogeographies are
not about people engaging the outside, but observing it. A great example of
this is in Sinclair, the British– do you know him? Yeah, this is probably the
greatest psychogeographer at work today. And it’s always
something in which the eye is engaged visually. But it doesn’t become imprecated
with actual engagements with other people. That’s quite an
interesting thing to me. The model for this in one way is
Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, whose first
line is, “I am a camera.” It’s a brilliant
piece of writing. But I would say more than that
we develop an interior insight, not through interaction,
but through the freedom of being able to observe
without interacting. And when I say this,
this is something– you can find traces of
what I’m arguing, too, in Walter Benjamin’s
travel writings, for instance, his travel
writings in Russia, in which he says, “I’m free here because
I can’t speak the language. And I’m seeing more than people
who actually speak Russian.” And just little traces
of that in Benjamin. See you later. He’s a dean. He has to work. I mean, you know? [laughter] Let’s not get lost on that. So the importance of
this is that interiority is something that
is more complicated than simple withdrawal. Do you understand
what I’m saying? What’s wrong with
the standard account is that interiority is not
a detachment from the world. It’s a particular
kind of relationship with the world, one
which is reflexive, which is what I think of as
an observational cruising. And finally, and I think
this is the most important, that this condition
that I’m describing is one which allows the
work of memory to go on. And the reason it does is
because under these conditions in public, the
work of memory can be floating and intermittent. Think about the
difference between– I’m sure it’s Degas– between
The Absinthe, the [inaudible] d’Absinthe, that woman
sitting at the table and somebody lying
on a shrink’s couch. Expensive. You have 45 minutes. You have to put things together. Of course, you have
free association. But what you’re paying for is
something that ultimately makes an interpretation, a story. I think the work of memory
in the suspended space of the experience
is more floating. You’re not yanked to the
notion of making explanations. You are in a
different kind of time when you’re in that
exterior space. And Bachelard, not in
The Poetics of Space, but it is more– before
he wrote these books, he was a historian and
theorist of science. And he is the author
of basically the theory of epistemic break. And basically, what being in
this kind of floating space, I think, enables
in the exterior is the experience of
epistemic breaks, of things coming and
broken down and then going. When we talk about daydreaming,
in the Freudian sense, there’s always the revelation
of some inner gravamen, of some inner logic. But in an epistemic break,
you’re not linked to that. You’re into something
that is more open. And I think in sum
what I’m trying to say was said by Seneca
a very long time ago when he wrote that “Never
was he less lonely than when he was alone in the midst of the
crowd,” that solitude in public is a way to know oneself. Now, I do have a practical side. I’m trying to do some
research about this into two domains, how
this kind of subjectivity, this freedom from Gemeinschaft,
works among groups of African immigrants to
London and among groups of countryside Chinese
who have come to Shanghai. I got spurred on to this
by these discussions we had with women in Cairo. How is this constructed outside? I know how it’s constructed
in Western context. But what does that feel like? What is “Stadluft macht
frei” as a freedom from the local, the
known, look like to people outside that Western context? Now, as I said, this may seem
very far from urban design. But it isn’t. And this is the last thing
I’d like to say to you. And then maybe we
can have some talk. Almost all the design
ideologies that I think animate us are about
making communities stronger, about bringing people
together, about creating convivial spaces,
about a street which has got that warm James Jacobs,
feel good about your neighbor. Right? I mean, I would say it’s
the great unspoken thing that urban designers have. We should make more community. And if you take on board
what I have described to you, we are neglecting spaces in
which people can dwell alone in safety, in public. We’re neglecting to think
about what kinds of spaces would enable the young mothers
that I was talking to in Cairo to get away from their
children and their families. We’re not freeing them. And I think for us
as designers, we need to begin to
try and translate– this is my own view– that
notion of “Stadluft macht frei,” of being freed from
the constraints of domesticity safely into something,
our practices, you know. And It could be
something as seemingly trivial as what kind of park
benches are you creating. Do you have spaces in
parks which are nothing like the spaces that
Olmstead wanted, which were all spaces
of conviviality, but spaces where you
can actually be alone? This has also been
an issue for me in thinking about–
I think I’m not going to talk about
that– in thinking about the use of
social media in public, which I think is a very, very
narrow and constricted thing. Somebody told me–
and I was in Bangkok. And I was having another
one of these discussions. And somebody told me– it
was a young teenage girl who said, well, whenever I go
out, I shut off my phone because my parents
can’t know where I am. I thought so, so wonderful. [laughter] But that’s a whole other
issue about this, about what’s the relationship
between social media, interiority and exteriority. As I read this, you
could make money off of the standard
paradigm if you’re Mark Zuckerberg by destroying
as much– by interiorizing the space of social
media, bringing people closer and closer together. But I don’t want
to talk about that. What I want to talk about, or
what I want to impress on you, is that the emphasis
on sociable space is something that we’ve
got to rethink because for lots of people, that’s not
why they want to be in public. They want something. They want an interior life,
if you follow what I’m saying, a life where they can practice
cruising, reflexivity, observational cruising,
or cruising, reflexivity, in which the work of memory
can work because they’re alone. And that’s not something
that we, as designers, that’s not in our heads. I mean, I think the issue
is what kinds of spaces can we make so that somebody
can sit at a table in a cafe, drink a glass of absinthe,
smoke a cigarette, and reflect. You know? That’s really the relationship
between interiority and the exterior. So that’s what I wanted
to say to you about this. I am not sure I have– I am just
beginning to think about this. And as I say, it’s the
reflections that I’ve had, which have really
been changed by seeing outside Western
context, the liberation that impersonal
public space which allows people to be
alone, how valuable that is to many people. And how the freedom
from Gemeinschaft is something that is freedom
for lots of the people elsewhere in the world. So I’d love to get
your comments on this. I don’t know how we do this. Shall I take them? Yeah. Maybe we have the
lights up since you’re all in GSD darkness. Is that possible? Yeah, but you have to shout. Yeah. Shout. I’ll try. Within your account
of liberation that happens in a public
space, do you have any thoughts or could you reflect a little
bit about– OK, I’ll restart. Within your account
of the liberation that occurs in public space and the
kind of individual freedoms, do you have any
thoughts or can you reflect a little bit about
the indoor public space, the infrastructure
of shops, cafes, what Stan Anderson’s called
the occupiable public space as a enabling infrastructure
for this sort of behavior. Or where does it
fit in your story? Right, that’s a
wonderful question. And that’s maybe
a beginning point for you in this as a
designer because going back to the 19th century,
that’s what an arcade was. It was an indoor public space
protected from the elements. And we’re building lots
of versions on that. I think that there are a couple
of issues about it, which is that the logic of a
lot of shopping malls, for instance,
interior public space, is for people to keep
going, circulating as much as possible. The whole notion is that
they’re movement systems, that they’re footfalls. That’s economically
how they work, so that a more complicated,
multipurpose public space, multipurpose indoor
space like this, flies against a certain kind
of logic, of economic logic. The other thing
we’ve been finding, because we’ve been
doing a study as part of this thing of shopping
centers in Latin America, is that basically, the
interiors, they’re guarded and that there’s a lot of
social selection going on, economics selection
at the gates to these interior public spaces. If you don’t look
like you have money, you’re not going to get in. And what happens
is that therefore, the parking lots
of shopping malls become the true public spaces. They’re usually not planted. That’s where kids hang out. That’s where a lot of
music gets made and so on. But it’s all restricted. With those two caveats in mind,
I think what I’m talking about could be built inside if
you created a space that was multi-functional and in
which economic motion was not the dominant program
for the space itself. It’s really interesting to me. I’m sure all of you have
seen the Arcades Project that Susan Buck-Morss put
together with Benjamin, with all those photos. There’s nowhere to
sit in those arcades. And you’re standing
all the time. And the reason
for that is simply that the notion about the
arcade was that you are never in a space of reflection. Right? You’re in a space
of consumption. So in principle, I
think you could do it. Francine Houben is trying
to build something just like a more multi-functional
space like this. Is it in Okinawa? No, it’s in Taipei. But it requires something other
than capitalist logic, consumer logic, to make it work. I guess the last thing
I’d say about this is that the idea of exterior
there is exterior to something which is [french]
which is protected, something which is controllable. The exterior is something–
it’s not a [inaudible] space, which is the ultimate of this. And the one thought I had–
I should just say this also. Your question has
really wound me up. People have said,
well, isn’t that what Jane Jacobs thinks
when she talks about people being in the street and so on. And it is and it isn’t. I mean, you remember
she has this notion of eyes on the street as
a means of protection? It’s a question of the no crime
if you can see out your window. It’s a question of
whose eyes they are. If it’s your mother’s,
she’s not just looking to see whether
somebody is going to rob you. If she’s an Islamic
mother, she’s looking to see that you
don’t talk to any man. So it’s the whole issue
of the panoptic element is I think it’s imprecated
in our ideas of privacy. It’s about surveillance. And to make interior
or exterior spaces, we’d also have to maybe
shut off the CCTV cameras. But it could be done. And Francine is trying
to do it in Okinawa. No, in Taipei. Ask me another question. This was such a good question. Yeah. [chatting in background] It’s not actually. I’m curious to know if
you’ve been thinking about spaces of the elderly. It strikes me that with a
growing awareness of dementia and Alzheimer’s, in
terms of triggering a kind of interior
space of the imagination and the idea of opening,
creating a way in which one might activate
memory, it seems to me like the aged or the typology
of these kinds of facilities, which also need to create
physical interiors– hard boundary physical interiors
really need some rethinking. And I think that this particular
constituency of the elderly, it seems to me to strike a
chord with many of the things that you’ve been describing. Right. Other than the fact
that I am very elderly, I hadn’t thought
much about this. And I think that’s a
defamation of– you know, this is a big divide for us. Most of the cities that
UN-Habitat is dealing with are cities predominantly
of the young. Most European cities,
and to some extent the Japanese and
Chinese, are much older. But just thinking about what you
say, yeah, it resonates to me. I mean, in my own case,
I would commit suicide before going into
an old age home. I want to be on the street. I want to die on the street. But what I don’t want is a
kind of happy, clappy community stuff that’s always provided
for the elderly, which is kind of infantilization. But I really haven’t
thought very much about this because our whole
focus on this project is what to do about this mass
of young people, many of whom are fleeing from community. That’s why they’re going–
when their parents say, you don’t know anybody in
Shanghai, they go, right! [laughter] You know? That’s a completely
different configuration. But would it mean– well,
I have to think about this. It would be very painful for me. Then I have to think about it. I mean, this elderly issue, I
understand, is a big one here. But it’s quite something– the
whole meaning of exteriority is quite different in most
of the places we’ve been. Ask me a final question. And then we’ll have– do it. Or final two questions. I just have a question
concerning the existing conditions of domestic
interiors because this is still a reality in some ways. And there is also the
concept of family, something that is persisting. So what about these spaces? I think that there are
many architects that are trying to think of it. But what is your
position on that? Well, I’m not sure
I have a position. I’ve lived all my life in
lofts, in basically one room. So that’s a personal
thing about this. But do you think– I ask
you this as architects– that by creating more fluid
interiors while separating the interior from
the exterior, having less porosity between
inside and outside, but more purely
internal porosity, exacerbates a problem of
oppressive Gemeinschaft or solves it? I would think it exacerbates it. I don’t know. I really don’t know. But I mean, the
notion, it doesn’t just come with a notion of
freeing up interior space. It’s also a kind of
divorce from being outside. In that regard, I wanted to
just say one other thing. One of the things
we’re documenting is the trouble that planners
in both Beijing and Shanghai are having finding a sociable
alternative for– both cities had these vast fabric
of courtyard buildings, the Lilong and Hutong had these
courtyards in both Shanghai– all destroyed very quickly. And what’s happened
in both places have been replaced by much more
hygienic, better structures, physical structures. So our Chinese
colleagues tell us, it’s a sociological
crisis because there’s no outside anymore. In upmarket parts of
Shanghai, for instance, there are beautiful exterior
gardens that are planted. And there’s nobody in them. They are surround. So I think part of this issue
for very rapidly urbanizing places like that is when you
destroy one kind of fabric which has an outside–
the courtyards in Shanghai were Shikumen. They were based– well,
I don’t go into it. But basically,
people lived outside. They cooked there. When it was hot,
they slept out there. They had a sociable
life in the courtyard. And the destruction of
that kind of housing has provoked– in
the case of Shanghai, it’s now having rates
of juvenile delinquency which are going
through the roof. There is a social
breakdown that’s occurring. One reference for this, if you
want to get a local one here– there’s an old article by
somebody name Mark Freid, F-R-E-I-D, called
Grieving for a Lost Home, which is about what happened
when the West End in Boston was destroyed. And it’s the same thing we’re
seeing today, although this is on a giant scale. I mean, mile after mile of this. So what is the answer to that? Is simply making the
interior more intense but sealing it off
from the exterior? Is that an answer? I guess the architectural issue
about this would be porosity. Does it make sense? But then you’d really– maybe
we should do studio on this. Maybe it’s a question
of how to work it out so that the
porous exterior is one that’s also with
freedom from the interior rather than bring it in. I see what we’ll do
the year after next. You’ll have to endure
my musings for that. But that’s to me
what this is about. It’s not a simple thing
about just taking down walls. There’s a much more
complicated phenomena. Let’s have a last question. And then I’ll sit. How about you? You’ve defined interiority as
a psychological subjectivity. But I think we use
the word “interiority” in other ways, too, such
as the inherent qualities of interior things
that can be defined, the kinds of things that mark
interior space inherently. And I was wondering
if you could address one of the breakdowns between
the interior and the exterior by talking about formal
interiority in exterior spaces. So for example, those
courtyard houses in China have a great deal of interiority
in their exterior spaces, where the streets of Cairo where
people are playing dominoes, et cetera, bringing the domestic
world into the exterior spaces. So the idea of interiority
in exterior spaces as a formal idea. Right. This is a really good not
only comment, but criticism. And what you make me think
is that what– I wouldn’t say it’s just a psychological
definition of interiority. I mean, I would think of
it as cognitive, certainly, and emotional. But it also supposes a certain
kind of social relationship to other people. But I think you’re absolutely
spot on about the idea that there are formal elements
to finding interiority. Windows that open or don’t open. I really have to
think more about that. I just don’t know how
you would get there. And it’s the kind
of thing that I think we should do
in urbanism, which is try to move from a
vision of the social whole to actually being
specific about what role the built environment plays
or doesn’t play in this. You could imagine
that the conditions, actual architectural
conditions of a house, don’t matter to the
explanation I’ve given. The only architectural
element that would matter would be the wall, the barrier
between inside and outside. And I can understand my
argument could be reduced to that primitive level. I don’t want to do that. But you’re going
to have to tell me how not because it’s a
question about– I mean, it’s a designed question. How much and what kinds
of things in design would mitigate against that? You know? And I just don’t know yet. I think we’re going to do
this as our next studio. Well, thank you
very much for this. I’m sorry this is
very disorganized. I’m just starting
to think about this. I am hoping, by the
way, that somehow we’ll be able to bring the
work of Habitat III here in 2017 for a conference
or something like that so you can see what we’re doing. And I’ll see you, I
guess, in a year or so. Thank you very much. [applause] And don’t forget
your watch, yes. Richard, thank you so much
for all of those thoughts. I think I understand even
more now why we gave you your own hour-long slot to speak
to us individually in public about these notions of
interiority and subjectivity. We were going to pick back up
at 3:30 with a series of three conversations. So please join us then. There’s also most, if
not all, of an exhibit up about some projects
within the school related to interior matters. So please feel free to
circulate through there. But we’ll start back up at 3:30. Thank you very much, Richard. [applause]


  • Xipotec

    August 11, 2017

    wow lary david kinda lost it

  • Don O'Keefe

    November 19, 2017

    Fantastic talk. Sennett is twice as intellectual and three times as clear as most lecturers on this youtube channel.

  • Dom Cox

    August 20, 2018

    Sennet is an appallingly dreary speaker, a far better and engaging writer. But the paucity of involvemnt from the floor is depressing. The architecture students seem to have no passion, most likely because they have no experience of the street – they are the generation of fee paying affluent middle clas that were taken to school in cars by their parents, never walking. This is the generation of architectue students who are already conditioned to consumer architecture – that the shopping mall is a real experience, rather than the sham theatrical daylight robbery it really is. Compare the discussions (on Utube) at the AA in 1960s and 70s, with Zaha, Rowe, and Vesely. Architecture students seem to think they are studying an academic subject which is a completely false notion.
    The subject of this talk is important, and far better elucidated in the Fall of Public Man, The phenomenology of Perception, and Architcture in the age of divided representation, Adrian Stokes, etc. The ageing hirsute hippy leadership at GSD has failed dismally, happy to take your money with little resistance. Mohsen should go, and someone with real impetus take over, Gavin Robb perhaps?

  • Noway Youknow

    March 20, 2019

    How interesting! This speaks to me on so many levels, I have had this feeling in Berlin and I am so thankful, I could not put it into words!


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