lefebvreonspace

Łukasz Stanek studied architecture and philosophy in Poland, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. He has held post-doctoral positions in Switzerland, US, and Canada and is currently at the Manchester Architecture Research Centre, University of Manchester. His book Henri Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory was published by University of Minnesota Press in 2011, and his edited collection Team 10 East: Revisionist Architecture in Real Existing Modernism by the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw in 2014. His collection Postmodernism is Almost All Right was reviewed in Society and Space 31(6) by Kim de Raedt (requires subscription). A previously unknown manuscript of Henri Lefebvre’s, Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment has been edited by Łukasz and translated by Robert Bonanno, and will be published by University of Minnesota Press in May 2014.

 


 

Stuart Elden: In your authored book, Henri Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory, you convincingly demonstrate that Lefebvre’s work on space and urban questions should be seen as much an engagement with planners, urban developers and architects, as with philosophers and theorists. Could you say something about that project, and how it led you to look at archival materials as much as Lefebvre’s published works and those of his academic interlocutors?

Łukasz Stanek: My interest in Lefebvre’s theory goes back to an empirical case: Nowa Huta, a new town constructed by the Polish socialist regime since the late 1940s close to Kraków. I was a student of architecture in Kraków in the early 2000s, and I was very intrigued by Nowa Huta, both because of its excellent urban plan and because of the fact that the development of this city was dependent on its mass media representations. In fact, since the beginnings of Nowa Huta and long after its inclusion into the administrative unity of Kraków, its development was defined by a logic of “catching up” with its mass media image as the young, airy, modern, humane, green, wealthy, atheist, socialist city. Yet after the end of socialism in 1989, this image of Nowa Huta clashed with an opposite one: that of the city of retired workers and unemployed youth, with crumbling infrastructure and an ecological catastrophe.

In the 1990s, these competing images were vividly discussed in the mass media and had an impact on the production of space in Nowa Huta, and the practices of architecture. While trying to make sense of these processes, I came across Lefebvre’s theory, which I thought to be a good starting point for investigating Nowa Huta because of Lefebvre’s strategic decision to theorize social space as a relationship between various practices of space production. They include the practices of representing space which are interrelated to other practices, but not derived from them. Specifically, for my Nowa Huta research this meant that I was not so much interested in confirming or refuting representations of the city, but rather I investigated specific conjunctures in which representations of space became operative; for example as arguments in municipal investment policies, as conceptual frames for architectural competitions; as operative design concepts, but also as media of everyday experiences of urban spaces.

 

habitat-pavillonnaire

 

This led me to the study on Lefebvre’s own engagement with empirical research, in the studies in urban and rural sociology which he carried out and supervised from the 1940s to the 1980s, commissioned by a number of French planning and cultural institutions. Such studies as L’habitat pavillonnaire (1966), together with Lefebvre’s theoretical books, in particular The Right to the City (1968), had a major impact on French architectural culture in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was looking at these debates as a part of Lefebvre’s exchanges with French and international architects of various generations, from modernists like Georges-Henri Pingusson, to postmodern architects and critics like Ricardo Bofill and Bernard Huet; from architects like Fernand Poullion, who combined the sensitivity of the modern movement with an attention to traditional urban typologies, to avant-garde artists, like the situationists or Constant Nieuwenhuys. But I have maintained my interest in the empirical potential of Lefebvre’s theory which will be in the focus of the forthcoming book Urban Revolution Now, co-edited by Ákos Moravánszky and Christian Schmid. This book stems from two conferences which we organized and it maps current processes of planetary urbanization by means of a number of specific analyses of urban conditions around the globe by developing and, sometimes challenging, Lefebvre’s concepts.

SE: In this research, as you recount in the closing pages of Henri Lefebvre on Space, you discovered a manuscript of an unpublished work, Vers une architecture de la jouissance, dating from 1973, written immediately before The Production of Space. Your introduction plays with Jan Potocki’s story The Manuscript found in Saragossa. Where did you discover this text, and what is the story of why Lefebvre never published it?

ŁS: When I was working on Henri Lefebvre on Space, I tried to interview as many friends, collaborators and students of Lefebvre as I could, also those outside Paris, who tend to be off the radar of scholarship. I was particularly interested in Spain because of Lefebvre’s strong connections with this country stemming from his childhood at the foot of the Pyrenees, and his intense contacts with Spanish architects such as Ricardo Bofill, and planners, like Mario Gaviria. In 2008 I went to Barcelona to interview Bofill about the project City in Space, which Lefebvre advised him on in the late 1960s, and to Zaragoza, to see Mario Gaviria. Since his work in the late 1960s, Gaviria belongs to the most important contributors to urban sociology and spatial planning in Spain, he was a pioneer of sustainable planning in Spain and an ecological activist. (When I visited him last time, he was packing for an antinuclear protest). He studied in Strasbourg with Lefebvre in the early 1960s, and he gathered Lefebvre’s papers on rural and urban questions into the anthology Du rural à l’urbain (1970), a key book in Lefebvre’s work on space production. He became a close friend of Lefebvre and he was instrumental in the translation of Lefebvre’s texts into Spanish, including The Right to the City, and he invited Lefebvre to Madrid, where he was studying modernist housing estates. This research was probably the first application of Lefebvre’s work to urban research outside France, with all challenges which such transfers involve—which I can appreciate because of my Nowa Huta research. He speaks in more detail on his contacts with Lefebvre in this interview, which I’ve recorded last year.

Gaviria was particularly interested in the question of tourist urbanization of Spain where, he thought, something new was emerging. With these interests in view, in 1972 Gaviria invited Lefebvre to write a book about “Architecture of pleasure” within a research projects funded by the March foundation of the March Bank of Mallorca. I am very interested in this status of commissioned research, which was shared by Lefebvre’s own studies, because it shows a new relationship between critical intellectuals, including Marxist intellectuals, and the self-critical system of governance and economy that was about to emerge in Western Europe since the 1960s. In contrast to Manfredo Tafuri, the most influential Marxist architectural critic at that time, who was never tired of pointing out at the dangers of “recuperation” of a progressive project by its ideological opponents, Lefebvre addressed these processes of normalization of critique from within particular research projects, often hijacking them according to his own interest.

 

Lefebvre with his daughter Armelle and Mario Gaviria, courtesy of Mario Gaviria and the Graham Foundation.

Lefebvre with his daughter Armelle and Mario Gaviria, courtesy of Mario Gaviria and the Graham Foundation.

 

Unfortunately for Gaviria, this was also what Lefebvre did with the commission on Spain. It was supposed to be focused on the new tourist towns such as Benidorm and Torremolinos, and to reflect upon the Alhambra and the Generalife gardens—but the text became something entirely different. Lefebvre changed the title of the book to Vers une architecture de la jouissance (which, after long debates, we decided to translate as Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment) and the book reflects his then-current work on the overarching theory of space production. Several ideas of the book, in particular about architecture, were included in a condensed form to The Production of Space. Also, Gaviria’s concept of tourist “neo-colonization” of southern Europe by the North can be found in The Production of Space as well. I understand from Gaviria that Lefebvre transferred the rights to the manuscript to him, but Gaviria did not include the manuscript in the documents submitted to the commissioner because he thought that it was not specific enough.

In any case, during our conversations in Zaragoza, Gaviria said that the manuscript should be still there in his library in Cortes, a small village on the border between Navarra and Aragon, where his family owned a house. We went there the next day: the house was an impressive mansion located at the main square next to the village church, with rooms growing since the 17th century around an azulejo staircase. The library was in the basement and it had been recently flooded, so the books to the level of approximately 1 meter were destroyed and became dried-up papier-mâché briquettes. So the big question was not only if the manuscript was there, but also if it was above or below the 1 meter level. After a few hours Mario found it lying just above this level, and allowed me to make a Xerox copy in the nearby shop.

SE: That’s a remarkable story. This text was translated by Robert Bonnono, and is coming out shortly with University of Minnesota Press (you can read a preview in Artforum). This is the first publication in any language. I know from first-hand experience that rights to Lefebvre’s work can be complicated, and there are so many books untranslated. So how were you able to secure the rights to translate this, and, second, convince UMP to publish this, rather than any number of alternative texts that Lefebvre chose to publish? Do you think we will see the French text published at some point?

ŁS: Technically, the book is a research report, and it was Mario Gaviria who acquired the rights to this text, so the agreement was signed with him. The Spanish translation is planned for this year, and I hope that the French publication will follow. Such publication would extend the rather restricted focus on Lefebvre in France today, which by and large is historical and relates to the institutionalization of the recherche urbaine and intersections between French politics and urban question around May ’68 and after.

The book will complement UMP’s particularly strong list in architecture, developed in the last years by Pieter Martin into one of the most interesting lists in the United States. This publication responds to the centrality of Lefebvre’s writings in Anglo-American architectural culture since the 1990s. Importantly, it was the concept of the everyday rather than of space that was first introduced by architectural critics like Mary McLeod, because it allowed her and others to target the neo-avant-garde and the sequence of heroic gestures emulating the avant-gardes of the 1920s and their definition of “architecture as space”. Then-recently translated Critique of Everyday Life inspired architectural writers in the US and the UK (Margaret Crawford, Iain Borden, Jane Rendell) to speculate about an architecture more attentive to people’s everyday environments. Before long, other Lefebvre’s concepts became pertinent for the debate, including rhythmanalysis, right to the city, complete urbanization and, yes, the production of space. The latter taking on a meaning which is very far from modernism and allows rethinking architecture as a part of an assemblage of multifaceted and heterogeneous practices of space production—the book Spatial Agency which closely follows Lefebvre’s concepts could be a recent example. The fact that these concepts are more often than not inchoate and hardly prêt-à-penser is their strength rather than their weakness, because, in this way, they need to be specified, developed, questioned, and criticized from within each given case study; this helps architectural research to become more empirical, hands on, historically and geographically specific and interdisciplinary.

 

Poster of the conference “Urban Research and Architecture: Beyond Henri Lefebvre” (Zurich, November 24-26, 2009). Design by Jack Henrie Fisher.

Poster of the conference “Urban Research and Architecture: Beyond Henri Lefebvre” (Zurich, November 24-26, 2009). Design by Jack Henrie Fisher.

 

SE: Can I ask you to develop that a bit more? As you’ve said, this is a text written in the early 1970s, for a quite specific commission. How do you think this text will be read today, both as a text by Lefebvre and a text on architecture? In Anglophone debates, Lefebvre’s The Production of Space is often not well-situated in relation to his other works. We obviously need to see it as the theoretical culmination of several years of work on urban and, crucially, rural questions. Your book on Lefebvre provides a great deal more detail on Lefebvre’s engagements with more practical spatial questions. But now we have architecture alongside the extensive discussion of planning, transport and infrastructure in his urban writings. So, aside from your very helpful introduction, and of course own your book, what else might be needed to situate and make most profitable use of this work?

ŁS: The book is not a blueprint and only somebody who has no clue about Lefebvre’s work could expect that he would give us a manual of urban design. I think that the merit of publishing Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment for architectural debates is twofold. First, this book advances our understanding of the landscape of architectural culture after 1968, in particular the Marxist one. With this book we can better grasp the differences in the projects of particular thinkers who shaped this discussion, including Tafuri, Lefebvre, and the re-discovered Walter Benjamin, but also their shared ground. To contrast Lefebvre and Tafuri has become almost a habit since Frederic Jameson’s essay “Architecture and the Critique of Ideology” (1984) where he put Tafuri and Lefebvre into an imaginary polemics—a polemics which actually took place and was recorded in minutes. There is no doubt that there are major differences between them, and I have pointed out at one of them before. The publication of Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment, which begins with a very clear opposition to Tafuri even if his name is not mentioned, will bring the actual voice of Lefebvre to this discussion, rather than extrapolating it from his more general statements.

Yet at the same time I am convinced that Lefebvre’s work allows advancing some unfinished projects in Marxist architectural theory, including those of Tafuri and of Benjamin. This pertains to Tafuri’s postulate of architectural history as a part of the global history of labour. Lefebvre’s discussion of architecture within the social division of labour and his work on planetary urbanization, and hence on architectural labour in a transnational perspective, seem to me indispensable for Tafuri’s project. I also find particularly important Lefebvre’s stress on the collective dimension of architecture which includes him speculating on the use-economy as opposed to the exchange-economy and on the collective pedagogy of space, but also his comments on collective modes of experience and imagination. If architecture is the medium for collective experience, as Benjamin argued, Lefebvre’s writings help us to understand how the collective is fashioned in and by this experience, creating conditions not only of a reflexive discovery of an urban solitude, but also of a possibility of aggregation. This collective dimension of architecture is surprisingly missing from more recent accounts on Marxism and architecture.

Which brings me to my second point: this book being an intervention into architectural discourse and practice today. I don’t think that to use some of his militant concepts we need always to go back to their original meaning—the more since his own books are contextual, situated, and polemical, an aspect which is often lost in translation. But what is found in translation is the possibility to use these concepts in response to specific conjectures here and now. The concept of the “right to the city” is a case in point: it was introduced by Lefebvre within specific discussions about the crisis of the French post-war welfare state. But when used today in urban activism it can take the form of a claim for urban everyday life as a universal aspiration or, rather, it translates into specific demands concerning social infrastructures. It can become a violent call for participation in the shaping of the urban environment which interrupts the consensual discourse of the city elites, or an conduit for legalizing collective entitlements concerning social, spatial, and environmental justice. At the same time, the theory of space production offers a solid framework for a critical analysis from which such postulates as the one of the “right to the city” can be formulated.

SE: That raises a very interesting question about how we work with theorists today, in any range of disciplines, but especially geography, architecture, and urban studies given what we’re discussing. You’ll know of course that Society and Space recently translated Lefebvre’s short, late essay ‘Dissolving City, Planetary Metamorphosis’. How do you think Lefebvre’s work is useful today in thinking about global or planetary urbanisation?

 

Poster of the conference “Rethinking Theory, Space and Production: Henri Lefebvre Today” (Delft, November 11-13, 2008). Design by Jayme Yen.

Poster of the conference “Rethinking Theory, Space and Production: Henri Lefebvre Today” (Delft, November 11-13, 2008). Design by Jayme Yen.

 

ŁS: Let me respond to this by a reference to my own experience of working with these concepts. As you know, I am working since 2009 on a research project focused on distribution of architectural labour from socialist countries to countries outside Europe during the Cold War. What this project addresses is the process of modern architecture becoming world-wide after the Second World War. I think that Lefebvre’s concept of mondialisation is much more useful for this task than that of globalisation, so I prefer to speak about mondialisation of modern architecture rather than about its globalisation. In your comments on Lefebvre’s “Dissolving City…“ and in previous texts on Kostas Axelos you have usefully shown that in the work of many French writers, in particular of Lefebvre, mondialisation cannot be simply translated as globalisation. Rather, it means the emergence of a “world-wide experience”, the arrival of the world as a dimension of practice, which is dependent on often competing ways of becoming worldly, and alternative visions of the world as a whole. These antagonistic, plural imaginations and conceptualizations of the world contribute to alternative ways of “practicing” the world, the world becoming “true in practice”. This practice of world-making comes back to Alfred Sauvy’s concept of the “First”, “Second”, and “Third” Worlds which were not simply understood as bounded spaces, let alone some kind of competition with first, second, and third prize, but rather various alternatives of development with the “Third World” coined as an affirmative concept. While such French author like, recently, Jean-Luc Nancy, opposed mondialisation to globalisation in the sense of Americanization, for Lefebvre globalisation is to be seen as just one, among many, possibilities of mondialisation.

This is very useful framework for my research: not because it answers any questions but rather because it helps formulating good ones. For example, one of the sites which I am looking at is Ghana under president Kwame Nkrumah (1960–66), where a small number of available, foreign-educated Ghanaian professionals worked together with international architects: British, US-American, West German, French, Italian, but also Bulgarian, Hungarian, Polish, Yugoslav, Soviet and Chinese. What comes to the fore in the archives in Accra and the interviews with Ghanaians and foreign actors who participated in this moment and who are still around, is that their work cannot be restricted to bilateral trade agreements, or to a projection of bi-polar logics of the Cold War. Rather, the networks by which post-independence Accra was produced belonged to and promoted competing visions of global cooperation and solidarity. These networks included US-based Bretton-Woods institutions, development aid of the British Commonwealth, technical assistance programs within the vision of socialist internationalism, the collaboration within the Non-Aligned Movement, but also Nkrumah’s own Pan-African project. This dynamic, I want to argue, is what defined the processes of mondialisation of modern architecture in Ghana and, more generally, the processes in the course of which modern architecture has become the world-wide dispositif of planetary urbanization. The emergence of modern architecture as a global phenomenon was developed from within such antagonistic global networks in a number of places which I am looking at in this research, including Iraq after Kassem’s coup d’état in 1958 and later under Saddam Hussein; independent Algeria, in particular under the Boumedienne regime; Syria after 1956; Afghanistan between 1953 and 1973 when the Afghan government was accepting aid from both sides of the Iron Curtain; but also a number of countries in the Gulf in the 1980s, where architects and construction firms from Bulgaria, Poland, and Yugoslavia were responsible for many among the first skyscrapers of Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

SE: You mentioned the debates you had about the translation of the term jouissance in a previous answer, and in his translator’s note, and your own introduction, Bonnono and you discuss some of the nuances of Lefebvre’s use of the term. Your eventual decision was ‘enjoyment’, even though the term is fairly well-known in Anglophone debates. I thought it was interesting that Lefebvre had deliberated on the title of Vers une architecture du plaisir, of pleasure, but chose jouissance instead.  Jouissance has come to be closely associated with Jacques Lacan and some feminist writings; plaisir somewhat later with Michel Foucault. Roland Barthes contrasts the two in some of his texts. Why do you think Lefebvre made this choice? Could you explain your thinking in choosing ‘enjoyment’?

 

Constant Nieuwenhuys, "New Babylon--Yellow Sector" (1958)

Constant Nieuwenhuys, “New Babylon–Yellow Sector” (1958)

 

ŁS: In my introduction I use the term not translated, since, as you say, the term is familiar for English language readers, at least those interested in theory. But it was clear to me from the beginning that it needs to be translated in the book and, above all, in the title, because putting jouissance in the title would make the book appear restricted to a specialist audience, which was hardly the case with any of Lefebvre’s book, however grounded in philosophical minutiae they might have been. Yes, jouissance has Lacanian connotations and Lefebvre acknowledged them, just as he referred several times in his books to Barthes and his distinction between texte de jouissance and texte de plaisir. In Lefebvre’s use of jouissance reverberates his interest in German philosophy of the 19th century and, as Christian Schmid pointed out in his book Stadt, Raum, und Gesellschaft, Lefebvre’s jouissance might not be translatable into English, but can be very well translated into German, as Genuss. Yet I believe that in Lefebvre’s text the term is not a technical one, in the way, for example, “concrete abstraction” is in The Production of Space. In the course of the text, jouissance is tactically distinguished from other concepts, such as joie, plaisir, volupté, but throughout the book it is strategically used to connote excess, transgression, rupture with the logics of the situation and the dominant system of differences.

I want to argue that the overarching target of Lefebvre in Vers une architecture de la jouissance was asceticism, which he saw in bourgeois morality, capitalist accumulation, modernist aesthetics, structuralist epistemology, bureaucratic governance, and the political imaginary of the communist Left. Joiussance offers an alternative conceptual framework, focused on non-work more than on productivism, on excess rather than on accumulation, on gift rather than on exchange. In terms of space, this can relate to the excess of meaning of monuments or places, which are never fully controlled by its producers; or to the space produced by the body and its rhythms, and the book is one of the first texts where Lefebvre sketches the project of rhythmanalysis. But jouissance also refers to appropriation of space, an excess of use. Among the meanings of jouissance in French is the legal meaning of an usufruct, the right to benefit from, to use, and to enjoy something which belongs to somebody else or is held in common ownership, as long as it is not damaged or destroyed. In this sense, Lefebvre opposes enjoyment and consumption. If “consumption” means the destruction of the object used, and hence the destruction of its use value, “enjoyment” means the enhancement of the use value of what is used, for example of urban space. In this sense it resembles the economy of a luxurious artifact where the previous uses, users, and the grafts and scars they left are valorized.

 

Ricardo Bofill and Taller de Arquitectura, “La ciudad en el espacio” (1970), www.ricardobofill.com

Ricardo Bofill and Taller de Arquitectura, “La ciudad en el espacio” (1970), www.ricardobofill.com

 

SE: I wonder if you think there are further Lefebvre texts in the archives? Over a decade ago, in 2002, Rémi Hess published Lefebvre’s Méthodologie des sciences, which was written in the 1940s as a part of the Traité de materialisme dialectique series, following the Logique formelle, logique dialectique volume, but was censored by the French Communist Party and the print-run destroyed. In Hess’s biography of Lefebvre from 1988, there is a book of Lefebvre’s entitled La découverte et le secret listed as forthcoming, but which has never been published. So, are there other manuscripts you are aware of, and what chances we might see some of those, or his lecture courses published?

ŁS: The first text I think about is Lefebvre’s thesis at the Sorbonne defended in 1954. It has two volumes, one called “Les communautés paysannes pyrénéennes (origines, développement, déclin). Étude de sociologie historique” and the second volume is “Une république pastorale. La vallée du Campan. Organisation, vie et historie d’une communauté pyrénéenne.” Both can be consulted in the Geographical Library of the Sorbonne at the rue Saint-Jacques in Paris. Only parts of this work entered Lefebvre’s book La vallée de Campan: Étude de sociologie rurale published in 1963. I believe that there is a lot to learn from this study which was based on a thorough archival research and participatory observation. In retrospect, it can be seen as a study of the production of landscape in the course of everyday practices and the use and negotiations of commons, such as pastures, forests, pathways.

Then, there is a large number of texts which were included to research reports of which only one or two copies are held in archives in Paris. In particular the research report of the seminar “Les besoins fonctionnels de l’homme” of which several volumes exist with lectures, research studies, and minutes of discussion that took place between 1968 and 1970. They contain Lefebvre’s short interventions about sexuality and the city, space and ideology, and so on. Also, there are records of the seminar “Architecture et sciences sociales” in Port Grimaud in 1972, where Lefebvre and Tafuri met and they contain both lectures of individual participants and minutes of their discussions. Finally, there is a large group of Lefebvre’s texts that were published in ephemeral journals, catalogues of exhibitions, and hence are very difficult to access, even in Paris. I value some of them a lot, including the essay “Espace architectural, espace urbain” published in a catalogue of an architectural exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in 1981, or texts which come as close as possible for Lefebvre to architectural criticism, published in the journal of Sodédat (Société anonyme d’économie mixte d’équipement et d’aménagement du territoire) responsible for the construction of numerous public buildings in the Parisian region. The bibliographic data of all these texts can be found in Henri Lefebvre on Space, the published ones in the bibliography, the manuscripts and research reports in the footnotes. If some of these texts would be joined by a selection of what was published in Du rural à l’urbain, one could think about a publication of a volume similar to your and Neil Brenner’s State, Space, World, but focused on architecture and the city.

But of course there are also other books which would be worth translating, in particular La pensée marxiste et la ville, which I consider to be one of Lefebvre’s best books, showing him as an attentive and creative reader of Marx and Engels. As you know, publishers are interested in this and some of Lefebvre’s other works, and hopefully they will be able to publish them.

SE: Thank you Łukasz for these fascinating answers, and for your work in making Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment available. We will look forward to your future projects.

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Stuart Elden is Professor of Political Theory and Geography at the University of Warwick and Monash Warwick Professor in the Faculty of Arts at Monash University. He is the author of Foucault's Last Decade (Polity Press, 2016) and The Birth of Territory (University of Chicago Press, 2013). He was editor of Society and Space from 2006-2015.