one. introduction

architecture as marginalization

Spaces in many ways offer endless possibilities for imaginative creation to take place within and allow for societal values and practices to be enacted and confirmed. The architecture field has produced public spaces that are serving the public people but also disenfranchising others. A space, in theory, is supposed to be meaningful to any person but, in reality, only engages certain individuals.

Since public spaces are instruments of culture, they are designed to reinforce dominant cultural codes and, in so doing, they marginalize other identities and suppress the full public performance of those identities.

If certain actions would mark some individuals as outcasts in this space, they may then feel a responsibility to act differently in order to be in accordance with the imposed societal norms upon them. An example of this is when someone feels free to act in a particular manner amongst family and friends, where they may feel the choice to lay on the floor or speak loudly or even sit crisscrossed in complete silence. Such actions would, however, be prohibited within the more restricted arena of public space, which adheres to a “one action fits all” ideology. Spaces represent a stable, but narrowly defined, reality that appeals to a single identity. These predictable spaces suppress the plurality of identities and potential performances that inhabit them, and instead force our actions to abide by culturally prescribed codes.


Here are three scenarios in which societal norms have taken hold. These Spaces represent a stable, but narrowly defined, reality that appeals to a single identity or a “one action fits all” ideology. These predictable spaces suppress the plurality of identities and potential performances that inhabit them, and instead force our actions to abide by culturally prescribed codes. The infrastructural scenario describes the normally unquestioned regulations of the street scape. There are three levels of circulation that directly represent the scripted rules of society by following a practical, useful and organization method of vehicular, bike, and pedestrian circulation. The public plaza, although a space for individual usage is still bound by prescribed actions. A smaller scale scenario can also explain societies norms, such as the dining table, where even the location of a typical family household should sit.

Elizabeth Grosz in “Architectures of Excess” states, “place is reduced to container, to the envelope of being: one being becomes the receptacle of another, the building or housing for another (in a sense, being becomes fetalized, and place, maternalized). It is this logic that makes place a concept that is always already architectural in that it is conceives as container, limit, locus, and foundation.”

Grosz, comments on the excess potential of space, as well as the manner in which its occupation directly relates to the marginalization of individuals. The notion that these individuals can be described as formless, void, empty, or passive (*1) simply because their presence helps to constitute a given space as a place for another represents not only an act of oppression but also one of exploitation. Those who conform to cultural norms are able to live their desired realities because the underrepresented gave way for them to do so.

Architecture should therefore develop forms of space-making that afford a multitude of subjects the possibility of acting in accordance with their individual identities and desires.

the answer: spatial play?

Spatial play can allow for the emergence of identity development and interaction. It allows societal norms to be interrogated, transgressed, or redefined—and, in so doing, creates a space that extends this opportunity to others. Spatial play is a concept that is thought of as pleasurable nonsense. In “The Oasis of Happiness: Toward an Ontology of Play,” philosopher Eugen Fink states,

“We play at being serious, we play truth, we play reality, we play work and struggle, we play love and death - and we even play play itself ”

We escape what can be considered reality because that is what we need. In this way, play is a tactic for negotiating a reality that does not conform with our identity and desires. When navigating these everyday circumstances, play can resemble the “undirected” actions of our happiness. However, we feel the need to enter into this sort of a new realm whenever we play and never make the connection that play is an aspect of living, a conscious construction of reality, rather than merely an escape from it. Being overwhelmed by the everyday challenges we face from a reality imposed upon us we believe that what we are doing is serious, and helping us reach our end goal in life. However, in reality, we are still playing life even if we are just playing along.

in support: cultural play

Along with the philosophy of play comes the understanding of cultural play or, rather, playing within a culture itself. Thomas S. Henricks in “Play and the Human Condition” says,

“Is there a way to alter the relation between or bridge the gap between socially preferred forms of culture and the wider possibilities for thinking, feeling, and acting? When we play culturally, we create, interpret, resist, and destroy patterns that are realities of their own sorts. Frequently, those engagements provide us with feelings of separation or difference from our customary routines. By its combination of imagination and activity, play permits us to become unusual personages doing unusual things and, from the vantage points of those roles, to reconsider our lives.”  

Henricks further describes the ability to play in culture and at culture. He understands that, for many, the act of playing in culture involves some level of personal development of identity through self-assertions, but primarily is guided by the socially intact guidelines. It isn’t until one plays at culture that one can begin to resist the imposition of cultural patterns:

“Players love to test limits, not only cherished cultural beliefs and social norms but also the limits of their own psyches. We all are fascinated by the dangerous, the gross, and the obscene. Perhaps even more interesting to us are our own reactions to these circumstances. In play, we intentionally exhume the negative primary emotions of fear, anger, disgust, and sadness as well as the more usual modalities of surprise and happiness. Our pursuit of variability means learning how we can manage ourselves in such occasions and how others will respond to us when we act out in these ways.”

An example of cultural resistance within public space is Hip Hop culture’s appropriation of urban space as a performative platform. Craig L. Wilkins, in “The Space Between Sight and Touch,” argues for Hip Hop culture’s ability to flow, layer and rupture to transform and bring to life the in between spaces in the public realm. Hip Hop becomes a blueprint for social resistance, recrafting the fabric of our reality. It is dependent on the systemic reorganization of space to enlarge the conversation of public discourse and physical freedom.
In the appropriation of urban space for celebratory practices, Hip Hop culture, as articulated by Wilkins, demonstrates the potential for individuals to engage in acts of cultural play within the public realm and, in so doing, to make visible a plurality of identities and to enact a plurality of performances that expand our conception of who and what constitutes the culture we share.

Cruising or the practice of fleeting sex between individuals, usually anonymously and without exchanging names, often in semi-public indoor spaces (bathrooms, saunas) or outdoors (rest stops, forests). These individuals choose to express their sexuality in typically neglected areas because of public rules, nevertheless still performing in public. Alvin Baltrop a African-American photographer, was known for capturing these scenes in the Hudson Peirs of New York during the 1970s. Sergio Bessa gives insight to Alvin Baltrop, “Alvin photographed the LGBTQ community differently than Robert Mapplethorpe, who shot them in a very explicit and glamorization of the S&M culture,Baltrop wasn’t about that. He saw sexual freedom.”
The alleyway can be seen as a representation of the realities of your typical street front. The street represented the respectable front, while the alley saw the servants and suppliers do the dirty work. alleys provide space for small manufacturing, repair shops, rear houses, garages and children’s play space.

The concept of Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, was used to describe the oppression of black women, it now is being used at the forefront for social justice issues. It describes how race, class, gender, and many other individual characteristics intersect and overlap. Along with Intersectionality, is Queer Theory, to queer is to challenge normative ideas and hegemonic structures of power, a continuing questioning and challenging of what is acceptable and normal. Queering allows the possibility to expand our sphere of accepted actions and break the container with which society places disenfranchised individuals

                  index       next >