A Topology Of Everyday Constellations

by | 24. Jun 2013



By Martin Søberg

We still tend to think in dichotomies, such as private and public or interior and exterior. But as Georges Teyssot demonstrates in his latest, brilliant book, things have indeed changed. What used to be separated now intertwines.

Teyssot investigates the modern dwelling as an apparatus for managing and controlling the human body and its desires. He explores our physiques, our minds, and their relations to spaces and appliances. In particular, this regards the gradual bodily liberation, yet re-ordering throughout the 20th century and the technical systems that were part of such alterations.

The design of houses not only responds to new habits and lifestyles, but moreover to general adjustments in power structures. The history of the modern house is just a much a history of bodily and mental hygiene, of biopolitics as infused by capital systems and the State. For instance, Teyssot convincingly explores the links between notions of architectural typology and 20th century eugenics programs.

A history in pieces

Teyssot introduces German philosopher and cultural theorist Walter Benjamin’s famous Arcades Project, which compiled numerous fragments into a kaleidoscopic account of 19th century Paris. From a similar pile of intriguing evidence, Teyssot builds his own argumentation by recurrent reference to the dream-like visions or nightmares of an architectural avant-garde. From fin-de-siecle art nouveau wave-patterns to contemporary critical design such as Didier Fieza Faustino’s mis-architecture, Teyssot creates his own kaleidoscope.

The reader leaps through a maelstrom of fascinating images and peculiar references, transversing the 19th to 21st centuries. This amassment of material functions to illustrate how the world and its spaces may no longer be considered by and through established hierarchies but as a network of relations.

Topology is the mathematical study of spaces and shapes, as when examining the complexity of the Möbius strip, in which inside and outside are inseparable.

These spatial conditions were explored by architects such as Pascal Häusemann, Alfred Neumann, and Michael Webb in the 1950s and ’60s and discussed by contemporary British critic Reyner Banham. Of particular interest to these people were the possibilities for a morphogenesis between spheres and polygonal forms.

Key qualities of the modern dwelling superimposed on the body: Location of the human needs in the cranium. In André Godin, Solutions sociales (Paris: A. le Chevalier, 1871). Image courtesy of MIT Press

Folded minds

Historical changes in mentality and culture are traced through changes in domestic design. Teyssot considers the modern city as several membrane states in the process of osmosis. He argues that such surroundings reflect the nomadic conditions of contemporary life.

Studies of thresholds and transitions, informed by readings of philosopher Gilles Deleuze, prompts Teuyssot to discuss the morphology and expressive collision of architectural features such as windows and screens:

Today, ‘house’ means anyplace one actually lives, resides, dwells, or travels, including one’s bed, sofa, office, or vehicle. Accordingly, the form of the dwelling includes the contemplative pause between needs, inscribing those needs, and the lack of needs, into our floors and walls, as well as onto our screens.
/ Teyssot, p. 19

A Topology of Everyday Constellations
opens the reader up for a profound discussion, initiating the process to reconsider what it means to dwell and how our physical appliances reconfigure our lives. Another thought-provoking result of The MIT Press’ Writing Architecture series, Teyssot’s discourse is disturbingly, seductively complex.

4-George-Teyssot-a-typology-of-every-day-constellations-MIT-press.jpgWavy lines. An architecture of fewer boundaries. Victor Horta, Hôtel Max Hallet, Brussels, 1902. Image courtesy of MIT Press

Modern fascination with technical orders. Siegfried Giedion, photograph of Marseille’s Pont Transbordeur, built by Ferdinand-Joseph Arnodin in 1905. Image courtecy of MIT Press.