Michel Foucault ‘Of Other Spaces’
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Fig. 1. Michel Foucault, michelfoucault.jpg
Paul-Michel Foucault (fig.1) ( 15th October 1926 – 25th June 1984) was a French philosopher and historian, ‘who was one of the most influential and controversial scholars of the post-World War II period.’ (James Faubion). His life’s work aimed to analyse how power works (police, law, prison etc.) and to create an anarchist state. (Glover, no date) In his early years, he had psychological problems, later discovered to have their roots in the inability to deal with his own sexuality. (The school of life, 2015)
Born in France, he was raised in a wealthy environment. From 1946 to 1952 he has studied philosophy and psychology in the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris. His doctoral dissertation under the title Folie et déraison: histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (“Madness and Unreason: A History of Madness in the Classical Age”) was very welcomed by the critics, but was left with only a few followers. After familiarising himself with the works of Nietzsche he focused on changing how we interpret and learn from history. (James Faubion).
Reading Foucault’s ‘Of other spaces’, and trying to understand what exactly ‘Heterotopia’ is, I concluded for myself that these are spaces that exist and at the same time are not physically part of our world in such a way that they might influence our behaviour but are just interpretations of our own mind – ‘Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality’ (Foucault, 1984). This by itself is a very abstract and hard to comprehend the idea, so much that I decided to manifest the concept into something real, that I could grasp and understand. While we are on the topic of exploring Tate Modern museum (and this being one of my favourite places in London), I decided to adapt Foucault’s six principals about the space into the design of the building to see if it is an actual heterotopia. I will go into detail to explain each principal’s connection:
Fig. 2. Tate modern museum, Architetturaxtutti-Tate_Modern_HerzogDeMeuron_London-005.jpg
First principal – Crisis and deviation. Tate (fig.2) was designed to combine different spaces some of which can be classified as a crisis heterotopia. One of which to present an example is the disabled lavatory.
Second principal – Historical change of function. Initially, Tate modern’s building was a coal burning plant which in time with the change of the needs of the people closed down and later evolved from a temporary exposition place to the museum we know now.
Third principal – juxtaposing. In relation to the example from Foucault of the gardens and the cinemas, the museum is organized in such a way that you are enclosed in four walls in the exposition halls (fig.3), while those paintings create the heterotopia and connect you with the places and motifs that they express.
Fig. 3. Tate modern exposition hall, Tate-Britain-Tate-Gallery-London-pictures.gif
Fourth principal – The link to slices in time. We are all familiar with the fact that Tate is a historical building, and it has accumulated time and on the flip side, you can say that all the expositions inside are in a transitory state (temporary).
Fifth principal – Illusion. While you are given the option to have free entry to the whole museum, but at the same time, you are greeted by paid barriers where you are no longer allowed unless you are invited (by paying a fee).
Sixth principal – their function in relation to all spaces. Foucault explains this by giving us a metaphor with a boat (movable object). We can apply this principal in the new elevators in the building, which in relation to the building are never in a constant space while being very real and usable.
Doing research on my own and trying to explain better for myself what heterotopias are I found a few people applying the principles to existing projects (Victoria J E Jones, 2010).With this and the ability to apply the principles to Tate modern, we find the ability to stretch and bend the rules on those principles as they are not strictly formed. As such I see those principles as a way to analyse an existing structure rather than using it as a guideline for creating an interior.
The text has an introduction, which roughly explains how he came up with the concept of ‘Heterotopia’ and how it can be influenced by history.
After a short explanation of the terminology of ‘Heterotopia’, the text is divided in six different ‘principles’, which give examples on the different types of Heterotopia according to his definition.
The way the text is written shows that it is made for historians and psychologists – the scientific jargon and terminology make it hard to read and assess by people, not of the same background.
In your opinion, can you say if Heterotopias should be the basis or guideline of your concept when designing or planning an interior or any other physical space?
Do you consider Heterotopias existing in our material world or just in the confines of our own minds?
juxtaposition – the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect
emplacement – the process or state of setting something in place or being set in place
homogeneous – denoting a process involving substances in the same phase
Glover, R. (no date) The buildings, Tate modern, architecture. Available at: http://www2.tate.org.uk/archivejourneys/historyhtml/bld_mod_architecture.htm (Accessed: 9 October 2016).
Philosophy, I.E. of (no date) Internet encyclopedia of philosophy. Available at: http://www.iep.utm.edu/foucault/ (Accessed: 9 October 2016).
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica (2016) ‘Michel Foucault | french philosopher and historian’, in Encyclopædia Britannica. Available at: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Michel-Foucault (Accessed: 9 October 2016).
The School of Life (2015) PHILOSOPHY – Michel Foucault. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBJTeNTZtGU (Accessed: 9 October 2016).
Victoria J E Jones (2010) Foucault’s Heterotopia and the festival tent – Greenman festival 2010. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0EmKK9KdB-w (Accessed: 10 October 2016).