Is There Anything as “Architecture of Identity”?

For a long time the issues of identity have been coming up in several conversations, and perhaps also the questions raised often on account of making “identity” as an architectural question. In taking such a position arguably there are two fundamental questions that comes up, the first being, is the question of identity only related to tectonics or what does architecture manifest through contextual tokenism?’ and secondly, ‘are the questions of identity related to Socio- Political space?’. The obvious answers would be that they form one cohesive unit. The issues and concerns here are much deeper and require methodical understanding, especially even if one has to look at architecture, identity and the city, one is unavoidably entering into the discourse of spatial practices and politics of power.

If one begins to dissect the second question independently from the sociological perspective, it would define architecture as being “legible power of material form”.David Harvey in his book “The Post Modern Condition” talked about the nature of relation between power and spatial practices in that they are interrelated, as he quotes “any struggle to reconstitute power relations is a struggle to recognize their spatial bases”. Perhaps what literature implies is that the architecture of the city is nothing but the “landscape of power”, the built environment is nothing but a“landscape of dominance and subordination”.
Now if one begins to dissect the first question independently, it definitely raises some fundamental issues of relationship between architecture and the city. If one ignores the relationship then one is left with the tectonics as a formal operation imagining to be the locating identity. Even if one decides to take such a route, it is indeed a precarious pedagogic position, because it isolates architecture as a narcissistic object, where identity through tectonic is assumed to be a mere symbolic token towards the spatial claim. 

If the relationship is of central concern then the reading of Aldo Rossi through his book “Architecture of the city” an important literature to begin with, where he discusses very important aspects of autonomous architecture which is a part of the city artifacts or the city structure. The word autonomous architecture is related to the way one, individually,  experiences the city as a series of urban artifacts within which the architecture is a mere purified typological variations inflicted on the city. These artifacts are seen collectively as a spatial structure ruled by laws and elements guided by architecture (of history) itself. The autonomous architecture tends to suspend itself between memory and the research object of an individual. Such negotiations give rise to a new identity which is constantly in transition. The identity is a meeting point between an individual memory, investigation and collective life and not just merely tectonics of an object frozen in time and space.

If one agrees on the initial argument about the ‘Cohesive Unit’ then, lastly, the reading of cities through Michel Foucault’s notion of “Heterotopia” is an extremely important literature to set the tone in theorizing identity. It gives an account of the counter spaces that are regulated and imagined within the city in its architecture. Such architectural imaginations are “counter sites” in which existing social and spatial arrangements are “represented, contested and inverted”. Foucault sees such formation of real space and architecture (disciplined, regulated, controlled, associated, affiliated) as typical of the “primitive” infliction on existing social context and these “counter sites” are effectively enacted as utopia in an inverted reality or architecture as the spatial order of the Panopticon.
Photo Credit: Manoj Parmar Architects

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