Interstices 12 (Under Construction)

Unsettled Containers: Aspects of Interiority

May 18, 2010

Call for Papers

Unsettled Containers: Aspects of Interiority [1]

The University of Auckland, School of Architecture and Planning
8-10 October 2010

Keynote speaker:
Professor David Leatherbarrow
University of Pennsylvania School of Design

In architecture, as in ecology, equilibrium between inside and outside is rather like paradise, something too good to be true, therefore not good enough.
David Leatherbarrow

Image based on Leonardo da Vinci: Studies of Embryos, c.1510-13

Is architecture a cult of the externalised object? It would seem so: of 46 images of prize winning entries on the 2009 World Architecture Festival website, for example, only four show interiors.This object-cult and neglect of the interior is a symptom of architecture’s domination by a polarised nineteenth-century conception of containment. So efficiently are interior and exterior sealed off from each other that they are frequently treated as discrete professional domains.

However, inside and outside are always ready to be reversed – their boundaries full of tension and at points occupied by beings who awaken “two-way dreams” (Bachelard). In Benjamin’s Arcades Project, 19th century petit bourgeois encased themselves in their interior as in a “spider’s web, in whose toils world events hang loosely suspended like so many insect bodies sucked dry”. In his dissection of their culture, where the private sphere of the dwelling and public spheres of work and politics are opposites, the interior appears as a counterpart to the global consciousness of empire. European traders and travellers retreated after their worldly adventures into their wallpapered interiors, to “save their souls” (Sloterdijk). However, the sealed world of the 1851 Crystal Palace turned the exterior world into a magic form of immanence – by asserting the values of imperialist capitalism in a spectacular domestication of the globe. Conversely, the Parisian arcades appear as the workers’ living rooms.

To many, today’s spaces seem more involuted, fragile and unsettled than those of the past. Phenomenological theories of architecture, like those of Pallaasma, Pérez-Gómez, and Leatherbarrow, represent an intense focus on the proximate qualities of architecture, and a possible avenue for a new emphasis on the interior. Other approaches highlight different modes of every-day proximity, such as digital, intimate involvements. Sloterdijk posits the ability to say “we” as the fundamental condition of space, which creates interior spaces as spheres for dwelling. Like immersive plants, these elaborate human existence and embed human relationships – even if this interiority is, from the beginning, touched by an exteriority against which it must assert itself. Opposite forces create the climatised hothouses of luxury consumption, relaxation and privileged cosmopolitanism familiar to us today, in which nature and culture are indoor affairs and history is left outside. Those with purchasing power stage their daydreams on the inside as, on the outside, more or less forgotten majorities try to survive amongst traditions, adaptations, revolutions and improvisations.

How can interiority be conjugated in new ways? If interiority is a way of thinking of ourselves as being-in-the-world, to the exclusion of whatever we fail to integrate, how do we draw the lines and name the territories today? What constitutes interiority? What does it have to say about the institutionalised containment of refugee centres or gated communities; the improvised urbanism of Freetown’s shanties or Brazilian favela; or, indeed, the openness of the Pacific? How are transpositions of space from sacred to common, public to private, mind to body affected by interiority? What is it like to negotiate the pae [2] from inside? Where are the spaces of Self and Other? How do global and regional flows circulate in interiors, and how do we register difference? How are interior immensity and claustrophobia related, and is there a special relationship between interiority and possession? When is a set of walls an interior, when is an object a container, and when is a container a world?

Interstices invites you to unsettle the dichotomy of interior and exterior; to redefine and reorient the concept of the interior for the present, and project it towards the future. We welcome postgraduate students, academics and practitioners to present their investigations in 20 minute papers. Please send a 500 word abstract of your presentation to Tina Engels-Schwarzpaul (tina.engels@aut.ac.nz) by 5 July 2010. Abstracts will be double-blind refereed and, if accepted, published on the Interstices website (www.interstices.auckland.ac.nz).

The symposium will be held on 8-10 October 2010 at the School of Architecture and Planning, The University of Auckland, 22 Symonds St, Auckland. Closer to the time, the programme and updates will be available here. Participants will present their investigations in 20 minute sessions. There will be a workshop session for emerging researchers, independent of the refereeing process, which will focus on developing research capability. In November, the symposium will be followed by a Call for Papers, with the same theme, for issue 12 of Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts in 2011.[3]


[1] ‘Unsettled containers’ (unruhige Behälter) is a term which the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk probably derived from Gaston Bachelard, who conceived of humans as fundamentally unsettled and half-open beings.

[2] Pae (Māori): a transitional zone of demarcation and negotiation (R. Jahnke, 1999).

[3] Interstices: A Journal of Architecture and Related Arts received an “A” rating in the 2009 and 2010 Australian Research Council’s Journal Ranking Exercise.