In “Base Materialism”, a text written by Yve-Alain Bois for studies on the concept of “Formless”, he has put emphasis on “heterology” in use of George Bataille’s project against projects of surrealist. For this enterprise of “UNITED - the House of foreign Tongue” as heterology is a project against rationalist projects in architecture and urbanism, to be exact, an architectural corporeality’s antithetic allegory against the space of rationalist urbanism.

It is of course not to say the absence of bodily corporeality in rationalist architecture and urbanism. Le Corbusier’s “la main ouverte” (The Open Hand) on “la fosse de la considération” (The Depth or Pit of Consideration) for City of Chandigarh conjures up several allusion to architectural somatization in urban space. Pointing in three directions toward the sky, the Open Hand stands upright against the gravity of the Earth and rotates in the direction of the wind; the creator’s making (Poiesis) in Cartesian space affirms the inexistence of chthonic basis (la fosse) and ghostwrites the new spirit (pneuma, wind) of the Reason on tabula rasa (New city).

As is well known, it would not be an overstatement to say that the architectural and urban thoughts that are biased toward the space are called “spatio-centralism”. It is assumed that this neologism explains the modernist propensity for spatialization on three layouts - a spatial interpretation of pre-modern architecture, a creation of architectural space and a deletion of urban placeness. Le Corbusier has had a chance to project his modernist vision on tabula rasa, as is well known, for his projects of “La ville radieuse” and “New city of Chandigarh”; most of rationalist architects and some successors haven’t been able to project their will to create spaces on tabula rasa, but on “site” or in “metropolis”.

Their placeless urbanity (It is related to earthless spatiality) provides two alternatives for architectural and urban projects that should be constructed on earthly places: it is no wonder that the connection between placeless urbanity and earthly placeness is jarring. To locate an architectural space, the concept of “site” is introduced instead of “place”. Site can be regarded as a delimited tabula rasa: Site has great affinity with “the flat surface of perpetual simultaneity” of body part mentioned in the Birth of the Clinic: An Archeology of Medical Perception of Michel Foucault. Examining a site, rationalist architects prescribe appropriate spaces for some needs as if they were doctor.

For the purpose of placeless urban space based on urban reality, they substitute the term “metropolis” in place of the word “city”. Rationalist’s usage of “metropolis”, to put it more concretely, in modern urbanism since the end of 19th century, brings a provocative hint of concern to antinomical spatiality vis-a-vis city’s earthiness. It is generally taken for granted that metropolis is widely used to designate big city (Großstadt or grande ville). Why metropolis that means etymologically mother (mêtêr) and city (polis) is used in lieu of big city? For urban projects, rationalist architects get into a predicament because the earthless nature of their space permits no place for earthly or chthonic things of urban reality: ground, animal, inhabitant’s life, water, etc. They needs so something receptive, but not earthly or terrestrial, for projecting spatiality in their “City-Project”. As being required to connect the concrete urban reality with the abstract urban space, Rationalist inscribes the extremely expansive and ecumenical concept of “Mother-Nature” in the list of urban protagonists rather than the terrestrial concept “place”. (We have to wait to have notions of “urban atmosphere” or “urban environment” until the next century.) In “Fetischismus”, Almanach der Psychoanalyse of Sigmund Freud, a Failing to find his mother’s phallus which is inexistent by nature, a boy displaces this non-object of desire onto alternative objects or body parts. The fetish - an imaginary substitute for the absent maternal phallus - bears resemblance to the use of prefix “metro-” in rationalist’s urban discourses. They try to find earthness that is inexistent in their urban spatiality: they displaces this spatial phallus (earthness) onto Mother-Nature (metro-). As a false receptacle in urban discourse, metropolis marks the corporeality related with Freudian sexuality.


House of Foreign Tongue


As the Negation of the chthonic and the spatio-centralism are the main basis of rationalist urbanism, the place as urbanity is deported from urban discourses although the notion of “site” and “metropolis” are used. Through the placeless space in urban discourses, Terras tells us, corporeality appears in the aspects of “site” in architecture and “metropolis” in urbanism. (The notion of “function” in modern functionalism that is closely related with rationalism comes from medical science.) For a return of deported placeness, I propose a reintroduction of corporeality in the reverse direction: by new bodiliness to urban space, the placeness rejuveneses.

For “Uniting” urban space and urban place, it is required to intervene allegorically an architectural corporeality in urban space. Different to mere symbolic corporeality of Le Corbusier’s “la main ouverte”, the House of Foreign Tongue aims to unite urban place and urban space, but it isn’t based on the dialectic synthesis designed for a reconciliation - Hegelian final concord. This House is the “UNITED” based on scission between homogeneous and heterogeneous elements divided horizontally. In “Base Materialism”, as Yve-Alain Bois states, “What is at issue in “Slaughterhouse” “The Big Toe” and most of Bataille’s texts at the time of Documents is the “double use” of everything. There is an elevated use consecrated by metaphysical idealism and rational humanism, and there is a low use.”

The House of Foreign Tongue is tower-like building. An enclosed room at the highest floor is to room architectural space that is homogeneous with urban space; the House equips two wheels to run on the urban place which is heterogeneous with the urban space. They are “UNITED” in the House of Foreign Tongue in the way of Georges Bataille’s notion of “scission”. For that reason, the spatial room and two wheels of placeness architecturally represent horizontality in-between. – like upright human body with a head and big toes on the Earth; as Georges Bataille states, “Whatever the role played in the erection [the vertical position] by his foot, man, who has a light head, in other words a head raised to the heavens and heavenly things, sees it as spit, on the pretext that he has this foot in the mud.”

For an intervention on urban space, The House utilizes its tongue for double use – verbal and tactile like human tongue. The tongue speaks in a foreign language (corporeal, and sometimes sexual); the foreign language is strange (la langue étrangère est étrangère) and uncanny (unheimlich) for speakers of architectural and urban languages of rationalism. What is the House talking about, by the way? Rolling its wheels, the House moves to find urban place that is deported or repressed by urban space. (Urban place is engraved on buried tabula scripta under tabula rasa) The tongue gets to find a hiatus of rationalist’s spatiality – manifestation of corporeality in architectural and urban discourses on cities (Site and Metropolis). Putting its tongue into the hiatus, the House reads placeness on tabula scripta with its tactile tongue as we read braille with fingertips. The city is replaced, as we have seen, with a “Fetish-Metropolis” by spatiality; this hiatus is a secret crack of urban space. Here, the tactile tongue of the House becomes Oedipus’. From “corporeal” to “erotic”, a fall.

In the context of architecture, the House of Foreign Tongue is the allegorical expression of an architectural corporeality as urban heterogeneity. In this anthropomorphized House, elevated space (homogeneity in urban space) and low place (heterogeneity in urban space) unite in opposition to the logic of the urbanism biased toward the space. As observed earlier, The House of Foreign Tongue attempts to establish a double-layer heterogeneity.

In urban context, The House of Foreign Tongue connects urban space and urban place. (For on thing, urban space symbolizes spatial normativity of cities and urban place stands for chthonian nature of urban reality.) The oxymoron in rationalist’s use of the word “metropolis” reveals corporeality that makes urban placeness’ return possible to the city. (Georges Bataille valorises the “reduction of repression” as an alteration toward the base) Connected urban spatiality and urban placeness in this way are finally UNITED alternatingly through transgressive lowering.  END




BATAILLE Georges, l’Érotisme, Edition de Minuit, Paris, 1957

BOIS Yve-Alain & KRAUSS Rosalind E., Formless: A User’s Guide, Zone Book, New York, 1997; L’Informe: Mode d’emploi, Ed. Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1996

CASEY Edward S., The Fate of place, the Regents of the University of California, Berkeley, 1997

FREUD Sigmund, “Fetischismus”, Almanach der Psychoanalyse, Wein, 1928

GEROSA Giorgio Pier, Éléments pour une histoire des théories sur la ville comme artefact et forme spatiale, Université des sciences humaines de Strasbourg, Strasbourg, 1992

GODIN Christian & MÜHLETHALER Laure, Édifier. L’architecture et le lieu, Verdier, Paris, 2005

PAGLIA Camille, Sexual Personae, Yale University, New Haven, 1991

PÉREZ-GÓMEZ Alberto, Built upon Love, MIT press, Cambridge, 2008

© 2023 by Won Chul KIM