Heterotopias

heretothereFascinating idea I’ve never come across before, from French philosopher Michel Foucault via John Doyle at Ktismatics:

Society designates sites for work, for recreation, for rest, for education, for transportation, and so on. What interests Foucault in particular are ‘counter-sites,’ places positioned on the outside of cultural space, irrelevant to the practical functioning of everyday life. These are real places but ‘absolutely different’ from other sites; not utopias but ‘heterotopias.’

“In traditional societies the heterotopias are reserved for people undergoing transitional crises: adolescents, menstruating women, pregnant women, the dying. Remnants of crisis heterotopias persist in boarding schools (perhaps also universities), the military, the honeymoon trip. But, says Foucault, the crisis heterotopia has largely been replaced by heterotopias of deviation: prisons, psychiatric hospitals, nursing homes, brothels.”

John names some other examples, such as cemeteries, gardens, and theatres, then goes on:

Heterotopias open onto heterochroniesdisjunctures from the evenly spaced and empty continuum of time. Theater time passes differently from the time that surrounds the theater. The cemetery is a juxtaposition of the end of time and eternity. Museums and libraries accumulate past time in a place outside of time. Resort towns exist only at certain times of the year. Entering into a heterotopia often requires a rite of passage: enlistment in the army, arrest and conviction, death, travel. The ship is the heterotopia par excellence.”

Other less hefty rites of passage might be crossing a bridge, walking from a big space to a small one through an archway, waking up from a dream, moving from a sunlite meadow to a dark forest, and so on. Lots of implications for garden and home architecture here (as Frank Lloyd Wright certainly employed in his houses).
I’m still stuck on the resort town thing, though …

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