Rent: apartment blocks and their uses

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    In 1974, pursuing his interest in the infra-ordinary – ‘the banal, the quotidian, the obvious, the common, the ordinary, the back-ground noise, the habitual’ – Georges Perec wrote about an idea for a novel:
    ‘I imagine a Parisian apartment building whose façade has been removed … so that all the rooms in the front, from the ground floor up to the attics, are instantly and simultaneously visible’.
    In Life A User’s Manual (1978) the consummation of this precis, patterns of existence are measured within architectural space with an archaeological sensibility that sifts through narrative and décor, structure and history, services and emotion, the personal and the system, ascribing commensurate value to each.
    Apartment comes from the Italian appartare meaning ‘to separate’. The space of the boundary between activities is reduced to a series of intimately thin lines: the depth of a floor, a party wall, a window, the convex peep-hole in a door, or the façade that Perec seeks to render invisible. The apartness of the apartment is accelerated when aligned with short-term tenancies. Here Perec’s interweaving of personal histories over time using the structure of the block, gives way to convivialities of detachment: inhabitants are temporary, their personalities anonymous, their activities unknown or overlooked.
    Borrowing methods from Perec, to move somewhere between conjecture, analysis and other documentation and tracing relationships between form, structure, materiality, technology, organisation, tenure and narrative use, this paper interrogates the late twentieth-century speculative apartment block in Britain and Ireland arguing that its speculative and commodified purpose allows a series of lives that are often less than ordinary to inhabit its spaces.
    Henri Lefebvre described the emergence of an ‘abstract space’ under capitalism in terms which can be applied to the apartment building: the division of space into freely alienable privatised parcels which can be exchanged. Vertical distributions of class and other new, contiguous social and spatial relationships are couched within a paradox: the building which allows such proximities is also a conductor of division. Apartment comes from the Italian appartare meaning ‘to separate’. The space of the boundary between activities is reduced to a series of intimately thin lines: the depth of a floor, a party wall, a window, the convex peep-hole in a door, or the façade that Perec seeks to render invisible. The apartness of the apartment is accelerated when aligned with short-term tenancies. Here Perec’s interweaving of personal histories over time using the structure of the block, gives way to convivialities of detachment: inhabitants are temporary, their personalities anonymous, their activities unknown or overlooked.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages10
    Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2012
    EventUrban Blind Spots - Theory Forum 2012 - University of Sheffield, Sheffield, United Kingdom
    Duration: 13 Nov 201214 Nov 2012

    Conference

    ConferenceUrban Blind Spots - Theory Forum 2012
    CountryUnited Kingdom
    CitySheffield
    Period13/11/201214/11/2012

    ID: 18033345