Associated Project to the 5th Lisbon Architecture Triennale The Poetic of Reason, supported by the Office of the Vice Chancellor of Research at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts
Carthusians refer to their cells as deserts. The cell is a remote site at the margins of civilization, distant from the noise of society and mundane temptations. A desert is not only the place where all customs, traditions, and historical stratifications fall apart but also where any consolidated societal structure can be questioned and examined from an estranged point of observation.
The cell is neither an exodus nor a fugue from society but an instrument to sharpen the way we look at and dwell in the world. It offers a mental and spiritual shelter for cultivating new and radical forms of collective organization. It is the point of struggle between death and life, exhaustion and abstraction.
The metaphoric desert is thus a heuristic device to experiment with and rediscover ways of living, from the neolithic to the modern age, from Catal Huyuk to the Co-op Zimmer. Reducing contact with the world, each of the following eight deserts explores ways for creating new universes and rethinking the collectivity through shared rules of individual actions.
The cell does not provide objects, but rather only vertical and horizontal surfaces of a different consistency to dissolve any intermediation between space and bodies into a meticulous architecture. The simplicity and emptiness of this zero-degree space exalt the naked concreteness of bodily gestures and their repetition. This distillation of dwelling to its most elementary forms implies different dynamics and a specific organization of necessary bodily actions: sleeping, washing, eating, and excreting. Each cell formulates an arrangement of the same gestures through various spatial devices, resulting in distinct configurations and different forms of living.
The four actions could be scattered across various islands as an archipelago of intensities or distributed around the boundary of the cell in a continuous inhabitable wall. They could be split by thick partitions or light membranes, separated in a series of equal compounds, or aligned in sequences. They could be arranged into a compact core, flattened on the floor or above the ceiling, separated by a chasm or a wall.
Traditional objects are thus stripped of their embedded social constructions and eroded to their quintessential uses. A table is neither round nor square but a surface at 80 centimeters above the ground.
Similarly, a seat is a solid cube 40 centimeters wide; a bed is a soft surface above the floor measuring 80 by 200 centimeters; a bathtub is a concave basin containing 600.000 cubic centimeters of water; a toilet is a 30 centimeter hole in the ground; a circular stove acts as a hearth for fire which is necessary to process food, generate energy, and alter the temperature within the cell.
These primary forms establish a grammar for living in common. The simple aggregation of cells does not produce the collective; instead, the collectivity permeates each individual, passing through the singularity of each cell and the language it speaks.
Jimmy Carter, Abigail Chang, Francesco Marullo, and Agata Siemionow.
(Photographs: Ibai Rigby)