Vol. 7, No 1 (September 2002)

  Urban Bodies

Edited by:

  Claus Dreyer and Eduard Führ
in cooperation with Gunter Gebauer and Frank Werner
Claus Dreyer
Eduard Führ
Gunter Gebauer
Frank Werner

The relationship between human body and architecture has always been an elementary topic of the theoretical discussion of Vitruv up to Le Corbusier: in the proportion figure, in the human scale, in the model of an organism or by the idea of a third skin or a second dress, in the determination as centre of the sensory perception and the practical appropriation or even as aesthetic and cultural norm, the mutual references between body and architecture are just as various as the conclusions developed from these.

The physical human body has formed and changed itself in its relations to architecture and town: gestures, facial expression, disposition, social behaviour and ways of thinking react to the built and arranged environment and are shaped by it. However, the material body of the town and the buildings has always been regarded as personification of ideas, images and utopias, and the modern age has tried to show particularly the correspondence of the architectural forms to the physiological, ergonomic and motor functions of the human behaviour. In the historical process these relations lead to an interaction that corresponds in continually new expressions to the respective civilization and cultural state of an epoch.

Today one can observe the dramatic changes of the social and cultural environments. Perhaps they will break even apart. Moreover, one can also state the deconstruction and the fragmentarization of the architectural body. But also the physical appropriation of the town by different users in different ways generates various personal urban bodies which overlay each other without still unifying into a whole: the classic stroller or spectator interact with the town quite differently from the yuppie or the tramp, the jogger or the skateboarder, the prostitute or the policeman, the pensioner or the schoolchild. These fragmentations find as material correspondences, as various "mental maps" or mythical and utopian excesses (in sports, films or advertising). In connection with this, a “Californization” of the European towns which is best to be seen in the production of big sporting events (“city marathon”) as in numerous festivals, performances and shows, superficially reviving urban bodies.

Obviously there are not only regional peculiarities in the interaction between the physical und the architectural body (differences between north and south, east and west), but also geographic and ethnographic differences that should be explored particularly in the non-European cultures, stating the question to what extent these differences disappear or transform themselves in the process of globalization. It could be that the “Californization” of the European towns is a last futile rebellion against the creeping “disembodiment” which is also inforced by the increasing digitalization and virtualization of the urban body. The digital networks form their own urban structures, their artificial sensuality require a new physical equivalent that is metaphorically grasped only unclearly by the term of the “surfer”. In the contributions to the current issue some of these aspects will be analyzed and interpreted more precisely.




___Claus Dreyer

Urban Bodies – an Overview

Today one can observe the dramatic changes of the social and cultural environments. Perhaps they will break even apart. Moreover, one can also state the deconstruction and the fragmentarization of the architectural body. But also the physical appropriation of the town by different users in different ways generates various personal urban bodies, which overlay each other without still unifying into a whole.
In connection with this, one speaks of a "Californization" of the European towns, which is best to be seen in the production of big sporting events ("city marathon") as in numerous festivals, performances and shows, superficially reviving urban bodies. It could be, that the "Californization" of the European towns is a last futile rebellion against the creeping "disembodyment", which is also inforced by the increasing digitalization and virtualization of the urban body.

Body concepts

___Jürgen Hasse
Frankfurt am Main


Floating Citybodies

Scientific thinking about the future of our cities has an anthropological leak. Terminological abstractionisms are forming a space of thinking; the opposite of this is the city as a living space („gelebter Raum“; Dürckheim). At first the article is pointing out a critique on the actual mainstream in social science, which is proceeding on the assumption that man lives a rationalistic life. In difference to this view a holistic perspective on city (-development) is opened. The aim of this argumentation forms pluralized ways to point out intellectual critique of the city. The several kinds of thinking the city are rooted in the bodily feeling at the places where city(life) lives. This type of critique is not only addressed to the gnostic concrete perception but also to the pathic performance of perception and feeling (Erwin Straus). Political discussion on the future of our cities starts at first in situations of being in the urban world and not in an area of abstractionisms and denotations of specialized languages.


___Jürgen Mick

Bodies and Urban Identity

If we look at the public space under the aspect of material movement, form and dimension of public space are revealed to us as a physically formed shape. The public space, we move our bodies through, is the „glue“ of our cities, and it changes with the changes of our social lives, in that way they do it physically.
This essay should show that the body we see in the modern age, and only the fact that our cities are formed by the body movement, will allow us to make conclusions, concerning our relationship with urban space today. The searching for the new identity of our cities will lead us to our bodies. Because the city of today, and this is the basis of my theory, is mirroring our body as we see it today.


 ___Thorsten Bürklin

The Image of the Body. About the Oblivion of the Body in Space.

While trendy magazines show photos of smart houses and buildings that are mostly deserted by people, man’s body – the inseparable alter ego of the mind – remains out of question. There were only few moments in modern architectural theory and discussion that it really was in the focus of general interest. The suprematism of the image hides the concrete fact that the body is. As a consequence concrete architectural space gets lost behind its image. Instead man’s body – with all its senses – serves as a motoric and intellectual instrument. Its spatial experiences can be described and be read as relevant data that may be significant for projecting public and private spaces in which we live, work or spend our leisure time. Therefore the seemingly boring everyday experience may be of greater importance that we usually expect it to gain.





From speechact to sketchact
Architecture as a „Technique of the Body“

In the delirium of the digital images of the WTC desaster architecture emerged once again as the fundamental cultural practice of mediation between the dominance of the image and the prevalence of the body. In the traumatic experience of the televised catastrophe architecture reappeared not only as a practice of intertwining the objecthood of the city with the corporeality of its inhabitants but also as a practice of transgression from the "pleasure of the text" (R. Barthes) and its image quality to the "convulsion of the body" (S. Freud).
As part of a shift from architecture-as-representation to architecture-as-performative-production today's total medialization  of everyday culture calls for a semiological reformulation of architecture as a „technique of the body“ and origin of the „imaginative fabric of the real“ (M. Merleau-Ponty).
However after postmodernity's "linguistic turn" and its "frivolous signs" (M. Tafuri) and beyond classical semiotics, today the semiological reformulation of architecture cannot but be developed in the broader semiotic context of John Austin's concept of performativity. In regard to architecture and its overall medialization, but contrary to today's many attempts to reduce architecture to a mere phenomenological event, this means asking for the specificity of architecture as a performative practice i.e. for the shift from the linguistic "speechact" (J. Austin) to the architectural "sketchact" (H. Bredekamp).

Bodily Practice

___Bernhard Boschert


Room to Move: The city and its re-creation as urban sport space

This paper deals with the new urban forms of leisure sport. A particularly striking aspect of these sporting activities is their connection with the conquest and reencoding of urban spaces and public squares. Whether for inline skaters, skateboarders, beach volleyball players, streetball players or mountain bikers, no longer do playing fields, sports complexes or buildings constructed especially for sports take center stage. Rather, through their activities, the city itself is discovered as a space for movement and as a new field of action for these alternative sport and game forms. Moreover, through the specific movement practices of the participants, it is reconstituted as a space with its own independent meaning. Indeed, it appears that in these new forms of sport, various social groupings and milieus use urban spaces and public squares to literally perform their images of themselves and the world and to give these images physical form. In their performative practice, the actors make themselves sensually recognizable for themselves and others and thus try out new ways of relating to themselves and others.





Fabric, Pattern, Seam.
On Perceiving Architecture through Clothing

The experience and discussion of architecture as a built surrounding of the human body is preceded by the experience of being wrapped into clothing.
Starting with Semper, the issue of clothing in architectural theory has long been determined by the unequal relationship between the tectonic of structure and the ornamental of wrapping. Therefore the dimensions of space between the human body and its clothing have been neglected, as well as its parallels in the relationship between the body and the spatial objects surrounding it. The influence of being tempered by clothing on architectural experience is to be called in question – as an underlying pattern of phenomenological space. Similarities between architecture and clothing in the fabrics of atmosphere, the patterns of form and the seams of making might offer transferences: How is matt white swinging? Might a soft brown be dull and shiny at the same time? How do we make and what do we call ‘movement’?

Urban Embodiment

___Ulrike Gerhard
Ingo Warnke


This article focuses on modern cities that can be understood as almost “artificial constructs” without organic structure or growth potential. These so-called master-planned communities reflect actual moral concepts of society and of the individuals of the era they were built in. The tendency towards planned urban neighbourhoods is especially striking in the recent urban development in the United States. By using the example of the Washington Metropolitan Region, we will show how the concept of space and body of the suburban city in the 20th century has changed from the idea of a garden city (Greenbelt, MD) to the concepts of new towns (Columbia, MD) or new urbanism (King Farm, MD). We use an urban-geographic as well as a linguistic-semiotic approach in order to reflect on the constitution of the semiotic construct “urban body”. The analysis uses the concept of sign developed by Charles S. Peirce. His dynamic semiotic helps to provide a distinctive classification of the actual urban developments in North America and elsewhere.


___Silke Kapp
Minas Gerais, Brazil

Bodily Adventure in Troubled Cities

The Brazilian culture is famous worldwide for the relative freedom it enjoys in regard to the human body. From carnival to football, bodies are moved, excited, exposed. This attitude runs parallel to a way-of-life for which the external space has always been more important than the internal space, with the city always more important than one’s own home. What happens, then, when these habits are changed by social violence? When certain groups retreat into the shopping center, the car, building, or the insulated, heavily watched boroughs, while other groups turn the older urban spaces into a sort of battlefield? On the one hand, a cult of comfort and ’coziness’ is introduced, but this is in principle utterly alien, and only produces stereotyped spaces and relationships. On the other hand, the city becomes a stage for new appropriations, a vehicle for new signs. At first glance, this development may be considered as only negative, as an expression of violence itself. But, when seen critically, it proves not to be at all so unilateral.





The Informational City and the Concept of Cognitive Mapping

This elaboration seeks to contribute to a new understanding of space in the informational city. It strives to re-contextualize and re-conceptionalize space and its subsidiary elements: cities, places and in particular bodies in the informational context in order to raise a critical consciousness about space and in order to develop a set of implications for spatial disciplines. Therefore my efforts can be circumscribed as an elaboration on a re-imagination of space. The concept of imagine-a-city evolves as a prototype of the informational city as well as a guide to approach this city.


Historical Analysis of the Coherence between Architecture and Materiality


___Oxana Makhneva

Ledoux Style of Bodily Identity

The French architect of the 18th century Claude-Nicolas Ledoux equated architecture with man, considering architecture as social relations embodied in stone. Whilst speaking about architecture Ledoux spoke about man and his spiritual aspirations that determine architecture and are, in turn, derivatives of it. He compares a delicate order with folds of women’s garments. A description of the decor harmony flows harmoniously into a description of the virtues of the inspiring muse, who also embellishes life.

Discussion of Semiotic Aspects



Man and Architecture:
the Semantics of Relationships

A lot of research has been carried out into the phenomenon of architecture in an attempt to reveal the nature of its semantics. City has been compared with language, speech, stone chronicles, theatre, etc.
Materializing in urban environment, society leaves behind its anthropomorphic marks, which reflect direct and indirect relationships between man and environment, between human ideas, intentions, bodies, the human organism itself and architectural environment filled with volumes, forms and spaces. It is these interrelations that manifest themselves in the interaction of the significative and the signified, with the latter able to act both as a denotatum and a connotatum.
References to the history of architecture from Ancient Egypt and Antiquity to the present day are used to consider the semantics of interaction between man and urban environment that are in the basis of form generation in architecture and town planning.



Concerning Problems of Corporality
in Architecture



Knowledge activity is expressed by means of signs. A problem is to outline, and the sketch images the problem. In Peirce's thought the sketch will be called a diagram. Reasoning by the construction of diagrams is an activity which is the paradigm for all thinking, including creative thinking. In the 19th century the overcoming of the crisis of art and architecture presents a unique proceeding that can be unfolded as a construction with diagrams. Modern views find their identity by means of refusing tradition and by means of evoking a radical modification of composition and conception of space. The appearance of self-experienced subjectivity and the deliverance of pictorial representation emerge to knowledge. The diagrams demonstrate that the modern views are reasoning about ideas and constructions that lead to the possibility of disembodiment of classical construction of space in the field of architecture.


___Yekaterina Barabanova

An Earthly Body in a "Heavenly Castle"

Different proportions of human body are what make people so different from each other. Comparing parts of the body, comparing the dimensions of the body with various objects in the surrounding world man takes these proportions as a basis for creating a new shell, i.e. architecture. This shell encloses man from natural elements and creates a special environment – a space controlled by man and comparable with his size.
The coarse material plane of the wall of the Romanesque cathedral is gradually refined, covered with the tracery of flying buttresses and becomes Gothic; the light of the stained glass replaces part of the wall; curved stone becomes a tongue of the fire of Flamboyant Gothic; and the wall appears to be built not of stone but of light. This is one of the most remarkable examples of the evolution of an architectural style. The wall gradually disappears; the shell of coarse stone is replaced with a shell of light.
The technological revolution has provided the architect with new materials and new technologies, enabling the implementation of most unusual ideas.


The editorial staff keeps all rights, including translation and photomechanical reproduction. Selections may be reprinted with reference:
Wolkenkuckucksheim, Cloud-Cuckoo-Land, Vozdushnyj Zamok
> /theoriederarchitektur/Wolke/
if the editorial staff is informed.