human subject research
in scientific research finds its official first guinea pig in the life and times of one Sanctorius Sanctorius, a physician born in Padua, Italy, in 1561. For over thirty years Sanctorius weighed himself—everything he ate and drank, and all the waste he produced. Though the medical significance of his discoveries was minor, his empirical method was radically new. This method would offer some of its most fascinating occurrences during the 19th century, when just the right mix of thirst for the world, romantic endeavor, recklessness, and imagination were in the air.
In 1798, twenty-year-old Humphry Davy was appointed chief experimenter at the Bristol Pneumatic Institution. The center, established by Thomas Beddoes, sought to understand the medical possibilities opened up by a new chemistry of respiration. The work of the Pneumatic Institute was based on the idea that “factitious air” and gas could modify the inner constitution of the body, and cure the sick when thrown into the circulatory system through the lungs. In April 1799, Davy began his research on the effect of compounds such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and carbon monoxide on the human body. Davy always served as his first test-subject, which meant that he usually ended up prostrated in bed for days due to heavy headaches, nausea, and seizures.
After several experiments he found that the effects of the nitrous oxide (N2O), popularly known as laughing gas, were promising and safe enough for a series of larger experiments. He established a basic timeline: he would first test different concentrations of the gas on himself. Next, he would test on animals. And finally, on other volunteering humans. These volunteers, selected from the Bristol’s emerging bourgeoisie, would soon hype up the inhalation of the gas as laughing parties became an endearing attraction of the city.1
Novels like the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Invisible Man revealed a less cheery side of unbounded self-experimentation. Authors Robert Louis Stevenson and H.G. Wells masterly exposed the risks of this nightmarish distortion of perception, unlocking the darkest depths of human thirst for power and will to crime. Walking a fine line between a creative relation to empirical research and the risks brought by unsettling the status quo, we would like to rethink the relationship between self-experimentation and architecture. Can we match that distant romantic recklessness and wonder at the world with the same intensity and urgency in our contemporary, yet stalemate, position? Can we, as architects, be our own test-subjects?
This attempt at self-experimentation implies the unfolding of a new relation between architecture’s own knowledge and the architect’s role within the sensible world—a relationship addressed by #GatherThePavement, an experiment launched by displacements for the Madrid Urban Laboratory hosted by Medialab-Prado.2
#GatherThePavement works from two main hypotheses: A more general one that settles the framework and goals of the project, and a more specific one that unsettles the role of the architect. The first relies on Judith Butler, who coined the expression “gathering the pavement” to explicitly render the role of architecture and the materiality of the built environment in the common production of our sensible and political world3 To gather the pavement implies a political action based on the agency of presence, rather than on its reduction to different forms of representation. It describes a democracy in which the term citizen regains its connection to the polis as the material assemblage of bodies and shared imagination. And so, if we consider the built environment as the shared production of multiple bodies (rather than a collection of lifeless parts), it becomes fundamental to unveil the role of the non-epic4 in the composition of a common world, instead of focusing on one-time architectural and political actions. Accordingly, and here unfolds our second working hypothesis, the architect’s practice and position change as we turn to work on the strategies, spaces, and rhythms necessary to invent and construct this common world.
#GatherThePavement sets a four month timeline to produce a prototype5 that helps test our working hypothesis and open up new research tracks. In order to accomplish this, a multidisciplinary team of anthropologists, historians, journalists, architects, and political and social scientists have been working alongside citizens of Barrio de Las Letras in Madrid at the Medialab-Prado since May 2014. After the first phase of exploration, a series of situations were detected—entanglements of bodies, practices and discourses—capable of acting as catalyzers of non-nostalgic memory and political imagination. While this exploration continues as a background layer of activity aimed to thread the trust and ties of the team within the urban fabric, the production of models for these situations has begun. These models, or dynamic lo-fi materializations of the assemblages, will act as creative pedagogical dispositifs intended to engage citizens. The final prototype, which we consider a democratic demo, will be produced in October 2014, and will question the traditional spatial forms of political assembly6 : an assembly based not on representation, but on the entangled presence of the participating bodies and their everyday practices.
We must acknowledge the necessary change in the role of the architect and consequently the territory where our research is conducted. From there a reconsideration of the nature of architectural fact ensues. Our first move brings us to the figure of the medieval minstrel, who, as a kind of deleuzian war machine “moved in a world of traveling musicians, actors, mimes, acrobats, clowns, beggars, and others of more dubious character,”7 and did so not only geographically, but across all levels of society. Their popularity and broad reach was due to the minstrels’ wide repertoire of practices: musical instruments, romances and songs conveyed news and knowledge about the world lying beyond the everyday boundaries of their audience. The minstrels were world-makers. They acted as producers of sensible organizations, and radically contributed to the creation of new territories of knowledge and shared sensibility, as well as vernacular languages common across social spheres.8
And so we began to self-experiment, conceiving of ourselves as “spatial minstrels,” unnoticed but deeply entangled in production and research. As recent advances in scientific studies have shown, the laboratory can no longer be thought of as an enclosed bubble of the past. 9 Today’s architectural laboratory is neither the enclosed abstract space of isolated theory nor the complacent dimension of capitalist production. On the contrary, it is the site—for us the site is the city—that becomes the lab. Space plays an intense and active role in the production of knowledge, and consequently, just as territories of knowledge were fabricated by the medieval minstrels through everyday practice, our spatial minstrel’s lab is constantly changing. It has diffuse limits and no clear definition. It is produced by the same activity that we are observing.
For #GatherThePavement, the Barrio de las Letras is the lab. The neighborhood, which got its name from the intense literary activity that took place during the 16th and 17th century, was home to some of the most well-known writers of the Spanish Golden Age, such as Cervantes or Quevedo. However, not only did literature occupy the streets, but many of the new science academies of the growing capital were founded there as well. Today, the neighborhood appears as an island within the hustle and bustle of the noisy city around it. The everyday rhythms and ways of the old town can still be felt when talking to the older neighbors of a new stream of inhabitants, who are coming in a feared process of gentrification.
In our role as spatial minstrels, research cannot be conducted by the combing of the urban fabric through an archeological gridding of space. We work instead through rhymes. Just as words rhyme, so too can situations, characters, forms, events—an idea explored by Paul Auster in his Invention of Solitude: “the rhyme they create when looked at together alters the reality of each. Just as two physical objects, when brought into proximity of each other, give off electromagnetic forces that not only effect the molecular structure of each but the space between them as well, altering, as it were, the very environment, so it is that two (or more) rhyming events set up a connection in the world, adding one more synapse to be routed through the vast plenum of experience.”10 Through this conception of the lab based on rhyming, our repertoire expands. We become part dialogue triggerers, part storytellers, part knowledge manufacturers, part research boosters, part organizers, and part producers. All the while, a new kind of architectural fact (the origin of our research and focus of our practice) is produced.
To ground a new kind of research tangled up in practice requires a reflection on the notion of the architectural fact
.11 Against the traditional obsession with the object, both for scientific research and for the architectural discipline, we seek to root our approach in the multidimensional nature of architectural fact—a nature we render operative through the notions of body, disposition and situation, as we consider these facts composed, not given.
After our first exploration of the streets, pavement and people of las Letras, we began to work more closely on six of the many situations encountered there. From the pavement of the public (while private) square at the CaixaForum by Herzog & de Meuron, to the ecosystem of Almaden Street where some of the oldest inhabitants have lived for nearly 90 years; from the branches of a fig tree shading the patio of a now closed pub, to the three oldest shops on Atocha Street with owners, architecture, and products from a distant time. In each of these situations, the minstrel describes the constituent bodies and their practices, enunciates their disposition—composition of individual and shared agencies12 —and visualizes their materialization in fabricated event-spaces.
One of the key problems posed by self-experimentation has always been how to translate or describe an individual experience into common, shareable knowledge. Humphry Davy was rigorous enough to take his pulse, “threadlike and beating with excessive quickness,” before tumbling to the ground after inhaling four liters of carbon monoxide. In much the same way, the spatial minstrel’s relation to the urban fabric and the production of a common knowledge requires a similar approach. We must be meticulous and attentive to the extreme at this stage of our experiment. As we turn the architect into a spatial minstrel, anonymous and unnoticed, we realize how the documentation and register of the experiment becomes a key part of the project.13
Modern authorship killed the minstrel. In the early Renaissance, as the writer or poet’s name was attached to every piece of literary work, the minstrels faded into oblivion. The minstrel’s potential depended on his very anonymity and invisibility—his creations were not trademarked, but rather entangled into an open and common repertoire. The minstrel existed in the background, one actor among many. As with John Hejduk’s Victims, it was not the identity of a face that remained, but the action of a body. This is why the figure of the minstrel casts such a disquieting spell on us: a character tracing paths and producing new configurations of space through the agency
of his body and its direct experience in the world. Just as in Wells’ Invisible Man, invisibility does not mean dissolving into nothingness: Griffin kept his body (and thus his agency). But of course, this also meant that his invisible flesh could also be beaten to death.14 The invisibility we seek is threaded with anonymity. It allows the spatial minstrel to occupy a space of possibility opened up by being unseen and unperceived. The architect becomes whatshisname or a multitude-architect15 —like a stealthy criminal
whose architectural knowledge goes undetected, and whose architectural practice, tactics and tools work in an unobtrusive and minor way.
- 1. ) See the fantastic account of the relation between experience and knowledge in Holmes, Richard. The age of wonder: how the romantic generation discovered the beauty and terror of science. New York: Pantheon Books, 2008. ^
- 2. ) Madrid Urban Laboratory is a collaborative prototype workshop and international symposium on the infrastructures, practices and tools necessary to rethink the common world organized by Medialab-Prado. A program part of the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism of the Madrid City Council, Medialab-Prado is conceived as a citizen laboratory for the production, research and dissemination of cultural projects that explore collaborative forms of experimentation and learning that have emerged from digital networks. More info at: http://medialab-prado.es/article/madridlaboratoriourbano. ^
- 3. )“So though these movements have depended on the prior existence of pavement, street, and square, and have often enough gathered in squares… it is equally true that the collective actions collect the space itself, gather the pavement, and animate and organize the architecture.” Butler, Judith, ‘Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street’, eipcp – European Institute for Progressive Cultural Policies, September 2011, accessed 07 February 2014, http://www.eipcp.net/transversal/1011/butler/en. ^
- 4. )“Because we lack forms of organisation which make political action a long term habit … Because our mental schemes of reference (the imaginary of revolution, etc.) do not fit our practices and give little value or visibility to that which is not epic.” Amador Fernández Savater, ‘Notes for a Non-Statocentric Politics’, Critical Legal Thinking, 21 April 2014, accessed 01 May 2014, http://criticallegalthinking.com/2014/04/21/notes-non-statocentric-politics/ Originaly published in Spanish in http://www.eldiario.es/interferencias/Notas-politica-estadocentrica_6_248535164.html ^
- 5. )On the notion of prototype see the articles at Limn Issue Number Zero: Prototyping Prototyping, available online at http://limn.it/issue/00/ ^
- 6. ) See Estalella, Adolfo, and Alberto Corsín Jiménez. “Asambleas al aire: La arquitectura ambulatoria de una política en suspensión.” Revista de Antropología Experimental 13 (2013): 73-88; Latour, Bruno. “From realpolitik to dingpolitik.” Making things public: Atmospheres of democracy (2005): 14-44; and Schwarte, Ludger. “Parliamentary Public.” Making things public: Atmospheres of democracy (2005): 786-794. ^
- 7. ) Paden, W. D. ‘Minstrel.’ In The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012. ^
- 8. ) As explained by Stan Allen “architects have, consciously or not, participated in their own marginalization,” as they have abandoned this activity of world making: “Land surveying, territorial organization, local ecologies, road construction, shipbuilding, hydraulics, fortification, bridge building, war machines, and networks of communication and transportation were all part of the traditional competence of the architect before the rise of disciplinary specialization.” Points + lines: diagrams and projects for the city. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999. ^
- 9. ) To know more about the relation between the relation between space and the production of knowledge see Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1979; Livingstone, David N. Putting Science in Its Place: Geographies of Scientific Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003; and Jacob, Christian. Lieux De Savoir 1: Espaces et communautés. Paris: Albin Michel, 2007. ^
- 10. ) Auster, Paul. The Invention of Solitude. New York: Penguin, 1982. ^
- 11. )We work here from Bruno Latour’s concept of fact as exposed in AIME: “As strange as that may be, it is interesting to retain the notion of fact because it combines in its etymology the two extremes: that of constructivism (a fact is made) and that which is not constructed by man.” See http://www.modesofexistence.org and Latour, Bruno. An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2013. ^
- 12. ) The idea of disposition implies both the singular arrangement of a certain number of things in space at any given moment and, the inherent qualities or inclination of a living entity. Bodies—not only those of living creatures, but also, for example, built forms—possess agency, “a quotient of action that exists without the need for the actual movement or event” (Easterling, 2010). Thus, disposition becomes the measure of common agency in a singular spatial configuration, while the situation can be thought of as its actualization. See Easterling, Keller, ‘Disposition’ in Cognitive Architecture: From Bio-politics to Noo-politics; Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information, ed. by Deborah Hauptmann and Warren Neidich (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010), p. 250-265. ^
- 13. )Working concept of the Madrid Laboratorio Urbano framework. ^
- 14. )“Then came a mighty effort, and the Invisible Man threw off a couple of his antagonists and rose to his knees. Kemp clung to him in front like a hound to a stag, and a dozen hands gripped, clutched, and tore at the Unseen. The tram conductor suddenly got the neck and shoulders and lugged him back. Down went the heap of struggling men again and rolled over. There was, I am afraid, some savage kicking. Then suddenly a wild scream of “Mercy! Mercy!” that died down swiftly to a sound like choking. (…) Kempt felt about, his hand seeming to pass through empty air. “He’s not breathing,” he said, and then, “I can’t feel his heart. His side—ugh!” Suddenly an old woman, peering under the arm of the big navy, screamed sharply. “Looky there!” she said, and thrust out a wrinkled finger. And looking where she pointed, every one saw, faint and transparent as though it was made of glass, so that veins and arteries and bones and nerves could be distinguished, the outline of a hand, a hand limp and prone. It grew clouded and opaque even as they stared.” ^
- 15. )Another concept we have been working on to approach the contemporary role of the architect. See Lucía Jalón and Pedro Hernández, Gather the Pavement, Think Space Money, DAZ, Zagreb, 2014. ^
Lucia Jalón Oyarzun is an architect (2010) and March II (2011) by the ETSAM School of Architecture of Madrid. She coordinates there the Landscape Specialty Line at the MArch II in Advanced Architectural Projects (MPAA) while teaching at its Landscape LAB and #crimescapes workshop. Since 2013 she is editor-in-chief of displacements: an x’scape journal. Her research interests focuses on the relation between the political, the body and the spatial production of the common.
Mateo Fernández-Muro, architect (2011) and March II (2013) from ETSAM-UPM in Madrid, is now a PhD candidate specialized in Landscape Architecture and Urbanism. His research is focused on recovering the political condition of the city by studying the relation between fiction and conflict in the post-democratic urban space. He is now co-editor of displacements: an x’scape journal and coordinates the MArchII program MPAA at ETSAM.
displacements is an architectural & editorial project born out of the research and teaching led since 2009 from the Landscape LAB at the Master in Advanced Architectural Projects and the Cultural Landscape Research Group at the ETSAM School of Architecture of Madrid. It aims to face in an integrated, transdisciplinary and situated way the two essential aspects of any critical practice: knowledge and action. We want to acknowledge the fundamental role Ana Fernando, Víctor Lledó, Pedro Cortés, Aída Navarro, Ana Belén López Plazas and Ingrid Lavid have had in the development of this project.