Architecture under control
Architecture under control

text and graphics: Agnieszka Kępa,
student at the Faculty of Architecture, Cracow University of Technology
dr inż. arch. SARP IARP Marta A. Urbańska

oryginal version of the text : PL
translation: kreatura team
reading time: around 16 min

The idea of a free plan sprouting in modernism turned into a contemporary architecture full of 'flexible and changeable' spaces adapting to the needs of the user, but overflowing with a huge amount of electronics related to monitoring and protection. Can architecture be completely devoid of control?

The article is a short analysis of the ways of introducing control in architecture, depending on its purpose, the function of objects and historical context.


In one of his lectures, Antonio Monestiroli cites in chronological order eight definitions of architecture, which can be considered as thoughts representing given epochs.1 Despite very different definitions of architecture derived from a separate understanding by the cited architects and philosophers, in none of them appears the word control or order, though right after providing shelter, taking control over space seems to be its one of the most prior functions. Perhaps this is not a feature that architects want to emphasize, or it is too obvious to mention it. However, it can be found in such terms as the purpose of a building or function, which in a way is the introduction of a new order, planned by the architect in a given fragment of space. The very aspect of control in the design and creation of spatial forms seems to be particularly interesting from the perspective of changes that have occurred in the ways (and purposes) of establishing control over the epochs. At the outset, however, two separate issues must be distinguished.

// Namely, the control of space by architecture is the inevitable result of its creation - a limited and organized fragment of space, given a specific function and architecture of control, the overriding function of which is total control over the user.

An interesting aspect of the problem is its purpose or lack of purpose. When did an architect plan to control the space, and when did his work quietly take control and dominated the user? The idea of ​​a free plan sprouting in modernism turned into a contemporary architecture full of 'flexible and changeable' spaces adapting to the needs of the user, but overflowing with a huge amount of electronics related to monitoring and protection. Can architecture be completely devoid of control?

1. Antonio Monestiroli, Tryglif i Metopa, tłum. Urszula Pytlowany, Anna Porębska, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Politechniki Krakowskiej, 2009

2. Gabriela Świtek, Aporie Architektury, Warszawa: Zacheta Nar. Galeria Sztuki, 2012

In the mazes

Mythical Daedalus is considered to be one of the first architects, and for his greatest work - the labyrinth in which would spend his life Minotaur. Therefore, one of the first works of architecture, according to mythological applications, is an object designed with the thought of mastering the user, limiting the movement and cognitive abilities of space. In one of her essays, Gabriela Świtek draws attention to the fact that the destiny of the first labyrinth is not as obvious as it may seem.2 The labyrinth can be interpreted not only as a trap for a bloodthirsty beast but also as a home. The unclearness results from the multitude of interpretations of the figures of Daedalus and Minotaur themselves, and from the scant description of the architectural object. It’s not clear whether the labyrinth took the form of an open meander, or maybe had some difficult to force gates – the latter would clearly indicate the purpose of the building as a prison. However, both interpretations of the labyrinth can be found in the typology of various architectural objects, which in fact are its modification. Patterns can be found already in the ancient palace and sepulchral architecture, which were a kind of labyrinth that hindered reaching the hidden treasure - ruler or material wealth. These types of treatments were also used in sacred buildings, where the deity, the greatest mystery, was hidden in the very center of the temple, preceded by a forest of columns, protected from the inflow of sunlight. These forms evolved over time, but they did not disappear completely. Similar treatments can be seen in numerous palace buildings and fortresses, which contained hidden rooms and corridors providing shelter and possible evacuation route for the owner of the property. The remains of dark, cramped rooms of the ancient Egyptian temples can be found in Christian temples with a host hidden in the farthest part of the presbytery, accessible only to the priest who’s in charge of the liturgy.

3. Michel Foucault, Nadzorować i karać. Narodziny więzienia, tłum.Tadeusz Komendant, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Aletheia, 2009

Penalty and control

However, the most known and widespread of the labyrinth forms is a prison, perfected over the epochs in the form of repression and the exercise of total power over the user, and originally it could be a trap of the mythical Minotaur. The control aspect is also important in other common public facilities, such as schools or hospitals, but the prison required taking full control of the user. To understand its operation, one must understand the essence of punishment as a consequence of breaking the law. Contemporary prison seems to be a natural form of serving punishment and a place of resocialization of criminals, but that’s a relatively new invention. In his analysis of the creation of a modern form of prison, Michael Foucault begins precisely with the description of a sample punishment, which was adjudicated before the emergence of modern institutions:

„ Damiens was sentenced on March 2, 1757 to public penance in front of the main entrance to the church of Paris, where he was to be taken and put on a wheelchair, stripped, in one shirt, with a burning fire of two pounds in hand "; then in the cart in Greve Square and on the scaffold, which will be erected there, pulled with pliers in the chest, hands, thighs and calves of the right hand holding a knife, which he made a patricide, scalded with sulfur, and places where they will tear belts, poured with liquid lead , boiling oil, hot resin, wax and sulfur cooked together; then the body disintegrated and torn in four horses, then the members and body burned, turned into ashes, and ashes scattered in the wind. (...)" 3


The punishment, as a public spectacle, was not only a way to execute the penalty but, above all, a spectacle to threat before committing crimes. In another part of his analysis, almost a century later, Foucault cites the rules of the house for young prisoners in Paris. The author draws attention to the fact that at some point in history the penalty ceased to be considered a punishment, but the prisons that were to come later, in the spirit of utilitarian ideas, were not necessarily less oppressive. Public executions were abandoned at the turn of the late eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century. The role of the spectacle was replaced with the process, which remained public and was the one that educated citizens and observed from committing crimes.

// After giving up on corporal punishment, the natural tool for imposing a punishment was the restriction of freedom, and its precise measure, appropriate to offenses - time.

The change of means consisted primarily in replacing physical pain with restriction of freedom and the beginning of the process of education, which allows the criminal to be transformed into a citizen, and above all to take full control over his life for a specified time. The prison had not only to limit freedom but also to conquer its inhabitants in every area of ​​their lives. To quote Foucault, it had to be 'all-disciplined'. It had to isolate from the outside world, but also from other prisoners. However, time has become more flexible as a punishment tool and decisions on the length of the sentence were eventually being made in prisons themselves, depending on how much time the convict needed for full 'conversion'. The evolution of the punishment, therefore, required the creation of a new architecture. The dungeons, where convicts awaited execution, were not a place in which repentance and possible conversion could bring the desired result.


Isla de la Juventud, or the Island of Youth, belonging to Cuba and surrounded by the waters of the Caribbean Sea, has an area of ​​just over 3,000 m2 and less than 100,000 inhabitants. The Island is overgrown with a pine forest and there are several hills not exceeding 300 meters in height. On the north-western coast, a few kilometers from the largest town on the island, Nueva Gerona, there is a complex of abandoned objects, creating a town-planning layout that contrasts with the orthogonal city grid, in the center of which there are five oval buildings, whose color could once aspire to the ripening apricot. Elevation builds five floors of identical, small, rhythmically arranged windows. The objects are a prison band formed in the 1920s and are a model example of the concept of an utilitarian and philosopher Jereme Bentham, who presented his model of the panopticon prison in the book "Panopticon or the Inspection-House " from the late eighteenth century. The panopticon was not only a model responding to new needs related to the prison system, it also became a model in the design of hospitals and schools, and its legacy can be found even in the Berlin animal shelter. The name panopticon comes from the Greek language and in a simple translation means 'sees everything'; on this very principle the model was made. Prison cells are arranged in an outer ring, each target is designed for one prisoner and is a small fragment of the whole ring; it has a window and a hole with a grate - difficult to call it a door. In the center of the building, there’s a round tower designed for guards. Such system allows the guards to see all the floors of the prison at the same time, each cell individually, and the arrangement of the windows and doors in the cells allows for tracing the prisoner's silhouette at any moment. In the panopticon, however, excellent visibility is only ensured one way - prisoners are unable to see whether the guard is in the watchtower and when is watching them. At any time there may be a full staff in the watchtower or it may be completely empty, but there is no way for the prisoner to find out. The awareness of continuous, one-sided observation and the tight space of the cell resemble the world depicted in Orwellian novels. The system is also very economical because it limits the amount of personnel needed to operate the facility.

4. Michel Foucault, Nadzorować i karać. Narodziny więzienia, tłum.Tadeusz Komendant, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Aletheia, 2009

5. Deyan Sudjic, Kompleks gmachu: architektura władzy, tłum. Agnieszka Rasmus-Zgorzelska, Warszawa: Centrum Architektury, 2015, str.29

6.Deyan Sudjic, Kompleks gmachu: architektura władzy, tłum. Agnieszka Rasmus-Zgorzelska, Warszawa: Centrum Architektury, 2015, stro.87 7.Artur Jasieński, Architektura w czasach terroryzmu: miasto-przestrzeń publiczna-budynek, Warszawa: Wolters Kluwer, 2013

Between colonnades

In addition to the system enabling the observation and organization of prisoners' life, prison architecture often had its own aesthetic expression to evoke specific emotions – just like monumental court buildings and temples’ towers. Giovanni Battista Piranesi, in his cycle of engravings Carceri, presents his visions of prisoners. The spaces he depicted are not, however, tight and closed, as in the Bentham prison model..4The rooms that Piranesi pictures are spacious, full of stairs and half-masts. High vaults resemble the interiors of Christian temples.

// The vision of Piranesi's prison is a building that does not restrict freedom in terms of limiting the available living space, but which limits orientation. It’s a trap with no exit, with a tangled arrangement of stairs and a vague construction.

One can imagine the impression of confusion and loss of a convict who would face such a fortress. Emotion in architecture was operated by George Dance while designing the Newgate prison in London, whose monumental architecture must have overwhelmed the convict who came to its gates. However, when it comes to manipulating emotions in architecture, it’s difficult not to mention the masterful skills of architects designing edifices for great leaders, which in the 20th century in particular adopted the form of monuments. In the Complex of the Building, Dejan Sudjic gives an example of the architecture of Albert Speer, the chief architect of the Third Reich, whose reconstruction of the city of Berlin and the designs of power buildings almost completely took over control on emotions of the users. 5 It would be a mistake to say that it was only in the 20th century that the architecture was able to do this, however, Nazi and fascist architecture, as well as the architecture of Stalinism, achieved a kind of mastery in this field. The restored architectural elements, drawn from classicism, have been given monumental proportions. Overwhelming colonnades, thick walls and endless corridors made the impression of indestructible and immortal. Standing on their places always and forever. They made it very clear to every visitor which place they take in the hierarchy and how will end up their insubordination or rebellion. One of the most vivid examples of this kind could be seen in Ehrentribüne, blown up at the end of the 1950s, designed by Albert Speer. It’s a part of a complex of buildings in the Luitpoldarena park, where Nazi forces showed up and which are present on most of the recordings of Führer's speeches from that time - striking with the same charisma as aggression. The grandstand could accommodate hundreds of Nazi dignitaries. There was a monumental stairway leading to it, and a few meters wide and several dozen long stone sidewalk. Three huge party banners fluttered over, and six golden eagles guarded the safety of the leaders. Nowadays, it sounds grotesque, but in the activists and soldiers of that time it built the impression of the power of the leader and the party, which perhaps misinterpreted the legitimacy of the views expressed by the party. Bolder ideas to emphasize the role of parties and leaders appeared in the Soviet Union. In a competition from the early 1930's for the Palace of the Soviets won a project, in which the role of golden eagles from Nuremberg was taken over by Lenin's monument - hundreds of meters high, thus leaving other competition concepts behind, amongst which were these by Le Corbusier or Erich Mendelsohn. The author of the sophisticated winning concept was the Soviet architect Boris Iofan.6 The construction started, however, it did not reach a significant amount before further work was abandoned due to the invasion of the Third Reich, and materials from the started construction were disassembled and used to build bridges and necessary infrastructure. The lowest storey of the Palace of the Soviets was a square pedestal, however, distinguishable from the base of ordinary sculpture with rhythmical divisions constituting the entrance to the building. The facades were decorated with neoclassical elements, however, as it was in the Nazi architecture, it was done on a much larger scale than in classical buildings. If the building was completed, it would be the highest tower of its time. The rank of the tallest building would quickly be taken away by other skyscrapers, but the designer's and the jury's own design would not have had a fair competition for a very long time.

Discreet observation

Yet, before the outbreak of the neoclassical architecture of power, modernism was born, rejecting not only the ornament, but also other, seemingly immutable rules governing architecture, changing the way of thinking about designing forever. The idea of ​​the released plan gradually evolved into the creation of flexible spaces, adapting themselves to the user. Nowadays, in architectural competitions, one can notice an interest in projects that provide the user with an impact on space and its greater than before the organization. The seemingly modern architecture can, therefore, give the impression of being completely devoid of control, the "divine hand" of the architect who is managing the user. It should be noted, however, that the change of threats created the need for a new type of control over space. In times when the enemy can be any passer-by or building user, and the attack will not be announced by war drums heard from a distance or a view of several thousand army on the horizon, forms of protection and control have become equally discreet, which was allowed by numerous technical improvements in this field.

// Control, which is nowadays less about directing users’ behavior and more often about collecting data about them, does not raise any protest. Despite the discretion of the controlling apparatus, there is a general awareness that the public space is under constant observation, but it builds a sense of security more often than fear of losing privacy.

The reason for this is the obvious increase of the terrorist threat, whose main form of repression is to create in the community fear of an unidentified enemy, which can be found in every place and everyday situation. The sense of uncertainty and fear is additionally compounded by the media and mass media, which arouse in viewers additional anxiety, often based on speculations or erroneous information. Nevertheless, new methods of attack require not only preventive measures, but also activities that look to the future, and to do this, the thick walls of buildings should be replaced by specialized technology. In 2013, a book, or strictly speaking, a textbook on architecture in times of terrorism was published, dedicated to both architecture students and students of security-related fields of study.

7.Artur Jasieński, Architektura w czasach terroryzmu: miasto-przestrzeń publiczna-budynek, Warszawa: Wolters Kluwer, 2013

The author of the publication, Artur Jasieński, comprehensively introduces both the notion of terrorism, its origin and development, as well as ways of securing public spaces and buildings against possible attacks.7 Elements of anti-terrorism architecture may become the most inconspicuous objects that are often unnoticed in public space . An example of this is the organization of streets and squares in historical city centers with high tourist traffic. The layout of a small architecture, such as benches, rubbish bins or special posts, is the answer to the new form of coup which is to force crowded spaces with large trucks. After last year's attack in Barcelona, ​​in just an hour, in other Spanish cities, which are known for their pompous and crowded festivals, police vans appeared on the closures of all streets in the city centers. A threat that is difficult to predict demands constant protection from it. However, before terrorism took root in the general consciousness, already in the 1960s, a new method of CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) appeared. CPTED design involves applying treatments that will not only lower crime, but also reduce fear of it. In addition to the guidelines for the initial stages of architectural design, such as the avoidance of external walls without windows, the CPTED method assumes the use of technology for space monitoring, but it’s an addition to the measures that should be applied at the design stage. It’s also important to mark the belonging of a given space to the owner. In her book "Death and life of America's great cities" Jane Jacobs turned for the lack of thought-out design of public spaces and the emergence of zones with extremely high crime rates.
It seems that nowadays an object of any purpose can become a fortress. A visit to the police headquarter is not much different than a visit to a corporation or a gated residential building. Before anyone reaches the interrogation room, a well designed game room that supports creative thinking, or just a cozy bedroom in the comfort of one’s home, he must confirm his identity at least several times by applying a plastic badge. The security network itself, in the form of gates and codes, resembles more and more the security system used in the virtual world, where it’s mainly guarded by the identification of the account holder and passwords. Thanks to such treatment of the facility, it is possible at any time to compile a list of users located in the facility, not only on the basis of predictions, but on the basis of detailed data collected after crossing the threshold of the building by a new person. Collecting data about users in private facilities and in public spaces not only allows quick identification of the perpetrator of a possible offense; the mere awareness of the technological arsenal in which almost every building is stocked, discourages the commission of a crime.

Of course, the underlying aspect of architecture is too extensive to exhaust this topic in a short article. The forms of control, their adjustment to the purpose of control or the historical context would surely be found in the entire history of architecture. The article, however, cited those that seemed the most interesting and contrasting, perhaps somehow representative of the time in which they were created. The analysis, however, did not result from the negation of the need for control in architecture, or in its permanent presence in various forms, but rather from the fascination with how a form affects the architectural work or the user. Methods of control over the epochs have evolved considerably, one can say that they have moved forward with the times. Already at this moment, it is hard to imagine a patch of urban space that would not be monitored or supervised in any way. It seems that every place can be found on surveillance recordings, and a man already has control over the space in a total way. The only thing that can still overcome it is the powerful force of nature.

// However, one can almost be sure that this aspect of architecture, as well as every other, has not reached its peak form, and as the universe is going to entropy, man will always try to win with it. At least with entropy visible in urban space.

The crowning of this essay would be to finish with an example from the Black Mirror family, with visions of using technology to control memories. Although they seem surprising, it is not quite abstract in the face of the theory that there is some little probability that the world we live in is real, and is not one of the millions of simulations produced by a computer with gigantic power drifting in space.