The Transitional Space of the Social Condensor

This essay focuses on ‘transitional’ objects – those spaces located between inside and outside. I place next to one another textual accounts of two specific forms of transitional space, the setting of psychoanalysis and the social condenser of architecture, in order to create a potential space of overlap in the mind of the reader. My aim is not explain the relation between three architectural spaces and the cultures that produced them, but to position the transition from one architectural space to another, and the ways in which they inspired one another, next to a sequence of theoretical insights drawn from psychoanalysis concerning the way in which a subject relates to his/her objects

One textual strand is located in psychoanalysis and charts a particular set of ideas around transitional objects and spaces. It starts out with D. W. Winnicott’s concept of the transitional object of the first relationship, and the transitional space it occupies between the internal psyche and external world; moving to André Green’s work on the setting, a homologue, in his own words, for the analytic object positioned at the space of overlap between analyst and analysand, inside and outside; before returning to Freud, the originator of psychoanalysis, to reflect on how the first object is also the lost object in his work on loss, mourning and melancholia; while introducing Jean Laplanche’s critique of Freud’s distinction between word-presentations which exist in the conscious mind, and thing-presentations which exist in the unconscious, and his own response in his work on the ‘enigmatic message’ and thing-like presentations or signifiers ‘to’ rather than ‘of’.

The other textual strand of the essay is grounded in architecture and examines the design of transitional space in terms of the social condenser, a foundational concept in Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatii Milinis’s Narkomfin Communal House (1928-9) in Moscow, a building whose design was influenced by Le Corbusier’s five point plan, but which in turn inspired aspects of the design of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (1947-1952) in Marseilles thirty years later. Certain principles of the Unité were then adopted and adapted in the public housing schemes of the post-war Welfare State in the United Kingdom,

specifically by London County Council Architects Department in the Alton West Estate, Roehampton, London SW15, (1954-1958).

The overlapping space between architecture and culture operates on many levels, through the triangular structures which take place between a subject and his/her object(s): perhaps between an architect, their built objects and those who come to occupy them; or in the relation between one building and another in the space mediated through the architect, the user and the historian; and on the page, between the critic who writes and the reader who comes to experience those words.

Jane Rendell, ‘The Setting and the Social Condenser: Transitional Objects in Architecture and Psychoanalysis,’ in Adam Sharr (ed) Reading Architecture and Culture (London, Routledge, 2012).

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