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The Assemblage of Rights in a Projection Horizon

The Editorial Board of “Ardeth”
p. 5-9
This article is a translation of:
L’assemblaggio dei diritti in un orizzonte progettuale [it]

Editor's notes

DOI: 10.17454/ARDETH04.01

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The Assemblage of Rights in a Projection Horizon Map

The Assemblage of Rights in a Projection Horizon Map

1When John Searle wrote The construction of social reality in 1995, he recalled an anecdote about a “primitive tribe… building a wall around their territory” to explain how a boundary originates. In the author’s perspective, the spatial form of the wall built is the (material) precondition to a (social) construction of the boundary, intended to be an institutional object in its own right, i.e., an object with autonomous normative power regardless of the presence of the wall built itself, which could go as far as to “crumble”. In this reconstruction, which has been the object of many and differing interpretations (for instance, Farinelli, 2009), we can read a clear, pragmatic position, according to which the ordering of norms originates with the construction of material forms. In opposition to this enunciation, we can locate other hypotheses that conversely position immaterial assumptions – values, ideologies, disciplines – that are crystallized as norms and later translated into spatial forms. An example, in this sense, is the “microphysics of power” as a system of disciplinarization, which is materialized through bodily, procedural, and architectural apparatuses (Foucault, 1977). It can be useful to recognize the possible different ways to envision the relationship between the norm and form in order to instrumentally construct a differential axis along which to position the contributions to this fourth issue of Ardeth, which is dedicated to “rights”.

2In the same taxonomic perspective, a second criterion that could prove useful revolves around the relationship between the space of the present world and the project for a possible future. It can be noted that Searle’s story obliterates the projective dimension and substitutes it with a dichotomy between the presence of the object (the wall) and the norm (the collective intentionality that dictates the need for a boundary). Conversely, it can be imagined that the definition of a right, such as the possibility to cross a boundary, is dependent upon the definition of a project (of norms or of forms) that attempts to modify the existing order. This hypothesis claims at least some autonomy for the dimension of the project in having an impact on the world, as opposed to considering the project as a medium, translating values and powers that are current and interpreted to be real. We, thus, obtain a second dichotomy that puts the concretized power of the mundane space (material as well as social) in dialectic relationship with the virtualized power of the project.

3The abstract norm vs. the spatial form as well as the social and material space vs. the project are, thus, the two oppositions that we have decided to employ to order the contributions in the present issue. There may have been other criteria and other distinctions, such as the degree of criticality or of pragmatism, that connote each piece. In this case, we would have obtained a three-dimensional space rather than a Cartesian diagram along with difficulties in representation among other things. Rather, we preferred to operate a reduction and attempt a clearer and more falsifiable positioning of the texts, exposing ourselves to possible objections from readers and authors alike in doing so. In this classification game – which is, again, offered as a (debatable) reading guide – the editorial board proposes to arrange a conventional space of differences in order to position all articles in one map across the two orthogonal axes.

4The vertical axis measures the relationship between the juridical and normative dimension (the institution of rights into norms – “Norm”) and the form of space (“Form”). At the top of the axis is the priority of the norm over the form; here, rights frame the general order, within which the processes of transformation of the space built are carried out (“From Norm to Form). In this space, we should find both critical positions, according to which the projects and space should yield better to rights as well as to pragmatic positions, interpreting rights as a system of leverages and ties that can make projects effective and spaces efficient. At the bottom of the axis is the opposite paradigm, which is the priority of the spatial form over the norm; in this case, the form of built (or designed) space is to be considered as the preliminary and necessary condition within which to organize or even formulate the normative apparatuses that enforce rights. In critical terms, this leads to considering the form of the space and of the project as a tool for control and coercion that is in need of rethinking for the purpose of liberating rights; in contrast, the pragmatic version of the same position could interpret the form of the space and of the project as the main tool for the negotiation of rules and rights, acting in ever-contingent terms, as there is no guarantee for a priori rights.

5The horizontal axis, on the other hand, measures the relationship between the concrete space of the form built or of norms (“Space”) and the documental and potential space of the project (“Project”). At the far right, the contributions that find the main generator of cogent effect that allows the modification of space (“From Project to Space”) in the project (of norms or of forms) are positioned. In its critical version, this extreme is translated into full confidence that the project can challenge existing conditions thanks to its own autonomous capacity to produce transformations (normative or morphological). In pragmatic terms, one considers that the project is able to transform reality by activating a chain of effects that impacts uses, values, and significations of space built. At the far left, we find the opposite assumption, according to which the space built and the social practices that activate it are the foundational elements of each project (we could even call them its “plane of immanence”). Paraphrasing Derrida, we could say that in this position, “il n’y a pas de hors-espace”, not even for projects (intending space as a material and social presence); rather, they could be technical and symbolic media whose purpose is to realize the implications of real and actual space (“From Space to Project”). Critically, this could work as a nod to the Lebenswelt against rhetorical mystifications and technocratical opacities. Pragmatically, it works as an augmented investment in analyses, in the explication and measurement of data and reality (encompassing Big Data and the many forms of crowd mapping) before undertaking the project as action. At its highest possible level, the latter could emerge from the former.

6The combination of the various positions represented in the extremes of the two axes obviously produces four different orientations in the four quadrants according to the following extreme statements: (I) “the project of norms determines the form of space”; (II) “the project of the form determines norms and spatializes them”; (III) “the forms of material and social space steer/define the project of norms”; and (IV) “the normativity of space dictates the form of projects”. Once the coordinates of axes and quadrants are traced, we offer the reader the faculty of judging our positioning of the various contributions within the diagram, as follows.

7Verena Lenna describes the case of a Community Land Trust in Bruxelles, in which the building and its built space realize the rights of the common good. In this case, the project is derived integrally from existing space and its relationship (encrage) to the neighborhood, and it becomes the way through which the land property revenue is lifted from the ordinary market and given back to the community.

8The analysis of street sections in Torino allows Manfredo di Robilant and Paolo Mellano to propose a hypothesis in which the normative dimension derives from the form of the space. As a consequence, the project pragmatically measures existing space and sets up a criterion for its pedonalization; this is intended as a norm that fixates the right to the public space of the street.

9The article by Nicola Marzot claims the prominence of architecture over the project (“… to admit that Architecture, as a path to truth, always precedes the project as ‘document’”) and over the instituted norm (“The fundamental fact – is that such experimentations thus presuppose the suspension, however temporary, of the determinacy of the Plan and its prescriptive character”). However, with “Architecture”, the author means, first and foremost, its material presence and the “claiming of abandoned and underused spaces”. Autonomy is first a characteristic of Architecture, rather than of the project (and of the “Plan”): “the rehabilitation of architecture and of its historical role depends on the possibility of freeing it from any law that is not the law that architecture itself has set”.

10Gabriele Stancato deals with the problem of prisons, proposing a scenario in which the project can, in fact, employ the indications given by the United Nations and the European Court of Human Rights. The premise of this position is that the space built determines the conditions for coercion and that, consequently, it is necessary to rethink the way space is built in order to produce different real effects in the name of universal principles and through good norms. The design of prisons is thereby the necessary medium through which to realize new and better conditions, provided it is capable of acting as a translator of good prescriptions, such as the UN Mandela Rules.

11More boldly than the previous piece but also working on “total institutions”, Giuseppina Scavuzzo’s article proposes a position according to which the project of architecture is the medium through which to produce a “social apparatus”. The programming of psychiatric institutions is inscribed first in the form of the building, and projects of redevelopment should oppose the authoritarian mandates that are materialized in space. In this sense, the project executes the program by translating into physical space, or, rather, it resists already constructed programs in the name of other values.

12Using the case of the logistical enclave of Khorgos, on the border between Kazakhistan and China along the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, Tomas Clavijo, Katya Sivers, Mikhail Anisimov, Andrei Zhileikin and Yulia Gromova explore the possibility of building a system for the mapping of “technolegal procedures for the exchange of information” that embodies collective action and its spatialization. In this case, “Seiche” attempts to make visible the legislative systems, bureaucratic procedures, material orders of space, and active entities (human and non-human) that form the foundation of conditions within which the governance of this specific territory is carried out. Potentially, the map of procedures that are distributed along a territory in transformation can interfere with the existing order and allow their modifications, or their use according to an explicit strategy that is drawn in space and time.

13The contribution by Daniele Campobenedetto and Matteo Robiglio deals with the issue of possible superimpositions between public property and common uses within a complex building, such as the Cavallerizza, in the historical center of Torino. In the project that is retraced here, the design of space and of existing distributive systems allows the construction of a multidimensional map of possibilities, which works as a palimpsest for the combination of rights of use and transformative actions (“Design commons through the design of space”).

14Marco Dugato’s article addresses architects from the perspective of the discipline of law; the project can ask the law to adapt to the circumstances of action, but only in the most general of terms (“architecture rightly suggests (it doesn’t ask), the legislator obeys (and doesn’t impose)”) since, for the law, “individual interests are safeguarded only because they coincide with public interests”. Thus, the project does not produce rules. Rather, it specifies them in its contingency.

15Marco Cremaschi, writing in an almost specular perspective, employs the case of the eco-neighborhood of Clichy-Batignolles to illustrate the way in which the urban project can act as a “mechanism that traces rights on the ground”, both by separating public from private areas and defining the possibility for each of being developed as well as by triggering a wide range of obligations and permissions. The mechanism for the production of spatialized norms through the project is, therefore, always specific, material, and localized; no planned arrangement can include it ex ante without significant deviations.

16Describing the case of the Les Grottes neighborhood in Genève and opposing two perspectives, one starkly critical of neoliberalism and the other pragmatic and oriented toward democratic individualism, Cristina Bianchetti draws a map of the relationship between rights and the urban project. In her conclusion, the author takes a stand by delineating the “positive forms” of the project: “In the best cases [the urban project] proceeds from an ethics that is open to possibilities and attentive to protect and strengthen the potentials of places”. In the worst cases, it slides “in pursuit of hyper real micro-histories… and, cascading, into furnishings, materials, lights, vegetal essences, strollers and flower pots”. Essentially, the project protects and reinforces place as well as “accepts tensions” without presuming to resolve them; the transformation of space is a consequence, not the mandate.

17Finally, Juan David Guevara and Rob Shields offer the case of the spatial classification of the neighborhoods of Bogotà, through which a system of “strata” is established that formally connotes the socioeconomic category of a specific urban neighborhood. The system, originally thought of as a way to overcome deficiencies in public services and to operate a compensative distribution of taxes, has become a tool for social hierarchization. In this case, the project of zones produces the status of the urban space; by establishing a classification of built objects and aggregates, whose variations are monitored and periodically registered, this kind of socioeconomic zoning falls into a vicious circle of symbolic as well as economic diversification.

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Title The Assemblage of Rights in a Projection Horizon Map
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Bibliographical reference

“The Assemblage of Rights in a Projection Horizon”Ardeth, 4 | 2019, 5-9.

Electronic reference

“The Assemblage of Rights in a Projection Horizon”Ardeth [Online], 4 | 2019, Online since 01 May 2020, connection on 30 November 2023. URL:

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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