We human beings are governed by the urge to conform and blend in with our surroundings. We follow fashion. We become part of cultures of conformity—religious communities, military groups, sports teams; we take on corporate identities. Likewise, we seem to have the capacity to grow into our built environment, to familiarize ourselves with it, and eventually to find ourselves at home there. We have a chameleonlike urge to adapt, and, given the increasing mobility of contemporary life, we are constantly having to do so.
The desire for camouflage is a desire to feel connected—to find our place in the world and to feel at home. In Camouflage Neil Leach analyzes this desire and its consequences for architectural concerns. Design, Leach argues, can aid the process of assimilation we go through when we adapt to our surroundings. Design can provide a form of connectivity—a mediation between us and our environment—and it can contribute to a sense of belonging. Architecture, and indeed all forms of design and creativity—fashion, art, cinema, and others—can be an effective realm for forging a sense of belonging and establishing an identity.
Camouflage offers a range of overlapping and intersecting theoretical perspectives—from an overview of psychoanalytic insights to an account of the magical properties of architectural models—that together suggest a way to rethink our relationship to the world and the role that design plays in that relationship.
About the Author
Neil Leach is an architect and theorist who has taught at a number of institutions worldwide, including the Architectural Association in London, the Dessau Institute Dessau, Germany, and Columbia University. He is the author, editor, or translator of more than a dozen books, including Rethinking Architecture, The Anaesthetics of Architecture (MIT Press, 1999), and Alberti's On the Art of Building in Ten Books (MIT Press 1991).
"This exquisitely designed publication is itself an aesthetic domain, understated and carefully considered. Its cover is subtly seductive. All illustrations are of a young women adapting, assimilating, and blending into various environments. They are hauntingly beautiful and are important to the craft and message of the book, yet they are also mysterious. All we are told is that they are the work of 'the late Francesca Woodman.' One suspects that there is further meaning that is hidden—perhaps through camouflage."—Architectural Record
"Neil Leach gives new meaning to the term camouflage in this brilliant treatise on aesthetic practice. This eloquent reframing of architecture's means of identity production is an optimistic appeal for design as a potent agent in our interactions with the world, both physically and mentally. A persuasive rewriting of architectural discourse, Camouflage is performative theory at its best."
"In his extraordinary new book, Neil Leach addresses the cultural significance of representation and its role in defining our belonging to the world. The concept of camouflage, a form of inscription in space, eloquently points to the contemporary need for engagement, connectivity, and identification with our environment. Camouflage proves that appearances can indeed be essential."
—Xavier Costa, Dean, Elisava Design School, Barcelona