Privacy and Publicity
Modern Architecture As Mass Media
- Winner of the 1995 International Architecture Book Award sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA)
402 pp., 7 x 11 in,
- Published: May 4, 1994
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: February 28, 1996
- Publisher: The MIT Press
Through a series of close readings of two major figures of the modern movement, Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier, Beatriz Colomina argues that architecture only becomes modern in its engagement with the mass media, and that in so doing it radically displaces the traditional sense of space and subjectivity. Privacy and Publicity boldly questions certain ideological assumptions underlying the received view of modern architecture and reconsiders the methodology of architectural criticism itself. Where conventional criticism portrays modern architecture as a high artistic practice in opposition to mass culture, Colomina sees the emerging systems of communication that have come to define twentieth-century culture—the mass media—as the true site within which modern architecture was produced. She considers architectural discourse as the intersection of a number of systems of representation such as drawings, models, photographs, books, films, and advertisements. This does not mean abandoning the architectural object, the building, but rather looking at it in a different way. The building is understood here in the same way as all the media that frame it, as a mechanism of representation in its own right. With modernity, the site of architectural production literally moved from the street into photographs, films, publications, and exhibitions—a displacement that presupposes a new sense of space, one defined by images rather than walls. This age of publicity corresponds to a transformation in the status of the private, Colomina argues; modernity is actually the publicity of the private. Modern architecture renegotiates the traditional relationship between public and private in a way that profoundly alters the experience of space. In a fascinating intellectual journey, Colomina tracks this shift through the modern incarnations of the archive, the city, fashion, war, sexuality, advertising, the window, and the museum, finally concentrating on the domestic interior that constructs the modern subject it appears merely to house.
With her investigation of the apparent contradiction between the realms of intimate life at home and public communication, Beatriz Colomina shapes a fresh interpretation of the design strategies of Loos and Le Corbusier. Photography appears here not only as an instrument of mere documentation, but as a potent tool used in the first third of the century by these revolutionary architects in shaping the reading of new domestic space. Colomina skillfully unveils the opening scene of an architectural epic based on public seduction strategies and private spatial intrigues.
Jean-Louis Cohen, Professor, Ecole d'Architecture Paris-Villemin Institute of Fine Arts
This book starts out from rigorous research into archival documents that are apparently secondary but, as in a good detective story, the details lead into larger and more complex questions. As the book progresses, the entire structure that organizes the diffusion of the commonplace of modern architecture is gradually unfolded until we are presented with a reading that is both critical and highly innovative. Beatriz Colomina's text moves from painstaking historiography and devastating insights to propose a critical scrutiny of the history of the architecture of this century that is at once detached and impassioned.
Ignasi de Solà-Morales, Professor of Architecture, Barcelona School of Architecture
A beautifully and elegantly written book, of rare subtlety and insight which not only explores the work of two of the most renown architects of the twentieth century but places them within a cultural, political, and intellectual framework where their work can be assessed differently, with fresh questions and new provocations. To think architecture as hovering between the question of space and the question of representation—to think architecture in its rich and multiple forms of materiality—is one of the crucial incitements of this book. Strongly recommended for anyone who wants to rethink and positively question common assumptions about modernist architecture.
Elizabeth Grosz, Director, Institute of Critical and Cultural Studies, Monash University, Victoria, Australia
Beatriz Colomina offers and innovative way of looking at architectural history and theory. She perceptively recognizes the interaction between the image of the city and the culture of images.
Her book shows that modern architecture can only be understood when read in conjuction with photography, film, publicity, fashion, and other forms of visual display. Looking at architecture through the lens of the mass media, Colomina entrusts architecture criticism with a wonderfully mobile, cinematic outlook. She inventively turns the tools of film theory, theroies of gaze and spectatorship, towards an understanding of architectural space. Colomina's book radically rethinks arhitecture as media.
In doing so, the author gives space to gender issues. Colomina's sharp readings are particualry attentive to the relation between sexuality and space. This important book knows that theorizing architecture involves addressing the housing of gender. It is a pleasure to read such a book.
Giuliana Bruno, Department of Visual and Enviornmental Studies, Harvard University
In her multifaceted, highly logocentric, often profoundly insightful book Beatriz Colomina demonstrates that 'publicity', 'reproduction', and the 'archive' are no mere erudite metaphors, but the actual stuff from and around which modern architecture and its discourse are made. As with the subject matter of modern art, the peripheral turns out to be the central.
Stanislaus von Moos, Professor, Universität Zürich