Implicit in the word interior is its opposite, exterior, which delineates its outline and form. The Oxford English Dictionary defines interior as that which is: “[1] situated more within, or (usually, simply) within, something; belonging to or connected with the inside; [2] existing within the limits figured as spatial; belonging to the inner relations or intrinsic nature of anything; [3] belonging to or existing in the mind or soul; mental or spiritual, as distinguished from that which is bodily.” Whereas the interior makes up the substance of an object, the exterior is its surface, preventing its contents from contamination or from spilling out. The interior also carries with it a sanctified air, connoting that which is hidden, secret, or out of reach, accessible only through revelation, or through alteration of the object’s structure, in its deformation or opening upon a hinge, as with a hortus conclusus, a jewelry box, a shell, a tomb, or can of soup. Through the analogical relationship between architecture and the human body, the relationship between interior and exterior has been reworked, inverted and dissolved as different conceptions of space have emerged.

Whereas all media—as extensions of ourselves—push our interior functions outwards, architecture has the explicit purpose of sheltering us from the outside world, of cutting us off from the torrent of external stimuli in an attempt to maintain equilibrium. “In the physical stress of superstimulation of various kinds,” Marshall McLuhan observes, “the central nervous system acts to protect itself by a strategy of amputation or isolation of the offending organ, sense or function” (McLuhan, 42). Although with the emergence of many media, this “self-amputation forbids self-recognition,” humanity to some extent acknowledges architecture as an extension of itself, through the analogical relationship between architecture and the human body (McLuhan, 43).

In The Architectonics of Embodiment, Dalibor Vesely observes that throughout the Middle Ages, “the human body becomes a manifestation or exemplum of reality as a whole, encapsulated…in the formula mundus minor exemplum est—maiores mundi ordine” (Vesely, 31). Michel Foucault observes that within this closed system of resemblances, “the space occupied by analogies is really a space of radiation. Man is surrounded by it on every side; but, inversely, he transmits these resemblances back into the world from which he receives them” (Foucault, The Order of Things, 23). The body is thus a medium, filtering the world through itself and in doing so, organizing it. The analogical relationship between architecture and the human body is carried into the Early Modern period, and is evident in early architectural treatises, such as John Shute’s 1563 The first and Chief groundes of architecture, which draws from Vitruvius in mapping the proportions of the Classical Orders onto different human types, as well as in Francesco di Giorgio’s Trattato di architettura, ingegneria e arte militare (c.1482), in which di Giorgio insists that “the city, fortress, and castle should be formed according to the human body, and that the head should have a proportional correspondence to the appropriate parts” (di Giorgio, from Rykwert’s The Dancing Column, p.63). This analogous relationship between the body and the built environment is evident also in John Evelyn’s 1661 Fumifugium, in which London’s perpetual pollution affects not only the health of its inhabitants, but also obstructs productive circulation of Charles II’s subjects throughout the city (London burns to the ground a few years after Evelyn’s treatise for these exact reasons of ‘congestion’ in the city’s ‘circulation’). The reality of the world is thus organized “through degrees of embodiment, which represent a continuum of mediation between the human and the divine, terrestrial and celestial, sensible and intelligible levels of reality” (Vesely, 32).

In Des Espace Autres, Foucault notes that the Medieval conception of space as emplacement and analogical extension was reordered with Galileo’s figuring of space as infinite, such that “a thing’s place was no longer anything but a point in its movement, just as the stability of a thing was only its movement indefinitely slowed down. In other words, starting with Galileo and the seventeenth century, extension was substituted for localization” (Foucault, 22). This extension is again subverted by the conception of space as chartable only in terms of locating the site of an object in its relation to other objects, all of which are now distributed on a grid. The site of an object, once defined by its place within a series of concentric circles is now determined “by relations of proximity between points or elements,” thus fixing the location of things as points in a constellation (Foucault, 23). Although Galileo’s discovery has brought about a “theoretical desanctification of space,” Foucault argues that “we still may have not reached the point of [its] practical desanctification,” to the extent that “life is still governed by a certain number of oppositions that remain inviolable, that our institutions and practices have not yet dared to break down” (Foucault, 23). These supposedly inviolable oppositions are those “between private space and public space, between family space and social space, between cultural space and useful space, between the space of leisure and that of work. All these are still nurtured by the hidden presence of the sacred” (Foucault, 23). Certain elements of the Medieval system of resemblances are thus carried over in the continued distinction between interior, private and exterior, public space.

Interior domestic space is very much a part of the individual who inhabits it and populates it with personal objects and memories, redrawing the line between interior, private life and a public exterior. As Gaston Bachelard notes in The Poetics of Space, there remains a primal connection between the individual’s psyche and the interior domestic space of childhood, for “over and beyond our memories, the house we were born in is physically inscribed in us” (Bachelard, 14). This initial inscription of the childhood home in memory thus organises levels of intimacy, which Bachelard classifies as the cellar, the house and the attic, thus “engrav[ing] within us the hierarchy of the various functions of inhabiting” (Bachelard, 15). In The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin describes domestic space as necessary “to sustain [the private individual] in his illusions,” and that “traces of the inhabitant are imprinted in the interior” (Benjamin, 9). According to Benjamin, “the bourgeois has shown a tendency to compensate for the absence of any trace of private life in the big city. He tries to do this within the four walls of his apartment” (Benjamin, 20). Similarly, Georg Simmel, in The Metropolis and Mental Life, asserts that “the metropolitan type—which naturally takes on a thousand individual modifications—creates a protective organ for itself against the profound disruption with which the fluctuations and discontinuities of the external milieu threaten it” (Simmel, 12). This so-called protective organ manifests itself as an unemotional, calculating and rational exterior that allows the “individual to maintain the independence and individuality of his existence against the sovereign powers of society, against the weight of the historical heritage and the external culture and technique of life” (Simmel, 11). The interior of the individual’s apartment functions in much the same way, providing a private place for reflection that shuts out the overwhelming external stimuli of the metropolis, while on its façade, providing protection and anonymity.

Yet the preservation of individuality becomes difficult in the apartment, for as Bachelard notes, “in the city, home has become mere horizontality,” lacking the private levels of the cellar and the attic, which are “fundamental principles for distinguishing and classifying the values of intimacy” (Bachelard, 27). However, the once intimate spaces of cellar and attic, although no longer private, are not dissolved and opened up to the public, but instead become semi-private and communal, shared with a handful of neighbors who each inhabit different floors of the apartment building. The horizontality of the home is thus elongated, stretched between the open air of the roof, which looks out over the entire city, and the cavernous depths of the basement, which becomes all the more uncertain and ghostly as it is populated with the boxes and furniture of others.

The privacy of the domestic interior begins to be penetrated, Benjamin argues, for “the shattering of the interior occurs via Jugenstijl around the turn of the century” (Benjamin, 6). The deluge of Jugenstijl and Art Nouveau objects “bring with [them] the consummation of the interior,” through the individual’s attempt to represent himself through the commodities he begins collecting (Benjamin, 6). Adolf Loos bemoans this violation and perversion of private space, observing that “the things [people] want must be new, new, simply new” and that “public taste is constantly changing,” yet these supposedly stylish, floral and gaudy forms “lack all intimacy and personal connection with the people who live in them. They lack that unique personal touch that [one] finds in the room of the simple peasant, the poor laborer, or the old spinster” (Loos, 19, 24). In contrast, the rooms of the middle class reflect the truly authentic interior, in that “every piece of furniture, every object, every thing [has] a story to tell” (Loos, 25). Whereas once interior domestic space had been “not just the universe of the private individual…[but] also his étui,” Georges Teyssot notes in A Topology of Everyday Constellations, that “these jewel cases protecting their inhabitants must be considered within the realm of possibility of a topological transformation of the interior into an exterior, where the surface of the sheath becomes an envelope” (Benjamin, 20; Teyssot, 85). Teyssot continues that “at first glance, this pure interior (das Interieur) seems to be a defensive capsule; yet this very space tends to be put on display, and therefore projected toward the exterior, like goods in a shop window or objects in a museum collection” (Teyssot, 85). No longer a private reflection of the individual, “the house becomes the plastic expression of the personality. Ornament is to this house what signature is to painting,” yet it is now merely a “fictional framework for the individual’s life [which] is constituted in the private home” (Benjamin, 20).

Adam Kalkin’s 2001 Bunny Lane House intentionally complicates the division between the building’s interior and exterior. It is a house within a house—a cottage enclosed within a metal and glass structure, allowing the architect to become a voyeur within his own home by peering from the living room through the cottage’s window into his own kitchen. Opposite the cottage on the other side of the metal and glass box, there are modular glass cubes stacked one on top of the other, so that from the main space, one can clearly see what is happening in each room—from sleeping to dancing to defecation. One side of the cottage has been sliced off and sheathed in glass in order to fit inside its new container, thus displaying its most intimate interior to the outside world. Although Kalkin’s house recalls Bachelard’s discussion of Saint-Pol Roux’s manor house, in which “the body of the winged manor, which dominates both town and sea, man and the universe,…retain[s] a cottage chrysalis in order to be able to hide alone, in complete repose,” the inversion of interior and exterior in Kalkin’s house makes it both playful and monstrous in its seeming awareness of the current climate, which is one of voyeurism and surveillance in the name of pleasure and security (Bachelard, 65).

Inundated with new technologies and the proliferation of mass media, one is able to function within the public (virtual) sphere from the comfort of a patent-pleather chaise longue or a comfy Ikea POÄNG. The ease with which people can now communicate and be entertained comes with a price, namely, the possibility of having quotidian activity—internet purchases, phone calls, reading material, personal messages, etc.—held up and scrutinized when it falls outside a norm. In his Security, Territory, Population, Foucault argues that “the operation of normalization consists in establishing an interplay between these different distributions of normality and [in] acting to bring the most unfavorable in line with the more favorable” (Foucault, 91). Anxiety no longer surrounds the invasion of mass-produced commodities into the private bourgeois interior, but instead lies in the tracking of contemporary society’s thoughts and desires to generate and present to it what it wishes for. The interiority of modern individuals—their interests, hopes, desires—are filtered through algorithms that try to individually shape (virtual) experience in manner that may be cloyingly sweet but comes with a bitter aftertaste. In addition to the dissolution of interiority enacted on the mind through the extension of the internet, Bernadette Wegenstein asserts that “the experience of embodiment today can be altered and enhanced through robotic devices, implants, prostheses, and a variety of other technical exteriorizations of the body,” all of which work to “undermine the very distinction between inside and outside, and thus complicate immeasurably the separation of first- and third-person perspectives on bodily experience” (Wegenstein, 21).

In architecture as well, the dissolution of the distinction between interior and exterior has entered a new phase, as exemplified by Diller + Scofidio’s 2010 Blur building, “a dynamic structure that consists, like the human body, almost entirely of water” (Wegenstein, 30). Just as “skin…is rethought as porous and fluid, the site of encounter and exposure between body and media rather than a site of exclusion,” the façades of building have taken on a porous nature, as exemplified in the designs of firms like Reiser + Umemoto (Wegenstein, 33). Richard Rogers’ prediction has been realized, namely, that “architecture will no longer be a question of mass and volume but of lightweight structures whose superimposed transparent layers will create form so that constructions will become dematerialized,” responsive to changes in the environment to suit human needs (Rogers, 58). As Wegenstein notes, whereas architecture once “concern[ed] itself solely with erecting separate, exterior structures to house bodies, [it now] can position itself as an exteriorization of embodiment…fundamentally continuous with the body’s own status as medium” (Wegenstein, 31).

Moving from a closed system of resemblances in the Medieval conception of space, to a grid-like space that locates objects in relation to one another, the distinction between interior, private space and exterior, public space that Foucault designates as inviolable, is confronted with the possibility of complete dissolution in the spatial and temporal compression brought on by the internet. The intimate becomes exposed such that there is no longer such a thing as private space. There is no longer a place in which “the creature endowed with a sense of refuge, huddles up to itself, takes to cover, hides away, lies snug, concealed,” except for within the confines of its own mind (Bachelard, 91). Bachelard’s oneiric house, which is “a house of dream-memory, that is lost in the shadow of a beyond of the real past,” becomes a communal monstrosity, contaminated by the spectral objects of strangers, by the flickering of images across a screen (Bachelard, 15).

— Liam Matsumoto Lee

Works Cited

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 1994.

Benjamin, Walter. The Arcades Project. Harvard University Press, 1999.

Evelyn, John. Fumifugium, 1661.

Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things. Random House, 1970.

Foucault, Michel. ‘Des Espace Autres,’ (Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias), in Diacritics, Vol.6, No.1, Trans., Jay Miskowiec. The Johns Hopkins University Press, (Spring, 1986).

Foucault, Michel. Security, Territory, Population. Edited by Michel Senellart, trans. Graham Burchell. Palgrave Macmillan.

Loos, Adolf. Creating Your Home With Style. Translation by Michael Edward Troy. Vienna, Metroverlag, 2013.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media, the extensions of man. MIT Press, 1994.

Rogers, Richard. Architecture: a modern view. Thames and Hudson, 1990.

Rykwert, Joseph. The Dancing Column.

Shute, John. The First and Chief Grounds of Architecture, Facsimile of the first edition, with an introduction by Lawrence Weaver. London, “Country life,” limited, (1912).

Simmel, Georg. “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” in On Individuality and Social Forms: Selected Writings, Edited and with an introduction by Donald N. Levine. Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1971, pp.324-39.

Teyssot, Georges. A Topology of Everyday Constellations. Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press, 2013.

Vesely, Dalibor. ‘The Architectonics of Embodiment’ in Dodds and R. Tavernor (eds.) Body and Building, (2002).

Wegenstein, Bernadette. ‘Body’ from Critical Terms for Media Studies, W.J.T. Mitchell & Mark Hansen, eds. University of Chicago Press, 2010.