Spaces in play


Reena Ardeshana

In addition to the previous considerations, it is probably also necessary to highlight the play of words that is often used in architectural discourse and the various interpretations it can initiate. When discussing play, it is important to note the difference between architecture in play and architecture of play.[25] 25 - I am indebted to the work of Nasim Razavian for this distinction of play in architecture. See also her ‘Reflection’ contribution to this publication, entitled ‘A Wordplay on Architecture and Play’. Literary devices and metaphors provide tools for architects to create distinct new realities that break away from the conventional rules of design. In Constant’s New Babylon, the process and evolution of the design epitomised an architecture in play. The rules for living were conceptualised in a way that allowed the architecture to endlessly evolve, mutate and change the spatial construct. The word itself, in, denotes a spatial quality that allows the act of play to consume the architectural design. An architecture of play however establishes the relation between the player and the game. As the model remains only visionary, we can only imagine how the occupants would use the space and play with the rules of the game.

Linking this back to Chimopar, it is apparent that nature is in play across the vast area and holds a firm grip over the site, meticulously decomposing the factory structures. The result is a stitched terrain of different spaces; an open green landscape clashing against tall concrete walled borders. Old factory halls crumbling with knotted greenery scaling the walls. Planes of concrete cracked open with piercing seams of vegetation. The site speaks of a conflict between nature and the man-made, decay versus purity.

The site also offers a space of play. Urban nomads come to temporally occupy, use, alter, subvert and transgress the space. Along the concrete boundary wall, a door is carved out to allow access into the site, overturning the rules of inside and outside, public and private. The symbol of the door and the wall as a metaphor for inclusion and exclusion has been well described by Neil Leach in his introduction to Rethinking Architecture:

‘The door, by breaching the wall, and by opening up to the “other”, can expose the wall for what it is, and reveal the underlying social constructs on which it is founded. The act of breaching is in effect the moment of transgression. The opening of the door reveals the wall as wall, just as, in illuminating the limit, transgression exposes the limit as limit. The door, therefore, serves as the key for understanding the whole question of limit and transgression, of openness and exclusion.’[26] 26 - Neil Leach, Rethinking Architecture: A Reader in Cultural Theory (New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 19.

Transgression, therefore, is not necessarily a negative act of exclusion but can also entail the positive aspect of inclusion and of opening up to the other. 

Ultimately the definition of transgression within architecture is difficult to specify as it has multiple and varied readings. Transgression can be an act of subversion against societal conventions; an illuminator of boundaries and border conditions; a means of appropriation; a reading of opposites; an inclusion of the other. Transgression maintains its urgency and its agency only for a limited moment of time. There is no specific set of rules or protocol, and no specific result. As particular methods become over used, such as the urban play tactics developed by the Situationists, they become cliché and lose their power.

Transgressive architecture and play must therefore develop its own language that deals with specific conditions of each site, boundary and limit. Not only is space transgressed or played by the architect and its users, but the space itself plays and transgresses, establishing spaces of play and spaces in play. What becomes evident is the reciprocal relationship between space and use. As described by Doron earlier in this essay, architectural ‘dead zones’ refuse to be defined geographically and temporally. This raises broader architectural questions as to what events could occur in these spaces that are temporarily used. It is therefore necessary to closely examine these spaces of abandonment, which are only marginally accepted by our society to understand how these spaces are continually transformed by use, but also alter use. How can this interplay between space and use also begin to change every day spaces? Spaces of play can therefore be considered as ‘unchanging’, in which acts are carried out according to a specific time and location, where the space is structured around specific rules and order. Spaces in play therefore operate within a zone of changeability, offering infinite possibilities of use. They respond to the movement of time in order to provide a space for different users which require differing functions. Could we then as architects design spaces that shift with time, respond to use and adapt to users. A space that is in play with the notion of abandonment.

Free PDF: Spaces in Play: Reena Ardeshana


TU Delft / Faculty of Architecture