1. Ma
  2. Hyperspace
  3. Material feminism
  4. Sotsgorod
  5. Metabolism
  6. Bauhaus and the Vienna Circle
  7. Brasília
  8. Autoconstruction
  9. Iannis Xenakis


The word ma basically means an "interval" between two (or more) spatial or temporal things and events. Thus it is not only used in compounds to suggest measurement but carries meanings such as gap, opening, space between, time between, and so forth. A room is called ma, for example, as it refers to the space between the walls; a rest in music is also ma as the pause between the notes or sounds. By the same token, it can also mean timing, as in the comic recitation art called rakugo, where ma is quite explicitly a part of the craft and skill.

By extension, ma also means "among." In the compound ningen ("human being"), for example, ma (read gen here) implies that persons (nin, hito) stand within, among, or in relationship to others. As such, the word ma clearly begins to take on a relational meaning—a dynamic sense of standing in, with, among, or between. Related to this, it also carries an experiential connotation since to be among persons is to interact in some dynamic way. The Japanese phrase ma ga warui ("the ma is bad"), which has overtones of being embarrassed, well illustrates this nuance.


The hypercube projection viewer is useful for building spatial intuition in four dimensions.

Material feminism

Between the end of the [American] Civil War and the beginning of the Great Depression, three generations of material feminists raised fundamental questions about what was called "woman's sphere" and "woman's work." They challenged two characteristics of industrial capitalism: the physical separation of household space from public space, and the economic separation of the domestic economy from the political economy. In order to overcome patterns of urban space and domestic space that isolated women and made their domestic work invisible, they developed new forms of neighborhood organizations, including housewives' cooperatives, as well as new building types, including the kitchenless house, the day care center, the public kitchen, and the community dining club. They also proposed ideal, feminist cities. By redefining housework and the housing needs of women and their families, they pushed architects and urban planners to reconsider the effects of design on family life. For six decades the material feminists expounded one powerful idea: that women must create feminist homes with socialized housework and child care before they could become truly equal members of society.


In 1930 the State Publishing House issued Nikolai Aleksandrovich Miliutin’s book, The Problem of Building Socialist Cities, Basic Questions Regarding the Rational Planning and Construction of Settlements in the USSR. The book—frequently referred to as Sotsgorod, or Socialist City—is among the celebrated documents of the Soviet architectural and urbanist avant-garde. Its best-known proposal was for a “lineal city,” a planning concept that, as George Collins and Arthur Sprague have argued, can be located in a tradition that extends from Toni Garnier’s Cite Industrielle to the precepts put forth by CIAM in the Athens Charter. As in these other schemes, Miliutin called for careful planning of the functional relationships among residential areas, recreational facilities, and industrial enterprises in cities. The lineal city was distinguished by the vision of total transform ation that underlay it. The premise was massive state-led industrialization, around which cities would have to be shaped, down to their most minute details. Even “the communes ... the dwellings, and ... the other similar parts of settlements,” he wrote, should be planned as inputs to productive processes. This was a vision of human settlement as a “flowing functional-assembly line”—urban modernity as an adjunct to industrial enterprise.


After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Tokyo became a laboratory for testing Western urban models, and continued as such for many years. In the wake of the explosive urban growth of the 1960s, the Metabolism movement revived this tradition of experimentation with much vigor and optimism. But in the movement’s work and buildings, one could identify early signs of a non-Western urbanism as well, especially insofar as the Metabolists’ notions of change and interchangeability were derivative of tenets of Japanese Buddhism and traditional urbanism. Metabolist architects, such as Kiyonori Kikutake and Kisho Kurakawa, recognized that certain elements in the built environment would wear out or, due to technological progress, become obsolete much faster than others; hence the need to replace them would be more frequent. Yet Kenzo Tange and the Metabolists, who relied on industrial technology in their architecture and urban schemes, could not reconcile the fact that the model of change they advocated was implicated in the growing consumerism of Japanese society, in the relentless cycling of fashion, and in entertainment, all of which they, as modernists, criticized and wished to avoid. And the megastructural architecture they produced turned out to be, for the most part, as heavy, monumental, and inflexible as the prevailing Western urban models they sought to overhaul. In the end, this architecture, as best exemplified by Tange’s Festival Plaza at the Osaka Expo 1970, shifted toward a focus on entertainment.

Bauhaus and the Vienna Circle

On 15 October 1929, Rudolf Carnap, a leading member of the recently founded Vienna Circle, came to lecture at the Bauhaus in Dessau, southwest of Berlin. Carnap had just finished his magnum opus, The Logical Construction of the World, a book that immediately became the bible of the new antiphilosophy announced by the logical positivists. From a small group in Vienna, the movement soon expanded to include an international following, and in the sixty years since has exerted a powerful sway over the conduct of the philosophy of science as well as over wide branches of philosophy, economics, psychology, and physics.

The site of Carnap's lecture that day, the Dessau Bauhaus, was a stunning building designed by Walter Gropius and dedicated just three years earlier. Protected by its flat roof and glass walls, the artists, architects, weavers, and furniture designers had made the school a citadel of high modernism. It was here that Carnap addressed an enthusiastic audience on "Science and Life." "I work in science," he began, "and you in visible forms; the two are only different sides of a single life."


The Brazilian government, in the 1950s, decided to move the federal capital from Rio de Janeiro to the geographic center of the country and to name it Brasília. The urban plan was chosen from an open contest and the city was inaugurated on April 21, 1960. The selected project, by Lucio Costa, stands out in its disruption and provocation. It is an example of speculative design because it imagined a completely new structure for people to interact with their city. The zoning of the city is divided into five functions: housing, work, recreation, traffic and a public core. The Plano Piloto master plan—named because the city from above follows the shape of an airplane—is defined by the essential structure of the crossing of two axes. It is a clear illustration of a modernist urban plan. Rupture, distanciation and decontextualization are fundamental aspects of urban modernism. [Anthropologist] James Holston points out: “the modernist strategy of defamiliarization intends to make the city strange. It consists in the attempt to impose a new urban order through a set of transformations that negate previous expectations about urban life.” The controversy and speculation of this utopian organization lie not only in the urban plan, but in the fact that the plan would physically and emotionally transform Brazilian society.


The ideologues of Brazil's industrialization have long advanced home ownership as a recipe for disciplining the work force. They argue that it brings social stability and moral development to the “dangerous classes.” Over the last 50 years, however, millions of workers have become home owners through a radicalizing process called autoconstruction (autoconstrução), in which they build their own houses in the urban hinterland under precarious material and legal circumstances. These conditions politicize them, becoming core issues of grassroots organizations and social movements. At the same time, autoconstruction is a domain of symbolic elaboration about the experience of becoming propertied and participating in mass consumer markets, in which both ruling-class and working-class ambitions for developing new social identities intersect. This elaboration occurs in the context of what is for most autoconstructors their greatest lifetime project: the transformation over decades of an initial shack of wood or concrete block into a dream house—a finished, furnished, and decorated masonry home.

Iannis Xenakis

A Greek man in his early 20s fights for his homeland as part of the Communist resistance at the end of the second world war. Shrapnel from a blast from a British tank causes a horrendous facial injury that means the permanent loss of sight in one eye. He is sentenced to death after his exile to Paris (a sentence that was later commuted to a prison term, with his conviction finally quashed with the end of the junta in 1974). By the time he returns, he has become one of the leading creative figures of the century: an architect who trained, worked, and often transcended the inspiration of his mentor and boss, Le Corbusier; an intellectual whose physical and mathematical understanding of the way individual particles interact with each other and create a larger mass - atoms, birds, people, and musical notes - would produce one of the most fertile and prophetic aesthetic explorations in musical history; and above all a composer, whose craggily, joyously elemental music turned collections of pitches and rhythms and instruments into a force of nature, releasing a power that previous composers had only suggested metaphorically but which he would realise with arguably greater clarity, ferocity, intensity than any musician, before or since. This is the music of Iannis Xenakis.