The Ethics of Space: Jaques Derrida and the architecture to come, by Francesco Vitale

Between 1986 and 1993 Jacques Derrida wrote various papers and contributions on architecture. I intend to demonstrate that these writings focus on the question of the relation to the other and, therefore, on the ethical dimension of architecture. In particular, I argue that within this ethical perspective one must understand Derrida’s expression of ‘the architecture of the event’ elaborated in l’architecture (1986). According to Derrida, architecture determines the human experience and existence on a concrete as well as on a symbolic level and, thus, the human relations. As a distribution and organization of the anthropic space, it has always been connected with the affirmation of a collective identity (of a city, a people or a Nation). This identity would have always affirmed itself against alterity in general and against the other as different, foreign, stranger and, eventually, enemy. Identity has always been distributed according to the discriminating opposition inside/outside, internal/external, to which architecture has given a concrete form in various ways. An architecture of the event should give place to the relation to the other – the event is what comes from outside and is unpredictable from within – which for Derrida is the irreducible condition of an identity that is not simply reactionary and violent.

From this perspective, the other is not simply the foreigner – today, one could say the immigrant – but also and above all anyone who comes after us and has already come, whose survival is given to our memory. Not only does our identity but also our own survival (in their biological and collective meaning) depend on the other. In two papers of 1991, which are dedicated respectively to the reconstruction of Prague (Générations d’une ville: mémoire, prophétie, responsabilité) and to that of Berlin after the fall of the wall (Berlin Stadtforum), Derrida insists on the interpretation of the city as the place of collective identity but also of the relation to the other. The task of architecture consists in keeping open and lively the dialectics between those two moments as well as among the present where it intervenes, the past on which it engraves and, above all, the future (the to come). The architecture to come must give place to the other, take the other into account in this double movement. Derrida develops this task in explicitly ethical terms, since he determines it as the principle of responsibility to which the architect is called to respond before the other: the other to whom his project is addressed, but also the other that is no longer there or is not there yet and, therefore, is absolutely passive before the decisions of the architect, the other with respect to whom the ethical injunction is even stricter. In this context Derrida affirms that the ethics of responsibility must constitute the fundamental discipline to be taught to the future generations of architects.

Francesco Vitale, University of Salerno, IT

Harvard Citation Guide: Vitale, F. (2012) The Ethics of Space: Jaques Derrida and the architecture to come, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 06 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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