The apprehension of therapeutic landscapes and the natural elements as being the primary care was decisive in the history of healthcare, especially that of infectious and respiratory diseases. Alvar Aalto’s Paimio Sanatorium was an archetypal figure of that trend. This is consonant with the comments made by Le Corbusier and Charlotte Perriand, who considered architecture as being “biological,” feeding primarily on sunlight, vistas, emptiness, and silence—in other words, an architecture that immediately deems itself a healthy “living environment” at the service of human health, an empowering milieu. Today, a great many third places and commons (the notion can indeed be extended to that of “care commons”) are attempting to renovate this alternative culture of the milieu, in the sense that it becomes emancipated from institutional normalizations. At the core of this approach are the work of Anne Lacaton and Jean-Philippe Vassal, as much as those hinging on the active involvement of its residents in the architectural choices than are made, as well as those of Patrick Bouchain, with “the power of seven” (la Preuve par 7), in reference to the seven territorial scales (village, small town, city, suburban municipality, regional metropolis, disused public building, and overseas territory) that can be called upon on the experimental grounds that were legitimized by Article 88 of the French Law of 7 July 2016 on the Freedom of Creation, Architecture, and Heritage.
The boom in such practices shows that establishing links between architecture and care implies substantive, long-term work on the roles and methodologies of architects. And it isn’t surprising to observe that it is in post-Fukushima Japan that the profession, led in particular by Toyō Itō, has wanted to lay the foundations of an “architecture of the day after.” The penance of an entire discipline, given that architecture as it was practiced in the 2000s to the tune of evanescence and transparence had clearly missed the mark, failed, by neglecting its primary, prosthetic, enveloping, mural function—remain standing, and holding with it those occupying the premises. The time has therefore come to add some more thickness, to restencil the walls, to recreate shelters, to descend from the “imaginary heights of abstract reason” in order to re-engage in architecture “in this world of ours,” not in the cosa mentale of the architect, but in the one that we’re treading on—where that is still possible, at least. Indeed, there are whole parts of this world, Fukushima for instance, that are now uninhabitable and will remain so for a very long time. Yet it is also on these brutalized lands that new forms of habitability will be invented—we must, following Achille Mbembe, believe in the “power in reserve”/the “reserve of power” contained in traumatized geographies.
The moment of the 1970s contained, once again, some of the seeds of what is currently becoming widespread. In 1969, Bernard Rudofsky’s acclaimed and ever-popular Architecture Without Architects was published—behind the praise given to vernacular architecture and local expertise. The entire field of architecture was implicitly under attack because it had forgotten about its inhabitants. The figure of the “anti-architect” emerged in response. Building, but doing so in “a profoundly antiarchitectural gesture, a nonconstructive gesture, one that, on the contrary, undermines and destroys everything whose existence depends on edifying pretensions,” was also the literary (or antiliterary) project of Georges Bataille, the vocal critic of “the architectural chain gang,” as well as the risks of a culture of the monuments, reducing the human species to a “middle stage between ape and great edifices.” And the legacy of another “moment” in the relationship between architecture and care, two centuries prior, can be recalled. In the years following the fire of the Hôtel-Dieu in Paris, in 1772, one must remember, alongside the consecration of the technical and ungrounded model of the “hospital as machine,” a decisive and joint evolution that took place on the terrain of methods, processes, and “acting”—extended on this occasion to experts, committees, consultants, all voices with conflicting interests now involved in architectural design. It is to that field that we must also return, following Ito, as well as Tronto, in order to, in turn, talk about project extensions fanning out in other directions. Care—for architecture among other things, if we want to consider it as a caregiver—has less to do with sensibility (which would be too simple) and more to do with responsibility. Responsibilities towards the materials that the architects are moving around, towards the craftspeople and construction workers who will build the project, towards individuals and groups that will live in it, towards a site, its history, and the life forms occupying it. A point to remember in that respect is that the trauma of the Great Lisbon earthquake of 1755 had portended a shift in the history of the arts, from an anthropocentric tradition towards a slow process of “decentering” in the representation of the world and its components; in like manner, the disasters of the present day are enjoining us to, at long last, rally behind a “non-human turn” that is already well underway by many in the social sciences. Exploring the possible forms of an architecture of which the foundations would be revised following an approach based on relationalities remains, largely, yet to be explored.
Nowadays, the research being carried out at the confines of architecture and care ethics is becoming more cross-disciplinary and open to more complex and intersectional issues. Elsa Dorlin and Helen Zahavi’s work on “dirty care” is also relevant to run counter to the ethics of care that do not sufficiently deconstruct the patriarchal structures and gender violence that are at play in these ethics. By shifting these critical approaches into the architectural field, it becomes necessary to show how architecture thinks too little about the biases of domination that underlie architectural assumptions, how it inadequately calls into question the behavior patterns of avoidance of care as a praxis of resistance generating another form of care (that of emancipation) or how, for Frantz Fanon, the decolonization of the being, the true objective of care, finds itself trapped by the colonial medical institution. In other words, the aim is to avoid the following two pitfalls: Is heeding to dominants still a form of care? And how can one undergo healing within a structure of domination? By addressing these issues, the challenge is also to restore, or even to rebuild, trust in care institutions by demonstrating that they do not exclusively play into the hands of the powerful. How can a space that isn’t bound to the “architectonics of power,” but rather to the architectonics of care, be created, considering that purity of either form is never achieved, with the two dynamics simply more or less balancing out?
What can these architectonics of care be in the case of psychiatric pathologies? Oury also spoke of atmosphere (ambiance) in the psychotherapeutic process, of the importance of “defining the atmosphere, what I called the ‘entours.’” Again, defining the entours, the envelopes, the edges, as if this time it was necessary for architecture to deliberately try to stumble in some places, to create stumbling areas, and for the individual to brush against them, to hang on to them, or even to fuse into them. That is what the wander lines (or lines of drift—lignes d’erre) reveal, tracing the trajectories of the patients that Fernand Deligny followed over the course of ten years in rural Cévennes in order to capture the invisible—these practices of space—that unfold as if tangentially, but that also reveal themselves as being organized around “coincidences or ‘binding joists’ (chevêtres) (wander lines that intersected at a precise point, indicating that markers, and a commons, had developed).” We also know that in Deligny’s speechless (mutique) patients, the quest for a spatial stumbling block (butée spatiale) has to do with a sort of language that has also stumbled, stumbled on the forming of words, on generating a sound destined to another person. For these speechless individuals, other methods of subjectivation must be activated (“the-human-that-we-are is not there,” observe Deligny and Guattari in other pictures drawn by the patients themselves; the subject isn’t there). What can the space do here? The “milieu” has a role to play, of course, Deligny argued, and in fact it is this milieu that must be “educated” rather than the child. And we are led to believe, in this context, that it is architecture itself that finds itself, at the same time, stricken in its own relationship to language, in its traditional semantic or semiological function, in its role as a symbolic prosthesis conditioning and increasing the capacity for symbolization specific to each of us.