*Published in Think Space MONEY. Zagreb: DAZ, Think Space Programme, 2014.
By Patricio De Stefani DOWNLOAD PDF
Does money really ‘rule’ the world? If money is just the form of appearance of exchange-value, does not a more substantial reality lie behind it? What if money is just a means to realise something far more complex, namely, capital? If this is the case, what sort of architecture has the capitalist mode of production engendered and how? If the production of value is what characterises simple commodity production in pre-capitalist societies, the production of surplus-value defines the capitalist mode of production. How is this surplus produced? Where does profit come from? Only by understanding till what extent capital is embedded in the production of architecture a way to challenge that relationship can be thought about. This process could not have taken place without the integration of architecture, and space in its entirety, into the circuits of capital. Therefore, if capital is a process in which the value contained in commodities continuously changes its form in order to expand itself, then, as soon as architecture steps into this circuit as means of production (a factory or office building, for instance) it turns itself into capital – as constant capital, or more specifically, fixed capital.
Abstract space was born out of the violence and ‘creative destruction’ of primitive accumulation and the establishment of the modern state. Essential to this was also the increasing role of urbanisation in the expansion of markets, eventually reaching the whole globe. Built upon the historical process of abstraction of labour and space, psychologists, art historians and architectural theorists developed the modern concept of space towards the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This concept presented ‘space’ as a neutral and autonomous void/volume divorced from the social and political practices which produce it. Indeed, the reduction of space to this apolitical, visual-aesthetic, or purely empirical state is no mere ideology, but fulfils a precise practical function: to ensure the reproduction of social relations of production. This is not achieved without major problems though. Contradictions internal to the development of capitalism (notably between capital and labour) are increased at the spatial level as a simultaneous tendency towards an absolute homogenisation and fragmentation of space. Space and architecture become real abstractions (like money or capital), apparently autonomous and rational objects which aspire to homogenise whatever stands on the way of the forces of accumulation (the state and the world market), paradoxically, by means of fragmenting and subdividing space according to their requirements. If space/architecture can serve political and economic purposes by reinforcing the reproduction of production/property relations, could it serve as a device to confront these relations?
Keywords: Value, Capital, Abstract Space, Abstract Architecture
We often hear ‘radical’ common wisdom complain about money as the ‘root of all evil’, or the conservative one as the ‘necessary evil’, but evil anyway. What those well-intentioned moral critiques usually forget is that money is just another commodity, but a very special commodity indeed. Just to name a few of its ‘special properties’: it measures the value of all other commodities at the same time it allows their trade or circulation. Does money really ‘rule’ the world? If we spend half of our live making it and the other half spending it, who could think it does not determine a huge part of it? But what is behind the mystery of money? Is money always capital? What is their relation to social space and architecture?
In what follows I intend a historical approach to the process of abstraction of space by which architecture was transformed to fit the requirements of capital accumulation in the emergence of bourgeois society. It will be argued that only by understanding till what extent capital is embedded in the production of architecture a way to challenge that relationship can be thought about.
The Emergence of Abstract Space
What is money? Marx pointed out that it was the first historical form in which capital appeared but it did not coincide with it. Money can only become capital by circulating in such a way that increases itself during the process. Along to the emergence and development of commodity production, one commodity was inevitably bound to assume the function of universal equivalent to all others. But money is only the form of appearance of exchange-value. As Harvey points out, Marx defined capital not as a stock or asset (as Smith or Ricardo did), but as ‘value in motion’. If the production of value is what characterises simple commodity production in pre-capitalist societies, the production of surplus-value is what defines the capitalist mode of production. How is this surplus produced? Where does profit come from? Marx came to the conclusion that only a commodity called labour-power had the capacity to produce more value than it costs. The precondition for transforming human labour into a commodity was the dispossession of direct producers from access to and control of means of production and subsistence by a rising new social class, the bourgeoisie. The process by which the new owner of these means buys labour-power to produce fresh commodities which he then sells for the original money advanced plus a profit, defines the concept of capital. What kind of social space and architecture has this process engendered? What factors have shaped it and how?
In his historical inquiry on space and its production Lefebvre defines, in general terms, abstract space as the space produced by capitalism under the command of the bourgeoisie. That is, as that function of space which has gradually coming to dominate all previous spatial formations along with the ascendancy of the economic sphere. The emergence of abstract space was correlative with the process of abstraction of human labour or that period called since Smith and Marx, previous or primitive accumulation. In Lefebvre’s account, establishing the space of accumulation required a great deal of violence which was institutionalized in the form of the state. The modern nation-state is viewed here as a framework which ensures the interests of the ruling class (bourgeoisie) prevail in society. In what precise sense then can we speak of abstract space or the abstraction of space? What are its characteristic features?
The sense given here to abstraction should be carefully scrutinised. The meaning that Lefebvre had in mind is analogous to that of abstract labour – i.e. an abstraction which exists as a social relation. A real or concrete abstraction is something very different then from ‘conceptual’ abstraction; hence Marx aimed at demonstrating that concrete abstractions were the real base upon which mental abstractions (or ideologies) were constructed. As Sohn-Rethel asserts, speaking of an abstraction which is concrete would seem a logical contradiction, and so the only way to grasp it is through both dialectics and logic. As Stanek observes, for Lefebvre space is at once concrete and abstract, heterogeneous and homogenous; it is only within capitalism that the latter aspect gains primacy over the former. Therefore, if the abstraction of labour is characterised by the reduction of concrete types of labour to the undifferentiated realm of labour in general, the abstraction of space is identified by the reduction of concrete places and locations to the homogenous realm of ‘universal space’.
Abstract space is a false-yet-real space, a fetishised space which sees itself as a formal and autonomous thing independent of any social contents – as an empty, purely visual and empirical object, transparent and legible, coherent and unified. Since space is at once a product of social relations and the producer of them, a double set of features can be distinguished: as product it is quantitative and qualitative, abstract and concrete, homogenous and fragmented. As producer (or instrument) abstract space has two main functions: it is an exchange medium (for the market) and a political instrument (for the state). Accordingly, the process of abstraction of space – its transformation to serve the purpose, first of the primitive accumulation of capital, then of its expansion towards a world market through ever-increasing urbanisation – sets the conditions for the gradual process of abstraction of architecture, first in the building industry in relation to changes in production, and later in the theories of modern avant-garde artists and architects which reflected this reality and whose rational methods greatly influenced the production of space as a whole.
The Abstraction of Architecture
The central contradiction of abstract space is that it is (or it aspires to be) simultaneously homogeneous and fragmented – universal, yet ruthlessly subdivided. It should be borne in mind that these are not formal properties intrinsic to space, but rather the outcome of a spatial practice – a practice which produces space by literally homogenising and fragmenting it. Lefebvre drew some of these conclusions from his early analyses of the French urbanism of the grands ensembles (housing states) and the villes nouvelles (new towns) – such as Mourenx in the south of France – during the 1950s and 1960s. Such analyses critiqued the abstraction of state-led urban planning, and posed the problem of ‘the contradiction between the abstract rationality of urbanism and the concrete rationality of the practices of dwelling’, or between the abstract and quantitative logic of capitalist space versus the everyday space of people.
The parallel which Lefebvre established between abstract labour and abstract space led him to search the historical moment in which the modern concept of space begun to be formulated after having emerged out of the new relations of production imposed by capitalism. The moment in question was the rise of the Bauhaus in the aftermath of the German Revolution and the establishment of the Weimar Republic in the early 1920s. The avant-garde artists and architects from the Bauhaus formulated a universal concept of space and established a direct relation between industry and architectural and urban development. Despite space has been the object of philosophy and science since ancient times, its awareness as an aesthetic and practical problem dates only from the second half of the nineteenth century. As Morales asserts, it was Hegel who first addressed architecture as the art of enclosing space. The influence experimental psychology – Stumpf and the gestaltpsychologie, for example – had on art historians such as Semper, Schmarsow, Riegl, Fiedler, and Wölfflin was reflected in their respective theories which emphasised a formalist and visualist approach to art and architecture, mainly influenced by Kantianism. According to Stanek, Lefebvre’s critique of the newly introduced concept of ‘architectonic space’ as the ‘essence’ of architecture or its specific feature, was aimed at showing that the concept of space adopted by psychologists, art historians, and later painters and architects, was fetishistic (ideological) from the outset. Indeed, it was only the distorted manifestation in theory of real contradictions in the (social) production of space and the city. Hence, by defining space as a neutral pre-existing void waiting to be filled by social practices, architects contributed to keep obscured the actual process of production of architecture under capitalism.
Once abstract space made its way into architectural theory and was raised as its main battle cry, modern architects developed new ways of working and representing their work – e.g. axonometric views, functional and solar diagrams, and so on. Yet, this new ‘code’ derived from a space conceived of as a mental category – i.e. as seen by philosophy, logic, and the empirical sciences. Hence, architectural practice confronted social contradictions by reducing and concealing them under the banner of positivism. The notion of a supposedly specific ‘architectonic space’ served to further abstract it from the actual social relations which produced it; consequently, ‘the architect’ appeared as the primary ‘producer of space’. Thus, Lefebvre argues that
(…) within the spatial practice of modern society, the architect ensconces himself in his own space. He has a representation of this space, one which is bound to graphic elements (…) This conceived space is thought by those who make use of it to be true, despite the fact – or perhaps because of the fact – that it is geometrical (…)’.
Hence, the abstraction implied in architectural plans and projections is not acknowledged as such; instead it is taken to be in strict correspondence with empirical reality – paradoxically negating its own abstract character as a representation of space. As Lefebvre states:
The architect cannot, as he easily tends to believe, localise his thought and his perceptions on the drawing board, visualise things (needs, functions, objects) by projecting them. He confuses projection and project in a confused ideality which he believes to be ‘real’ (…) The sheet at hand, before the eyes of the draughtsman, is as blank as it is flat: He believes it to be neutral. He believes that this neutral space which passively receives the marks of his pencil corresponds to the neutral space outside, which receives things, point by point, place by place. As for the ‘plan’, it does not remain innocently on paper. On the ground, the bulldozer realises ‘plans’.
The actual space which results from this process implies reductions at many levels. The reduction of form to figure (and from volume to surface) for instance, is a clear sign of the violence such procedures impose onto social space – which is full of local differences and particularities, and often indistinguishable from the practices which take place on it. This is a mental space which may seem geometrically consistent but which never managed to reach the (perceptual and social) reality of bodies, hence an ‘incomplete’ and idealised space. Highly abstract in that it is thought more in accordance with an ‘idea’ or ‘representation’ than reality itself, this is a space ‘literally flattened out, confined to a surface, to a single plane’. The rhetorical terms in which this was presented as the ‘overcoming of the division between inside and outside’, was used to obscure the reductive procedures at work. Paradoxically, this ‘new transparency’ concealed its real purpose: to cover up the contradictions in the production of space and make them appear clear and legible; hence, this new tectonic was transparent only in appearance. A self-referential formalism began to emerge along these lines in the years of the avant-gardes – for example in Dutch neoplasticism and certain strands of soviet constructivism – which further fetishised the notion of space as primarily the result of abstract formal experimentation.
In accordance with his theory of the production of space as representing a new (global) stage in the development of capitalism, Lefebvre thought investment in space (real estate sector) has been increasingly gaining the upper hand to investment in production. This he called the secondary circuit of capital. This shift takes place, among other things, to displace stagnation in the primary circuit:
‘Real property’ (along with ‘construction’) is no longer a secondary form of circulation, no longer the auxiliary and backward branch of industrial and financial capitalism that it once was (…) Capitalism has taken possession of the land, and mobilized it to the point where this sector is fast becoming central. Why? Because it is a new sector – and hence less beset by the obstacles, surfeits, and miscellaneous problems that slow down old industries. Capital has thus rushed into the production of space in preference to the classical forms of production – in preference to the production of the means of production (machinery) and that of consumer goods. This process accelerates whenever ‘classical’ sectors show the slightest sign of flagging.
Following these and Marx’s insights, Harvey introduced the idea of a built environment for production and one for consumption. The former is composed by fixed capital which is either a direct instrument in the production process (e.g. producer durables, machinery) or the physical infrastructure for this to take place – which Harvey calls ‘fixed capital of an independent kind’ (e.g. factories, offices). The built environment for consumption consists in a consumption fund, which is composed by commodities which are an aid to direct consumption; they can be either consumer durables (e.g. appliances, furniture, cars) or the physical framework required for consumption (e.g. houses, buildings, streets, etc.). It would seem unequivocal then, that architecture is either a form of fixed capital or of the consumption fund, unfortunately the definition of the former requires further elucidation which I do not have the space to develop here.
If architecture can be part of the circuits of capital, either directly (fixed capital) or indirectly (consumption fund), does its abstraction process occur in the same manner? On first inspection, no. Only architecture which is fixed capital is restrained by the spatio-temporal requirements of production; yet, architecture often can be simultaneously means of production and consumption:
It is not necessarily the case that fixed capital is capital which in all its aspects serves not for individual consumption, but only for production. A house can serve for production as well as for consumption; likewise all vehicles, a ship and a wagon, for pleasure outings as well as a means of transport; a street as a means of communication for production proper, as well as for taking walks etc.
This dual aspect was dramatically emphasised by modernist architecture. A concrete example could be the connection between scientific management techniques (Taylorism) and architecture made by Christine Frederick. A functionalism avant la lettre, she proposed an ‘efficient grouping’ for a kitchen plan in which all equipments were organised according to a sequential order of the cooking process to save time, echoing the model of the assembly line popularised by Henry Ford. Under the supervision of Ernst May, Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky applied this model to various social housing projects in Frankfurt. Rather unsurprisingly, this type of studies became common at the Bauhaus. Scientific management implied the rationalisation and disciplining of labour. Along with the breaking down of this process into simple and repetitive tasks, architecture was accordingly fragmented into its different component functions which mirrored the division of labour. The subordination of the entirety of space/architecture to the requirements of capitalism demanded also the exchangeability of all its component parts; hence, architecture began to be progressively standardised.
As the abstract logic of capital leaves the sphere of production and starts to determine all the aspects of everyday spaces in the city (with the aid of modern architecture), a constant struggle develops ‘between interests organised around social space, as the site of social use values and the deployment of communal relations in space, and around abstract space as the space of real estate development and government administration – the combined articulation between economic and political modes of domination’. This struggle is more complex than the simplified Marxist model of class struggle as derived from the contradiction between capital (bourgeoisie), labour (proletariat), and land (landowners). Accordingly, the question of the role of architects in it is crucial to understand the political dimension of architecture.
 Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (Volume I), trans. by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications Inc., 2011), 164.
 David Harvey, A Companion to Marx’s Capital (London: Verso, 2010), 90.
 Ibid, 275.
 Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Petersfield: Harriman House Ltd, 2007), 175.
Marx, Capital, 786.
 Ibid, 280.
 Alfred Sohn-Rethel, Intellectual and Manual Labour: A Critique of Epistemology (London: The Macmillan Press Ltd, 1978), 19.
 Łukasz Stanek, Henri Lefebvre on Space: Architecture, Urban Research, and the Production of Theory (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 145.
 Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 1991), 296-97.
 Ibid, 355.
 Henri Lefebvre, Espacio y Política: El Derecho a la Ciudad II (Barcelona: Peninsula, 1972), 42.
 Henri Lefebvre, Introduction to Modernity: Twelve Preludes September 1959–May 1961 (London: Verso, 2011), 119-20-21.
 Stanek, Henri Lefebvre, 145.
 Stanek, Henri Lefebvre, 146.
 Lefebvre, The Production, 124.
 José Ricardo Morales, Arquitectónica: Sobre la idea y el sentido de la arquitectura (Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 1969), 140. See also: G. W. F. Hegel, Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art (Volume II), trans. T. M. Knox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), 633.
 Robert Vischer et al., Empathy, Form, and Space: Problems in German Aesthetics, 1873-1893, Robert Vischer et al. (Santa Monica, CA: J. Paul Getty Trust Publications, 1994).
 Josep Maria Montaner, Arquitectura y Crítica (Barcelona: Gustavo Gili, 2002) 24-30. See also: Stanek, Henri Lefebvre, 147. I have also reviewed these early theories of space and their influence in modern architectural theory, see: Patricio De Stefani, “Reflexiones sobre los Conceptos de Espacio y Lugar en la Arquitectura del Siglo XX”, DU&P 16 (2009). http://www.ucentral.cl/dup/16_espacioylugar.htm
 Bruno Zevi, Saber Ver la Arquitectura: Ensayo sobre la Interpretación Espacial de la Arquitectura (Barcelona: Poseidon, 1981). See also: Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980).
 Lefebvre, The Production, 104, 360.
 Ibid, 361.
 Henri Lefebvre, Writings on Cities, eds. Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 191.
 Lefebvre, The Production, 313.
 This circuit should not be confused with those examined by Marx in Part I of Volume II of Capital (money capital, commodity-capital, and productive capital circuits).
 Lefebvre, The Production, 335.
 David Harvey, The Urbanization of Capital (Oxford: Basil Blackwell Ltd, 1985), 6; The Limits to Capital (London: Verso, 2006), 232-35.
 Harvey, The Limits, 226.
 Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, trans. by Martin Nicolaus (Penguin: 1973), 368, Marxists Internet Archive, accessed June 14, 2012, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_Grundrisse.pdf
 Christine Frederick, Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home (Chicago: American School of Home Economics, 1923).
 Gottdiener, The Social Production of Urban Space (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1985), 163.