Can a Building Be an Apparatus?


  • Neil Leach Faculty of Architecture, Florida International University



apparatus, dispositif, panopticon, control, affordance, disciplinary societies, societies of control


When Michel Foucault introduces the term, dispositif, commonly translated as ‘apparatus’, he uses the architectural example of the Panopticon to illustrate how power is exercised. A building, according to this line of thinking, seemingly has the capacity to exercise control on its occupants. But is this really the case? This paper examines the thinking of Foucault on the subject, and questions to what extent we can conceive of a building as being in and of itself an apparatus. It goes on to explore Foucault’s subsequent reflections on the subject in his interview with Paul Rabinow, ‘Space, Knowledge and Power’, where he seems to qualify his earlier remarks on the Panopticon. It then opens up the theory of affordances to question whether a building – or any other entities that could be perceived as operating as a tool or mechanism within the social realm – has the agency to control behaviour. Finally, the paper introduces Gilles Deleuze’s subsequent remarks in ‘Postscript on the Societies of Control’ where he contributes to the debate about the political agency of form by arguing that in our present age there has been an erosion in the hegemony of the physical, and current forms of control are more gaseous and invisible in their operations than a mere physical building. The paper concludes that it is too simplistic to regard a building in and of itself as an apparatus. At best it could be perceived as an element within a ‘system of relations’ that might constitute the apparatus.


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