Other Spaces

Michel Foucault was a French philosopher in the mid-20th Century who had some interesting views on social spaces and how they relate to each other. Starting with the concept of utopias he developed what he called heterotopias. Utopias stand as ideal societies toward which humanity strives but are fundamentally unreal. The inverse of a utopia would be a dystopia where instead of everything brought to an ideal state everything would be perfectly bad. Heterotopias are a place of otherness, where momentarily one is both in the real world and in the unreal world, whether it be utopian or dystopian.

HeteroFoucault offers many examples of these heterotopias, which fall into the general categories of crisis, deviation, time, and ritual or purification.

Crisis – Places where things happen out of sight like coming of age in a place like a boarding school or a first intimate encounter in a motel room are examples that Foucault gives of crisis heterotopias. Other examples might be a hospital waiting room or even a private washroom.

Deviation – Institutions where people who are outside the norm are placed are considered heterotopias of deviation. This includes places like hospitals, prisons, asylums, and rest homes. Special education schools, homeless shelters, and detention rooms might be other examples.

Time – Museums are great example of a heterotopia of time because objects from different times and styles are present, containing time but being outside of it. Movie theatres and concert halls are also places where one can exist outside of time for a short period.

Ritual or Purification – This includes places where one must have permission to enter and make certain gestures. The LDS temple, Mason Halls, and the throne rooms of the medieval monarchs are examples of this type of heterotopia.

Foucault calls for a society with many heterotopias which both affirm difference but also acts a place of refuge from authoritarianism. Whether or not one agrees with Foucault, I think this discussion emphasizes the important being aware of the effect that the spaces we’ve designed will have on the user and the experiences that they will have there.

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