The Setting and the Social Condenser: Transitional Objects in Architecture and Psychoanalysis

Jane Rendell

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This paper focuses on ‘transitional’ objects and spaces – located in the overlap between inside and outside. I position textual strands of two specific kinds of transitional objects and spaces next to one another, the setting of psychoanalysis and the social condenser of architecture, in order to create a place of potential overlap in the mind of the reader. One textual strand is located in psychoanalysis and charts a particular set of ideas around transitional objects and spaces. It starts out with Sigmund Freud, the originator of psychoanalysis, to reflect on how the first object is also the lost object in his work on mourning and melancholia, moving to D. W. Winnicott’s notion of the transitional object of the first relationship, and the transitional space it occupies between the internal psyche and external world; then turning to André Green’s work on the setting, a homologue, in his own words, for the analytic object positioned at the space of overlap between analyst and analysand, before turning to inside and outside; and finally introducing Jean Laplanche’s concept of the ‘enigmatic message’ which signify ‘to’ someone rather than ‘of’ something.

The other strand is focused on architecture and examines transitional objects and spaces in terms of the social condenser, a foundational principle in Moisei Ginzburg and Ignatii Milinis’s Narkomfin Communal House (1928-9) in Moscow, a building whose design was influenced by Le Corbusier’s five point plan, but which in turn inspired aspects of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (1947-1952) in Marseilles thirty years later. Certain principles of the Unité were then adopted and adapted in the public housing schemes of the Welfare State post World War II in the United Kingdom, specifically by the London County Council Architects Department in the Alton West Estate, Roehampton, London SW15, (1954-1958).

My aim is not explain the relation between these three architectural objects, and the subjects that produced and inhabited them, but to position the transition from one architectural space to another next to a sequence of theoretical insights drawn from psychoanalysis concerning the transitional spaces which exist in the relationships between a subject and his/her objects. The overlapping space between architecture and psychoanalysis operates on many levels, through the triangular structures which take place between subject and object: perhaps between an architect and his/her imagined and/or built objects; or in the relation between one building and another in the space mediated by the user and the historian; and on the page, between the critic who writes and speaks and the reader and listener who comes later to experience those words.

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