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The politics of the visor: Looking at buildings looking at us

Beaumont, M; (2018) The politics of the visor: Looking at buildings looking at us. City , 22 (1) pp. 63-77. 10.1080/13604813.2018.1423815. Green open access

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Do we feel at home in the cities we inhabit? There are of course innumerable ways in which people, and especially the poor and those from marginalized social groups, experience an almost permanent sense of displacement in the urban environments in which they live. The built environment, of course, actively contributes to this condition of unease; and in the early 21st century, an epoch in which metropolitan centres are increasingly dense with privatized, covertly surveilled public spaces, architecture and urban design is probably more aggressive in prosecuting or reinforcing this politics of exclusion than ever before. But there is also a chronic and pervasive sense of disquiet that, whoever we are, and from wherever we have come, is virtually constitutive of our experiences of living in cities. In this article, I explore some aspects of the role that buildings play in reinforcing both the concrete and more abstract forms of this uncanny feeling of not being at home in the urban environment. What I have to say about architecture concerns both how we look at buildings and, more significantly still, how buildings look at us. I first examine the ways in which buildings in general reinforce a sense of the city’s unhomeliness, its uncanniness, in part by applying Slavoj Zizek’s fertile notion of the ‘architectural parallax’. I then detail the ways in which a specific type of contemporary architecture, which I characterize in terms of its ‘visored’ facades, dramatizes the intrusive, even offensive, relation to the individual outlined in the preceding section. Finally, in a brief conclusion, I playfully propose a response to the hostile relation in which these buildings, indeed urban buildings in general, situate us. What Alejandro Zaera Polo has pursued in the shape of a ‘politics of the envelope’ lies behind my reflections here on the politics of what I call the visor. They are offered in part as a contribution to ongoing debates about the ‘right to the city’, since it seems to me that this slogan should among other things entail the right to feel at home in the built environment in which we live. Belonging in the city should be a necessary corollary of being in the city.

Type: Article
Title: The politics of the visor: Looking at buildings looking at us
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/13604813.2018.1423815
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2018.1423815
Language: English
Additional information: This version is the author accepted manuscript. For information on re-use, please refer to the publisher’s terms and conditions.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Dept of English Lang and Literature
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10042894
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