Georges Teyssot, “Heterotopias and the History of Spaces,” 1977.
Michael Hays’s introduction to Teyssot’s essay performs the delicate function of distinguishing Foucault’s intellectual apparatus from Teyssot’s deployment of that apparatus in the world of architecture. Unsurprisingly, it does so with more clarity than Teyssot himself, and introduces the non-Foucault reader to the critical ideas of Heterotopia—namely, Episteme, Discourse, and the six characteristics of Heterotopia. Teyssot’s essay, on the other hand, evaluates the impact of Foucault’s apparatus on architecture’s typical post-modern problems: architecture’s disciplinary, historical, and formal autonomy; architectural “knowledge;” typologies; and the function of written architectural theory versus material buildings.
In extremely reductive broad strokes, here are the main points of Foucault’s heterotopia upon which Teyssot’s analysis depends: An episteme is the fundamental intellectual laws of any given moment in history; any knowledge or moral construct is built on the episteme; together, the orders of knowledge, discourse, and the episteme make up the intellectual ‘universe’ of any given period; history is a strand of these universes. (An example of the “orders of knowledge” would be Vidler’s typologies.) The transition from one episteme to another is an intellectually violent rupture, an event. Because of these epochal ruptures, history is a discontinuous, non-evolutionary chain, and discontinuity itself is a basic characteristic of heterotopias.
For our purposes, the ‘heterotopian construct’ Teyssot uses to conduct his analysis actually has less to do with the specific qualities of a heterotopia and more the entire epistemic apparatus of history. If architecture is autonomous as a discipline—split by Foucault and Teyssot into written theory and material buildings—then at any point in history it comprises an entire episteme. No intertextual dependence may be found because it would represent something larger than the architectural episteme. This, at least, is the trap Teyssot sets up when he offers his first analytical question, ‘Can architecture be said to depend on epochal epistemes [as opposed to producing its own]?’
The other questions guiding Teyssot’s analysis are, ‘What are the “discursive practices” of architecture?’ ‘Is it discourse about architecture, or architectural discourse?’ This refers to the split between written theory and material buildings, each of which form a “text” to be analyzed depending on your approach to architecture (of which, Teyssot generously provides three).
Almost dismissed out of hand, architecture itself cannot be the discourse, cannot itself be a “text,” because it is too interdisciplinary, too informed by other fields, too intertextual by nature. It cannot be isolated as its own epistemic universe. Teyssot’s point here is that the City, the body of architecture past and present, cannot be an autonomous universe, can have neither a priori meanings nor forms. Thus the Rationalist claim that form and typologies born of the city are architecturally autonomous is invalid within the Foucauldian apparatus.
As a result, we are left with discourse about architecture (written theory) as a “text” for epistemological analysis, and we are given this fabulous little confounding nugget: “The text ‘produces’ and embodies the productivity as a form of production and a technique. It functions within a given historical space that is itself a space of text (discursive practices, hence signifying, hence semiotic). The productivity of the text consists in its ‘intertextuality,’ offering ‘a point of intersection for what has been said in other texts.’” Translation: ‘written theory is a kind of architectural production, a discourse that fills out epistemic universes, that presents characteristics of epistemic wholeness but is also informed by other fields.’ Resultantly, architecture is somewhat autonomous but is also interdependent, too interdependent for the extreme autonomy of form and meaning that the Rationalists claim. It is crucial to point out that Teyssot presented this paper at a seminar in Venice, at which Tafuri also presented, so there should be little surprise that this Foucauldian exercise is primarily focused on the determinism-autonomy split represented by Tafuri and Rossi. (See Vidler, Scolari, and Steinmann.)
We aren’t really left with much more at the end of the essay than we already knew at its start, excepting some terminology and a new historiographic method. Toward the beginning, Teyssot includes a quote from Foucault about the relationship between utopia and heterotopia (p299), a paragraph more valuable for its contextual rather than its explanatory value. In it, we find a mention of “syntax” that is a likely reference to Eisenman and certain Post-Structuralist interest in linguistic structures to justify a hermetic autonomy for architecture. (See Gandelsonas.) We should also recall the Foucauldian discussion initiated by Silvetti’s criticism from within—specifically the relationship between commentary and criticism, and the oddly parallel structure appearing between utopia and heterotopia, especially in regards to language and mythification. I should also note that, according to the footnotes, Foucault later dropped the non-evolutionary element of his method from his later work, purportedly after being confronted with the evolutionary development of science as a counterexample.