Tapping In To The Unconscious Cultural Studies Essay

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The purpose of this discourse, as the title suggests, is to explore how the uncharted depths of the unconscious mind can become a wellspring of architectural ideas born out of a sense of repression, anxiety and fear or the Uncanny, a term introduced by architectural historicist Anthony Vidler based on Freud's writings. It is demonstrated how psychologically charged urban and domestic spaces often suggest feelings of desolation, emptiness, or melancholy. Further investigation is done on how contemporary architects deploy effects of the Uncanny to evoke social changes in urban, suburban and domestic landscapes, and their effects on those who inhabit or move through these spaces. 

Research Question:

What creative opportunities does the Uncanny provide as a theoretical tool in architectural representation?

Need Identification:

A building is not just a spatial construct but is also an architectural expression of the architect as well as the user. The building itself is nothing but the exoskeleton. The true substance emerges only when the unconscious imposition of layers upon layers of identity and spatial memory by the user, are understood through psychology, psychoanalysis and sociology. Contemporary architecture makes a conscious attempt to subvert the oneiric image by rejecting psychic memory attached to primal images. This has resulted in the creation of an aesthetics of architecture that is disquieting rather than reassuring.

Thus, there is a need to examine not just the architectural implications of the unconscious mind but also to acknowledge the immense potential for contemporary architecture to make use of the uncanny, on the one hand, to criticise traditional architectural narratives, and on the other hand, to express the core of our postmodern condition.


The Uncanny is an omnipresent chapter in our cultural history. It demands extensive knowledge of the architectural movements as well as a thorough research into psychoanalytical studies that link Uncanny elements to architecture.


Differences of opinion make psychoanalysis, which forms the backbone of this study, a dynamic and mutating subject with a gradual refinement of ideas and methods over the years. It is imperative to take into account the subjectivity of psychoanalytical findings. In spite of numerous overlaps with cognitive science and its conclusive findings, psychoanalysis remains unsupported by factual evidence, relying heavily on theory.


The study is primarily analytical, based on documented works and recorded opinions. The data-base is basically textual. The first step would be to understand the basic concepts pertaining to the study i.e. uncanny and the basic psychopathologies of space. This would require a detailed study of various architectural and psychoanalytic concepts pertaining to perception and spatial experience. It would also be mandatory to trace the existence of spatial psychopathologies through various architectural movements from the romantic period to the postmodern identity today. Ultimately, case studies are required to support conclusions drawn from readings, personal observations and so forth.



The term the 'Uncanny' was introduced by psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). He proposed that the human psyche contains a multitude of unconscious layers of information. These layers are repressed out of fear, frustration, and anger. It can be argued that his findings instilled an uncertainty and a fundamental distrust of the lucid judgment of the human rationale.

In his book 'Das Unheimliche' (Freud 1919), Freud traces the etymological meaning of the word 'Uncanny' in many different languages. In German, the noun Heimlichkeit (homeliness) bears a double meaning. On the one hand, it means something familiar/homely/recognizable, but it also means something concealed. The opposite, Unheimlichkeit ('Uncanny') also bears a double meaning. The first meaning is something that at first sight is unfamiliar and unrecognizable. The second meaning is to disclose or to unveil something. This adds complexity to our understanding of the Un-heimlichkeit.

The Unheimlichkeit is an instance that is unfamiliar though immediately afterwards it is revealed as something strangely and disquietingly familiar. Therefore somebody encountering an 'Uncanny' experience is left feeling somewhat bewildered, perplexed and uncomfortably strange.

The Uncanny has been knowingly employed by artists across a broad range of creative disciplines such as art, literature, music and architecture. For example, the art of Francisco Goya ('Los Caprichos', 1797), Masereel ('Mon Livre d'Heures', 1919), Henry Füseli ('The Nightmare', 1781), Caspar Friedrich ('Wanderer Above The Sea Of Fog', 1818,), make the relation between fear and art apparent. Literary representations or narratives such as short stories by Edgard Allen Poe like 'The rise and Fall of the House Usher' (1839) and Jean Ray's 'Malpertuis' (1943) are fine examples of correlation between architectural interiors and fearful spaces. Musical representation of Unheimlich has also been used by bands such as Radiohead, Anathema and Tool. A mix of introspective lyrics, choice instruments, specific structures and time signatures of songs and surreal cover artwork on the albums stir the audience's imagination and make listening to their music into a disquieting rather than comforting event. Thus, torment is made into art and art is made into torment.

Anathema - A Natural Disaster (cover art by Travis Smith) Tool - 10,000 Days (cover art by Alex Grey) http://www.metal-archives.com/images/3/0/9/5/30958.jpghttp://www.metalunderground.com/images/covers/Tool_-_10,000_Days_cover.jpg

The 'Uncanny' in the context of architecture is an existential anguish without object as opposed to fear that is born out of danger and which is always connected to something or someone. It is not only the physical building or space that is a primal source of fear, but our personal background, memory, etc must also be taken into consideration. The psychological component of the Uncanny is important because the latent and repressed nature of our unconscious mind continually seeks compensation by resurfacing unexpectedly and erratically.



In Freud's 1919 essay, the Austrian psychoanalyst discusses das unheimlich as an outcome of a defamiliarization and strange and unknown conditions. He was of the opinion that the feeling of Uncanny emanates from the unconscious mind. According to Freud, das unheimlich creates a feeling of mental displacement caused by the resurfacing of repressed unconscious thoughts. Das heimlich in Freud's essay refers to the homely in its multiple references such as homeland, neighbourly, domestic and that which is at home, thus suggesting a spatial and territorial understanding of the concept.

In his 1894 article, 'The Psycho-neuroses of Defense,' Freud uses as the basis of his argument the idea of a binary space where the development of thinking activity occurs, and which is delimited by a border whose "good inside" is the place where "pleasing" things are preserved, and whose "bad outside" is the place where things that are "unpleasing" are rejected and repressed.

Many architectural theoreticians, particularly phenomenologists like Pallasmaa, believe that architecture's primary role is to create a comforting heimlich condition i.e. architecture should provide a home, a shelter, a homely feeling, in its various typologies and manifestations (private or public, for individuals or for communities). Architecture is expected to create a place for the familiar and the known. On the contrary, unheimlich seeks to induce mental displacement (making people feel that they are not in their place) and to the estrangement of humanity from its being-in-the-world.



Historically, the origin of the uncanny in architectural representation can be discerned in three distinct moments.

The first sign of awareness of the uncanny in the context of architecture appeared in the late eighteenth century. Writings by Edgar Allen Poe and E.T.A. Hoffmann were often based on themes that contrast between a safe and homely place and the intrusion of a weird and alien presence. In the dark romantic short story 'The Fall of the House of Usher' by Edgar Allen Poe, Roderich Usher, the last of his family line, suffers great depression after the death of his twin sister, the only relative he had. His friend, also the narrator, comes to see him and eventually witnesses the falling of the house of Usher as the falling of the Roderick Usher himself. The house with the zigzag crack on its wall foreshadows the future outcomes.http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_3CzIxsW2BUU/TQL9Opyn0dI/AAAAAAAAAB8/o6x2fa_XsBA/s1600/silawest_stuttle_HouseofUsherSmall500.jpg

"Romanticism with its delight in the terrifyingly sublime, saw fear and horror lurking in the landscapes, domestic scenes and city streets. Modernism, while displacing many such spatial fears to the domain of psychoanalysis, was nevertheless equally subject to fears newly identified as endemic to the metropolis, forming its notions of abstraction under the sign of neurasthenia and agoraphobia..." (Vidler 2008)

As described by architectural historian Anthony Vidler above, the second period was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when the city metamorphosed into a metropolis. This evolution had serious psychopathological repercussions. The individual felt estranged in the metropolitan mass. The uncanny manifested itself into phenomena like agoraphobia and claustrophobia.

The culmination was the 'Deconstructivist Architecture' (1988) exhibition at the Museum of Modem Art in New York, where the works of eight leading architects including Daniel Libeskind, Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman and Coop Himmelblau were presented. Several of these architects expressed both in their textual discourse and in their building projects the need for an architecture of discomfort and the unbalancing of expectations (Tschumi 1977, p.214). They articulated a preference for an aesthetics of architecture that is disquieting rather than reassuring. As Anthony Vidler states in 'The Architectural Uncanny' (1992), some of these architects have been inspired by the uncanny in their efforts to incite discomfort and unease.

The culmination was the 'Deconstructivist Architecture' (1988) exhibition at the Museum of Modem Art in New York, where the works of eight leading architects including Daniel Libeskind, Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Zaha Hadid, Peter Eisenman and Coop Himmelblau were presented. Several of these architects expressed both in their textual discourse and in their building projects the need for an architecture of discomfort and the unbalancing of expectations (Tschumi 1977, p.214). They articulated a preference for an aesthetics of architecture that is disquieting rather than reassuring. As Anthony Vidler states in 'The Architectural Uncanny' (1992), some of these architects have been inspired by the uncanny in their efforts to incite discomfort and unease.

"[W]e don't want architecture to exclude everything that is disquieting. We want architecture to have more ... Architecture should be cavernous, fiery, smooth, hard, angular, brutal, round, delicate, colourful, obscene, voluptuous, dreamy, alluring, repelling, wet, dry and throbbing." (Himmelblau 1988, p. 95)



Several creative opportunities emerge from the deployment of the Uncanny in architecture.


Uncanny by its nature is 'inclusive' (Van Berkel 2001). It unveils and veils/orders and disorders/un-familiarizes and familiarizes. The Uncanny bears in itself two opposites - it alienates but reveals at the same time. It stimulates both joy and decay. This contradiction within one term can be considered as something 'inclusive'.


The Uncanny reveals the sinister and hidden qualities behind the guise of architecture. These subtle qualities are just as important as the traditional spatial values like light/air. They make us aware of the important role of architecture as a discipline that is able to reveal and hide at the same time. Many values related to the architectural experience depend on immaterial, invisible and intangible aspects. Another sinister aspect is the mortality of all things and beings. Architecture is not immortal but needs the horizon of mortality in order to exist. The architectural artefact may outlive several generations, but finally has to succumb to the gradual physical and ideological weathering by time.


Uncanny provokes people to act impulsively in crisis situations/calamities. This provocative feature of Uncanny is a boon in architectural practice where a deadline is an artificially induced moment of crisis that finally manifests into an eagerness to come up with a design solution.

The Uncanny is also an intentional attitude towards risks by challenging and pushing the subject out of their comfort zone. To avoid a design problem, is to avoid the possibility of generating architecture. Catastrophe and imminent danger have given birth to design solutions over the centuries. The stipulation of the most primitive architecture by mankind can be credited to the Uncanny for it was fear of his unknown and unfriendly surroundings which drove man to create shelter, a familiar place for refuge.


When we face an Uncanny condition, we feel simultaneously alienated and drawn to its workings. This contradictory process of taking distance and drawing near (and back again) makes us as an audience (whether visiting or reading) more involved and deeply connected to the space or object of art. For instance, imagine walking along a cliff-side. As a free being, one can be suddenly confronted by thoughts of losing control. There's genuine anguish that emerges if one knows he or she has the freedom to plunge to an imminent death. One could say that our confidence to confront space is continuously under siege through an inbuilt and existential uncertainty.


In conventional architectural representation, there are already a lot of techniques related to merging of time and space. A cross-section of an interior space is also an artificial construct combining time and space. The movement (time) of different users on different floor levels can thus be simultaneously observed in one drawing by the audience. This possibility of simultaneously viewing separate interior spaces does not exist in reality. It only exists in the drawing. In a drawing, the potential audience can be present in many places at the same time, opening up a panoptical view port encompassing the past, present and future.

Sequential graphic art such as comics are a great way to discover the architectural experience with its merging of time and space. The comic author Scot McCloud (McCloud 1994) states that the separate panels of which comics are composed in fact offer an irregular sequence of unconnected moments fracturing both time and space. However, because the panels are sequentially connected from left to right something interesting occurs. Through the notion of 'closure' the reader is invited to mentally connect the 'gap' between the panels in a continuous and unified reality. The arrangement of a comic's pages or even a single panel is a condensed form of time-space put in a narrative sequence i.e. it is a temporal map. The images and the language are combined in such a way that the plot encompasses movement, time and space in a single panel, in a single page or a single comic.

'Closure' - "phenomenon of observing the parts but perceiving the whole" (McCloud 1994, pg. 63)LESSING_25010728_P3WM.jpg

Cross-sectional view of Garniers Opera House in Paris showing the use of an architectural narrative (www.lessing.com)

In architectural experience, we encounter also a similar phenomenon. 'Closure' occurs when the human subject passes through intentionally designed contrasting spaces. This type of intentional disorientation (Uncanny) facilitates the growth of imagination and causes dread to emerge. For example, in the opera house by Tony Garnier in Paris, the architectural movement through the building is guided by a series of perspective transformations. Due to the clever interplay of volume/void, the use of levels and light/shade, Garniers' opera building does not seem to lead to a single absolute plot or narrative climax; rather the architectural experience can be read as a succession of many subplots. The author (the architect) is leading his audience into a journey of architectural wonder with the notion of a beginning and end of the journey.


There always exists a sort of tension between a preset narrative in architecture and the will of the author and/or the audience to escape from this narrative.

This raises the question that should an architectural narrative be present or not? One option is 'to lose the plot' in architecture. The Modernists raise a strong argument in favour of this choice. Modernism regards plots as intentional or unintentional agents of power. A plot influences our imagination and impacts our critical thinking in a negative way. Logically, we should choose to abandon the plot in order to maintain our critical ability. Alternatively, one can also consider a plot to be a narrative method intended to induce a pleasant and uninterrupted whole leading up to a singular climax. So, there's a sort of duality or dilemma in choosing sides between having a plot or not.

The Uncanny can absorb the duality between having a plot or not. It can contain both at the same time since within the context of the Uncanny there is no difference between the two. The Uncanny thus prevents against fragmentation. It does not condone an addiction to plots but paradoxically it does not exclude the possibility that it is precisely the plots that will provide the answers. The power of the Uncanny in architecture resides in its inclusive working. The appropriation of space and time by an intentional user constantly transforms bits and pieces into comprehensible wholes. Therefore, the architectural Uncanny is an ally against losing sight of the intangible aspects 'behind reality'. It enables a firm resistance against tendencies to fragment reality and destroy magic and wonder. This is a legitimate act of self defence as the Uncanny itself originates in magic and wonder.



Bernard TschumiFig. 1: Tschumi - Folie

Parc de la Villette, Paris - In 1982, the French government held a design competition to fill up an empty spot in the Parisian landscape. The following year, Bernard Tschumi's design was chosen as the winning contribution.

Tschumi - Folie

Tschumi defied the nineteenth century notion of a park as a place to escape the city. Instead, he produced an 'urban park' for the twenty first century. Tschumi's "folies" and "cases vides" - red cubic structures placed at a regular intervals from each other throughout the park - are reminiscent of Russian Constructivism in their form. On a deeper level, however, Tschumi's designs couldn't be further away from modernist utopian thought that consider geometry as a means to adapt the world we live in to new technological evolutions. The formal references to constructivism in the Parc de la Villette are therefore a subversion of that philosophy by its very repetition.

Pleasure of Superimposition

In a 1987 article, Tschumi elucidates his idea of pleasure in architecture:

"My pleasure has never surfaced in looking at buildings, at the 'great works' of the history or present of architecture, but rather in dismantling them" (Tschumi 1987, p. 116). The Parc de la Villette design is solely governed by the "pleasure principle" (Vidler 1992, p. 103) of the architect himself.

In this project, that principle manifests itself in the superimposition of three different systems. The first layer consists of a system of points. A 120 metre grid is drawn over the whole site. The intersection points of the horizontal and vertical lines of the grid are what Tschumi calls crossings "points". On each point, a "folie" or folly is built. These are multi-purpose three-storeyed red cubes measuring 10 x 10 x 10 metres. These buildings have no pre-programmed function (or narrative) and may be used as an exhibition hall, as a café or any other public space. Therefore, the cubes are also referred to as "cases vides" or empty huts. Although every single folie is a cube of 10 x 10 x 10 metres, not a single cubicle is identical. Some folies have cylindrical or triangular forms attached to them, others lack walls or are turned on their sides. In this way, Tschumi investigates the often-ambiguous relationship between norm and deviation. The idea is to use repetition as a means to establish contrast and difference. The first layer of points allocates space to what Tschumi calls "point-like activities" (http://www.tschumi.com) i.e. activities that take place only within the bounded space of a folie.

Fig. 3:     Tschumi - Lignes


Tschumi - Lines, Points and Surfaces


The second layer, the layer of lines, is superimposed on the grid and establishes a space for "linear activities". "Linear activities" describes the pedestrian traffic that crosses the park in several possible ways. The centre of this linear layer is formed by two axes, Tschumi - Axis the North-South and the East-West axis, which connect the four entrances to the park. Apart from straight axes, the layer consists of erratic, undulating lines meandering through the landscape. At this point, Vidler says, Tschumi remains indebted to traditional park design for the straight axis was a common feature of Classicist park design and the undulating line that leads flaneurs past most charming sights was characteristic of Romantic parks and gardens. Once again the reference to tradition is merely formal as Tschumi found pleasure in dismantling tradition. Tschumi's axes and pathways do not possess the same controlling, authoritarian character they possess in traditional parks. They no longer limit the subject to a specific domain or weave together a series of meaningful sights. They are no more and no less than what they are - alternative tracks through the park. A visitor searching for monuments of historical significance along his walk for narrative coherence will have to leave the park unsatisfied. Here there is a conscious "unbalancing of expectations". The passer-by is forced to abandon his search for meaning and is forced by the architect to wander and explore.Fig. 2:     Tschumi - Coordinate

The third system that is placed on top of the previous two is the layer of surfaces. These surfaces provide room for all activities that require large horizontal strips of land, such as sports, games, and markets.

Releasing the Repressed

The superimposition of these three layers does not hinder interaction between the three independent systems. Principles of chance and juxtaposition generate interference and clashes between the systems. The result of this "superimposition" is according to Mark Wigley, a "series of ambiguous intersections between systems […] in which the status of ideal forms and traditional composition is challenged. Ideas of purity, perfection, and order, become sources of impurity, imperfection, and disorder" (Broadbent 1991, p. 17).

The inherent purity of the geometry and systematic arrangement evokes feelings of rational control and stability. If then, things turn out differently, the juxtaposition of the three "pure" systems gives way to impurity. The rational control weakens and the unconscious repressed surfaces to provoke in us an uncanny feeling.

2. Peter Eisenman

Peter Eisenman early designs show the will to structure form and space in such a way that "a set of formal relationships" (Eisenman 1975, p. 16) is produced. Somewhat later he introduced the term "post-functionalism" in architectural discourse. From the 1980s onwards, the post-functionalist notions of trace and palimpsest came to play a larger role in Eisenman's projects. The site at which a building is to be constructed is never an empty slate but contains a history that haunts the spot, like a spectre. This according to Derrida's concept of the spectral (Derrida 1994), could be called the "spectrality" of the site. According to Eisenman, the architect should acknowledge these traces and try to integrate them into the architectural whole. This is sharp contrast to utopian modernism which sought to leave the past behind once and for all.

Architect as Archaeologist

Eisenman entered a competition for a housing project near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. The competition was eventually won by Rem Koolhaas whose project has afterwards been executed. Eisenman's unrealised project included more than the original assignment, a housing block next to the Berlin Wall. Eisenman proposed an intervention that involved raising an entire city block against the Wall that would include the existing buildings. Around that block, a subterranean park was designed that was to be named the "City of Excavations". By constructing a park below surface level the architect hoped to unearth archaeological remains of the old city. No relics that explicitly referred to the city's history were found, but that did not seem to bother Eisenman. The case in point was not to showcase actual archaeological objects but to emphasise and draw people's attention to the site as a crucible of history.

The Uncanny character of the City of Excavations is easily understood. In psychoanalysis, the underground is often used as a metaphor for the subconscious. In the same way the psychoanalytical method is often compared to the archaeological as a kind of "digging for meaning". Eisenman descends to the repressed in order to reveal what would have had to remain hidden in humanist and functionalist architecture - the site's past history. The very act of descent into earth is very uncanny in nature. It resembles the journey down to a crypt, which was a pre-eminently uncanny place.

Architect as Geologist

Architecture does not always need to build underground in order to evoke feelings of defamiliarization, destabilisation and disorientation. Merely beholding some deconstructionist buildings is enough to bewilder the spectator. The menacing splintered Eisenman - Emony Center forms of deconstruction stand out against the pure geometric forms of modernism and classicism and the superficiality of baroque and rococo. Eisenman wants to create buildings and spaces "with the possibility of looking back at the subject" (Eisenman 1992, p. 21). For this Eisenman devised a technique called "folding". In his design for the Emory Centre of the Arts, that is still undergoing construction, Eisenman used folded forms for the first time. Peculiar about these forms, says Eisenman, is that, apart from an effective dimension, they also possess an affective spatial dimension. The formal folds of the Emory Center remind of what Marcel Duchamp called a "geological landscape" (Vidler 1992, p. 140) and are easily associated with strata in the earth's crust. The most influential female deconstructionist architect Zaha Hadid also creates geological landscapes in her projects particularly in her project for The Peak in Hong Kong.Fig. 5: Hadid - The Peak Fig. 4:     Eisenman - Emony Center

Eisenman and Hadid's techniques of folding and tectonics generate a prehistoric landscape that must have been native to the Cro-Magnon man. For contemporary mankind however, Hadid - The Peak these designs have entirely lost their homely meaning. In these projects the ambiguous reciprocity between the homely and the Uncanny becomes evident. It becomes obvious that "Unheimlich is in some way or another, a sub-species of heimlich" as Freud (1955, p.226) states.

3. Coop Himmelblau

Like their counterparts Tschumi, Eisenman and other deconstructivist architects, Coop Himmelblau tries to take the theoretical stance of anti-humanism. They do so by reinstating the bodily experiential role of architecture. Of course, the deconstructivist notion of the body bears very little resemblance to anthropometrics. Where the human body in the latter was conceived of as a source of unity and harmony, Himmelblau perceives it as an instance of fragmentation, disruption and disintegration. This idea is conveyed to the spectator or the visitor of the building too. Standing in front Himmelblau's buildings, we feel like we are "placed under threat", as Vidler puts it. The building's architectural body seems to be injured and thus it threatens our own physical integrity.

Architecture's animals

Himmelblau's well-known rooftop remodelling in Vienna is one of the most threat-inducing buildings constructed thus far.Fig. 6: Himmelblau - Rooftop design

Himmelblau - Rooftop design

A chaotic and disorderly explosion of lines, it is a great example of what may be termed as frame deconstruction. It appears like the building's intestines want to free themselves from the stranglehold of the original building. The terms in which Mark Wigley (1991, p. 22) describes this construction - the normal form of the roof has been mutilated by a "writhing, disruptive animal breaking through its corner". Yet, what Wigley thinks to be "particularly disquieting" is that it seems like this unleashed form has always been latently present in the geometry of the old roof itself. The architect has simply let loose that ever-present latent form. In Himmelblau's rooftop remodelling the architect himself dresses up in the psychoanalyst's guise. The architect puts the old geometric structures on the couch and allows the latent repressed forms of the unconscious to rise up to consciousness again. This resurrection of the repressed again gives rise to a certain kind of Uncanny feeling.

The Missing Limb

There is another way in which Himmelblau's rooftop remodelling can be likened to the Uncanny. Architectural humanism since Vitruvius has held an anthropocentric view that any building can be compared to the human body. A building's proportions and compositions were modelled on the supposedly "ideal" proportions of the human body. A commonly known illustration and proponent of this view is Leonardo da Vinci's drawing of the Vitruvian man. Even Le Corbusier's utopian modernism still clings to this view. In 1942, Le Corbusier developed the Modular scale, a proportion scale for buildings that was mainly based on human proportions. Hence, the great modernist buildings of the International Style were still heavily reliant on the human body as far as their composition and proportions were concerned.

If the pure geometric form of the Villa Savoy represents the human body in one way or another, then Himmelblau's deconstructed geometry represents a mutilated, handicapped, disjointed body. In their Malibu Open House project, using plate and frame deconstruction, Himmelblau designs a house that is reminiscent of an igloo or a tepee. The important fact to be noted here is that the building does not possess a façade. The front side of the house is intentionally left completely open, revealing the interior.

Fig. 9:     Himmelblau - Malibu

Himmelblau - Malibu Open House

In humanist theory the façade is often compared to the face. Confronted with such a faceless body, the spectator or subject begins to fear the loss of his own face by way of projection. As Freud argues, feelings of the Uncanny often rely on the return of infantile complexes of which the castration complex is the most crucial. From the analysis of mythical stories and through dream interpretation, Freud recognized that loss of limbs often functions as a substitute for loss of the sex. The sight of a building without a façade like Himmelblau's Open House produces that form of the Uncanny that has to do with the repression of the castration complex.

4. Daniel Libeskind

The body of Daniel Libeskind's extension to the Jewish Museum in Berlin doesn't really lack limbs. However, the skin surrounding it appears mutilated. The external walls of the building are constituted of enormous zinc plates that are at some points ripped open, as if they were scratched or scarred skins. The building has no clearly defined form in plan. It looks like a straight line that is interrupted and changes direction at several points. Libeskind himself claims that such a form represents a deconstructed star of David.

Traumatic History

This museum's architecture expresses one of the most physically oriented types of the Uncanny. As a sort of compelling memory, the building tries to transfer feelings of disorientation and displacement to its public. Some corridors get increasingly narrow; others simply come to an abrupt halt in a dead end. Some staircases too fail to fulfil their primary function of transporting to another level and simply lead one to a blind wall. In his design, Libeskind strongly emphasises the museum's historically preservative function. The Berlin Jewish Museum functions as an active memory in everyday Berlin consciousness. Libeskind says he had three main ideas in mind when he was designing this building:

"first, the impossibility of understanding the history of Berlin without understanding the enormous intellectual, economic and cultural contribution made by its Jewish citizens; second, the necessity to integrate the meaning of the Holocaust, both ph[y]sically and spiritually, into the consciousness and memory of the city of Berlin; third, that only through acknowledging and incorporating this erasure and void of Berlin's Jewish life can the history of Berlin and Europe have a human future." (http://www.jmberlin.be/jmb_en.htm)

The Jewish Museum creates a reverse psychology mechanism, as a mechanism of liberation by inciting unconscious memories and makes sure that the Holocaust never disappears from collective Berlinian and western consciousness. Just like Eisenman's City of Excavations (which was to be located in the same city), it stresses the need to keep the thread of historical continuity in architecture intact. Both metaphorically and formally, Libeskind wants to represent the persecution and emigration of the Jews in Berlin. Ironically, he does so by conjuring absence. Central to the Jewish Museum is the void, a cavernous empty space that visitors have to cross by means of bridges in order to get to the other side of the museum. The first room the visitors enter when accessing the museum is part of that void, which partly also extends underground (which possesses its own Uncanny consequences as was in Eisenman's City of Excavations). From that void at the museum's entrance, three paths originate. The first path leads up to the exhibition halls. The second path leads the visitors to the Holocaust void, where the cruelty of the Holocaust is expressed by the stark emptiness. The third path symbolises the Jews' exile and emigration from Germany. It leads out of the building towards the E.T.A. Hoffmann garden, a clever namesake to the renowned writer of stories like 'The Sandman', which pre-eminently use themes of the Uncanny.

The Building as Experience

In the Jewish Museum, the Uncanny manifests itself in the form of a physical and phenomenological "architectural experience", a form that has been described in Vidler's most recent book 'Warped Space':

"(...) when confronted by the withdrawn exteriors and disturbing interiors of the Jewish Museum (...) we find ourselves in a phenomenological world in which both Heidegger and Sartre would find themselves, if not exactly 'at home' (for that was not their preferred place), certainly in bodily and mental crisis, with any trite classical homologies between the body and the building upset by unstable axes, walls and skins torn, ripped and dangerously slashed, rooms empty of content and with uncertain or no exits or entrances. What Heidegger liked to call 'falling into' the uncanny, and what for Sartre was the dangerous instrumentality of objects in the world as they threatened the body and its extensions, is for Libeskind the stuff of architectural experience." (Vidler 2000, p. 238)

Due to its historic bond to the Second World War trauma, its conditions of displacement, homelessness and despair, Libeskind's Jewish Museum is a stunning illustration of the twentieth-century Uncanny. Vidler argues that "the uncanny might be understood as a response to the real shock of the modern" (Vidler 1992, p. 9). A response to a war trauma that first occurred after the First World War returning like a spectre after the Second World War and since then never again disappearing from contemporary imagination. "The uncanny," Vidler goes on, "has found its way as a place to think of the two 'postwars' after 1919 and 1945". Libeskind's deconstructivist building can therefore be read as a consciously manufactured narrative experience that according to the architect should not be forgotten by the present and future generations.




The architectural Uncanny simultaneously bridges the gap between theory and practice, imagination and representation, time and space. In other words, as a theory and a practice, the architectural Uncanny has the capacity and inherent duty to become a creative device for architectural representation.