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  • Henri Lefebvre: Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment ed. by Łukasz Stanek
  • Jan Baetens
Henri Lefebvre: Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment
edited by Łukasz Stanek. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. 191pp., illus. ISBN: 978-0-8166-7719-1 (cloth); ISBN: 978-0-8166-7720-7 (paper).

Toward an Architecture of Enjoyment is the first publication of Henri Lefebvre’s only book devoted to architecture. Thanks to the efforts of Lefebvre scholar Łukasz Stanek, who discovered the manuscript in a private archive, this important and challenging text is now available in an elegantly translated and excellently edited volume that demonstrates the relevance of Lefebvre’s thinking on urban space for the more specialized field of architecture. An unorthodox Marxist, Lefebvre (1901–1991) is best known for his ideas on the notion of space, which he considered socially and politically constructed and, as such, the locus of a permanent conflict between the rationalizing and dehumanizing impulse of capitalism and the creativity of daily life in urban communities. In this approach toward space, the crucial level is that of the city, for it is at this level that the tension between building and planning on the one hand and lived experience on the other is most directly present. Architecture, in this perspective, seems to be less decisive, too overtly linked with merely aesthetic or functionalist issues while inevitably falling prey to the social dichotomy it eventually reproduces, with aesthetic concerns in the case of the individual houses of the elite and purely functionalist preoccupations in the case of communal housing of the working class.

The very existence of this text, therefore, comes as a surprise, and the fact that this study, which resulted from a commission, was never been published in its time confirms its singular status. Apparently, this was an essay nobody was expecting and perhaps contained the risk of weakening the status of its author as a key theoretician of urban life (as opposed to individual building). Written in 1973, it does, however, reflect the spirit of the times, strongly marked by the libertarian dimension of the student revolts and its foregrounding of pleasure, individual freedom and the body—all elements blocked by the conventional Marxism of these days and only introduced in the strongly politicized debates on the future of the city by nonconventional thinkers such as Lefebvre, who broadened the [End Page 306] debate on space and urban planning to the domain of architecture, long-time discarded as having no meaningful relationship with the key issues of the city as lived experience, and that of the body, equally put between brackets in the name of collectivist ideals.

Lefebvre’s very personal take on the problem of architecture is not limited to the shift of emphasis from urban thinking to a philosophy of dwelling. His reading of architecture is political throughout and his politics are, from the very beginning, a politics of the joyful body (the French term used by Lefebvre is the “untranslatable” jouissance, and the book opens with a dramatically useful note on the multilayered meanings and uses of this notion typical of May ’68). Just as the goal of the building of a city should be the production of urban life, the ideal of good architecture should be the opportunities it offers to a happier development of the body and its craving for pleasure and joy. Lefebvre analyzes this link between architecture and enjoyment in several ways. First of all, he explores the connection between body and building, no pun intended, in a wide range of disciplines such as philosophy, anthropology, history, economics and eventually architecture. In this discussion, which hovers between scholarly text and political manifesto, he clearly displays the materialist underpinnings of his analysis, which lead him to criticize the puritan stances of traditional Marxism. Under the aegis of Nietzsche, a major influence on many French thinkers of that period (Barthes, Deleuze, Guattari, among others), he makes room for personal hedonism and individual liberation. Second, Lefebvre also analyzes concrete forms of modern and modernist architecture, which— contrary to most leftist thinkers of those years—he does not automatically reject as the result of capitalist speculation. Lefebvre interprets the savage, but actually perfectly planned, transformation of...


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