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Angel Courthouse: Uncanny Interiority and the Ambiguous Body

Part 2 Dissertation 2006
Jessam Al-Jawad
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) | UK
This thesis accompanies my design proposal for Angel Courthouse, serving as a theoretical underpinning to the design process undertaken over the course of my final year. The study explores the interpenetrating relationship of body and space, concentrating on the psychological effects that result from this dialectic.

Beginning at the level of the body’s direct contact with – and influence upon – objects of everyday use, this study investigates ideas of the so-called ‘uncanny’ within its traditional setting of the ‘homely’ interior. Certain ideas of ‘bodily ambiguity’ touched on here are then considered within the context of a more strictly spatial exploration of the ‘uncanny’. This concentrates on the psychological states induced by the intensified relationship between body and space found underground.

The physical confinement of the subterranean gives rise to the notion of a highly interiorised architecture, formed of convoluted circulation routes, inward-looking spaces and minimal amounts of lighting. This is considered as mimicking not only the psychological interiority of the individual but also something of the body’s anatomical complexity. Accordingly, the focus of this investigation then shifts on to an architecture capable of blurring the boundaries between body and space, by itself becoming more body-like. Here the houses of Adolf Loos serve as example, with their mute exteriors and complex, introverted interiors exhibiting some of the body’s enigmatic character.

My explorations of this exterior-interior disjunction are then considered at the scale of the city, looking at the psychological estrangement of modern city-dwellers that paradoxically results from the unremitting physical proximity of strangers. Finally, my research is concluded by looking at how the abstract concept of the law exercises a hold over our bodies, and how its invisible boundaries have historically been enforced by both physical and psychological means.

The processes I have explored in this thesis are ultimately brought to bear upon my design proposal for a courthouse on the site of the disused London Underground station at Angel.
Here the complex relationship between ‘body’ and ‘space’ is captured in one site: visible and invisible structures, freedom and confinement, the individual and society, the ‘spaces’ of psychological interior and physical exterior.

Jessam Al-Jawad

Jessam’s thesis proposes ambiguous psychic and material boundaries between the Angel courthouse, its occupants, procedures and position in the city. He brings architectural history, philosophy and psychoanalaytic thinking to bear in a critical reflection of his Year 5 Diploma portfolio. Beginning with Vidler, Lacan and Freud’s interest in the ‘uncanny’ he then introduces critiques of Freudian theory by Peter Fuller and Donald Winnicott's ‘object relations’ theory. Working with these theories and concepts he has produced a very interesting thesis that also weaves Soane, Loos and Lewerentz into his investigation about the ‘so-called’ uncanny, the labyrinth and the courthouse.

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