Actor-networks in Le Corbusier’s housing project at Pessac

Author: Socrates Yiannoudes, School of Architectural Engineering, Technical University of Crete


Social housing, from modernist state funded programs to post-war industrial settlements, has long been associated with everyday practices of adaptation and transformation. Although Architectural theory rarely accounts for the incalculable, ad hoc practices by which domestic spaces in social housing are appropriated, used or misused by those who inhabit them, the social studies of technology, we argue, can provide possible methodological tools for such an investigation. We draw on Actor-Network Theory and its related concepts, to suggest that buildings can be conceptualized as spatiotemporal wholes, technological artefacts that mediate actions, inform social behavior while being continuously transformed by social activities (in terms of form, use and meaning). In the light of actor-network theory concepts, such as delegations, translations, inscriptions, de-inscriptions, re-inscriptions and so on, we discuss the well documented practices of  appropriation and subsequent restoration of Le Corbusier’s housing estate built in 1926 at Pessac. Besides making a case for the importance of open design and the inclusion of users’ appropriation tactics in architectural research, we also suggest a methodological toolkit to inform contemporary social housing theory, design and research.


Actor-network Theory, Social Sousing, Pessac, Script, De-inscription, Le Corbusier

To cite this article

Yiannoudes, Socrates. “Actor-networks in Le Corbusier’s Housing Project at Pessac.” Fusion Journal, no. 6, 2015.

Change and flexibility in social housing

In the 1920s and 1930s, the outburst of social housing schemes prompted some architects to adopt ideas and design techniques to make domestic spaces flexible – adaptable to changing needs and living patterns. Johannes Van den Broek’s social housing project Woningenkomplex Vroesenlaan (1934), involved a systematic approach to flexibility, including surveys of use-cycles to design the plan (with sliding partitions and fold down furniture as well as overprovision of doors) so that it would be able to change efficiently on a daily basis (Schneider and Till 65). Similarly, Maisons Loucheur (1928/29), Le Corbusier’s response to the French state funded housing program for a total of 260.000 dwellings, were conceived as prefabricated housing units for a family of up to four children able to expand their 46m2 plan to 71m2 during the 24hour daily cycle by means of embedded moveable walls and fold down furniture, thus maximizing the number of functions in the same space (Schneider and Till 61).

Of course these practices were part of the modernist functionalist design rationale, which involved scientific management techniques (in the spirit of Time and Motion studies), low cost, functional optimization and efficiency, and reflected the more general pattern of the will to order, which, in Zygmunt Bauman’s sociological theory, is considered to have been a central feature of modernity (Till 33-34). Therefore, the determinist “hard” type of flexibility (Schneider and Till 7) that these projects employed, was an extension of functionalism, because, by means of technical elements in plan, it gave architects the illusion that they can sustain and extend their control on buildings even after the period of their real responsibility, the design stage (Forty 143-144).

At the same time, the need to accommodate different types of users in social housing led to other less determinist attitudes to flexibility. What Tatjana Schneider and Jeremy Till call “soft” flexibility (7) usually meant an open plan with functionally unspecified rooms organized and connected so that they would be able to take different social uses, as in Bruno Taut’s Hufeisensiedlung housing estate (1931) (Schneider and Till 18-19, 5; Hill, Actions 37-43). Overall, as Adrian Forty suggests, on the one hand flexibility was employed to extend functionalism, and on the other to resist it; in the former instance it was regarded as a property of buildings (implemented by means of mechanical changeability of the plan), whereas in the latter as a property of spaces and the use to which they are put (Forty 148). In this case, space as an object of discourse in modernism takes a central place in the study of matters of control, regulation and time in architecture. One of the most radical and comprehensive critiques of space from such a perspective is Henri Lefebvre’s book The Production of Space. In Lefebvre’s theory, space is not a distinct category of architecture but rather a social product, caught in the activities and processes of production in any society. Lefebvre treats social space as a triad of spaces: the perceived space (involving spatial practice), the conceived space (its representations by planners, urbanists, scientists, social engineers etc.) and the space as directly lived and inhabited by the body (the representational space). Lefebvre exposed the problematic distinction, prevalent in modern capitalist society, between space as an abstract construct aligned to strategies of domination and homogenization and the lived space of users’ everyday practice, favoring qualitative difference, imagination and appropriation (Lefebvre, Production 38-39).

In this case, users are not abstract undifferentiated entities as defined in the context of orthodox modernism –having something “vaguely suspect about it,” as Lefebvre put it (362). Rather, they are active agents, bearing the potential not only to occupy space but also to appropriate and creatively re-interpret it or even misuse it (Forty 312-315; Hill, Actions 71-72). Following Lefebvre’s theory of space and his critique on functionalism, Forty goes on to argue for another kind of flexibility with political connotations: “flexibility as a political strategy” (Forty 148), i.e. a strategy against architecture, functionalist regulation and normalization techniques. As we shall see, this pertains to instances of domestic space able to absorb change, constantly escaping control, and engaging the incalculable aspects of the life of buildings in time. Through “treatments of space,” or what Michel de Certeau calls “tactics,” users manipulate, transform and at the same time resist pre-established structures of imposed order (de Certeau 121-22).

Le Corbusier’s housing project at Pessac

Since the 1960s several architects took interest in incomplete, functionally unspecified, or polyvalent (in Hertzberger’s terms) spaces in social housing projects. They designed a fixed shell or infrastructure with open spaces that the occupants could complete with their own ad hoc in-fill, according to their practical needs and cultural values, an idea exemplified in Georges Candilis and Shadrach Woods’ Nid D’Abeille and Sémiramis housing project in Casablanca (1952), and recently in Alejandro Aravena/Elemental’s Quinto Monroy housing project in Chile (2004). Yet institutional and cost factors frequently affect practices of appropriation in social housing or low class settlements. For instance, Constantinos A. Doxiadis’s industrial settlementAspra Spitia (1961 and 1964) built for the French aluminium company Pechiney and its subsidiary Aluminion of Greece at the Southern shore of Voiotia region in Greece, was always subject to the institutional control of the company, which left little room for any ad hoc alterations (Yiannoudes, Patsavos and Tsesmetzis).

Les Quartiers Modernes Fruges is an industrial housing settlement that Le Corbusier designed and built in 1926 at Pessac, near Bordeaux, for industrialist Henry Fruges. 1 The project, which expressed Le Corbusier’s vision about low-cost mass-produced housing (Le Corbusier 225-66), embodied several of his modernist principles (such as long open windows and roof gardens) and consisted of 51 housing units of 5 different types. These were the outcome of the combination and variation of a basic common module, a unit mass of 5 x 5 meters (Hsu and Shih 75-82). Since its construction local councilors and architects, and the original low-class tenants maintained a hostile attitude against the project, despite the efforts of state officials, like ministers de Monzie and Loucheur, to support the experiment. This hostility was prompted by the uncanniness of the external appearance of the houses and the lack of maintenance, combined with local conservatism and social prejudice (Boudon 14-15). Architecture theorist Henry-Russell Hitchcock regarded it as uncomfortable and impractical for its low-salaried residents, and therefore as another example of the failure of modern architecture and its concern for social matters (Huxtable 162). But regardless of the reasons behind this initial rejection, those that actually lived in the houses, very quickly started to transform and customize their spaces to better suit their practical needs and aesthetic preferences (partly owing to the fact that the houses were kept unfinished for tax reduction purposes), thus overriding Le Corbusier’s machine aesthetic and formal purity. These radical post-occupancy transformations and alterations, which were thoroughly documented in a study by Philippe Boudon published in his 1972 book Lived-In Architecture, included extensions and closing open spaces for living, changing the plan layout, replacing ribbon windows with smaller ones, adding pitched roofs, and padding and redecorating facades with new materials. Although the houses are currently being “restored” back to their original state, these initial “sabotage” tactics “against” architecture, a case of flexibility as a “political strategy,” lasted for more than 40 years (no legislation constraints prevented them) demonstrating that architecture, especially housing, can never fully control the actions of users.

Despite the fact that architectural theory dismisses such incalculable practices in favor of more “obedient” users, they cannot be considered insignificant for architectural thinking particularly if we consider that, as Boudon concluded, the project was built to be able to register subsequent change (Boudon 161). In that sense, users, instead of passive should be regarded as active and creative agents whose presence and unpredictability is as important in the formulation of architecture as that of the architect (Hill, Actions 71-72). Lefebvre, in the preface to Boudon’s book, mentions that the occupants of the project, instead of “passively” adapting to their houses, decided to live “actively” in them, adding their needs by creating difference: “They created distinctions… They introduced personal qualities. They built a differentiated social cluster” (Lefebvre, Preface to Lived-In Architecture). This points to what Lefebvre terms “differential” space; against dominating structures, homogenization and abstraction this kind of space enhances difference, and everyday life.

Thus we are led to a fundamental question: How do we account for the users’ space, especially the appropriated space, and what would be a proper methodology or theory to examine their transformative practices in specific case studies? This question naturally follows if we consider Brand’s statement that no intellectual discipline, theory or standard practice yet exists to study buildings as spatiotemporal wholes, i.e. how spaces adapt and transform in time (Brand 2-11). As we shall see, the social studies of science and technology provide useful theories and concepts, such as Actor-network theory and script analysis, to propose the possibility to see a building as a “thing,” that is, “a contested territory” of flowing transformations and complex associations, that “cannot be reduced to what is and what it means, as architectural theory has traditionally done” (Latour and Yaneva 86). Of course several humanities scholars have criticized Actor-network theory for equalizing human and non-human things within networks, eliminating humanist values like free will and intentionality. Therefore, in the following we will first examine the possibility to establish its connection with architecture using the Pessac project as a case study, and later we will come to the implications of the respective critiques.

Architecture in the framework of Actor-Network theory

Erasing essentialist notions of what counts as culture, nature, society and technology, Actor-Network Theory (ANT), initially developed by Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon in the context of the Social studies of Science and Technology, articulates a plan for the description of the structure of the processes pertaining to the construction of hybrid forms of co-existence and interaction between society, science-technology and nature. Actor-network theory attends to sociotechnical hybrid networks that override distinctions between the social and the technological, subjects and objects; in the framework of ANT, the subject-object dichotomy and the suggested passivity of the latter, is bypassed by networks of heterogeneous actors – humans and non-humans. These networks comprise complex webs of symmetrical associations between agents, so-called “actants,” which are distinguished from actors in that their status may not be human and their agency may be delegated by an actor who is usually the source of action (Latour, Missing 117).

Although the theoretical consistency and even the very name of ANT are disputed (Latour, Reassembling 9), part of its appeal seems to be its versatility and its capacity to be applied in diverse areas. Considered as a hard to grasp mode of thinking, a working method rather than a theory, ANT is used to trace relations and symmetrical interactions between agents (entities, things and people), which are considered to be nodes with no stable properties, defined only in relation to other entities (Law). Michel Callon explains: “…not a network connecting entities which are already there, but a network which configures ontologies. The agents, their dimensions, and what they are and do, all depend on the morphology of the relations in which they are involved” (Callon 185-86).

In Reassembling the Social, Latour distinguishes between the “sociology of the social,” which reduces the social to a priori definitions of what constitutes it, and a subfield of social theory he calls “sociology of associations,” in which the social depends on the results of its unstable assemblages and associations (Latour, Reassembling 1-17). In this way Latour re-introduces ANT not so much as a theory, but rather as a method to trace associations between things that are not themselves social. He explains that “[i]n situations where innovations proliferate, where group boundaries are uncertain, when the range of entities to be taken into account fluctuates, the sociology of the social is no longer able to trace actors’ new associations” (11).

This is where architecture could fit in; an ANT perspective could account for the mediating role of buildings in the complexity of associations between all involved agents either in the production, construction, renovation or use of architectural space. An ANT perspective and methodology in the context of architecture would explore the capacity of buildings to act, to form associations, to redistribute agency and redirect or facilitate the course of action (Yaneva 8-29; Gieryn 35-74; Fallan, Architecture 88). ANT overrides the instrumentalist view of technology that considers artifacts as neutral intermediaries of human actions, and instead proposes the idea of mediators, arising in the complex relations between actants, constantly modifying meanings and implementing programs of action. These are made possible by what ANT theorists, as we shall see in a moment, call delegations, inscriptions, de-inscriptions, translations and so on. Therefore, to study the transformational potential of architectural space would mean to study what transformations, i.e. mediations, it undergoes by its use, and the shifting meanings associated to these spaces; how users’ actions are constrained by space, the extent to which space is shaped and reshaped by these mediations, and the various ways in which it might be used; briefly, to study the boundary between users and space as a consequence of their interaction.

The “script” concept in the study of space

It is for the study of this in-between territory that the concept of the script and its analysis is useful. In his articleWhere are the missing masses? Latour examines how action within actor networks is negotiated between humans and artifacts, and describes how programs of actions, may be delegated from one actant to another, from written instructions or humans to artifacts and technologies: “The program of action is the set of written instructions that can be substituted by the analyst to any artifact. Now that computers exist, we are able to conceive of a text (a programming language) that is at once words and actions. How to do things with words and then turn words into things is now clear to any programmer” (Latour, Missing 176). These programs of action take the form of scripts, a term coined by Madeleine Akrich (Akrich 205-24), i.e. instruction manuals that include those visions embedded in the product for its intended use and meaning:

Designers thus define actors with specific tastes, competences, motives, aspirations, political prejudices, and the rest, and they assume that morality, technology, science, and economy will evolve in particular ways. A large part of the work of innovators is that of ‘inscribing’ this vision of (or prediction about) the world in the technical content of the new object. I will call the end product of this work a “script” or a “scenario” (Akrich 208).

Those visions and intentions are not embedded only in the physical properties of the artifact, its form, aesthetic expression and interface (which significantly echoes James Jerome Gibson’s concept of “affordances” in his ecological theory of perception in environmental psychology that was later brought into design discourse by Donald Norman), but also in its socio-technical aspects, the transformation of its symbolic, emotional, social, and cultural meaning. This translation of action from one actant to another is called inscription, transcription or encoding (Latour, Missing 176).

Analyzing scripts can be useful for the understanding of how functions, expressions and meanings between producers and users are negotiated and constructed, and also for the study of the relation between what was intended and how it was interpreted, what was inscribed onto the artifact (or the architectural space) and how it was translated by its users (Fallan, De-scribing 63). But the concept of the script in the study of architectural domestic space is useful because of its etymological versatility, as it can be modified to include those cases when users decide not to play the role ascribed to them (to subscribe) by the visions and intentions of the designer (what is inscribed onto the artifact). Instead they may choose to de-inscribe, reacting to their prescriptions, or adjusting their setting through some negotiations. As Kjetil Fallan puts it: “[t]here is always the chance that… the users misunderstand, ignore, discard, or reject the ‘instruction manual’ and define their roles and the product’s use and meaning at odds with the producer’s/designer’s intentions as conveyed through the script” (Fallan, De-scribing 63). Or as Akrich puts it: “To be sure, it may be that no actors will come forward to play the roles envisaged by the designer. Or users may define quite different roles of their own…” (Akrich 208). When the behaviors of human actors in a given scene are imagined and anticipated by those who delegate action, there is a preconceived idea about their prescribed behavior, but, as Latour argues, nothing prevents those prescribed users from behaving differently in the flesh –thus not subscribing to their anticipated behavior (Latour, Missing 161). This seems to be analogous to the gap between the alterations –the “sabotage tactics”– made by the residents of the Pessac houses and Le Corbusier’s intentions, although, as we shall see, Boudon’s closer survey shows that this discrepancy is not as clear cut as it may seem.

To account for the work that has to be done in order to minimize the gap between “built-in users” and “users in-the-flesh,” between anticipated and actual behavior, Latour coins the term pre-inscription, followed by another relevant term, re-inscription, which pertains to subsequent processes of re-designing and re-engineering the artifact, in order to take on those usages or programs of actions of artifacts that fulfill the contradictory wishes and need of humans, i.e. “their anti-programs” (Latour, Missing 161-68). While Latour in this case mentions examples of everyday behaviors and artifacts, in the context of architectural space this notion would mean either anticipating users’ actions by providing the framework, the spaciousness, to absorb the indeterminacy of everyday life, or restoring a house plan to its initial condition, re-designing and re-constructing it to closely adjust to the needs of its new inhabitants.

Both pre-inscription and re-inscription are featured in the case of Pessac. Firstly, the gap between inscription and de-inscription points to a negative task of appropriation and resistance. For instance, half of the original Corbusian “wide windows” were rebuilt narrower because the inhabitants thought of them as dysfunctional and ugly, although, as Boudon explains, a close study revealed that it was conservatism that led this particular alteration (Boudon 80-81). On the other hand, this same gap is not to be conceived only as an act of negative appropriation or social resistance on imposed order, as de Certeau would have it. Boudon concludes his book by pointing out that instead of thinking of the project as a failure, we should consider the fact that the modifications constituted a “positive and not a negative consequence of Le Corbusier’s original conception,” because the houses provided their occupants with sufficient latitude to satisfy and implement their personal needs (Boudon 161). The subsequent alterations were taken into account by the architect’s initial conception and design, while many instances of the interviews with residents revealed that they perceived the houses as open to potential conversions and capable of adapting to their needs (114-116). Le Corbusier’s standardization principles (like the standard housing unit, free unit plan and the standardization of structural components) provided a reference system of fixed co-ordinates that facilitated variation and even encouraged the alterations made by the inhabitants (114). In Boudon’s book there is a picture with a series of plans showing the different conversions discovered in one of the types of houses at Pessac, all based on one of Le Corbusier’s original plan designs. While areas for purely functional requirements (kitchen and bathroom) were designed according to minimum space requirements, standardization and functional efficiency, the other rooms were left as open as possible, and free of load-bearing walls. For Boudon it was not only the size, i.e. the spaciousness of these areas that allowed
subsequent modifications, but also the layout of the plan as well as the vague functional definition of particular living areas. An entrance hall was used by different occupants as a rest-room, bedroom, living room, office, while garages were turned into rooms, kitchens, workshops for artisans, offices, wine stores and so on (121-23). Thus, Le Corbusier’s design on the one hand involved what Latour calls conscription, the “mobilization of well-drilled and well-aligned resources to render the behavior of a human or a nonhuman predictable” (Latour, Missing Masses 178), and on the other it pre-inscribed space with the capacity to negotiate the incalculable behavior of its occupants.

Secondly, 40 years after the publication of Boudon’s study, several of the houses at Pessac underwent significant changes to reconstruct their original “authentic” state under the guidance and financial support of architects, curators, and state institutions. These practices, as Anita Aigner argues, enforced a “purifying” preservationist approach geared towards an “aesthetic reconquest” of the Pessac-estate, turning the project into an added-value product that exists as both a habitat and a heritage, a house and a museum, in order to win its struggle to acquire the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site (Aigner 85). This attempt for a return to the original, which, according to Aigner, is structured by power relations, reflects, in the spirit of Lefebvrian theory, the tension of the duality between the imposed authority of the architect, i.e. the conceived space of Le Corbusier’s initial intentions, and the reality of the lived, representational, everyday space of the inhabitants (expressed through their alterations ending in the early 1970s). It is also projected in the discrepancy between outside and inside that Boudon observed throughout his research, namely the conflicting co-existence of the exterior that was judged in terms of aesthetic preference, and the interior as something that people live in (Boudon 112-113). Aigner discusses the social conflict in the complex intertwining between the ad-hoc interventions of the ordinary residents, in ANT terms their de-inscriptions, and the institutional normative practices of the preservationist community, the re-inscriptions. We would add that these practices aim at resisting the initial residents’ anti-programs, disciplining their “bad taste” as Aigner (ironically) puts it, who would not ascribe to the dominating preservationist attitude (Aigner 79).

But these complex processes of preservation are only partial; Latour concludes that some sections of the programs of action “are endowed to parts of humans, while other sections are entrusted to parts of nonhumans” (Latour, Missing 174). Despite intentions, the Pessac houses continue to be a territory of dispute between the residents that are resistant and indifferent to preservation, and those committed to the “heritage regime” (Aigner 85). The Pessac estate along with its social, cultural and political practices is therefore a sociotechnical assemblage of intertwined facts and artefacts, in Latour’s words, a “trajectory of the front line between programs and anti-programs (Latour, Missing 175).

Methodological issues

As discussed, ANT theorists are concerned with heterogeneous networks characterized by flat symmetrical associations and interchangeable actions and agencies. This emphasis on associations has subjected ANT to several critiques mainly because the theory fails to account for the fact that humans, unlike things, are capable of intentions and can pursue their own interests. Scholars like Andrew Pickering, for instance, have criticized the concept of symmetry suggested in ANT; although he admits that action and agency are emergent attributes of networks in which humans and nonhumans interact, the relations of humans/nonhumans and the very construction of networks relies on the motivational intentions of human actors (Pickering 559–89; See also Winner 362–78) Other critics have noted that the theory is blind to irrationality and symbolism (Vandenberghe 55–67), and also that it is entirely descriptive and fails to provide explanations for the social, cultural and historical context that may account for what shapes and differentiates networks – who is able or unable to partake in actor-networks depending on power, class, race or gender (Bloor 81–112; Collins and Yearley 301–26; Whittle and Spicer 611–29).

Inscriptions and de-inscriptions at the Pessac estate are not equally distributed among its social actors and material artefacts. Boudon explained that several social and class factors, as well as factors pertaining to the physical position of the houses and their symbolic values played a role in the interventions made by the inhabitants (Boudon 49). The symbolic value and meaning that is usually attached to universal housing elements like the roof, were evoked in Boudons’ research, because, some of the tenants, although admitted making good use of their flat terraces, at the same time they valued houses with pitched –“proper”– roofs, as opposed to Le Corbusier’s cheap solution (84). To place these roofless, alien houses within a meaningful context, tenants referred to the Quartiers Modernes Frugès as “the Morrocan district,” because it reminded of a colonial style architecture (89-90). Although, as Boudon explained, in general it was very difficult to establish the precise reasons why occupants made particular conversions (113), the alterations were symptomatic of a general, frequent and regular tendency of the residents of the Bordeaux region to convert their traditional homes by extending them with back additions (16-17). In fact many alterations brought the houses in line with the regional houses of Bordeaux; the erection of a partition wall, for instance, created an entrance corridor that was the essential feature of those traditional houses (91). This culturally determined practice of the tenants went along another observation of social significance. Although Boudon assumed that the occupants converted their houses to personalize and differentiate them from the group, he eventually discovered that extensive alterations were carried out mostly on houses that had distinctive qualities, especially those situated at the corners of streets that seemed not to belong to the settlement or a particular group of houses (which were usually occupied by less sociable, secluded individuals) (152-55).

The data, that we addressed in this paper, about the alterations of the estate, come from a secondary source, namely the documentation of Boudon’s research. This inevitably creates problems with the very methodology we suggested to interpret the practices of appropriation at Pessac in the first place, because they are affected by the mediating role of the researcher and his contingent judgment calls, research tactics, and limitations. For instance, as Boudon noted, from the 174 people living at Pessac only 40 were interviewed, while the nationwide press reports of Le Corbusier’s death that took place before the period that the research was conducted, as well as the personal acquaintances of occupants with the architect, may have affected several of the responses (Boudon 52-53). Thus, the researcher’s subjective calls and in-situ constraints may affect decisions about what is and what is not important in the network formation, which weakens the potential of ANT to provide sufficient explanations of social processes (Amsterdamska 495-504). Therefore, a more advanced research project on these grounds should involve further case studies and in-situ research; as Latour has explained, an ANT methodology means “following the actors” closely at the places where socio-technical networks come into being and tracing the complex relationships and associations between heterogeneous actors –which is the main issue that is there for ANT (Latour, Reassembling 12). But the very application of the methodological toolkit provided by ANT that we have addressed in this paper points to some general conclusions pertaining to social housing.


We have only begun to examine the potential application of ANT theory and concepts for the study and theoretical contextualization of the transformative capacity of space in social housing. Our method included the exploration of the practices of appropriation and restoration that were observed and documented at the Pessac estate along and through actor-network theory concepts such as the script and its related derivatives.

In the framework of ANT, the way we conceptualize architecture changes. To blend social housing research with actor-network theory concepts and methods, architecture should be considered as another technological artefact (instead of a functionalist machine for living in) associated to social behaviors. In the context of this socio-technical network, architects and researchers would be able to uncover its mechanisms; how delegations of actions, translations, inscriptions and de-inscriptions are registered, how material artefacts and social facts interact, and how programs of action and anti-programs come together in the processes of designing, building, inhabiting and renovating social housing schemes.

As we saw, because of the structural and spatial “openness” of the houses, conversions in the Pessac houses were not totally unanticipated. Of course, Le Corbusier had never imagined the changes that took place at Pessac – consider that his motto for a functional architecture was a “house-as-a-machine” properly fitted to human needs. But the documentation provided by Boudon shows that Le Corbusier’s proclaimed five key points on modern architecture –wide windows, open façades, stilts, roof gardens and free plan – were the very origins of those alterations; windows shortened, roofs added on the flat terraces, the area beneath the stilts converted into rooms and the free plan provided the spaciousness for internal additions and modifications (Boudon 123). But, as we saw, not all houses were converted and the conversions themselves had a certain cultural and social significance. For instance, those houses that seemed not to belong to a group, were more prone to alterations. The sense of isolation on the one hand, and of being part of a community on the other, affected the degree of conversion, and hence the de-inscriptions. At the same time, the alterations that were carried out in the interiors and the exteriors cannot be evaluated in the same terms. As discussed, the exterior form was judged in terms of aesthetic preference and preconceived images. On the other hand, tenants judged more positively the interiors because they regarded them as functionally open to alterations. Interior conversions were sometimes in line with the layout of the existing regional traditional houses at Bordeaux. Thus, the gap between inscriptions and de-inscriptions at the Pessac estate cannot be examined outside the cultural and social factors that were implicated in its transformation.

But the fact that the houses were actually converted within the coordinates of Le Corbusier’s design shows a discrepancy between his theoretical intentions and his actual buildings. Thus, our investigation revealed a tension like that between the two types of spaces of Actor-network theory proposed by Jonathan Murdoch; the stable “spaces of prescription” –organization, regulation, and control– and the “spaces of negotiation” –transience, multiplicity, and autonomy– which are always intertwined and flowing into each other, configured by actions and associations within networks (Murdoch 357-374). In the light of ANT, domestic spaces in social housing are territories of conflicting relations, involving tensions and interactions between the conceived and the lived. Therefore, an ANT methodology can help architects and theorists approach this problem with illuminating concepts and methodological tools to override these traditional and well-established dualisms.


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About the Author

Socrates Yiannoudes, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in architectural design at the Technical University of Crete, School of Architecture. His research interest focuses on the interrelations between digital culture and architecture as well as on the applications of science and technology studies in architectural research. He is currently writing a book on architecture, cybernetics and adaptation to be published by Routledge in 2016.

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