There is a Japanese horror movie called Hausu (1977) that as well as being a completely deranged, psychedelic stylized sweet comedy gore-fest is also the most eloquent description of the dark psychology that lurks in architectures unconscious.
Even if it was important, I couldn’t really explain the plot, obscured, as it is by nutty cinematography a lack of subtitles. But this is what seems to happen: a group of schoolgirls, each of them representing a particular quality – Gorgeous (fashion conscious) and her friends Fantasy (daydreamer), KungFu (good at kung fu, imaginatively), Prof (nerdy), Sweet (who likes to clean), Mac (who eats a lot), and Melody (musical) head off to stay at Gorgeous’s aunts house in the country. But the aunt is actually a ghost and the house is possessed (there is something to do with a cat called Snowflake that seems to be important too as her eyes flash with unnatural green sparks). One by one, in bizarre ways, the girls disappear. Overeater Mac has her head replaced by a watermelon. Melody is devoured by a piano. Doors and windows slam shut by themselves, then a chandelier sucks one up and spits out her limbs. Mirrors fracture, turning their reflections first into vampires, then consumed by fire (or perhaps turned into glass). Another is attacked by frenzied bedding in a whirling dervish of duvet and pillow. Giant disembodied eyes and mouths take the place of windows and doors as the house morphs into the ghostly aunt. A clock spurts out blood until the house is flooded, drowning another girl. And all the while crazy jump cuts, surreal animations and inventive special effects do their utmost to disorientate the reeling viewer.
Despite its phantasmagorical fairytale nature, Hausu tells us something important about the nature of architecture that we don’t usually find in the magazines and journals that chronicle the profession: that architecture is as much physiological as it is physical.
All architecture originates benignly, constructed to generate varieties of goodness: social, economic, useful, the goodness of beauty and so on. But in the real world, goodness is a slippery idea. Look under a utopia, and you’ll see a colony of seething dystopias. When that much human ego projected at so large a scale into the world it is inevitable that other, more complex parts of our physic apparatus are also projected.
Architecture takes a series of abstract thoughts, ambitions and cultural ambitions and projects them into physical realties. The design process has a clear, linear logic: stage-by-stage to practical completion. In Freudian terms, we might categorise this part of the design process as the ego. These activities are moderated by the morality of the super ego – which we might think of as architectural position, ideology or morality on the one hand but perhaps also the legislation which set parameters of safety and so on. But for all its conscious control, architecture simultaneously casts unconscious shadows into the world – what we might call the architectural “id”.
Architectures worldview is unrelentingly optimistic. There is no hint of neuroses in the glossy photographs and cleanly structured drawings that the profession uses to document their activities and construct their narratives. Instead we must turn to genres like horror and sci fi to see what Freud described as the ‘cauldron of seething excitations’.
In ‘The Perverts Guide To The Cinema’, Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher uses psychoanalysis as a tool to explore the ways in which cinema constructs its own realties. He describes the house in Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ as a representation of Norman Bates’ psychology. Zizek explores the section of the house as a kind of Freudian spatiality. The first floor, from which Bates imagines hearing his mothers hectoring voice represents his super ego – his moral conscience that criticises and prohibits his drives, fantasies, feelings, and actions. The ground floor is his ego, while the cellar is a physical manifestation of his id – the site of Bates unchecked unconscious. Here, architecture is understood through the filters of both cinema and psychoanalysis. Suddenly, Zizeks insight illuminates an understanding of domestic architecture as the intersection of moral, social and psychological conditions. In this manner, all architecture could be understood as an unresolved conflict of morality and desire.
Mies argued that “architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space”. Horror as a genre is a way of interrogating the complications of that spatialised will, a ways of examining the submerged narratives of fear and loathing, the paranoia and neurosis that lurk beneath architectures apparent conscious logics.
Horror films put architecture on the analyst’s couch. Here, architecture articulates its repressed dreams and verbalizes its fantasies. That’s why writers like Poe and Ballard or directors like Hitchcock and Sam Raimi – and, yes, even plot-challenged crazed Japanese B-movies with no subtitles and lunatic special effects – are just as important as Pevsner, Jencks, Frampton et al. This doubly rich cultural diet might just be the means to address the psychosis that lurks at the heart of architecture.