Conceptual Cluster 4: The Theory Tool Box

by bradyburroughs



A watermark is 1) a mark indicating the height to which water has risen, 2) a marking in paper resulting from differences in thickness usually produced by pressure of a projecting design in the mold or on a processing roll and visible when the paper is held up to the light (Merriam Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary). Both definitions speak of matter imprinting itself on or into another matter. The first indicates perhaps a cyclical or repetitive process of water rising and falling, leaving a trace. I associate these with structural or institutional norms on a larger scale. The latter hints at a calculated or designed process, where the trace is much more intentional, and could perhaps represent a more individual scale of intention and effect.

I’ve used the word Watermark as the working title for my proposed project, which I situate within the world of critical theories that Jane Rendell describes as “…forms of knowledge which are ‘reflective’ rather than ‘objectifying’ and take into account their own procedures and methods; they aim neither to prove a hypothesis nor prescribe a particular methodology or solution to a problem but to offer self-reflective modes of thought that seek to change the world.” (Rendell, 2011) Watermark has functioned as a metaphor for the inscription of norms in the things, spaces and places we inhabit, and in turn how these inscriptions settle into our bodies and affect the way we think about ourselves. Just as a watermark is only visible when a sheet of paper is held up to the light, so do these inscribed norms become apparent only when we look closely and critically at the built environment that surrounds us. So, part of the project is making these processes and traces visible, while the other part is to instigate new intentional processes. Although, I think watermark may have served its purpose, and a much more fluid model will soon need to replace it.

I am interested in suggesting other ways of approaching architecture that can perhaps change the way we think about space and the way we think about ourselves. Although I appreciate the “setting out” of the modes and matters of feminist architecture and even recognize my position within the feminist/interdisciplinary/performative/critical writing practices, Jane Rendell discusses, I question her use of the term “spatial” rather than “architectural” in critical spatial practice to expand her field of discussion. I choose strategically to remain focused on “architecture” in order to expand the field itself, as I see power located in this term that is perhaps lost in the shift toward the term “space”. Just as Rendell points out in the conclusion of her text, that references to feminism must be made clear, in order not to lose its political and oppositional potential, I don’t think we can afford to give up “architecture”, if the intention is to change it. Otherwise, we risk being relegated to the realm of ‘space’ while the bastion of architecture remains unchanged. The traces in the watermark are ingrained into the very material, so if I want to change the watermark (in the first or the second sense), I must re-make the material itself.