Hidden in Plain Sight: An Approach from Within

Andrew Milligan, Roderick Adams, Nigel Bruce-Simpkins, Louise Ritchie

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


Andy Milligan - DJCAD School of Art & Design Chairs Statement - Conference Round Table- Few devices lend themselves to debates on architecture and the collective city than the door. Signifying ‘dual phenomena’ (Teyssot,2011) of outer/inner, public/private interdependencies, simultaneously present and absent, the door is hidden in plain sight, often absent in urban discourse yet saturated with metaphorical, psychoanalytical and symbolic connotations. This porous architecture of passage is an outward reminder of transition between private unconscious realms, individual and collective life forming tensions between the outside and the inside (Zumthor, 2006). In Atget’s photographs the doorway is conceived as ‘a meeting ground between domestic and civil life, the innermost plane of the private person’s public face.’ (Macfarlane, 2010]. Its physical and metaphysical qualities hint at duality and liminality (Van Eyck, 1960) suggesting new digital and physical mediation between interior, door and the city. Set against the city, the door’s ubiquity and human scale suggests the true face of any city is revealed not in its outer materiality but in ‘the sharp elevations of the city’s inner strongholds.’ (Benjamin, 1999). As the site of social / service exchanges, political encounters, self-expression and occasional homeless sanctuary, the door is used, as boundary device and a stage-set, to critically re-evaluate the city from a distinctly interiorised trajectory. This urban amalgam, often perceived as a place and object, is shaped by history, politics and its topography, as in Geddes’s Valley Model or Howard’s Garden City, whose vertical skyline and horizontal planes are determined by planning nodes, flows, patterns and vistas. This paper considers the city from different flows, planes and vistas using the door as a ‘plane in which the world reverses itself...’ (Bourdieu, 1977). The inside is presented as an origin point for discussing the city and posits that we do not arrive in the city until we arrive at the door. Participants: Dr Rod Adams, University of Northumbria School of Design Provocation 1 – The Expansive Threshold This round table takes the position that the door is fundamental to all Architecture and Design practice. Not necessarily in its physicality, but in the inclusiveness and diversity it offers. This round table challenges the nature of the door and further expands the idea of practices using the door as an optic which examines and moves through different spatial territory. This provocation entitled “Expansive Practice” situates the door using three inclusive forms of discussion that expand philosophical, theoretical and practical treatments of space. The three elements are: City Life (philosophical) – Provocate the City as a series of boundary lines and a place that is enclosed by entry (door, access, opening, gateway, ingress). The city is portrayed as a metaphorical doorway leading inside. Using the door, the city is scaled as a series of gateways providing access to the plazas, squares and urban spaces, reducing to the individualism of a domestic space, concluding with a detailed ‘handshake’ by the door handle (Pallasmaa 2012). The Human Dualities of Space (Theoretical) - Consider the exterior facing towards the interior. Contemplate the inside looking outwardly and provocate how the practices of design and architecture consider the duality, proximity and synchronization of the human and interior ‘vessels’ in space (Sloterdijk, 2011). Interior Design Practice (Practical) - The provocation will continue by placing the door amongst (entry, openings, “line of sight” and closure) the other elements of the interior and the architecture, not as a separator, but as a binding agent harnessing the architectural membrane and inside surfaces, opening vistas and movement into, through and over the interior. The door expands the practices of the spatial disciplines, developing seams of experience that cohere and unite space, improving the contextual thresholds of the city (Unwin 2007). By using differing scales and viewpoints, the place of the door in practice is critically re-evaluated from outside the city through to a distinctly ‘interiorised” perspective that frames the transitions between the liminal, poetic and digital considerations of space and place. Nigel Bruce Simpkins - School of Architecture- University of Portsmouth Provocation 2 –Theoretical Thresholds To build is to create an interior, one that lies concealed behind the door, that ubiquitous part of the architectural exterior that masks its inner opposite. Through its simultaneous absence and presence, the door provides a metaphor for the connection and separation of individual and collective bodies, the inner and outer self. This dialectical relationship presents the collective city from its other side, the outer constituted from its within, and the inner from its beyond. (Bachelard 1994). The door presents the intersection between two conditions, the outer face of collective life and the inner face of self. The door performs the distinction between front and backstage (Goffman 1978) while expressing its own performativity. The door is one example of a privileged object, both transitory and limiting, that opens to the possibility of space that awaits and brings space to an end. Responsive directly to the body, the door permits and prevents corporeal movement in ways that also act symbolically. The body is a key to understanding the shift that occurs on entering or leaving a building, in which the threshold acts figuratively as a pivot through which ‘the world is reversed.’ (Bourdieu 1977). Performing the social life of decorum and manners, the door is also a theatrical device conjured up in settings that mirror everyday life. Represented in dramatic performance to create and reinforce social hierarchy, the door has been described as ‘the most profound technological and scenographic development in the history of theatre.’(Aronson 2004) Digital culture has hastened the erosion of division between inside and outside, taking ‘inside’ beyond the envelope and ‘outside’ within. In the context of dissolving interior boundaries and its own dematerialization, the door remains a powerful metaphor. This paper argues for the possibility of understanding the inner condition that architecture hides through a theoretical reading of its thresholds. ‘The door’, said Bachelard ‘is an entire cosmos of the half-open... the very origin of a daydream that accumulates desires and temptations ... to open up the ultimate depths of being’. (Aronson 2004) Louise Ritchie, DJCAD University of Dundee Provocation 3 –Material Thresholds between States This provocation takes an artistic stance to reflect on the sequential encounters with multiple doors along a commuter’s journey, between spaces and between cities. Using Rilke’s notion of the Dinggedichte (thing-poem) to express another way to view the door as an object or portal that ‘does not come before the mind’s eye as a mere isolated object, but as a phenomenon whose meaning is revealed through the manner in which it takes part in a larger context.’ (Fischer 2015) The door as an object has material properties that express something of its inherent substance but also absorbs the patina or captures the interaction between the individual and the collective. If we consider this in the context of Imponderabilia by Marina Abramovic and Ulay in 1977; the threshold is occupied by two naked bodies that invites an awkward or perhaps erotic passage for the active participants. This extreme and close proximity is not unlike that of the commuter caught between strangers united only by the stops along the way. The forced intimacy and breaking of personal boundaries although largely consensual, are often unsettling. The larger context suggested by Rilke, offers an expanded view of the door and threshold as a shared experience that transports individuals between spaces, between cities, between interior and exterior states both physical and psychological, revealing new and familiar places. These interconnected portals can operate as a sequential encounter of multiple doors along a journey or accessed as a series of considered or random improvisations with a myriad of potential entrance and exit points. Goethe states that the ‘threshold is the expectation’ (Bell 2016) and from that I offer that they exist not simply to access one place from another but offer through ritual or performative actions, possibilities for experience, escape and refuge.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationArchitecture and Collective Life
Subtitle of host publication16th Architectural Humanities Research Association Conference AHRA 2019 Conference
PublisherArchitectural Humanities Research Association
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019
EventArchitecture & Collective Life: The Annual Architectural Humanities Research Association [AHRA] International Conference - University of Dundee, Dundee, United Kingdom
Duration: 21 Nov 201923 Nov 2019


ConferenceArchitecture & Collective Life
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • door
  • threshold
  • boundary
  • city
  • collective


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