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Occupy porosity

By Joseph Gelfer and Richard Goodwin - posted Thursday, 5 April 2012

Richard Goodwin is an artist, architect and academic based in both his own practice and the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales. His new book, Porosity: The Architecture of Invagination (RMIT University Press) troubles the distinction between public and private space. As I read the book it occurred to me that Goodwin's navigation of space was a kind of artistic and theoretical rendering of what we have been actively seeing around the world in the Occupy movement. I spoke with Richard to understand more about porosity and how it could be mobilised in political activism.

Joseph: In a nutshell, what does Porosity mean to you?

Richard: Porosity: The Architecture of Invagination seeks to do two major things. The first is to prove that types of public space exist within the private spaces of the city and to index or comparatively score them for analysis. This is the "quasi science" of Porosity represented as a percentage for each building and calibrated for each city. The second is to use these forms to tell us, as architects and urban planners, what buildings themselves desire to do next, i.e., the licensed or approved creation of parasitic connections, which link the buildings or extend them beyond current planning restrictions. These types of transformations will often be linked with refurbishment and the updating of technologies, with urban agriculture and with power generation.


The additional public space, often in spaces elevated above the ground, will be subsidised by allowing for a proportion of commercial activity, to be determined by planners and offset against the advantages of a more three dimensional city public space. Important to this complex sharing of internal access systems is the possibility of the public use of tower toilets, which exist along the networked journey.

Via this mechanism and theory, the natural Porosity of cities, now under threat due to "terrorism" and capitalism's tendency towards "gated communities", is encouraged. The expansion of public space via these connections, prejudices social construction and measures the capitalist equation by testing its boundaries. This revolution in city thinking drives and creates architecture and urban planning from the inside. Hence the title Porosity: The Architecture of Invagination. The phallocentric modernist city, with its grid of towers surrounded by parks, is reconfigured and expanded through interstitial interventions.

Joseph: How might Porosity be applied to political activism such as the Occupy movement?

Richard: Occupy uses the device of claiming the right to navigate the "access" territory (corridors, lifts and foyers, etc.) of city buildings as a foot in the door to ownership of the city as a social construction. This space includes the parks and foyers inhabited by the Occupy movement in New York's Wall Street area recently, and Melbourne's city precinct.

To remain static within these spaces of access is to inhabit them, and to inhabit them is to protest against the proprieties of the city and its politics.

Once people stop moving within the machine of the city, they start to talk to each other, to argue and debate. To echo Vito Acconci, they re-insert to Town Square. In 1789 they manned the barricades in Paris. This static rather than nomadic action is radical in the extreme, but familiar. And it lacks an overarching idea. Let's say idea instead of ideology.


Once static, the mobile phones are still in action, but the headphones come off-just look at the footage from Cairo recently. People need to talk and to organise. They want collective ownership. Porosity is ownership. They want to have their say in the legislative control of capitalism beyond voting once every three or four years-or they want democracy or a type of it.

The revolution is the same revolution that created democracy, communism, fascism and so on. Firstly, like Occupy and every other revolution, it is about Porosity, or the lack of it, in their lives. Occupy has no other idea than architecture and technology itself, which makes it interesting within the typology of revolutions. Occupy and Porosity therefore combine in a desire for architecture to become invisible or porous and transparent. They also unite in their desire to make technology "second nature", ubiquitous and enabling but not part of the apparatus of control, and therefore not "first nature" as it sometimes seems to be.

Porosity maintains open movement and access, and a sharing of the sewer and amenities-that is the real communion of the city. Occupy should maintain its demands on the city but keep moving, stopping only for short rests overnight, building its caravan into an endless search for space and conversation which cannot be stopped. This way both it and Porosity, as an idea, will succeed in its conversation with capitalism and all other systems.

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About the Authors

Joseph Gelfer is a coach and researcher whose books include "Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy" and "2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse." His latest book is "Masculinities in a Global Era", published in Springer's International and Cultural Psychology series. More information at

Richard Goodwin is an artist, architect and Professor at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales.

Other articles by these Authors

All articles by Joseph Gelfer
All articles by Richard Goodwin

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