Territory versus Territory

A positive review of the recent AD Territory, is a good excuse to further explore recent iterations of the “territory” concept and its relations to earlier ideas.

The theme of Territory appears to be moving through several publications these days, but with many different variations rooted in earlier uses of the term. For example, Foucault’s notion of territory as the site of state power (“governmentality”) is explored in the book Territories, Camps and Islands by the KunstWerk group out of Berlin. In this model territory takes on a Foucauldian (or Agamben) literalness, where territory equals the space of government in the “outland” of cities and nations. Here territory has a conspiratorial, vanguard nature. More architectural is Oase magazine’s recent theme issue devoted to Vittorio Gregotti’s notion of Territory. Gregotti’s mid-1960s concept emerged from the city/territory debates of post-war Italians (bits of it have been translated into English, here and here). Gregotti extended Ernesto Rogers concept of “preexisting conditions” and Rossi’s notion of the “Architecture of the City” to the regions surrounding expanding cities. Here Territory is the entire pre-existing realm in which human constructs must be situated (eg. notions of “site” or “place”) – like a vast geography made visible through architecture.

The idea of territory found in the Territory issue of AD certainly draws on the Foucauldian concept of territory as a site of management. But it’s closest to Antoine Picon’s concept of Territory, outlined in his book on 18th century French architects and engineers; and it relates a bit to Manuel Sola-Morales concept of Territory, outlined in his late-1970s issue of Lotus on the planned manipulation of the newly independent Catalonian territory (though still a bit related to Gregotti). Within Picon’s work in particular, territory is an active process (more than a thing or locale) in which nature is under a constant state of transformability via human constructions within and outside it. For Picon, this is achieved via a dialectical relation between objects and representations (eg. bridges and maps). This notion of territory as a representational and material project provides us with a less easily romanticized and ultimately more robust concept than many of its earlier iterations.


  1. m

    I have to make a small comment, Catalonia is not, was not, independent (in the time Manuel Solá-Morales wrote)…maybe it will be in the future…
    I have to say I agree with everything you say.
    About the territory, in the words of Iñaki Abalos, it is also something seen from “bird’s eye view”, something “abstract with a “scientificist” will in which the action areas are well defined” and should I say, the object of urban planning.
    He compares it with the concept of “landscape” of which he says, is more related to a human eye level view and plasticity.
    (“Atlas Pintoresco.Vol. 1: el observatorio” Abalos,I ( 2005) Ed GG)
    Great blog, by the way…

    • dlgissen

      Thanks for visiting; the Abalos concept is very close to some of Picon’s ideas; and I like your comment about it as a representational concept (versus immersive experience in the case of either landscape or environment). As for my quote about Catalonia, apologies: I did not mean independent, as in completely autonomous government from Spain. In Sola-Morales’ intro in Lotus, he states that the Territory issue was a response to the statutes of autonomy of Catalonia which were eventually passed in 1979 – right? This makes Catalonia one of Spain’s Autonomous “Communities”; For me, it’s not entirely clear to me what that entails in terms of governance, but I understand that Catalonia is not separate in any complete sense.

      • m

        I´m sorry, I did not mean to be picky. Yes, Catalonia is an autonomous community, which means that in terms of governance, they have the competence (and not the central government) in some matters, such as the education system, tax collecting, autonomous police, health care system and of course, territorial planing. Territorial planning has, as I see it, such a political nature, that it may lead to grave disagreements, interest conflicts and as in my community (basque country) to still not have aproved the general guidelines or the territorial model. Is it more interesting to plan and develop the territory as to strengthen the relationship with Madrid? Or Europe, via France? Or the surroundig autonomous communities? Or our own intracommunity development? Or is it more adequate to address the territorial developement with an enviromental point of view, taking into account that “nature”, or “natural” landscape for that matter, does not know of borders…And if we mix up the political and economical interests, with a deep national identity disagreement, with a pinch of terrorist activity and let´s not forget the complicated geomorphology…we have a slight problem of not very transparent and improvised decision-making in terms of territory management. Which in turn leaves very profound antropic traces for ages in our environment.

      • dlgissen

        Excellent points; this brings the discussion back to the big, important issues. Thank you.

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