Meredith TenHoor, Care Beyond Biopolitics, e-flux Architecture, May 2022
What would it mean to design buildings that exceed the economic accountings of liberal biopolitics, that instead offer an entirely different rationale for supporting health? In the years that Michel Foucault conceptualized the term biopolitics, he was part of a constellation of researchers and architects who developed care praxes that defined the value of life and its maintenance through a desire-based calculus. The welfare state institutions of architect Nicole Sonolet in particular—mental hospitals, public housing complexes, and new village typologies built mainly in postwar France and postcolonial Algeria from the 1950s to the 1980s—were designed not only to support, but to center the needs of people often excluded from design processes. Sonolet’s mental health centers for residents of Paris’s 13th arrondissement in particular were key projects for discovering a design practice tied to the provision of care for its own sake.
Some of CERFI’s funding was also funneled to Michel Foucault. His 1973–1974 research seminar “Recherche sur l’institution hospitalière à la fin du XVIIIe siècle, généalogie des équipements collectifs” (“Research on the Institution of the Hospital at the End of the Eighteenth Century: Genealogy of Public Amenities”), was partially funded by the group, and it was in the course of this seminar—and conversations with architects and architectural historians (though not Sonolet)—that he developed the term biopolitics. Seminar participants—Blandine Barret-Kriegel, the architects Bruno Fortier and François Béguin, and Foucault’s niece Anne Thalamy—analyzed architectural plans, medical proclamations, and state records in order to elaborate a history of the belief that architecture was one of several dispositifs or apparatuses capable of producing health-effects in the body of the population.