Juan Barcia Mas
The Surface of Capital

In the same way that Georges Bataille identifies cathedrals and palaces as signifiers of a divine order imposed by a ruling elite to the silent masses, the palatial edifices along Thurgauerstrasse signify the rule of profit, as well as its momentary decay. They are Palaces of Capital. The vast area strategically situated between the city center and the airport drew the atention of constructors and investors in the 1980s, which intended to establish a glamourous and highly innovative business center. In the following years, the immense edifices where erected with highly representative facades and interiors and extremely expensive materials. However, today almost all of them experience high vacancy rates, with an average vacancy of 25%.

Particular attention should be drawn to the entrance situations, the lobbies and the atriums, which become the major settings for representation as well as for behaviour control. Although these interiors are commonly perceived as spaces for the public, which embody the ideal of individual freedom, there are certain actions that are implicitely not allowed to happen inside of them and others that are encouraged. Through a specific choice of materials and surfaces and through the typological analogy they make to other spaces, the visitor recognises a certain set of rules and behaves accordingly in a very specific way, that is expected from him.

The surfaces in the capitalistic space of representation have a common denominator: They are clean, shiny, shimmering and reflecting. With their immaculate and highly hygienic surface treatments, they prevent the visitor of interacting with them, since every minimal presence of dirt or organic matter will be noticeable at first sight. In order for them not to show any kind of dirt, of usage or aging, there is a considerable effort invested into their maintenance.

Adapting the building to new uses and programs requires a subversion of the old aesthetical system and material semiotics. However, the aim is not to propose a new aesthetic, but rather to provide a stage for action, in which revolutionary activities may take place. Hannah Arendt distinguishes in “The Human Condition” between two types of experience: behaviour and action. Whereas the former relates to the social code in domestic situations, the latter is its empowered version, the individual’s true experience of taking decisions and appearing as such in public space.

By implementing the programs of the planned developements for the other side of the street, such as a school and housing units, as well as some other programs related to leisure and free time, the project shows the ability of the remnant office buildings of hosting these new functions and therefore the unnecesssariness of the new constructions. The main focus of the project is the way in which these new programms would stress and affect the immaculate spaces of the atriums and foyers, as well as their materials, allowing for appropriation, interaction and new actions to take place in them. The meanings of these interior spaces would then be shifted and the found behaviour codes disrupted, allowing for them to become true spaces for the public and stages for action. Their surfaces and materials would then be appropriated and would thereby loose their shininess, and would start to show age, traces of human use and injury.