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What is heterotopia?

There are also, probably in every culture, in every civilization, real places - places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society - which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted. Places of this kind are outside of all places, even though it may be possible to indicate their location in reality. Foucault, M. (1984). Of other spaces, translated by J Miskowiec, Architecture /Mouvement/ Continuité.

Heterotopia is about the difference of one real place from all other places in a certain culture. Saldanha, A. (2006). Heterotopia and Structuralism. Environment and Planning A 40, 2080–2096.

A place between the real-life condition and the utopic state. Isiklilar, D. (2016). Heterotopic Practice of Space: Taksim Gezi Park Revisited.

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Urban heterotopias are “specialized patches, acting as testbeds of change” (p. 9), they bottle up that change in spatial pockets so “urban actors can conduct concrete utopian experiments without endangering the established disequilibrium of the larger system”. Shane, D. G. (2005). Recombinant Urbanism: Conceptual Modeling in Architecture, Urban Design and City Theory.

Principles of Heterotopia by Foucault (1984)

  1. There is probably not a single culture in the world that fails to constitute heterotopias. That is a constant of every human group. But the heterotopias obviously take quite varied forms, and perhaps no one absolutely universal form of heterotopia would be found.

    • Crisis Heterotopias (primitive societies): There are privileged or sacred or forbidden places, reserved for individuals who are, in relation to society and to the human environment in which they live, in a state of crisis: adolescents, menstruating women, pregnant women, the elderly, etc.

    • Heterotopias of Deviation (replaced crisis heterotopias today): Those in which individuals whose behavior is deviant in relation to the required mean or norm are placed. Cases of this are rest homes and psychiatric hospitals, and of course prisons, and one should perhaps add retirement homes that are, as it were, on the borderline between the heterotopia of crisis and the heterotopia of deviation since, after all, old age is a crisis, but is also a deviation since in our society where leisure is the rule, idleness is a sort of deviation.

  2. A society, as its history unfolds, can make an existing heterotopia function in a very different fashion; for each heterotopia has a precise and determined function within a society and the same heterotopia can, according to the synchrony of the culture in which it occurs, have one function or another. Example: Cemetery.

  3. The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible. Example: Cinema, theatre, garden.

  4. Heterotopias are most often linked to slices in time—which is to say that they open onto what might be termed, for the sake of symmetry, heterochronies. The idea of accumulating everything, of establishing a sort of general archive, the will to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, the idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages, the project of organizing in this way a sort of perpetual and indefinite accumulation of time in an immobile place, this whole idea belongs to our modernity. The museum and the library are heterotopias that are proper to western culture of the nineteenth century. Example: Cemetery, museum, library.

  5. Heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable. Example: Prison, the hammin of the Moslems, Scandinavian saunas.

  6. They have a function in relation to all the space that remains. This function unfolds between two extreme poles. Either their role is to create a space of illusion that exposes every real space, all the sites inside of which human life is partitioned, as still more illusory. Or else, on the contrary, their role is to create a space that is other, another real space, as perfect, as meticulous, as well arranged as ours is messy, ill constructed, and jumbled. Example: Puritan societies, Jesuit colonies that were founded in South America.