Symposium Ideal Spaces

Palazzo Mora, Venice, Italy
19 – 21 September 2016

The symposium’s overall aim is to work out different perspectives of, and upon ideal spaces today, referring to the notion of ‘ideal’ as something both imagined and perfected. Seen in this respect, an ideal space is a one that we imagine, as a space, and on the other hand, a one that we are longing for, as a space a meliorated, optimized, if not utopian.

Taking these two dimensions of meaning belonging to the very notion of an ideal space, we can translate Lefebvre’s basic distinction in representations of space and representational spaces for our purposes of investigating perspectives. It is about the ways of how spaces desired for as ‘ideal’ ones get represented, as a space; and what these spaces represent, too in their symbolical terms of meaning. What they are standing for directly by intention – what they shall represent – and indirectly, so to say unwillingly: what they actually present. Which meanings they are also conveying next to their intended message, in terms of values, social practices, cultural codes and last but not least, in terms of a spatial understanding underlying all this.

To refer to another distinction, if space is both an issue imagined and constructed, in the final, it is about the relations between ‘inner’ images we have about ideal spaces, and their visible appearance, as ‘outer’ images presenting them as constructions. And in these regards, the main focus of attention should lie on the implicit, often hidden assumptions underlying both, in terms of an unthought known ( Bollas) of what an ideal space is,  or should be.

All of this is rooted in a long occidental tradition of conceiving such spaces as well as the representations of them, and in times of the technical reproduction and multiplication of space (e.g., the nowadays hype of a ‘virtual’ reality) the issue of an ideal space becomes important more than ever.

We, the Ideal Spaces Working Group, want to elaborate some major perspectives of this topic, in a combination of presentations and discussion; to address perspectives of relevance for both future research and practical work in different domains. Our intention is to continue with what we started last year, in a symposium on Managed Spaces (as a particular perspective of ‘ideal’ spaces ), namely to develop a series of symposia related to the theme of spaces conceived and practiced, as being ideal ones.

Another background of the symposium for this year is our exhibition Ideal Spaces at the Venice Biennale for Architecture 2016, presented also in Palazzo Mora (

To elaborate perspectives in an open discussion and with a free state of mind, we did not want to have a traditional symposium order with keynote speakers, a strict protocol or something like that. Flexibility of approach is not equivalent with arbitrariness and therefore, there are at least some major perspectives of relevance when approaching the field of spaces being ‘ideal’ in their above double meaning, perspectives addressed in the respective presentations.

September 19th, start 10 a.m., Palazzo Mora

First, an introduction to the theme shall be presented, referring to our exhibition in Pal. Mora and centering on two principal perspectives: the traditional conception of an ideal space as subject of utopia (Ulrich Gehmann), together with the cultural memories behind it; and the recent conceptions of ideal spaces as the subject of technical performance for individual use (Matthias Wölfel). These perspectives also refer to the mixtures recently pursued, of combining an ‘old’ analogous and a ‘new’ digital or virtual world.  

Based on this and on Lefebvre’s distinction of spatial representations mentioned, the question arises what we see today when we see an ‘ideal’ space; it is exemplified in case of our world disk presented (Michael Johansson). Here already, some important perspectives will emerge that wait for their elaboration later on, in the discussion.

Second, it is about the notion of space itself, primarily about its uses as a metaphor (Johansson/Gehmann ), a topic of crucial relevance when speaking about ‘ideal’ spaces as primarily imagined ones. An aspect related to this is our (mostly implicit) imagery of humans, or in traditional terms, about a conditio humana. We cannot speak about, let alone “make” ideal spaces for individual use without reflecting on that topic.

If needed, a discussion can already start after these first presentations, outlining perspectives seen as important for further investigation.

Some ideal spaces will be presented as exemplary cases, revealing the recent imagery of mixing worlds, together with the de facto-creation of new, artificial spaces (Matthias Wölfel, Andreas Sieß.)

An ideal spatiality as a precursor of this, the worlds of Piranesi showing the paradigms of “making” such spaces as an arte-factum in its literal terms, will presented after this (Randolph Langenbach). To draw a comparison between the gestalt of these worlds, their underlying assumptions about space and a presumed conditio humana.

Followed by a presentation about ceiling and coelum (Joachim Krausse), realized assumptions on these topics in 20th century architecture.

Based on those developments belonging, meanwhile, to a ‘traditional’ sphere of architecture, examples of recent mixings of space will presented – as case examples that nevertheless reveal the whole. Taking the visual and the haptic as key components of a human condition, blending of both worlds, a so-called analogue and a digital one are will be shown. In case of haptics (Daniel Hepperle), as well as in case of the visual (Matthias Wölfel, Michael Johansson) The key question is how virtual realities are shaping the perception of space regarding the ‘conditio humana’ for current and future generations.  

The topics presented so far will be discussed (moderation: U. Gehmann and M. Johansson), summing up the perspectives that emerged out of them. Primary emphasis is to look at different conceptions of space; and related, at a human condition. A one presumed to exist yet, opposed to a one reached for – in classical terms, the topic of utopia; in non-classical terms, the change of a conditio humana with the help of technical means. Which is also an old dream, but now re-occurring in new clothing.

We continue with critical perspectives, examining the close vicinity of ideal spaces and technically induced illusory spaces (Christopher Pollmann); taking up the imagery of an analogous and digital world again, together with their hybridizations.  Which can become utopian in the sense that there are no places for human beings; and going back to the topic of a conditio humana, examining their actual and potential anthropological effects. It is about the virtualization of space behind an anthropological reach, and the mentioned effects on a future or ‘virtual’ anthropology. Which surpasses the heterotopias of consumption and illusion Foucault was looking at.

In these respects, when speaking about ideal spaces one has to examine the mythic background of them, its embeddedness in an occidental tradition mainly molded by a Christian heritage (longing for redemption from matter), and its real outcomes. Therefore, the dead technical, material bodies of such attempts shall be looked at (Daniel Plöger), with all the consequences – not ideal, but actual – that this does elicit, in a world “as it is”, to use that mythological term.

Last but surely not least, a crucial topic of spaces conceived as ideal has to be addressed: the ideal spaces as a place for an ideal community (Gerd Stern), Living in supposedly ideal human conditions.

The comparison of real circumstances with ideal longings is a perspective that in itself, will unfold into many additional perspectives that will emerge during our discussion of these topics.  

For the rest of the time, we should take our time to do so carefully. In different working groups if needed, centering on the different perspectives that emerged.

To conclude, the topics presented so far serve as a general backbone only, by comprising perspectives that need examination at all.

© 2016 Ulrich Gehmann All Rights Reserved