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INTRODUCTION We design our buildings and cities to create spatial relationships. With these spatial relationships come situations that have not been intended for in the first place; one in particular that I have chosen to explore is voyeurism. I want to investigate this because it interests me how the public can be passive to the voyeuristic situations architecture has put them in. Situations where a person’s vulnerability is greater than another’s and offers them the opportunity to be caught up in the act of voyeurism. I intend to look at different types of voyeurism; putting myself and other people in positions where we either know, don’t know or are unsure if we are being watched to observe what reactions and emotions are experienced. Through the recording and analysis of different situations and spaces using film, photography and writing where voyeurism occurs, I will be able to articulate which architectural factors and elements encourage them. This is not an investigation into the psychosis of voyeurism, it is an exploration into whether a significant part of voyeurism only exists because of architecture; the way a space is created, its materiality and lighting are all elements that an architect has control over in the design of a building or city. I also intend to question the use of CCTV in our cities and how it affects our privacy, or absence of, in what seems to be an ‘Orwellian nightmare’ 1. It poses the question, do we ever experience the city alone? The medium of film is an exciting and thought provoking way of presenting ideas and voyeurism is a common theme in some of the greatest films ever conceived. Within film, the stage sets are architectural in their own right and an integral part of the whole performance; the sets are characters. Several writers such as Juhani Pallasmaa and Stephen Jacobs have looked at film and film sets to analyse them with an architectural critique that articulates to the reader how architecture and film have been used to enhance the subject of voyeurism. I believe film and architecture to have a symbiotic relationship in reference to the theme of voyeurism; they work together to evoke different emotions from the viewer. Therefore I feel there is a place for critical analysis of real life architecture.

3 fig 1, Stills from thinking machine, being a voyeur and using architecture to remain anonymous to the voyees I follow.


My method for the investigation of the city as a theatre for voyeurism will be through a ‘thinking machine’ fig 1. My ‘thinking machine’ will consist of two short films, recorded and edited by myself. In most films the audience view the performance from a third person perspective, my films will be from the first person perspective and will give the audience a greater sense and experience of being the voyeur or voyee. The film will give a greater understanding of the context, atmosphere and time; pictures are only moments in time that do not communicate the duration of watching or being watched. I have chosen the location for the films to be the indoor Overgate shopping centre in Dundee, which I will be discussing in more detail later in the text. One of the films is from the perspective of the voyeur, who uses architecture to remain anonymous to the voyee, who will be the protagonist in the second film. The filming process will reveal to me the architectural features that allow and enhance voyeurism to occur, especially as filming is prohibited in the shopping centre. In order to study voyeurism in the city, it is important to determine who is the object, that is, the person who is caught in the gaze and who I will sometimes refer to as the ‘voyee’ fig 2. The object is the person who is in the most vulnerable position within the voyeuristic situation. Anonymity is an important factor for the voyeur, the person who is conducting the gaze; it is through this anonymity that allows the object to be viewed without being seen or the object feeling threatened. Architecture enhances anonymity by the design of the ‘screen’. The ‘screen’ can be an element of architectural design; a reflective window, different spatial relationships and walls are elements discussed in this essay that ensure the voyeur remains anonymous. When the dominant gaze is disrupted and the anonymity is lost, there is a shift in vulnerability and the voyeur is caught in the act of voyeurism, something which in modern society and by definition is perverted and frowned upon. In Jean- Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness, he tells a story of a man peering through a keyhole at a couple being intimate. Sartre uses the door as his screen of anonymity to his voyees and highlights the fact that because he is anonymous to the couple he is watching, he is dominant in this voyeuristic situation:



object/ voyee

screen of anonymity

fig 2, Diagram of object in the voyeur’s gaze.


“No transcending view comes to confer upon my acts the character of a given on which a judgement can be brought to bear.” Sartre, 1943 He then reinforces my point that as soon as anonymity is lost, in this case by another catching him in the act of voyeurism, he is now vulnerable and feels shame as society regards his act as ethically questionable. “… I hear footsteps in the hall. Someone is looking at me! What does this mean? It means that I am suddenly affected in my being and that essential modifications appear in my structure- modifications which I can apprehend and fix conceptually by mean of the reflection of cogito.” Sartre 1943 3 DEFINING VOYEURISM ARCHITECTURALLY Why use the term voyeurism instead of observing, looking or watching? By definition we know that a voyeur is ‘a person who derives sexual gratification from observing the naked bodies or sexual act of others, especially from a secret vantage point.’ 4 However, I feel that sexual stimulus do not always need to be gratified, the voyeur can be someone who is only excited by the mere act of viewing from a secret position. It is with this that I find the latter part of the definition being the most relevant to this essay. The fact that the object has not given consent to be viewed by another also infers that the type of viewing is voyeurism as defined above. Voyeurism has connotations of an oppressive view that is unwanted by the object, a characteristic that the other verbs do not have. It is in domestic situations where the word voyeurism can clearly be used in its full definition and the results are unquestionable. Through personal intrigue, any disturbance in the night would arouse me to direct my gaze to the street outside, where drunk individuals are arguing on their way home. When the gaze is turned to a neighbouring window, the sexual desires may be fulfilled by undressing neighbours fig 3+4. In the film Gregory’s Girl a nurse undresses in front of her window. She obviously feels safe to do this as she feels separated and secure from the outside world. The walls, window and physical distance between herself and the school kids are all elements contributing to the screen which means she is unaware of the gaze upon her.

fig 3+4, Gregory and his 7 friends cast their voyeuristic gaze towards a nurse who is undressing infront of an unobscured window in the film Gregory’s Girl.


This absence of awareness of the gaze means that she is totally unaffected and passive in the situation. Sometimes the sexual gratification may not be as black and white as peering through a bedroom window and taking photographs of couples in the act of coitus; Jaques Lacan through prolific writings on the subject uses psychoanalytical analysis to relate the gaze to a sexual desire that we may not fully be aware of: “The eye and the gaze… the drive is manifested at the level of the scopic field.” Lacan, 1973 5 Voyeurism is not the only type of viewing that architecture encourages and it is important to understand when studying the relationship between voyeurism and architecture that there are other types of viewing involved which are the result of a conscious design decision. Viewings such as observation and surveillance have an effect on the design of a piece of architecture. There are examples where architecture is specifically designed for viewing as the primary function and is not an unconscious by-product. The penitentiary panopticon by Jeremy Bentham fig 5 is an example where architecture is used to survey prisoners from a vantage point that allows the prison warden to view the object but without being seen themselves. A parallel can be drawn between the fact that the object is definitely in a more vulnerable position due to the anonymity of the viewer and the ‘secret’ part of the definition of voyeurism. Although, the prisoners know there exists the possibility of being watched, it is through lack of freedom that they are not fully aware of the gaze upon them. In this instance, it is purely surveillance and does not fall into the voyeuristic category.


fig 5, Plan and section blueprint of the penitentiary panopticon by Jeremy Bentham, 1791


EXAMPLES OF VOYEURISM In most cases voyeurism is not an architectural intention but through analysis of space and situations, there is no doubt it occurs. Architects who design shopping centres use elements such as mezzanine levels and voids surrounded by circulation as tools to help shoppers to navigate themselves around the labyrinth of shops and food outlets. What architects are unaware of is that these same elements can encourage and allow voyeurism to happen. Unconsciously, shoppers could be walking themselves into a situation where they become the object of another’s gaze. The sunken café in the Overgate Centre, Dundee, is an example of this fig 6+7+8+9. As the architect intended the mezzanine to be a point of observation, where we can look down from, this act does not present itself as intrusive to the people below. Thus, it becomes a screen of anonymity and a vantage point where we are able to gaze at anyone we desire in the café for almost an indefinite amount of time. For the people in the café, it is an obvious gesture to look up at the voyeurs above and is not an act that is natural while sitting down. They may enter the café aware of voyeurs above them but leave without knowing that they have been the object of someone’s concentrated gaze. The anonymity of the voyeur is enhanced by the stimulation of the object’s other senses; the smell of the food or noise of other shoppers socialising in the café. It is mostly an inoffensive situation where very little sexual desires are stimulated (apart from the opportunity to view some cleavage). During the process of filming it became more apparent how these aspects of the design allowed me to gaze upon my voyees for a length of time and even follow them as they walked away, all along remaining inconspicuous. Materiality is another element in building design that architects have control over and can affect the amount of anonymity the voyeur has. The fully glazed south facing façade, when lit by the sun, sends the reflection of people outside the Overgate, back towards themselves, thus allowing for the voyeur to watch shoppers who leave the internal space in almost complete secrecy.


fig 6, Looking down as a voyeur into the cafe towards lit up faces.

fig 7, Looking up from object’s position towards silhouetted figures standing on the mezzanine



outside shops cafe

fig 8, section through mezzanine and cafe in the overgate showing the positioning of the dominant voyeur above and the vulnerable object below


fig 8, overview of cafe and mezzanine showing where the dominant voyeur’s gaze is upon the voyee.


Voyeur and voyee do not always adhere to the same spatial positioning in all situations. Nor is the positioning the dominant contributing factor. In the bar at the Dundee Contemporary Arts centre by Richard Murphy Architects a number of sensorial contributions trigger a voyeuristic situation to occur fig 10+11+12 . The voyeur’s attention is stimulated by the object’s (more often than not, a woman) hard heels on the wooden stairs that lead down to the bar, creating a dominant rhythm that can cut through the music and hustle of voices. These stairs are not easy to negotiate; the unfamiliar rise and going mean that for women in high heels, their concentration is on ascending or descending the stairs and not falling over. Therefore, placing them in a vulnerable situation where they have unknowingly become the object to the voyeur’s gaze down in the bar. Again, because of the spatial arrangement and architects’ choice of materials, I was able to take photos of people descending the stair anonymously due to my position at a table and the distractions they had while negotiating the stairs.



fig 10, axonometric and section through stairs that lead to bar in dca and detail


fig 11, Looking up the stairs at the dca

fig 12, Looking down the stairs at the dca


In architecture, some spaces can be ambiguous as to which position is the voyeur and which is the object and through analysis still do not offer up any clues as to who is who. These situations are what I have decided to name ‘voypas’; a situation where, in architecture, a dominant gaze cannot be achieved through anonymity and where equal vulnerability is subjected to all parties involved. In the library of the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, a ‘voypas’ situation occurs fig 13+14+15+16+17. The library can be looked into from a bridge on the same level that connects two buildings allowing both people to become aware of each other’s gaze and thus in the position of being equally vulnerable. It is with this vulnerability and the reserved nature of British society that subjects both people to avoid eye contact whilst gazing at the other. However, these two ‘voypas’ can turn into a voyeur role by shifting their gaze to the hill or staircase below. Here an object that is trying to negotiate walking up a steep slope is vulnerable to the gaze of voyeurs in the library and bridge; those in the stair become the object as they make their way up or down stairs. Due to the complex relationship between the voyeur and objects my attempts to become a voyeur in the library to people on the bridge were not possible. Architecture was unable to provide my level of anonymity and I was having to rely on hiding my face and camera behind magazines. During my analysis I tried to describe my feelings in words and how difficult it was to remain anonymous: i feel nervous like in the movies i pretend to read a magazine. when it looks like they have seen me i frantically flick page to page. it becomes exciting and ecstatic my awareness of others around me is sharpened questioning my perverted actions

fig 13, walking down the hill unaware of voyeurs above

fig 14, Looking towards the voyee walking down the hill from the bridge



fig 15, Looking down on to the object walking down the hill

fig 16, Looking towards bridge from lbrary



bridge hill below


fig 17, plan and section through library showing the ‘voypas’ situation and how the gaze can be turned to the hill below


hill below


FEAR OF BEING WATCHED As we walk through our city and become aware of being watched by something that we cannot see, it is this absence that we can project our fears onto and create something mentally that is more tangible to us. Abandoned pieces of architecture act as a stage for these projections to happen and even though there is no real evidence to suggest there is a gaze upon us, the feeling of being watched as an object is very distinct. This is particular to derelict buildings due to the lack of internal finishes and glazing which result in an unnaturally dark interior, even during the day, which ensures that the darkness allows for an active imagination to run wild and paranoia of the unknown to take overfig 18. “This space between consciousness and perception, which informs our inner world, our psychical reality, is not a material space. It is boundless, endless, without spatiality or temporality.� Epstein 1997 6 Although there are planning legislation to prevent others viewing into our private lives, in areas so densely populated, it is often unavoidable. In British domestic situations, the diurnal variations allow for opportunities of voyeurism to happen and switch the object from inside to out depending on the conditions. During the daytime, inside is almost protected from the gaze of an outsider by the reflection of the world back towards them. However, during the twilight hours the vulnerability can start to shift towards the person inside the house; turning the lights on as it is too dark to navigate the room but not closing the blinds so as to catch the last of the day sky, opens up the room to outside and allows for transient views in fig 19. As the night sky darkens, the vulnerability of the objects inside increases; keeping the lights on makes it far easier to see inside until our need for privacy tells us to draw the blinds (in Home Alone the blinds are used as a tool to fool the burglars that the young Macaulay Culkin is not home alone fig 20). With a flick of a switch the roles can change instantaneously; turning the lights off inside makes the interior of the rooms appear as a black hole in the exterior wall from the outside gaze.


fig 18, Derelict buildings, a stage for projecting fears


fig 19, My neighbour’s interiors become more transparent when the lights are on and it is dark outside

fig 20, Kevin, played by Macaulay Culkin, uses the blinds to fool the burglars into believing that the whole family are in



“Jeff: Stella! The lights! He’s seen us! Stella hurries from the window, turning off light, as Jeff backs his chair into the room.” Michael Hayes, 1953 7 This type of domestic voyeurism is integral to the success of Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rear Window where the fictional urban block has been set up to allow for a wheelchair bound man to get caught up in the observation of his neighbours’ lives fig 21. The film set highlights the symbiotic relationship between architecture and film and the importance of architecture as the stage for voyeurism to occur. Throughout the film he watches his neighbours in their lit up stages from his apartment, keeping himself camouflaged by hiding in the darkness of his flat. Hitchcock uses the camera to act as the voyeuristic eye of Jeff (played by James Stuart), he only allows the viewers (of the film) to view that which Jeff can see from his apartment. Throughout the film, the ethics of voyeurism are questioned and for good reason. In society today, voyeurism is riddled with connotations of sex offenders, paedophiles and perverts. And in Martin Jay’s book, Downcast Eyes, he emphasises these associations in analysis of Freud’s writings, “Freud came to believe that the very desire to know, rather that being innocent, was itself ultimately derived from an infantile desire to see, which had sexual origins. Sexuality, mastery and vision were thus intricately intertwined in ways that could produce problematic as well as ‘healthy’ effects.” Jay, 1994 8


fig 21, Stella and Jeff are becoming too comfortable with being voyeurs


Different cultures have different opinions about voyeurism. In the Netherlands, where the houses are much more open and it is not uncommon for homes to come right up to the street edge, this allows the gaze to penetrate the house with ease fig 22. With regards to sexuality, due to the legal tolerance of prostitution, women display themselves in ‘glass boxes’ in the street so we know what we are paying for fig 25. These windows and the use of light and transparency allow for complex situations to occur. Although the person viewing the women is not doing so in secrecy, we can imagine a relationship where one voyeur watches another voyeur. For example, if a woman in a window is being watched by voyeurs and the woman in the window next door has her light out to remain hidden in the darkness, she becomes a voyeur gazing upon the voyeurs outside. This relationship highlights that people show different reactions and behaviour, depending on whether they know they are being watched or not fig 24. This is in contrast to Soho, where the women are kept behind closed doors until we have parted with our cash, with only have the word of the suspiciously, manly-looking woman at the desk’s sales technique to give an impression of the women fig 23.

fig 22, Woningbouw housing in Amsterdam by Claus en Kaan architects that has no distance between living sace and street.

fig 23, In Soho there is no telling what you are paying for.

fig 24, Diagram illustrating the relationship of voyeur watching the voyeur. fig 25, Red light district in Amsterdam where everything is on show and we can see how the rooms that the women are in have a relationship to the street. Did the architect want this?



THE PRICE OF VOYEURISM In British society today, we fear for our safety while in our homes and out on the streets; installing alarms to keep intruders out, drawing blinds to block their gaze. This fear is reduced by the authorities introducing CCTV, cameras to watch over us and ensure our security. Even when there may be no one watching us, there can still be an oppressive presence of someone’s gaze upon us. In our society there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the issue of CCTV cameras, giving up our right to be alone in the city seems like an expensive price to pay for our safety fig 26. So how can we experience our cities alone? It is simple enough to become a recluse in our own homes by shutting ourselves off to the outside world. Although, our home is not the city, it is in direct ownership to us. Trying to experience something alone that belongs to the public is more difficult. In the early hours of the morning, whilst wandering the streets, we may only encounter a few early work starters or late night partiers but cities are littered with CCTV cameras. Who is behind these cameras? In David Brin’s science fiction novel, The Transparent Society, a novel that was written over thirteen years ago, he writes about two cities that have been bombarded with CCTV. The difference between the cities is who is monitoring the cameras; in city number one the “cameras report their urban scenes straight to Police Central” 9 . While in city number two “each and every citizen of this metropolis can lift his or her wristwatch/ TV and call up images from any camera in town” 10 . The novel illustrates the issue of privacy that members of the public have and how the two cities are affected differently. However, in the end it comes down to personal opinion; some people may want to have privacy so that every move they make is not scrutinised by an anonymous individual and others may be comfortable with a place “that darkness no longer offers even a promise of privacy” 11. In my opinion, we do need to have time alone with our cities and not feel threatened by the gaze of someone watching us on a TV screen. Our cities are characters, like sets in a film, within our lives with idiosyncratic qualities that we need to explore without the buzzing robotics of a camera following where we walk.


fig 26, Through graffiti art, Banksey plays with the increasing number of CCTV cameras in our society


CONCLUSION I have highlighted and analysed different situations where architecture has become a stage for voyeurism to occur, investigating which architectural features either enhance or prevent them from occurring. It has occurred to me that voyeurism cannot exist without architecture even if it is an unintentional consequence almost all of the time. Architects have the power to influence every element of a design, from spatial relationships to window specification. I have identified these elements but still sense that the general public will primarily remain passive whenever they leave their homes and not feel the need to question whether or not they are vulnerable to being the object of another’s gaze. It is with this feeling that I question that as architects, do we even need to be aware that we have created these stages for voyeurism, or should we create scenarios and use models to test our designs through the eyes of a voyeuristic pervert to see if what we have created disturbs or offend us. I believe that our unconscious contributions to voyeurism are what makes architecture rich and interesting. As highlighted earlier, we all have a desire to observe others and architects do not have the right to take that away from the general public. Our experience of the city would turn into one of total surveillance where the design of our built environment would allow for us to be aware of any gaze upon us and make us conscious of every move we make. This approach I feel is more unhealthy than one of unintentional voyeurism where we walk through the city clueless that we have been objects to another’s gaze. What we do not know cannot harm us.


Glossary and Key Voyeur - the person conducting the gaze Voyee or object - the person caught in the voyeur’s gaze Viewer- the person watching a film Voypas - a voyeuristic situation where no dominant gaze can be achieved voyeur gaze voypas gaze


References 1- Brin, David, 1998, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?, Perseus Press. 2- Sartre, Jean-Paul, 1943 Being and Nothingness, Methuen & Co. LTD. 3- Sartre, Jean-Paul, 1943 Being and Nothingness, Methuen & Co. LTD. 4- Houghton Mifflin Company , 2006, The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company. 5- Lacan, Jacques, 1973, The Four Fundamental Concepts of PsychoAnalysis, The Hogarth Press Ltd. 6- Epstein, Dora, 1997, Abject Terror; A Story of Fear, Sex and Architecture, essay from Architecture of Fear, Edited by Nan Ellin, Princeton Architectural Press. 7- John Michael Hayes, 1954, Rear Window, (film) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, USA, Paramount Pictures. 8- Jay, Martin, 1994, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth Century French Thought, University of California Press. 9- Brin, David, 1998, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?, Perseus Press. Bibliography 1- Brin, David, 1998, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom?, Perseus Press. 2- Sartre, Jean-Paul, 1943 Being and Nothingness, Methuen & Co. LTD.

3- Houghton Mifflin Company , 2006, The American Heritage Dictionary of33 the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company. 4- Lacan, Jacques, 1973, The Four Fundamental Concepts of PsychoAnalysis, The Hogarth Press Ltd. 5- Epstein, Dora, 1997, Abject Terror; A Story of Fear, Sex and Architecture, essay from Architecture of Fear, Edited by Nan Ellin, Princeton Architectural Press. 6- John Michael Hayes, 1954, Rear Window, (film) Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, USA, Paramount Pictures. 7- Jay, Martin, 1994, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth Century French Thought, University of California Press. 8- Hill, Philip, 1997, Lacan for Beginners, Writers and Readers Ltd 9- Colomina, Beatriz, 1996, Privacy and Publicity, Modern Architecture as Mass Media, First MIT Press. 10- Jacobs, Steven, 2007, The Wrong House: The Architecture of Alfred Hitchcock, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam. 11- Pallasmaa, Juhani, 2001, The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema, Rakennustieto. Images fig1- Stills from authors ‘thinking machine’ film fig2- Authors digram fig3+4- Authors photos of Gregory’s Girl, 1981, Directed and Writen by Bill Forsyth, ITC Entertainment.


fig5- fig6- Authors photo. fig7- Authors photo. fig8- Authors diagram. fig9- Authors photo. fig10- Authors diagram. fig11- Authors photo. fig12- Authors photo. fig13- Authors photo. fig14- Authors photo. fig15- Authors photo. fig16- Authors photo. fig 17- Authors diagram. fig 18- Authors photo. fig 19- Authors photo. fig 20- Stills from Home Alone, 1990, Written by John Hughes, Directed by Chris Columbus, Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation. fig21- Stills from, Rear Window, 1954 Written by John Michael Hayes, Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, USA, Paramount Pictures.

fig 22- Ibelings, Hans, 1998, Architecture in the Netherlands Yearbook, NAi Uitgervers Publishers fig 23- fig 24- Authors diagram fig 25- fig 26- Banksy, 2005, Wall and Piece, Century.



architecture_the stage for voyeurism  

a study into how we use architecture as our device for voyeuristic behaviour.

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