Letters on Legal Architecture

by Lucy Finchett-Maddock and Léopold Lambert 

This exchange of letters was originally published on The Funambulist and can be also found in The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 04: Legal Theory (Punctum Books, 2013)

(New York on July 12th 2012) 

Dear Lucy,

Léopold Lambert
Léopold Lambert

I read your essay Archiving Burroughs: Interzone, Law, Self-​Medication with at­ten­tion and ap­pre­ci­ated, as usual, the way you manage to link nar­rative, law and space all to­gether. I do think how­ever that we should keep this text for a little bit later in our con­ver­sa­tion as its spe­cificity might make us miss the bases of the dis­cus­sion that we would like to have about law and ar­chi­tec­ture. In this re­gard, I would like to in­genu­ously start by stating some ob­vious facts which are al­ways good to re­member for such a discussion.

Law, un­der­stood as a human ar­ti­fact, con­sti­tutes an en­semble of reg­u­la­tions which have been ex­pli­citly stated in order to cat­egorize be­ha­viors in two cat­egories: legal and il­legal. In order to do so, it ex­pects from every in­di­vidual sub­jected to its ap­plic­a­tion a full know­ledge of its con­tent in order to mor­alize and held ac­count­able at­ti­tudes that are either re­spectful or trans­gressive to­wards it.

Law is un­deni­ably re­lated to space as it re­quires a given ter­ritory with pre­cise bor­ders to be able to im­ple­ment it­self. Nothing easier to un­der­stand this fact than to ob­serve in which space one is al­lowed to smoke and in which one is not. It also in­cludes within this ter­ritory smaller zones of ex­clu­sion, from the corner of the class room to the pen­it­en­tiary, in which an­other form of the law –sup­posedly a more re­strictive one– is ap­plied for in­di­viduals who, through an active re­fusal of spe­cific parts of it, are to be sep­ar­ated from the rest of so­ciety. Those in­di­viduals, when cap­tured by law en­forcer in­stances, are brought within those zones of ex­clu­sion and are being held in them for a given period of time pro­vi­sioned by law itself.

Many other spaces con­sti­tute ter­rit­ories on which law is also dif­ferent but com­posed of layers of laws which do not con­tra­dict each other. Spaces like schools, of­fices, factories, hos­pitals, for ex­ample, apply a legal su­per­im­pos­i­tion in order to com­ple­ment the ter­rit­orial law with set of rules spe­cific­ally for­mu­lated to op­timize their in­sti­tu­tional function.

Space it­self is not ne­ces­sarily an ar­ti­fact, al­though the des­ig­na­tion of bor­ders that de­limit it cer­tainly con­sti­tutes a human in­ter­ven­tion, and prob­ably the first legal ges­ture that is. Let us con­sider ar­chi­tec­ture as the en­semble of human phys­ical modi­fic­a­tion of its en­vir­on­ment. It would prob­ably be use­less to wonder whether law in­vented ar­chi­tec­ture or if it is pre­cisely the op­posite. What we can pos­sibly af­firm, how­ever, is that ar­chi­tec­ture, through its phys­ic­ality, em­bodies the im­ma­terial law. This is clear in the case of the zones of ex­clu­sion that I was evoking above. The fun­da­mental ele­ment of the law of ex­cep­tion ap­plied in them con­sists in the ban for their sub­jects to exit their space. In order to im­ple­ment such a ban, an im­per­meable ar­chi­tec­ture needed to be cre­ated: it is the in­ven­tion of prison as a building.

Prisons are the ex­treme ex­amples of how ar­chi­tec­ture em­bodies the law. We are nev­er­the­less sur­rounded by more do­mestic cases of ar­chi­tec­tural en­force­ment of the law. During a curfew or quar­antine, your own house, sup­posedly so neutral and in­no­cent, can be­come your own prison. But was this house so in­no­cent anyway? Isn’t the house the ma­terial em­bod­i­ment of a law which in­teg­rates private prop­erty as one of its com­pon­ents? How to en­force prop­erty in a better way than to build im­per­meable walls on the lines that law ab­stractly con­structed? Architecture, by using the uni­versal “laws” of physics — nobody can cross a wall for ex­ample — in­sures the ex­pli­cit­a­tion of the law which would need to be dis­curs­ively enun­ci­ated oth­er­wise in order to be ac­know­ledged by its subjects.

This vision is how­ever an ar­tic­u­la­tion centered on ar­chi­tec­ture and I am won­dering how the legal theory spe­cialist that you are in­ter­prets this re­la­tion­ship. Do you think that there can be a law with no ar­chi­tec­ture or/​and a law­less ar­chi­tec­ture? If ar­chi­tec­ture is really the em­bod­i­ment of the law, can we pos­sibly think of an ar­chi­tec­ture of illegality?

I very much look for­ward to reading you on those ques­tions, and on the others that you prob­ably have.

Cordially yours,


(Exeter, UK, on August 17th 2012) ///

Dear Leopold,

Lucy Finchett-​Maddock
Lucy Finchett-​Maddock

Thank you for your letter dated 12th August, I apo­lo­gise for my tardy reply but I have been away as you know in India. India, of course being a great ex­ample for the themes of ar­chi­tec­ture and law of which you speak, whereby not only are there plural legal levels of law as a result of the gene­a­lo­gies of co­lo­ni­alism, but so too there are those very clear ar­chi­tec­tures of law that re­veal legal di­cho­tomies, the in­sides and the out­sides, those in­cluded and ex­cluded (and of wrath of the common law in par­tic­ular). Nowhere else has there been such a use of law as a mech­anism of le­git­im­ated dis­pos­ses­sion than in co­lo­nial India, with the de­cent­ral­ised des­potism of the Raj and their op­u­lent palaces as re­minders of their de­cent­ral­ised British power; the ac­cept­ance of cus­tomary law into a plural legal hier­archy of state law that put the common law as the pin­nacle of all might.

When thinking of the role of land and law, and the wall as the boundary, the legal space in which all of the di­vi­sions and struc­tures of hier­archy are ana­lo­gised (or not even ana­lo­gised, but ac­tu­al­ised), there is a reason why one is so struck by ar­chi­tec­ture as the ar­chi­tect of law – or law as the ar­chi­tect of ar­chi­tec­ture. Western in­di­vidual prop­erty rights, are based on a pre­sump­tion that ‘own­er­ship’ of land, the right to design land as one sees fit (or hire a draftsman to follow design in­struc­tions), is the right to have ex­clusive ac­cess and pos­ses­sion to that par­tic­ular geo­graphy of land. Thus, and this is taking from the highly in­flu­en­tial German jurist Carl Schmitt, law starts and ends with the earth, and is de­term­ined through the cat­egor­isa­tion and en­closure of the earth where all other phe­nomen­o­logy resides. This in­trinsic link between law and ar­chi­tec­ture is the design of prop­erty rights, it is the ma­nip­u­la­tion of space which acts as a way of keeping some­thing in, keeping a pop­u­la­tion out. Therefore, ar­chi­tec­ture lends it­self spe­cific­ally as the em­bod­i­ment of law, it is the di­viding line, the junc­ture of limin­ality that is so easily de­scribed, and yet the most elu­sive thing in the world, that which is all order and chaos. It comes to­gether in one co­ordinate, the co­ordinate of legal design; the sketch­ings of the architect.

What struck me re­cently when I was away in India was how ob­vious the past, and in­deed the fu­ture, was ex­pressed within the build­ings, and more so within the con­stant con­struc­tion going on within the mega­city­scape where each new wood and ce­ment fix­ture be­came an­other limb of the great living or­ganism that was growing and gurg­ling as I would veer past in my auto-​rickshaw. These were build­ings that were not com­pleted yet, that would most prob­ably al­ways re­main in­com­plete as the years of bur­eau­cratic pro­cras­tin­a­tion and ju­di­cial protest halt the cre­ation of the fly­overs and of­fice blocks.

What I would like to throw in here is a con­sid­er­a­tion of the role of en­tropy within law and ar­chi­tec­ture, and how this can offer a frame­work through which we can un­der­stand the role of law within ar­chi­tec­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture within law, and what you might think of this in re­la­tion to prop­erty, aes­thetics as a whole, and law so too.

Take the seething urban mass of Bangalore, a city that only 30 years ago was a quaint re­tire­ment des­tin­a­tion for local Karnatakan res­id­ents and its sur­rounding states, which since then has be­come the size of London, with no public trans­port in­fra­struc­ture – and is still growing, with an air of tod­dler­ish­ness that hints to only being a tenth of its po­ten­tial size. The pop­u­la­tion has ma­tured its found­a­tions, and the job of pro­du­cing new living spaces and working spaces have not kept up. There are two types of design, those of the massive land ac­quis­i­tions and re-​mappings that allow for co­lossal new speed­ways and air­ports; and then there are the designs of the slums – both of these ar­chi­tec­tures of law rely on un­plan­ning, as op­posed to plan­ning, and are re­active and emer­gent in their con­ver­gences. This, I would argue, is the en­tropy of ar­chi­tec­ture, and there­fore en­tropy of law.

Congestion in Bangalore
Congestion in Bangalore

Specifically in re­la­tion to land law, there is little in the way of ac­tual plan­ning law, and when there is, it is planned with a cer­tain group of elites in mind. The ma­jority of those who live in Bangalore cannot af­ford to buy cars or mo­tor­cycles, and yet there are ap­par­ently 1,000 vehicles added to the road day in the city. These are the up­wardly mo­bile Bangalorians who work within IT and are making the most of the bur­geoning city and it being known as the ‘Singapore of the South’. Huge land ac­quis­i­tions are un­der­taken in order to build in the name of the swelling bour­geoisie. Land ac­quis­i­tion is a common law in­her­it­ance and is known in India as ‘em­inent do­main’. It ex­ists as a stop valve for the state to ac­quire land for ‘public pur­poses’, without the per­mis­sion of those who already live on the land and have rights and at­tach­ments to the land. Those who are moved are by and large the ar­chi­tects of law from below, the slum dwellers and im­pov­er­ished who own little or no legal rights to the land on which they reside. A com­plex web of common law legacy gives way to a situ­ation whereby land is ac­quired and new building schemes begin, whilst at the same time ar­chi­tects from below utilise the no­tori­ously slow, but most cer­tainly rel­evant lit­ig­a­tion pro­cesses of the courts to try and halt the taking of their homes and the con­struc­tion of new hegemonies.

These two un­planned move­ments of law and ar­chi­tec­ture, the state land ac­quis­i­tion and the li­ti­gious rigour of Bangalore’s civil so­ciety, op­er­ates in an emer­gent co­agu­la­tion and one that is real­ised in the half built pil­lars and ce­ment covered chil­dren on the road­side. These are not com­plete spaces, but half spaces, spaces that are not aware of how they will end up as a result of the in­ter­sec­tion of law in design.

So what does this have to do with en­tropy? At a very basic level, and one that takes from a tra­di­tional ther­mo­dy­namic view, en­tropy is the amount of us­able en­ergy within a system. The more com­plex a system be­comes, the more en­ergy it uses, and the more it strives to­wards order, the more dis­ordered it be­comes sim­ul­tan­eously. Entropy ex­ists in all sys­tems, those that are alive and those not, as long as they pos­sess enough en­ergy to do work, and even the­ories on en­tropy them­selves are part of the emer­gent sys­tems of bur­geoning the­ories on ther­mo­dy­namism and com­plexity. Entropy is thus the con­tra­dictory premise that the world is rap­idly be­coming more in­tricate, re­quiring more en­ergy to be used within its sys­temic bounds, marching on­wards on a tread­mill of a Darwinian per­fec­tion and evol­u­tion, whilst at the same time, the more com­plex it be­comes, the quicker it moves to­wards a fi­nality of heat-​death. Entropy is there­fore the jux­ta­pos­i­tioning of order and chaos, which ar­gu­ably con­jures an aes­thetics of sym­metry, dis­sym­metry, design and architecture.

Seemingly, order as some­thing that is ne­ces­sary for the human mind to un­der­stand any­thing. There are those sys­tems that ap­pear ordered, and yet they rely on the dis­membered­ness of their in­terior, their gene­a­logy, to exist and con­tinue, con­sid­ering Michael Buor’s de­pic­tion of the struc­ture of New York in the 1950s:

“…mar­vel­lous walls of glass with their del­icate screens of ho­ri­zontals and ver­ticals, in which the sky re­flects it­self; but in­side those build­ings all the scraps of Europe are piled up in con­fu­sion … The mag­ni­fi­cent grid is ar­ti­fi­cially im­posed upon a con­tinent that has not pro­duced it; it is a law one endures.”

What does this de­scrip­tion of the un­der­belly of New York tell us of how law af­fects ar­chi­tec­ture, and the same vice versa? What can en­tropy tell us about the seem­ingly out-​of-​control city­scape of Bangalore, the planned un­plan­ning and un­planned plan­ning of the ar­chi­tects of law from below and those of the law from above? What is the role of prop­erty in this, and in­deed aes­thetics itself?

At this junc­ture I am going to go and have some lunch and leave it for your­self to ponder dear Leopold.



(New York, May 2nd 2013)

Léopold Lambert
Léopold Lambert

Dear Lucy,

It has been (too) long since we last sent each other a letter to think to­gether of the way ar­chi­tec­ture and the law in­teract with each other. I apo­lo­gize for that as it was “my turn” to write to you.

In your last letter, you were re­flecting on the strange col­li­sion of the Indian em­inent do­main with what I would slyly call im­manent do­main that is de­veloped by the slums. You were talking about this col­li­sion in Bangalore; I happen to know Mumbai much more as I lived there for a little while but I as­sume that the two situ­ations are re­l­at­ively sim­ilar for that matter. Both em­inent and im­manent do­mains con­sti­tute a form of vi­ol­ence to­wards the law as they both “break” a tra­di­tional un­der­standing of what prop­erty is about. In the first case, the mu­ni­cip­ality or the State ex­pro­pri­ates a group of people, while in the second one, a group of people claims a piece of ter­ritory that does not be­long to them to build their dwelling. Two things ought to be noted in this matter. The first one is that, on the con­trary of the im­manent do­main, the em­inent do­main somehow re­gisters within the legal system even though it seems to con­tra­dict the law at first “sight”. The second thing to note is that, while em­inent do­main un­folds it­self on an in­hab­ited territory/​building, the im­manent do­main ex­ists on a land/​structure that is either the ob­ject of es­tate spec­u­la­tion or that does not re­ceive enough fin­an­cial founds to be de­veloped. I know that you are very in­ter­ested in how the various squats of the world are ques­tioning the le­git­imacy of our defin­i­tion of prop­erty and I am sure that you have already thought ex­tens­ively about those two notes.

It is in­ter­esting to ob­serve how the em­inent do­main im­ple­ments it­self in a country like India as it re­pro­duces part of the pro­cess of col­on­iz­a­tion: some­thing from the out­side that im­poses it­self as the new law upon the bodies that happen to be present on the con­cerned ter­ritory. The re­min­is­cence of the co­lo­nial era is some­thing that really ques­tioned me when I was living there. Many of the ad­min­is­trative build­ings of Mumbai are still the same that were used by the British. I am still won­dering today if the con­tinuity it cre­ates is strictly sym­bol­ical or if it act­ively shapes the way this ad­min­is­tra­tion is op­er­ating. The same ques­tion goes for the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi, the Viceroy Palace that Gandhi wanted to trans­form into a hos­pital and that Nehru at­trib­uted as the Presidential Palace of the newly in­de­pendent India. I sup­pose that there are a mul­ti­tude of laws that were sim­il­arly elab­or­ated during the co­lo­nial era and that re­mained af­ter­ward. You are in­ter­ested in the en­tropy of law, I sup­pose that we could re­main in the field of physics and talk about its resilience.

What in­terests us how­ever, is not so much ar­chi­tec­ture and the law con­sidered sep­ar­ately, even when they are in­tricate in sim­ilar pro­cesses of ex­ist­ence, but rather as both part of the same strategy in the or­gan­iz­a­tion of a so­ciety; I want there­fore to go back to this no­tion of im­manent do­main as its re­la­tion­ship to the law might be more com­plex than the one I was de­scribing earlier. In Turkey for ex­ample, I read that the po­lice cannot im­me­di­ately des­troy an un­au­thor­ized dwelling whose con­struc­tion has been fin­ished; this kind of dis­pute has to go to court to be settled. This scen­ario, be­cause it in­volves the in­ertia (some more physics) of the ad­min­is­tra­tion that goes with it, is likely to re­quire enough time for the dwelling’s in­hab­it­ants to use it for a while. There are there­fore strategies to build a home in one night to avoid a po­ten­tial de­struc­tion the fol­lowing day as the con­struc­tion would have not been com­pleted. I find this ex­ample fas­cin­ating as it in­ter­prets the prac­tice of the law in a dif­ferent way that we tra­di­tion­ally do it. It is a form of ne­go­ti­ation with the in­ertia of the system rather than a strict reading of the law that would in­dubit­ably es­tab­lish each be­ha­vior in the two cat­egories of legal and illegal.

There is also a di­men­sion of il­leg­ality that I would like to ad­dress. When does an il­legal be­ha­viour can be le­git­im­ately called “civil dis­obedi­ence” to use Thoreau’s well known idea? My theory about it would prob­ably de­serve more work on it, but I have

Separation Barrier - Israel/Palestine
Separation Barrier – Israel/Palestine

the in­tu­ition that one has the right to dis­obey a law when, through this ac­tion, one is primarily ques­tioning the le­git­imacy of the law it­self. I will use a com­par­ison I made in the past to il­lus­trate what I mean. When someone as­sas­sin­ates someone else, the chances are that this first person is not con­testing the fact that one is pre­vented by law to kill an­other person; how­ever, when Rosa Parks de­cided to go seating in the white people sec­tion in the bus in 1955, sit­ting was not primarily what she wanted to do, she wanted to deeply con­test the very es­sence of the se­greg­a­tionist legal system. Of course, there might be some more com­plex and less ex­treme ex­amples but this dis­tinc­tion al­lows us to make a dif­fer­ence between a selfish dis­obedi­ence to the law from a polit­ical one. I sup­pose that the slums we were talking about are a mix of these two di­men­sions as they claim a ter­ritory op­por­tun­ist­ic­ally, not to be re­leg­ated to the out­skirts of the city, but also as a mani­fest­a­tion of their ex­ist­ence and their right to the city.

Do these per­eg­rin­a­tions of my mind res­onate in any way for you? I look for­ward to hearing from you as I am sure that you will know how to chal­lenge and ar­tic­u­late my intuitions.



(Exeter, UK,  May 14th 2013)

Lucy Finchett-​Maddock
Lucy Finchett-​Maddock

Dearest Leopold,

Well, thank you for your last cor­res­pond­ence, and as I read through our pre­vious me­an­der­ings into law and ar­chi­tec­ture, I am trans­ported back to the sultry heat of India, the free flow of writing in the summer months of a sop­or­ific, verdant Devon last year. Perhaps any hints to a summer heat do not ring quite true here in the UK, but you get the pic­ture! Not only has it been a while since writing to you dear Leopold, but it has been a while since writing full stop. The al­most ro­botic prac­tises of teaching — reading, re­for­mu­lating, copying, al­tering, presenting, speaking, re­pro­du­cing, shaking — are al­most the inside-​out of writing, the cath­arsis of mind that al­lows for pon­der­ings on an aes­thetics of law. But I am sure my six months of vocal not written en­gage­ment will be con­trib­uting and in­spiring my thoughts nevertheless.

I am back in India with your im­manent do­main, quite a meta­phor for the emer­gent and by no means inert sci­entific al­leg­ories we are sharing in re­la­tion to prop­erty, both that re­quisi­tioned by the state and that per­formed by the slums. The im­man­ence of the Indian geo­graphy speaks to this kin­etic en­ergy, a city in flux through its re­sponse to legal and il­legal plan­ning re­gimes. It is in­ter­esting that you refer to the di­cho­tomy of legal and il­legal, as what has al­ways been of in­terest to my­self has in fact been this space in between, the point and threshold at which a con­stituent cre­ates the con­sti­tu­tion, the res­ist­ance be­comes law. This is the im­man­ency of law and res­ist­ance, the en­ergy and meta­bolism whereby from one heart­beat to the next there is some­thing that re­sembles a jur­idical for­mu­la­tion. Locating this mo­ment is akin to im­posing a rigid grammar of pre­scrip­tion to a work of art; to the eph­em­eral the resides as a sap­phire in coal dust, be­cause it does just that. But this lim­inal space in between the non-​institutional and in­sti­tu­tional still fas­cin­ates and al­lows for what is legal and what is il­legal, within and ex­ternal to law, like a Kafka-​esque gate keeper, patrolling the door to the stomach of the law. By trying to un­der­stand these move­ments, the idea is to un­der­stand any found­a­tion of law.

I also want to draw on your men­tioning of dis­obedi­ence, as this is some­thing that I have been working (sadly more con­fined to within the academy than so much out­side these days!) of late in re­la­tion to the concept and prac­tice of ‘naugh­ti­ness’. Thoreau places the jus­ti­fic­a­tion for dis­obeying law as that which rests as a duty, ‘If (an in­justice) is of such a nature that it re­quires you to be the agent of in­justice to an­other, then, I say, break the law. Let your body be a counter fric­tion to stop the ma­chine’; Arendt would say this is ‘testing the statute’ whereby to be civilly dis­obedient is to counter a law in order to change a law. The in­sti­tu­tional char­acter and limits of law comes up again in Arendt’s un­der­standing of civil dis­obedi­ence and its role in con­sti­tu­tion­alism, whereby to be civilly dis­obedient is to ef­fect and af­fect law through extra-​legal ac­tion, ‘… the law can in­deed sta­bilise and leg­alise change once it has oc­curred, but the change it­self is al­ways the result of extra-​legal ac­tion’. Thus, this di­vi­sion between the ex­terior and in­terior of law as­sumes the found­a­tion of law, as there­fore being in­nov­ated from an out­side source. The legal, il­legal, alegal, extra-​legal, or infra-​legal even, are all a mo­tion of le­git­im­a­tion and struc­tur­a­tion and where can it be better ex­pressed than in ar­chi­tec­ture it­self, in a seething urbanity, in a re­con­fig­ur­a­tion of law whereby slums rest on the grid of co­lo­nial prop­erty rights in a stasis of il­le­git­imacy. And yet without them, prop­erty it­self would not exist, nor in­deed the pre-​eminence of the Common law. Slums are the extra-​legal to the right to exclude.

As you know I have fo­cused my re­search for the last few years on squat­ting, a way of per­forming ar­chi­tec­ture in both an ap­pear­ance and legal loop­hole of tran­si­ency, and yet the per­form­ance can last in a tem­por­ality much longer than that an­ti­cip­ated by either the squatter or the state. This in­ertia in which you won­der­fully place our dis­cus­sion of bur­eau­cracy and the techné of law, is as you say, both a source of frus­tra­tion and also a pro­cras­tin­a­tion that res­ults in the ex­pedient re-​appropriation of land. Returning to physics here al­lows for the role of time to be un­der­stood, or space-​time more pre­cisely, as a motor for res­ist­ance, as a means of testing the statute, whether the dis­rupt it and change its course or oth­er­wise. Entropy is the arrow of time, and so in this in­ertia is an aes­thetics of dilap­id­a­tion and de­com­pos­i­tion, an in­ev­it­ab­ility that the half-​built speedway or giant-​like pillar of a fly­over will even­tu­ally shift from being built — to be­coming ruins. That plateau of ar­chi­tec­ture and law ‚ between con­struc­tion and de­struc­tion — where en­tropy curlicues.

Once again dear Leopold, I shall leave it at that for you to ponder upon and will re­turn to my teaching duties.



Lucy Finchett-​Maddock is Lec­turer in Law, Uni­ver­sity of Sus­sex; Léo­pold Lam­bert is an archi­tect and Editor of The Fun­am­bu­list.


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