Opacity/Transparency. Materiality and Metaphors of State Order

Carolin Behrmann

Kaan Architecten, Netherlands Supreme Court, Den Haag, 2016

Transparency is just one of many metaphors of materiality helping politics and the law to render visible fundamental principles of state order. While in the nineteenth century building assignments for public institutions conveyed continuity and tradition through references to historical styles, in the post-histoire light-suffused structures that open up the view into the interior communicate democracy and reliance on the rule of law to the outside. Calls for more transparency have become obsolete, however, with the seemingly unlimited possibilities of observation, since the latter, rather than making good on the democratic promise of more (public) visibility associated with transparency, has turned the latter into a threat to privacy. And yet, in more recent architectural designs of judicial or government buildings it seems to endure as a metaphor of gaining trust and insight into the structures and actions of the body politic. The modern judiciary sees itself as an institution representing an image-less place of objectivity and independence. How does this self-perception change with the increasing use of media in court, a blurring of the boundaries between interior and exterior? By way of example, the project explores the materiality and symbolism of government buildings in order to analyze the relationship between the call for abstraction and the need for in-/visibility.


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