dossier Teses: Alexandre Vicente - Vigilância e Fronteira

ABSTRACT: This work is a reflection on the gaze, analyzing its history and evolution and how we have used it to decipher and understand our surroundings. More than anything, it aims to encourage readerS to look at architecture, the landscape, and objects in a new way, as things that create emotions and communicate, exemplifying this with concepts and objects of study. Accordingly, this essay examines various elements ranging from architectural works to installations and artistic pieces.


It is a reflection on the various aspects of the boundary condition, frontier and surveillance, trying to extol the limits of landscape and vision as a place of, and space for, contemplation, instability and change. The proposal intends not only to enhance this idea of retrospection on the concept of landscape, but also to create something in which the very place identifies itself. The gaze as an instrument creator of space and architecture.




The concept of surveillance dates back to the beginning of time, arising not only for pragmatic defense reasons but also out of necessity. First of all, the need for protection, safety and control over the territory and of the people living in it or invading it. It has evolved throughout history, from being a symbol to monitoring and tracing systems; from the eighteenth century onwards it began to have a more visible impact on the way society is viewed. Its terminology is associated with knowledge, insight and power (savoir, voir, pouvoir, words that in French share the same subject), the subject’s power of control over the object. It was during the Enlightenment that the gaze had its greatest importance and recognition as a cognition paradigm. In the Enlightenment "(...) it is defined by change in the pre-existing relationship linking will, authority and the use of reason" (...) [1] (Foucault, 1984), and sought to focus on the power of reason to improve society and prior knowledge.

Currently, there is a control system opposed to the Enlightenment. This technologically advanced system performs all social control, which, subtly imposed through video surveillance systems, coupled with the control of the use of the Internet, can control society. The scrutiny of our actions is virtually complete through all types of mechanisms and systems that are part of our daily habits, often without our awareness. The current control mechanism first started with photography, then with film making and finally with optical capturing through the television camera. The concept of Big Brother from George Orwell's Television in 1984 [2] (Orwell, 1949) applied to today is one example. The control society has pervaded insidiously almost all aspects of daily life.

In the mediation between interior and exterior provided by the eye, a sensory organ that captures light and transmits the perception of the surroundings, the subject (exterior) is analyzed by the active perception of the object (interior), and this is how the object acquires knowledge.


Accordingly, the eye stands out as most important organ, praised for its passive activity. Unlike all other organs, it has the ability to not only absorb but also establish a link between two human beings creating a non-verbal communication. The eye as a mediator between the inside and outside of the subjective world, used to create the distinction from one side and not the other, is, ultimately, a threshold - a frontier, wherein what lies on one side can only be internalized by the subject through that very same frontier that the eye is.




The visual organ has experienced a series of assessments over the years by the thinking involved in its capacities. Being an active mechanism far superior to other cognitive organs, it allows not only to observe but also to be used as a socialization and learning mechanism, and, more than learning, the quest for reasoning, for knowledge.  




Image 1 - TheEye of Providence 


Long before vision had been used by various areas of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, we find a series of illustrations and compositions from the sixteenth century. The imposition of control is evident in representations from this century up to the media control of today. Over time, all this symbolism imposed on people’s actions a system that dictated the limits and boundaries between what can and cannot do, because there is something that watches us constantly.


Among several examples, the work of Jan Provost, Sacred Allegory [3] (Provost, 1510-1520), which proposes a hierarchy of control and of the looking mechanism, stands out. This is a complex image with elements that can be individually identified, with the allegorical components arranged around a central axis relating to each other. Everything is carefully placed so that the eye is the dominant element. In this case, the eye of God is shown, as the symbol and focus of all eyes present in the painting, with the supreme authority that brooks no resistance. This eye has been used constantly in Christian symbolism over time, imposing on religious practice the existence of a ubiquitous controller, an all-knowing and all-seeing eye.


The illusion of constant control induces a first social control in history, where our daily actions contribute to the good or evil of our future. Nevertheless, it suggests that people have accepted a symbolical supervision, and that is was this internalization by believers that imposed a practice of surveillance. 


Image 2 – Sacred Allegory  



The hierarchy of this power of the vision can be seen in Hieronymus Bosch’s painting Seven Deadly Sins [4] (Bosch, 1480-1500), one of the first examples in the history of modern painting to represent the allegory of vision. The painting consists of a black background with five circles, four in the corners and a larger one in the middle. The smaller circles may represent the final destination that every human being will face, death, hell, the final judgment, or heaven. The central circle has several levels separating it.


The eye of God is at the centre of the painting, looking at Christ, who, in turn, looks at the seven deadly sins and can be understood as the reflection of the world over the eyes of God. Finally and reinforcing the message, on top of the circle is the phrase Cave Cave God Videt ("Watch out, watch out, Good sees”)


The entire composition of the painting reinforces the supervision of God over people's actions and the price to pay for committing such sins. The power of the absolute gaze is represented in the painting, avoiding words to describe it, imposing an idea of surveillance. At the same time, it is an object of reason because whoever owns it has the ability to gain knowledge, to be enlightened and at the same time impose control over others. 


Image 3 - Seven Deadly Sins 


This control is not only patent psychologically through representations, since the presence of vision as an enforcer of order and control exists and first appears in numerous military structures scattered over domestic borders. The military architecture, whose main function was to protect and defend the territory, was also planned with the aim of monitoring the territory and centralizing military power.


To understand the phenomenon of surveillance it is necessary to use the logic inherent to observation, and in the case of the towers, the surveillance intrinsic to them is enhanced due to the fact that they are observed and at the same time they let themselves be seen.



One of the first historical references to towers is the Tower of Babel, which was never built due to the confusion of tongues imposed by God to workers. However the look and observation control about something that dominates the landscape do not need words to be explained.


In the late twelfth century, the domus fortis appeared, a fortified structure that acted as the nobles’ power of affirmation over the rural population. The tower was chosen at this time as a symbol of power and, similar to the old keep of castles, the manor tower (domus fortis) attested this quest for prestige and power.


The residence of Lourenço Fernandes da Cunha, the Cunha Tower, was built at the end of the twelfth century (1171) in Entre-Douro and Minho and is one of the oldest examples of a residence boasting the various components of the domus fortis. The stately tower had a square stone structure and was located on a small hill in the valley. Its implementation, unlike the keep, which stood on high ground for greater visual control over the territory, stemmed from the guarantee of new living conditions, strengthening the legitimacy of ownership of its agricultural area.

Towers were clearly the symbol of power of the new stately homes. They usually had a square stone structure with two or three floors in wood, defense components and were sometimes surrounded by moats. Access was guaranteed through the first floor, which was movable to be able to be retracted in case of threat, with few openings, the few that existed being narrow slits. In this particular case, the tower used as power ostentation wanted to be observed, allowing observing any kind of threat through the narrow slits.

The Dornelas Tower, built in the thirteenth century, has a square 5m x 5m plan and a ground floor without openings, allowing access from a bow door to the first floor. Responding to security needs, the wooden stairs at the entrance were movable, with the three floors made in wood.  Boasting its nobility, the tower allowed to be seen from afar. 


Image 4 – Dornelas Tower 


The Alhambra, which still exists, is the example of medieval Islamic architecture and represents the culmination of medieval Islamic culture in the Iberian Peninsula. Its Arabic name is Qal'at al-Hamra, or the Red Fort, due to the material used in its construction, the red clay found in the area. Located on top of a hill, it started as a fortress at the end of the thirteenth century. After being transformed into a city palace, during most of its history it functioned as a royal palace, because of its high location and the fact it was separated from the city of Granada.


The elevation of the hill acted as a natural defense, and was a strategic protection location and a symbol of royal power. More than its location, other elements, such as the stone wall surrounding the citadel, gates and towers, created the appearance of a fortress. This location could only be sustained by wealth, because water had to be brought to the hill through a system of pipelines and tanks.


The Alhambra evokes the memory of many Christian medieval fortresses in its design, consisting of a castle, a palace and a residential annex. The citadel, or at least its oldest part, is built on a steep and isolated promontory and is protected from possible attacks. Indeed, the look of the fortress can derive from the existing tradition of stately towers, which were located outside the cities for defensive reasons, clearly military in nature. In any case, this military concern promoted authority, prestige and power.


The main function of its watchtowers was to observe and be observed. The fact that observation could be done from them denotes military concerns, while permitting to be observed demonstrates concern to show power and authority. The La Vela watchtower, twenty-five metres high, was used as a conquering symbol during the Spanish conquest of Granada in 1492. This tower was added to the walls in the eighteenth century and restored in 1881. The Door of Justice, with a huge arch topped by a square tower, was used by the Moors as a court of law, clearly another symbol of authority for those observing the fortress from far away.



Image 5 – Comares Tower, Alhambra 


The Comares Tower, built in the fourteenth century, is the largest of existing towers in the Alhambra, forty-five metres high, and where observing and being observed is taken to the extreme. A symbol of power, this tower is associated with the most important historical moments of the Alhambra. When observed, it transmits an image of power, and its towers characterize not only the landscape but dominate it.


Fortresses thus had military, social, political and economic organisation functions, standing out in the landscape as signs of power, playing the defensive and organizational role of exploring the territories in which they were located. They acted essentially as a discourse of power and deterrence and watch over the entire territory.


The image of the fortress as a symbol of power inherent to the logic of medieval constructions results in visual communication that is direct and noticeable from afar. The word fortress comes from the Latin fortitudo, meaning strength, endurance, courage. Thus, the name and concept are intertwined. The concept of resistance takes on greater importance when, in the fourteenth century, fortified churches emerged in the Iberian Peninsula, with defence mechanisms and clearly playing military functions, offering resistance to invaders. This defensive solution was obtained through the bell tower, which was built with thick stone walls and was higher than conventional towers, representing the fusion between military tower and the religious bell tower.


Inside a fortified urban centre, some buildings, like the church, or even the "palace" could not fail to be identifiable, and their size stood out in the territory, thus enabling to observe and be observed.


The availability of artillery in castles in the inner parts of the country forced inventing building mechanisms that repealed the consequences of artillery attacks. The answer was the emergence of solid keeps, as well as numerous turrets strategically located in the upper parts of the territory where, from the top of the towers, the view of the territory was fairly comprehensive, allowing it to be seen from afar. In addition, there were fortresses that sought to strengthen the image of power addressing surveillance and defence strategic needs. Their location contributed to the formation and internalization of a mental image as a key element of power over the landscape, structuring the territory and protecting the population, acquiring their largest importance when located in the border regions, leading also to a mental and conceptual image of observation, as well as the paintings and representations mentioned earlier.


The keeps stood inside the fortresses, located on a higher level. The keep was the residence of feudal power and a constant reminder of its presence, acting as the embodiment of an authority. Being a vertical dependency system, it also implied a hierarchy of the landscape. Detached from the rest of the fortress, it was located on a high point and had a supreme image of power and control. With a height rarely less than ten metres, the keep could be fifteen or even twenty metres tall, quadrangular or rectangular, and was conceived as a last defence bastion, acting as a fortress within the fortress, eventually becoming a symbol of power. 


Image 6 – Keep of the Melgaço Castle 




Not following the idea of observing an object over the territory, another type of structure, the Panopticon, requires observation of oneself.


The Panopticon (Pan means everything and optical means visible) is a concept advanced by Jeremy Bentham first published in letters dating back to 1791, whose objectives included the construction of utopia from the reality of the outside world and the quest for human control through drawing. They were done with the realization of the idea of prison, a prison where everything is observable. The Panopticon was an enclave of reason, where the surveillance and balance mechanisms were essential to the search for the sense of duty as a higher goal.


Before the Panopticon, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux built a salt factory in Arc-et-Senans [5] (Ledoux, 1775-1778) that contained a particular feature, a central observation point that acted as an exercise of power and, simultaneously, for registering knowledge, i.e., this idea of control from a neuralgic point of a structure that already existed.


This circular prison model, composed of various levels and systems, was understood as the "Eye of Providence", which in this case has a religious connotation. Through purely architectural means, Bentham made it possible to apply a system of order and efficacy with only an absolute surveillance authority.


The Panopticon structure is based on the idea of constant surveillance of the individual, even if he was not observed, making him feel, psychologically, that he was under constant observation, making the observed person feel he was the object of observation, controlled over his domain. This worked through placing the cells in a circle with openings that allowed a huge amount of light to enter inside the cells, whose entrance pointed to the centre of the circle, where there was a watchtower. The light effect created by the glass openings allowed those who watched to control without being seen. On the other hand, the observed person could not be aware if he was actually being observed by someone, that is, there is a sense of constant surveillance that was not always taking place.


The sensation caused by looking can be understood through Georg Simmel, who advocates, in his sociology of the senses, that humans understand each other through the senses, as the eye creates a "bridge" between the understanding concerning two people. This connection is lost only when the direction of the eye is diverted from eye to eye contact. The cells that are in a circular gallery are separated by a watchtower where the guards would be.


Both areas would have two floors, and the director, also placed in the central area, would be able to observe both the cells and the guards, because he would be standing at a higher level. The inspection is then done by means of ubiquitous monitoring, a surveillance based on the imagination of those who are to be observed, where the religious connotation is obvious. In the search for unique and perfect model of prisons, there are unknowns that are demonstrated in the various phases of the Panopticon, but always with a certainty of a society’s surveillance and absolute rational control, i.e., "the paradox of a prison as an ideal society"[6] (Trigueiros, 2011).  



Image 7 – The Panopticon Prison 

Although Bentham’s suggestion was never implemented, his ideas influenced a lot of proposals that emerged later. Numerous prisons followed the model of the Panopticon, one of them being the Lisbon prison. Although not containing a circular plan, the prison incorporates all of Bentham’s other concepts.


In the case of Eastern State Penitentiary, designed by architect John Havilland, issues proposed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries did materialise using a radial system of surveillance. Surrounding the radial building there is a walled structure containing watchtowers in the corners. The central building is characterized by its radial structure, consisting of seven blocks. The interception point of all rays acts as a strategic observation point. Although not following the typology of Bentham’s Panopticon, it uses the concept in its design.


As a result of Havilland’s prison, the improvement of the solutions found earlier took place in London. The Pentonville prison, designed by architect John Jebb, is characterized by a semirradial type of surveillance based on the Panopticon concept. In this case, every detail has been studied, from the prison location to its orientation, always with the aim of strengthening the Panopticon system.


During the nineteenth century, other prisons were built based on the Eastern State typology and on the Panopticon concept. It was in this context that the Lisbon Prison was built [7] (Carvalho, Le Cocq, Ferraz, 19th/20th centuries) between 1873/85.


Designed according to the panoptical radial model with a star-shaped plan, it comprises two large wings arranged in the direction of the largest size of the land and crossed by four smaller wings of polyhedral octagonal shape, with a set of six arms radiating from the focal or panopticon point, which is indicated by a vertical space.


The introduction of the 1867 prison system is achieved in the way the prison should be built, requiring an appropriate structure, obviously allowing the easy monitoring of prisoners by the guards, something which is essential in the concept of Panopticon. In order to meet the security objectives and, above all, the surveillance goals, a walled radial system with a single entry was adopted. This building set up a model, easily simplifyable, based on the provision of parallelepiped structures containing rows of outer cells, juxtaposed in battery, according to radial axes delineated from one central focus, from which one can visually reach all corridors and doors of all the cells. The strategic point of control over the wings that are distributed radially is located at the centre, again following the Easter State model and Bentham’s concept of the Panopticon, where, from a single observation point, everything can be controlled.


The Coimbra Prison [8] (Ferraz, 19th century) was built at the same time as the Lisbon one, and was also designed according to the Panopticon radial model with a Latin cross shape. Consisting of four horizontal orthogonal wings, combined with four smaller wings, they constitute a set of eight arms radiating from a focal or panoptical point marked by a vertical space. The prison project arose from the "District Prisons Project" made by engineer Julio Ricardo Ferraz in 1875, the author of the Lisbon project. The Coimbra and Santarém prisons are based on the Lisbon project-type, and they are the only three examples of the use of the radial model in the Portuguese prison architecture, whereby by resorting to the Bentham’s Panopticon concept, full control can be obtained from the central point. 


Image 8 - Eastern State Prison 


This unique look to form a society without the help of objectified forms works without the need to use language, revealing that the gaze discloses something everytime it sees. It should be noted that Bentham, although not having sympathy for the Christian religion, is aware of its intrinsic importance in society and uses its themes to enforce his ideas of the Panopticon.



At the same time that the Panopticon was developed by Jeremy Bentham, the notion of panorama emerges. This is a tool that helps us identify places or features of those places, as opposed to a painting that represents an object that has symbols which, if if we are not familiar with them, we are unable to identify and thus cannot have the perception and knowledge of the places depticted. The concept of panorama emerged in 1787 with Robert Barker and became quite common in the nineteenth century.


A paintings always represents what the painter is watching and wants to convey through an image in a round room that simulates the view of the landscape. This relationship between artist and representation creates a language that is full of possibilities, and words are no longer necessary to explain the piece, which talks of a space already understood and filtered by an observer. This means that when a space is represented, we are no longer seeing it in total, but rather a reality created from an objectified understanding of another person. This explains vision as supervision, i.e., the frame created by the observer reapplied as an object, an object that already has some connections with the viewer, connections already perceived by this look. A frame is no more than one orientated projection, and in the case of a panoramic, it is a full projection of the surroundings.


Visual perception is inseparable from the muscle movement of the eye and the physical effort involved in focusing on an object. Initially the eye was understood as a pure transmission device, but in the nineteenth century it came to be understood as a sensory apparatus in which the actual process of getting tired actually lied in perception. The observation becomes increasingly externalised, that is, the vision body and its objects begin to constitute a single field.


For philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the sociology of vision is an integral part of his existential ontology, in which the human existence is defined as a being, whose free projection of possibilities with reference to a world of objects, is a move towards an unattainable self-sufficient totality [9] (Sartre, 1956). Sartre is concerned with the act of looking, given that the look is the main means through which individuals are led to recognize themselves as part of the world of objects. Rather than trying to demonstrate how relationships are formed through sight, Sartre argues that such relations communicate to people an essential aspect of their being, which without the act of looking would not be able to grasp.


It is under the gaze of others that the individual becomes aware of being part of a visual field structured by a number of possibilities, and therefore of being an object. The observer thus creates the framework in which the person who is looking appears as an object among others with certain relationships that are corrected by the visual field.


Emphasizing that looking is a pure form of building the social relationship, Sartre believed that all eyes are piercing, because when one is seen, one holds up a place from which there is no escape and where one is defenseless. Sartre's look is synthesized by functions such as supervision and monitoring that refer to the control of human beings, placing them in the comprehensive perspective of another individual. 


Image 9 – The Panorama 


In 1800, the individual as an observer became an object of investigation. The reorganization of thought in the early nineteenth century allowed the emergence of a new objectivity given to subjective phenomena, and the concern with optical illusions is part of the exploration of the limits of that period.


The concept of afterimage discussed by scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is one of the optical phenomena that arise in this context. Afterimage is an optical illusion which, according to Goethe, describes perception and cognition as essentially temporal processes dependent on the union between the past and the present of the observer.


The odiorama is contemporary of the afterimage concept and is based on the incorporation of a still observer inside a mechanical apparatus that keeps the subject within a temporal optical experience. The diorama removed autonomy from the observer, placing the public on a circular platform in constant movement, allowing different viewpoints and distinct light sensations. The adaptation of the eye to the movement casts aside the idea that vision is a limited and static body of the camara obscura.



But what are the object and subject? In other words, can we perceive the object as all that is observable or analysed by the sight, what surveillance is trying to attain and control, as opposed to the subject, which is the entity whose ability to learn is given by the look. If so, observing or looking becomes the third element to be analysed.


The paradox between the eye as a mediator, a means of analysis an object in question, associated with the view one has from the towers, happens when the observer is in the situation that is observable through the other tower, that is, the tower (the observed object) is also the object that observes. Ultimately, each type of surveillance is connected to the observation, but surveillance can arise whithout performing the observation operations.


To observe is to use a distinctive feature to indicate one side and not the other, that is, it is the marking of a frontier whereby the eye acts as a barrier between the two sides.


Distinction and indication create observation. First one considers what should be observed and then distinction is introduced; by introducing a distinction, the indication starts receiving a corresponding specification.


The observer is the third element of this observation, the expert of observation, the one who dictates what to watch (indication) and the barrier of the observation process (distinction), and this means that someone else can only see what the former sees only by asking him what the distinction is.


By adding perception to observation, we have a new paradox because we cannot observe ourselves without our knowledge. When we observe someone and have no knowledge of this person, and by including distinction and get our perception of that person. The opposite cannot happen because we already have our perception of ourselves.


An observer can observe himself only if he does so from the position of the other. This concept is implemented in the closed-circuit video installation by Peter Weibel, Observation of the Observation: Uncertainty [10] (Weibel, 1973), wherein the observer is placed at the centre of a video system and can see himself through a panoplia of monitors, albeit from the back. What happens is that the observer, by only seeing himself from the back, gets the image of another observed person and when trying to get away and see himself, he really cannot do it, reinforcing the artist’s intention in the process. The experience of observation on the observation gets a more importante role when applied to the construction of space, as happens in this installation.     


Image 10 - Observation of the Observation: Uncertainty 


Self-observation carries with it consequences for the phenomenon of surveillance and therefore observation. The concept of “self-observation” occurs according to a sequence organized recursively that must be seen as a system, where observation is seen as a continuation of frontiers, with Roland Barthes’ reference to the presence of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, built in 1889 by Gustave Eiffel for the Universal Exhibition and still the tallest building in Paris today, being one of the most relevant examples that demonstrate the exploration of the limits of observation.


When we are in the tower, we realise that it is the only place in Paris where we do not have the perception of the tower, only what the tower lets us see. At the same time, there is no view in Paris that the tower does not reach or that cannot be reached. Thus, the Eiffel Tower becomes an important object, a landmark in the city, with an importance bestowed to it not only by what surrounds it but also because it is the very symbol of Paris. This moment created by the tower is unique, we tend to create things that see but that have nothing that can be seen (such as looking through the lens of a camera, or own eye, which we can never observe). Still, they are things that remain hidden from the gaze itself.   



The tower creates a moment of separation between what it sees and what it allows to be seen. In it, we obtain a vast field of view, a panorama, which is nothing more than watching any angle of the landscape or territory. Eiffel realised that with altitude, the panoramic view gives us the world to read and not only to understand, and this is why it corresponds to a new sensibility of vision. By allowing to transcend sensations, ultimately the panorama is no more than an image that we try to decipher, where we try to recognize known sites and identify reference points, and so when one is able to have full understanding, one has a truly panoramic view.


In 1994, Kengo Kuma designed the Kiro-san observatory [11] (Kuma, 1994) on a slope, allowing the observation of the territory.


Observatories demonstrate the self-centred nature of human perception.” [12] (Kuma, 2008)


The observatory becomes understood as an observation control device which, through physical experience, enables observing the territory and the experience of it. The observatory appears as a single narrow slit inside the slope, with the slit being all that is visible from the outside. Visitores begin and end their observation from this slit. What was seen before is now reverted to the act of observing.


Inside the observatory, a few monitors allow the observer to see himself, not knowing where the video camera is. Self-observation in this device enables recognizing that to be able to observe it is necessary to be observed and the opposite, that in order to be observed it is necessary to observe one self.  


Image 11 – Aerial view of the Eiffel Tower during the Paris Universal Exhibition 


Back in Vienna, Adolf Loos designed a house in 1928 [13] (Loos, 1928) where spaces are not only endowed with quality but also have the panorama idea carried to their interior.


 “(...) But can there be a detective story of the interior itself, of the hidden mechanisms by which space is constructed as interior? Which may be to say, a detective story of detection itself, of the controlling look, the look of control, the controlled look. But where would the traces of the look be imprinted? What do we have to go on? What clues?” [14] (Colomina, 1996).


In Loos’ Moller House, through only one space, the living room, one can, from the couch, look at the outside and have a full view of the house, while, at the same time, having the impression of being seen on the couch, which, with its back to the window, conveys the feeling of being watched and simultaneously the sensation of comfort.


Control can be felt when we are sitting on the couch and can observe the entire house, and we can control who comes in and who goes out. The sense of being controlled is caused by the outside and by the fact we are not facing the outsider, and so we do not know whether we are being watched, we just have a feeling that we are. The feeling of comfort is conveyed by the sense of control provided by the sofa’s position, so the sofa with its back to the window becomes the central object that allows the viewer to have control of everything and have the feeling of being observed from the outside. The all-seeing eye of the viwer turns inwards, only enabling a mental image of the outside garden, because the window in this case only has the function of lighting up the space. The observer starts to be observed by another that is external to the house and it is as if he is inside because he can see everything that happens inside and so the inside merges with the outside.


“(…) Architecture is not simply a platform that accommodates the viewing subject. It is a viewing mechanism that produces the subject. It precedes and frames its occupant.” [15] (Colomina, 1996).

Adolf Loos is able to turn that vision mechanism into something higher, it controls the inner viewer, the outside viewer, and can still make the viewer be viewed when sitting on the couch, yielding control to both viewers. This way, as soon as the viewer feels he is being observed, he ceases to be the observer in control of the inside and passes on control to the outside observer who has the ability to control the inside. 


 Image 12 - Moller House, Vienna 




When Loos introduced mirrors inside his houses, he was reinforcing the idea that the window is only an entry point for light and that the all-seeing eye of the viewer should turn towards the interior. In doing so, he was also emphasizing the idea of control and surveillance, because through the mirror, although the viewer is facing outwardly, the latter is controlling the interior.


The paradox of introducing a mirror on the inside of a house is revealed when the mirror is perceived as a window. Still, the window that divides the inside from the outsider, now does not divide, being the reflection of the interior instead.


As Loos, long before, Las Meninas [16] (Velázquez, 1656), by Diego Velázquez, raises questions of optical illusion, reversing our perception of the gaze. The painting, which at first glance is nothing but a representation of the daily life of the Spanish royal court, brings with it many underlying meanings. Velázquez depicts himself, in his studio or perhaps in the Madrid Palace, painting two figures, Infanta Margarita accompanied by her maids of honour, with an Italian fool in the background; in addition to these two visible characters, two other invisible ones are reflected in the mirror that is exactly in the centre of the painting, King Philip IV and his wife, Mariana.


 “(…) the skilled hand is suspended in mid-air, arrested in rapt attention on the painter’s gaze; and the gaze, in return, waits upon the arrested gesture.” [17] (Foucault, 1970).


There is a paradox caused by Diego Velázquez, who, while painting the picture, depicts himself looking at the model, that is, we face a moment of contradiction because at the time he paints he could never be watching the model. The painter then arises as a spectator, an observer, but also as an object being observed, being represented when standing between the visible and the hidden, and, with his eyes turned toward us, he can master the paradox.


The fact that the picture depicted in the painting has its back to us breaks the relationship established between the look of the painter and what he is seeing, so one never understands the perception of the painter regarding what he is painting or what he is seeing. Between spectator and model, we never know who we are or what we are doing, if we are observing or being observed, because as soon as the artist places us in the painting as models, he forces us to be part of the representation and we are placed in an invisible image forever. The painter can accentuate this moment by including a window on the right side, from which the light emanates and takes us to the screen that has its back to us, making us part of the represented scene. In fact, we are seeing ourselves being observed by the painter and made visible in his eyes by the same light that allows us to observe him.


As soon as we realise that the painter represented in the table is painting us and that we are his model, a mirror is presented to us. This mirror is a second contradiction of Velázquez, since while expecting to see ourselves reflected in it, in fact the reflection is of another reality beyond us, that is, this reflection shows the space beyond the painting which we, spectators, are admiring. Indeed, the mirror is not reflecting anything that is in the space, or the painter who has his back to it, not even the figures at the centre of the room. The mirror is reflecting the invisible. The invisible in this case is only invisible because we do not we see it directly, that is, the mirror allows us to see what the painter is watching (his model), which basically is what is visible to him.


Now that we realize that the mirror, at the centre, is the answer to understanding the painting, it is interesting to note that all the characters represented are looking out of the setting, that is, are looking at the actual scene. The mirror that observes and is observed by the true setting where the painter‘s models stand, and it does not reflect the painter because he is not part of the mirror’s image, in the same way the king and queen appear in the mirror because they are not part of the scene. Still, they observe what lies beyond the painting through the mirror.  


Image 13 - Las Meninas 


The mirror represents the moment when the individual realises his condition and existence, that is, the mirror reflects only and just the truth.


Occupying a unique place in the imagination of human beings as history, the mirror was described as the matrix of the symbolic accompanying the human quest to know and understand our identity, sharing the same function as the look. In all cultures, the mirror is associated with the meaning of truth and authenticity, and is also associated with many legends and superstitions.


Although the act of observation and surveillance is commonly understood as an act of control over another object, in some situations it can only be considered an act in a series of operations carried out by a subject on that very same object.


So, when the observer looks in a mirror, it is impossible to observe himself without his knowledge, without awareness that he is being observed. This suggests a counterpoint to the very origin of the word surveillance, imposing an observation without knowledge or consent on the part of the observed. This contradiction, this paradox is revealed at the very moment the observer is seen, since he, through his own endogenous image, or the image he has of himself, creates, in its interaction, a moment of control, as if he had a suspicious behaviour.


When the observer looks in the mirror, he not only sees himself but also gets to see what is behind him.  Therefore, when looking in the mirror, the observer has the perception of what is around him.


In the work Las Meninas [18] (Velázquez, 1656), it is possible to find this contrast. The position in which the painter is represented in his own paiting creates in us a bothering sensation of a non-realism or impossible situation; he is the observer, but at the same time the observed object, his position in the paining is the time between the visible and the invisible, the moment when the author represents himself seeing what he is representing, dominating the paradox at this point. Yet, he creates a third situation, he observes those who are out of the picture, observing it.  



Image 14 - The False Mirror 



Throughout history, the gaze has manifested itself in several ways, transforming itself into a structure or mechanized system but always with the objective of using in society concepts associated with the power inherent to it: control, surveillance and power concepts over the territory or over something. The visual organ, which came to be understood as something that is more than pure transmission, implying visual control, has been transported to architecture when there is a need for control over the territory. Associated with control and visual power, the higher constructions were, the more power they demonstrated, and nowadays it is still like that. The big towers that we find today in large urban centers are no more than economic power demonstrations over the place, a power that wants to convey an image of authority by placing in the landscape one landmark that can be seen from any point.


The perception and knowledge acquired through vision associated with the mirror reveals the truth as it focuses upon a centralized image in which it watches us and we see it watching us. Our knowledge is reflected at the time at a centralized image when we are facing a mirror.


Surveillance and the position of the gaze create the frontier and the path that the individual treads in search of reason, and architecture should be one of the connecting means between this quest and the understanding of his surroundings, landscape and the individual’s position in space and territory.





[1] - Michel Foucault. What is Enlightenment. 1984

[2] - George Orwell. Nineteen Eighty-Four. 1949

[3] - Jan Provost. Sacred Allegory c. 1510-1520, oil on oak, 20 x 16”. Louvre Museum, Paris

[4] - Hieronymus Bosch. Seven Deadly Sins c. 1480-1500, oil on wood, 47 x 59”. Prado Mudeum, Madrid

[5] - The Royal Saltworks at Arc-et-Senans. 1775-1778, Claude Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806).

[6] - Conceição Trigueiros, Panóptico. As Ordens da Vigilância. Uma Arquitetura Moralista, 2011, p. 23

[7] - Lisbon Prison. 19th/20th centuries, Eng. Joaquim Júlio Pereira de Carvalho, Eng. Luís Victor Le Cocq and Eng. Ricardo Júlio Ferraz.

[8] - Coimbra Prison. 19th/20th centuries, Eng. Ricardo Júlio Ferraz (1824-1880).

[9] - Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, Part II, 1956

[10] - Peter Weibel, Beobachtung der Beobachtung: Unbestimmtheit, 1973, installation of a closed circuit, changing size. Generali Foundation, Vienna

[11] - Kiro-san Observatory. 1994. Kengo Kuma. Ehime, Japan

[12] - Observatories demonstrate the self-centred nature of human perception.

Kengo Kuma. Anti-Object: The Dissolution and Disintegration of Architecture. 2008. Erasing: Kiro-san Observatory, Ochi-Gun, Ehime, 1991-94. p. 49

[13] - Moller House. 1928. Adolf Loos. Vienna

[14] - (...) can there be a detetive story of the interior itself, of the hidden mechanisms by which space is constructed as interior? Which may be to say, a detetive story of detection itself, of the controlling look, the look of control, the controlled look. But where would the traces of the look be imprinted? What do we have to go on? What clues?

Beatriz Colomina. Privacy and Publicity. Modern Architecture as Mass Media. 1996. Interior. p. 233

[15] - Architecture is not simply a platform that accommodates the viewing subject. It is a viewing mechanism that produces the subject. It precedes and frames its occupant.

Beatriz Colomina. Privacy and Publicity. Modern Architecture as Mass Media. 1996. Interior. p. 250

[16] - Diego Velázquez. Las Meninas c. 1656, oil on canvass, 318 cm x 276 cm, Prado Museum, Madrid

[17] - The skilled hand is suspended in mid-air, arrested in rapt attention on the painter's gaze; and the gaze, in return, waits upon the arrested gesture.

 Michel Foucault. The Order Of Things. An Archaeology Of The Human Sciences. 1970. Chapter I: Las Meninas. p. 3

[18] - Diego Velázquez. Las Meninas c. 1656, oil on canvass, 318 cm x 276 cm, Prado Museum, Madrid



Image 1- Daniel Chodowiecki. The Eye of Providence. 1787. Etching, 4 x 5''. Private collection.
Available at: AAAAAAAAASk/bcQdXIJls6w/s640/Daniel+Chodowiecki+-+Das+Auge+der +Vorsehung+1787.jpg

Image 2 - Jan Provost. Sacred Allegory c. 1510-1520, oil on oak, 20 x 16”. Louvre Museum, Paris
Available at: AAAAAAAABI4/yBDmsnZqzWM/s1600/Jan+PROVOST,+Allégorie +chrétienne.jpg

Image 3 - Hieronymus Bosch. Seven Deadly Sins c. 1480-1500, oil on wood, 47 x 59”. Prado Museum, Madrid
Available at: Bosch7Deadlies.jpg

Image 4 - J. Braga. Dornelas Tower
Available at:

Image 5 - David Roberts. Comares Tower, Alhambra
Available at: Roberts_David_Tower_Of_Comares,_Alhambra,_Granada.jpg

Image 6 - Jorge Francisco Martins de Freitas, VRFoto. Keep of Melgaço Castle. 2010
Available at: 0001.jpg

Image 7 - Willey Reveley. Drawing of the plan and elevation of the Panopticon. 1791, pencil, pen and watercolor, 17 x 24''. Library of the University College London
Available at: panopticon1.jpg

Image 8 - John Havilland. Screen printing of P.S: Duval and Co., 1855. Aerial view of Eastern State Penitentiary
Available at: 2011/05/Eastern_State_Penitentiary_aerial_crop.jpg

Image 9 - Robert Barker. The Panorama. 1793, watercolour. British Museum, London
Available at: AAAAAAAAApg/6vv_FeSmbTM/s1600/panhistory_barker_double.gif

Image 10 - Peter Weibel, Beobachtung der Beobachtung: Unbestimmtheit, 1973, installation of a closed-circuit, changing size. Generali Foundation, Vienna
Available at: schmid/schmid05-13-05-19.jpg

Image 11- Alphonse Liébert. Aerial view of the Eiffel Tower during the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1889
Available at: Aerial_view_of_Eiffel_Tower_and_Exposition_Universelle,_Paris,_1889.jpg

Image 12 - Adolf Loos. Moller House, Vienna, 1928
Available at:

Image 13 - Diego Velázquez. Las Meninas c. 1656, oil on canvss, 318 cm x 276 cm, Prado Museum, Madrid
Available at:

Image 14 - René Magritte. The False Mirror. 1929, oil on canvass, 21 x 32'', Modern Art Museum, New York
Available at: mirror-1928






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EVANS, Robin. Bentham's Panopticon. An Incident in Social History of Architecture. London: Architectural Association Quarterly, 3, number 2, April- July, Oxford/New York, 1971. pp. 21 - 37



COLOMINA, Beatriz. The Split Wall: Domestic Voyeurism. Available at: Colomina-Split%20Wall.pdf

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Alexandre Carlos Guerreiro Vicente


Born in 1985, Portugal, he is an architect with a master degree from Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa with a thesis titled "Surveillance and Frontier, Museum in the Second Defense Line of Juromenha", which he wrote under the supervision of architects Manuel and Francisco Aires Mateus and Joaquim Moreno.

Between 2010 and 2012 he worked on a few public tenders at the studio of Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Architects and also collaborated with Barbini Architects and CHP Architects. Between 2010 and 2013 he participated for the university and on his own in various competitions and exhibitions.


In 2010 he was of the winners of the Lisbon Architeccture Triennial contest for Cova da Moura with the project "The Thin Red Line". In 2011 and 2012 he participated in the Secil Universities Prize and won it in 2012. In 2013 he was one of the finalists of the Archiprix Portugal 2013. His work can be found in various architecture journals and websites. He currently lives and works in Osaka, Japan, at Ryuichi Ashizawa Architects & associates. In one and a half years he has been involved and contributed to about 15 projects of all kinds. He has also been working as a freelancer in small projects in Japan and Portugal.


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