Phatic Architecture

Robertson, Lisa 2003. Occasional Work and Sever Walks from the Office for Soft Architecture. Astoria: Clear Cut Press.

We bent to drink from it, and the fountain was dry. But then the category of fountains opened. Many would be invisible, phatic, fountains we passed daily but could not recall, dormant, removed, seasonal, lapsed, somewhat shy or retiring or spurting contrary to intention. Our fountains would possess pathos. They would be wallflowers (Robertson 2003: 57)
Here "phatic" basically means "useless" or "uncommunicative". Phatic architecture here constitutes the kind that was intended as significant but remains invisible, a failed message, so to say. Curiously, in using the metaphor of "wallflowers" it does point to something interesting: that people show up to social events just to be there, in a very phatic way, only to be in contact without actually communicating.

Eco, Umberto 1997. Function and Sign: Semiotics of Architecture. In: Leach, Neil (ed.), Rethinking Architecture: A reader in cultural theory. London; New York: Routledge, 173-193.

But architectural messages display also the five other communicative functions [aside from the aesthetic function] listed by Jakobson: architecture involves communication that is connative [sic] (or imperative, making one inhabit it in a certain way), emotive (think of the calm of a Greek temple, the turbulence of a baroque church), phatic (obviously in the many attention-getting devices of architecture - the phatic function might be found to be predominant, then, in such messages as obelisks, arches, and tympana - but also at the level of urban fabric, where 'channels' are opened and established for architectural messages, as in a piazza's ensuring continued attention to the facades of the buildings that surround it), metalingual (where, for one example, to relieve any confusion about the code for interpreting the message architecture assumes a self-explaining, or 'glossing', function - think of the benches built into certain otherwise inhospitable American plazas), and of course referential (what we will be concerned with here for the most part - that is, the denotations and connotations of architectural objects). (Eco 1997: 191; note 3)
This is the already familiar exposition of Eco's architectural semiotics as it applies Jakobson's linguistic scheme. Phatic is here understood in the sense of "attention-getting", which Jakobson derived from Mowrer. This is most likely also the source for the idea of phatic image.

Chandler, Daniel 2002. Semiotics: The Basics. Second Edition. London; New York: Routledge.

A textual code can be defined as a set of ways of reading which its producers and readers share. Not everyone has access to the relevant codes for reading (or writing) a text. The phatic function excludes as well as includes certain readers. Those who share the code are members of the same 'interpretive community' (Fish 1980: 167ff., 335-336; 338). Familiarity with particular codes is related to social position, in terms of such factors as class, ethnicity, nationality, education, occupation, political affiliation, age, gender and sexuality. (Chandler 2002: 194)
It is curious that here the phatic function regulates access by way of code. In a sense it is classical "interaction management" applied on textual matters. But the suggestion itself is noteworthy, for it affirms the "common core" aspect of "communization". I.e. that social contact and "interpreter families" (to use Morris's term) are related.

Krampen, Martin 1991. Environmental Meaning. In: Zube, Erwin H. and Gary T. Moore (eds.), Advances in Environment, Behavior, and Design. Vol 3. New York: Plenum Press, 231-268.

Jakobson called his six functions of linguistic messages the emotive, referential, conative, aesthetic, phatic, and metalinguistic. Preziosi (1979a, 1979b) adapted these six functions to architecture. He called Jakobson's emotive the expressive, his referential equally the referential, his conative the exhortative, his aesthetic equally the aesthetic, his phatic the territorial, and his metalinguistic the allusory function of architecture. (Krampen 1991: 244)
This interpretation is close to the theme of access control (or interaction management), but is condensed into one word, territoriality.

Nöth, Winfred 1995. Architecture. In: Handbook of semiotics. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 435-439.

The phatic function is the environmental framing of interpersonal interactions, the aspect of architectural "territoriality". (Nöth 1995: 436)
Nöth's conclusion on the same papers by Preziosi further clarify the point. The phatic function of architecture is involved with how architectural design influences the social interaction within that built environment. In that sense the newfangled notions of sociopetal and, conversely, sociofugal phatic dispositions actually make a whole lot of sense, at least when applied on a spatial medium.

Burke, Kenneth 1975. Words as Deeds. Centrum: Working Papers of the Minnesota Center for Advanced Studies in Language, Style, and Literary Theory 3(2): 147-168.

Malinowski then turns to a different anecdote that brings out a different aspect of language - and his name for this is "phatic communion," not to be confused with what Austin calls a "phatic act." Here "we turn our attention to free narrative or to the use of language in pure social intercourse; when the object of talk is not to achieve some aim, but the exchange of words almost as an end in itself." Verbalizing as so denominated involves "a type of speech in which ties of union are created by a mere exchange of words. [...] The whole situation consists in what happens linguistically. Each utterance is an act serving the direct aim of binding hearer to speaker by a tie of some social sentiment or other."
These two anecdotes struck me as almost classic in the simplicity and suggestiveness of their relevance to thes ubject. And it made good sense to me that the strategic instrument in so major an activity as the gathering of food (a co-operative function that can equally well serve to the ends of competition) should be, we might say, enjoyed for its own sake; for the typically symbol-using animal might be expected to exercise its prowess as the typically symbol-using animal, as fish take to swimming and birds to flying. (Burke 1975: 150-151)
This merely affirms the "speech for sake of speech" that is Malinowski's phatic communion, but the colourful metaphor of the symbol-using animal is worth recording for its own sake.
In abandoning his two-term start, Austin (p. 95) works with "three rough distinctions between the phonetic act, the phatic act, and rhetic act," which relate thus:
The phonetic act is merely the act of uttering certain noises. The phatic act is the uttering of certain vocables or words, i.e. noises of certain types, belonging to and as belonging to, a certain vocabulary, conforming to and as conforming to a certain grammar. The rhetic act is the performance of an act of using those vocables with a certain more-or-less definite sense and reference.
Two pages later: The same "pheme, e.g. sentence" (that is, the same "phatic act") "may be used on different occasions of utterance with a different sense of reference, and so be a different rheme" (that is, a different "rhetic" act). (I've wondered if there should be a term such as "phatic praxis" (and joked that it could be telescoped as "phraxis"), but was not aware that Austin already had "phatic act".: 155)
I've wondered if there should be a term such as "phatic praxis" (and joked that it could be telescoped as "phraxis"), but was not aware that Austin already had "phatic act". This is indeed not to be confused with phatic communion. It seems that Austin went to the Weston La Barre school of "phatic communication" (i.e. he understood "phatic" in the sense that Trager understood "paralanguage").

Karimzadeh, Abdollah; Alireza Khosravi and Hamid R. Rabie Dastgerdi 2013. City and citizen as a text and its author: A Semiotic Reading. Planum. The Journal of Urbanism 27(2).

Phatic Signs of Identity. Jakobson describes phatic signs as those that are oriented toward contact. In language this includes phrases which facilitate communication. For example, "It's a nice weather!" is not a statement, but an invitation to a conversation. Other examples include questions like "You know what I mean?" which function as tests of the connection between the addresser and addressee. Applied to visual signs of urban landscape, phatic signs can be those that serve as an inducement to social interaction. They are the indicators that this neighbourhood or urban space belong to us that our socio-cultural practices are acceptable here. The following examples show the semiotic example of urban landscapes which serve as phatic signs of identity: (Karimzadeh, Khosravi & Dastgerdi 2013: 2)
Although aberrant in details (Jakobson never used the term "phatic signs") this is generally pretty good. Only quibble here is that it's one-sided: the phatic function concerns both inducing as well as preventing social interaction. Here only the sociopetal aspect is obverved, while the sociofugal is neglected. The phatic signs of identity themselves have a weak basis, as they include muslim shops and arabic labels in communal environment. That's more of a code issue, although definitely with a "territoriality" aspect to it.

Preziosi, Donald 1979. Architecture, Language, and Meaning: The Origins of the Built World and its. The Hague: Mouton Publishers.

Any architectonic formation incorporates sets of 'instructions' for proper reading, and directly addresses its users. The means for doing this are widely various, and may also be achieved cross-modally, by means of written signs and graphic devices ('exit', 'don't go down the up staircase', etc.).
By virtue of the fact that an architectonic formation necessarily channels behavior in a variety of ways, the phatic or 'territorial' function of an environmental artifact is often coexistent with its conative or directive function. Buildings induce information regarding the collectivity of a social group, its group identity, and they prescribe, augment, and perceptually enhance that collectivity. But the phatic/territorial and conative functions are not coterminous, and, in part, the distinction between them lies in the vector of emphasis. (Preziosi 1979: 53)
This actually makes sense, both in light of the previously met "phatic signs of identity" as well as not having a firm boundary (coterminous) between phatic and conative. Not only do arabic street labels and businesses announce that this is a muslim neighbourhood to fellow muslims, but at the same time they implicitly say to non-muslims: keep away.


arided said...

The "wallflowers" thing is also reminiscent of "sociofugal phatics".

"Phatic fountains" might possibly have been _babbling_ (like a babbling brook) though I'm not sure that's what she's getting at. I think your reading of it as _useless_ is just right. I'm reminded a bit of the "Phatic Man" poem, though I have a better feel about this one, maybe just because it's shorter.

arided said...

The meta-lingual thing from Eco reminds me of the ι function I suggested.

«I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.»

It gives you a sort of user's manual for what is to come.

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