Spaces of Addiction

Bryan Finoki

Has anyone ever done any research on the evolution of addiction (substance abuse, chemical dependency) in relation to architecture?

I know there have been exhaustive examinations of environmental impact on addiction, but I am particularly interested in the evolution of addiction as it may or may not be told in spatial terms. That is, I am curious to look at the evolution of the spaces of addiction (from the ritual tent to the opium den to the modern crack house to the pop cultural pub, to the gambling halls to the internet, from prison space to the public toilet), places where drug use grew into more compartmentalized folds within the landscape of modernism. Addiction is still a relatively new concept, a new diagnosis emerging out of the western world.

But if we were going to tell the history of drug use, the history of addiction, in terms of the spatial forms which have sheltered it, grown out of it, which have fostered it, which seek to combat it – essentially, how these spaces came to form as a result of drug use or as a reaction to it – then what is the architectural significance of addiction?

How has modern space created modern addiction?
How can we trace the evolution of addiction in the spaces of drug use?
How are spaces of addiction different and/or similar to “healing spaces”?

I don’t know, still trying to work out my basic question, but does anyone know of any specific research in this arena? Architecture and addiction?

thanks a lot!

Mar 7, 07 6:49 pm

interesting topic. i would say from experience that addiction spaces tend to be closed off from the rest of the world, and rehabilitative/healing spaces work best when they are closely connected to the rest of the world, especially nature.

as for substance abuse spaces... suburban homes, meth labs and crack houses in depressed areas. i think what's more interesting on the people that prey upon the abusers but that's a different topic for a different day.

good luck

Mar 7, 07 7:04 pm  · 
Bryan Finoki

hey thanks.

yeah, there is so much to branch off from here. but, really curious to think about a sptial typology of addiction, and how both these spaces and the evolution of addiction may have mutually constituted one another.

i think they are some interesting comparisons to be made about spaces of addiction and spaces of recovery. yes, one seems closed off while the other more closely connected to nature. but recovery spaces too are closed off, isolated in nature, in a sense. their is a subtle fortressization at work in both.

anyway thanks for your comment!

Mar 7, 07 7:09 pm  · 
broccolijet adds some interesting points to an already interesting subject. i can't say i bring any expertise or direct personal experience to the topic, but having friends who are former addicts and having known addicts who are former friends, i noticed that in addition to being closed off from the world, there's a distinct indifference to one's surroundings. perhaps this depends upon the drug or other method of addiction, but it seems there is little if any acknowledgement of the complete state of squalor and depression in which life occurs. the addiction so completely took over their senses, that nothing else mattered. dark, claustrophobic, cluttered, dirty.

Mar 7, 07 7:21 pm  · 
Bryan Finoki

right. there are huge socio-economic class and race issues inherent in that circumstance, but....
partially i think also because addiction is in a sense a space unto itself. that is, it is a withdrawl or retreat into another place, be it a physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual or other type of aspired space. addiction is in some way a retreat into a space that is distinct from the person's normal space. call it escape, call it ritual, euphoria, bonding with god, call it an essentiual depravity of humankind, call it whatever. interestingly, though, addicts in general by definition require the chems in order to return to normalcy. once addicted, it is the lack of drug that sets one apart from their normal lives and only the drug itself can restore that sense of normalcy and ability to function normally. so, ironically, multiple levels of head space inflect and reciprocate at that point.
i am just myself learning about all of this.
but when you think about an infrastructure of addiction, not just of illegal drugs with the meth labs and smuggler networks, but the pharmaceutical companies and hospitals cramming addictions down peoples' throats, it is hard not to think of contemporry civilization somehow having evolved into a model based on, and informally constituted by, forms and spaces of addiction.

Mar 7, 07 7:32 pm  · 

Bryan, initially when I say this I was curious if it had to do with the spatial aspects experienced by the drug users - which in itself would be difficult to assess.

Mar 7, 07 7:33 pm  · 
Bryan Finoki

spatial cognition, that's a whole other interesting realm of related 'can of worms', that absolutley i would love to learn more about as well!
inebriation, spaces of perception, euphoric architectures!
all that would be fascinating, too.

Mar 7, 07 7:36 pm  · 

I've never seen in real life a crack house, a meth lab, an opium tent, or any other stereotye we associate with the abusive of drug culture. Much of it I've seen on television or from the media.

There are then questions if it is a manufactured culture (drugs may be elsewhere). Also there are other places that former drugs reside...alcohol has its associative architecture the bar, stoops, etc. Cigars & cigarettes too with their smoke houses.

this is very interesting, I suspect however that it would require much first hand research. And alas I wouldn't be off much help asside from marijuana - which where I"m from has grown from a concealed substance to something very public...young men, seen on the street side crushing (refining) the weed in their hands. However those that use it for religious purposes (rastafarians) consumed them typically do it within communes.

Reference: Rastafari, an architecture of Self Reliance, AXIS:Journal of the Caribbean School of Architecture

Mar 7, 07 7:45 pm  · 

It seems a good presumption that modern space has influenced modern addiction. I would be very interested to know the time frame when addiction became mainstreamed, so as to consider the designed and/or vernacular spaces that existed during that generation (and the one prior?).

I do not know much about the history of drug use (with the exception of pop culture books), but would speculate that the introduction of hard drugs came in the sixties... many architectural conclusions could be drawn from this, of course :

-suburbia as a cause (isolation from cites, limited cultural exposure)

-the (relatively new) effects of the freeway infrastructure (quicker/ safer transport, no longer necessary for drug dealers to live in the same neighborhood)

and back to the suburbia... there must be precedents for may generations prior on the super-privatization of space (private even within the home), and when the transition occurred (has been occurring forever, but reached a distinction). considering that the old Greek villas had no modern sense of privacy... all rooms in a linear path, no hallways, center courtyard.

a very broad reaching topic, and very interesting to ponder. I suppose you mentioned that you have done exhaustive research on the causes, but I thought I would offer my two cents, because at the moment the spatial affects of drug culture seem to elude me... seems it could truly exist anywhere, not that drug use/addiction is much more common in the normal (professional) world than previously.

Mar 7, 07 8:05 pm  · 
Bryan Finoki

architech: that's helpful, i will look for that reference.
and thanks for reminding me of a few other 'spaces of addiction', and namely how perhaps culture has accomodated them, like smoking spaces in bars, or has i guess relegated them.
but that is what i am trying to get at: space produced by addiction vs. addiction underwritten by spatial planning, or other forms of associated built environments.

Mar 7, 07 8:09 pm  · 
Bryan Finoki


thanks for you great input. all very helpful. i haven't done exhaustive research on the enviro impact of addiction, but i know exhaustive research has been done.

but i think you and others are spot on with the suburbia as inadvertent utopic addiction space. which takes me all the way to neoliberal culture, where everyone is highly independent, insular, gaurded, alienated, etc. it all plays into an addicted culture.
and our spaces nou doubt reflect that, as you have pointed out well.
thanks for your thoughts, and keep sharing them!

Mar 7, 07 8:14 pm  · 

I just re-read my posts. I must apologise for my bad grammar - I just woke up from a late-afternoon nap

Mar 7, 07 8:31 pm  · 

I think there's also the issue of minor addictions, which we all have, and major addictions, like drugs.

I think of an addicted person as of someone trying to reach out for something in a more or less hapless way, so a sense of isolation must contribute to that.

Mar 7, 07 10:38 pm  · 
bronson, architect/assassin


(illegal) drug addiction as a subculture, first as a product then as the producer, is fringe behavior: hidden, ignored, misunderstood, disregarded by the mainstream. The (city)spaces that drug addiction is associated with (the back-alley ways, bridge overpasses, abandoned buildings) are the socio-spatial equivalent: unintentional, misused, forgotten. These interstitial zones have been adopted/adapted by the drug-addict fringe to the point where these zones now have a defined function, i.e. skid row in LA.
Yet, when coupled with the rest of the holy trinity of human vices, gambling and prostitution, the city will concede specific spaces (combat zones, red light districts) for the perceived benefit of the rest of the society. It is at this point that I might reference the spatial cognition concerns that 'technophilia brought up: the drug user, once coupled with the drug of choice, is no longer concerned with the spatial conditions that the user confronted in order to make the connection with the chemicals. However, the spatial experience is very much a part of the ritual of gambling and prostitution: here, the comfort of the user (before, during and after the event) is a primary priority for anyone that can potentially profit from these acts. Learn from Las Vegas.
Does that mean if illegal drug addiction is legalized and quarantined that you'll never have to walk over a junkie in your hallway? I doubt it. This really does not answer any of your original questions, Finoki, but I am obviously intrigued by the discussion. Finding the reasons for why people use drugs to the point of absolute addiction, and why urbs and suburbs develop unwanted, wasteful space is a daunting task. Both are questions that delve deep into our society's collective subconscious.
But, alas, no I have not done any research on the evolution of addiction in relation to architecture. If I find any I will let you know.

Mar 7, 07 10:57 pm  · 
vado retro

the burbs are the place to get buzzed. parents liquor cabinets. model car glue. huffin some paint. older brothers stash. all in the suburban ranch...

Mar 7, 07 11:03 pm  · 

I have started to suspect, places which harbor individuals who prey on the young. There are Chruches, with their priest. There are Schools, with their teachers. There are Public Offices, with their officals. Seems like you read about all of these people have an addition to wanting um young....wonder if it is the buildings which they occupy which stimulate this need.

Mar 7, 07 11:58 pm  · 

Yea, this might not be what you mean...
But I designed a halfway house for alcoholic women for my thesis and my initial reading turned up a lot about women drinking at home, hiding bottles around the house where they hope children and husbands won't find them. In laundry baskets, etc. Places many traditional-style men don't dare tread. Several books claimed that alcoholic women go un-"detected" because of the relationship they have to their homes. Most of the time, men are caught and sent for treatment due to a car accident or being stopped while driving or some other bad behavior in public. But since women drink at home, they don't splat on that particular police measure. And even when they are stopped, there is an attitude among policemen, a certain disinclination to send a woman to jail for the night over being drunk and so they just call a family member to come and pick her up. Anyway. Not quite what you were thinking maybe.

Mar 8, 07 9:21 am  · 

man, interesting topic...i have to say this is something of interest to me as well. although i think it is very easy to move in too many directions at once...i think as an urban phenomena, the fringe, the space between has always been both deprived of spatial and aesthetic interest but also exhilarating as a space lacking normalcy. the space of vices is often that undergoing the greatest potential change and will eventually co-opted back into normalcy. in new york the art scene chases the drug scene, the gay scene chases the art scene, and the fashion scene chases the gay thing you know investment bankers are moving into former crack dens and plopping down millions of dollars for it. one could look at the lower east side, greenwich village, the east village, williamsburg, chelsea, the meat-packing district, and now jersey city, long island city, bushwick and bed-stuy. these were at one point all very fringe parts of the city that were overwhelmingly drug dens that then underwent a severe transformation (or are undergoing a severe transformation). the concept of squatting a warehouse space has both ties to the artist founding space to work and live as well as the drug addict founding space to retreat. both utilize an illegal beginning to occupation (breaking and entering), but if institutionalized re-introduce the space to normalization (ownership, occupation). even the business transactions create traffic that eventually can create normalization through institutionalization, look at the club scene that sprang up around the transvestite-prostitute, heroin scene of the meat packing district...that then begat the fine eateries, the fashion boutiques, the fancy drink bars....

Mar 8, 07 10:05 am  · 
liberty bell

kablakistan, very interesting comment re: women's addictions traditionally being undetected because they occur in private. The house as co-conspirator in illicit behaviour.

I don't have anything to add that hasn't been mentioned, really. But I would echo bronson's (awesome name) mention of Las Vegas and their attempts to shut out any sense of time.

And also re: suburban isolation: driving to work one is in a private little space. When one commutes by public transit or by feet one is always in public. I tend to think that the paranoia that goes with addictions is worsened when the addict lives in the city vs. spends a lot of time driving.

Mar 8, 07 11:02 am  · 
vado retro
Mar 8, 07 11:09 am  · 

there is a significant safety and health issue related to this. aids, poverty, and drug crime are significant social problems in poverty stricken urban neighborhoods with many drug addicts. the issue of "heroine safe houses" legally sanctioned safe rooms for drug addicts to safely do their drugs so that they do not need to share needles and discard them on the streets is about the health and safety of the streets, as well as the addicts themselves.

it is a major urban social problem in many cities so there are legal debates over how to handle it. whether to clamp down with the legal force, or to accept the problem and heal through acceptance... protect both drug addicts and others in the city from harm, while relying on rehabilitation clinics for longer term solutions.

Mar 8, 07 11:25 am  · 

i find it very interesting and there are tons to write about.
addiction can be anywhere from shopholics to alcoholics.

tobacco addiction parlor in 18th century istanbul. it qualifies as substance, pleasure and social addiction.

viana coffee house after istanbul

Mar 8, 07 12:33 pm  · 

Orhan brings up an interesting addiction: shopoholism. I think this is directly related to your original post, Bryan, as the built environments in which shopoholism occurs are very specifically designed to fuel the addiction. I think you can draw parallels between these spaces and those designed for other addictions; opium dens, for example.

Mar 8, 07 1:15 pm  · 

My girlfriend was at one point an addictions counsellor... we have talks about these subjects fairly frequently.

I don't know how far you'd get with research into places of (physical) addiction (like crack, for example), but you might do well to simply choose a couple of 'spaces' and focus your energy on them.

The reality is, such addiction is everywhere, and can't be pinned down. The girlfriend counselled everybody from homeless, crack-addicted youth, to the heroin-addicted housewife, and even the successful investment banker who was addicted to speed. Every situation is different, because every person is different.

What I think would make a much more interesting piece of research would be to look at manufactured places that specifically cater to addiction and compulsive/obsessive behaviour: shopping malls, casinos, bars and pubs, arcades (do they still exist?), cigar shops, liquor stores, etc.

I mean, after all, was it the chicken or the egg?

Mar 8, 07 2:38 pm  · 
Bryan Finoki

Thanks everyone for all your insightful comments. Good stuff!

Bronson: I appreciate your point about how space can be construed as a sanctioning of addiction, with gambling for example. Las Vegas as a surreal and sublime landscape of addiction, the urban Mecca of addiction (a factory, a paradise of addiction), based on a certain legalization, or a normative tolerance of it. And that is a good way of illustrating how compulsory addiction is in our society, how constitutive it is of the spaces and places we have fashioned as a result of addiction. Addiction is largely escapist, and Vegas is the ultimate escape architecture.

Yes, the disused spaces (freeway overpasses, abandoned buildings, etc.) may be a socio-spatial equivalent of addiction, those spaces emerge as a result of neglect, poor planning, or perhaps just as a natural result of their arrangement and place in society. And to some degree, addiction is the result of the same systemic neglect, and it makes sense the two merge in some sense, in a context of isolation as ckl mentions, out of neglect.

In this sense, western urbanism can be viewed as a complete accelerator of addiction, as previously mentioned about the nature of modern infrastructure, highways acting as facilitators of drug networks, the car as a place of isolation, the modern psychology of alienation, industrial pressures, neoliberal autonomy, mentalities of absolute independence, all surely contributed to the rise of modern addiction. The retreat into the self.

There are so many layers of addiction-spaces, where it is completely hidden and illicit, and where it is overtly tolerated and part of the acceptable fabric of the built world.

I guess I see addiction as an intrinsic quality of civilization now, part of the DNA of western society’s evolution, fossilized now in these urban forms, in these typologies of both literal addiction and figurative. Yes, the shopping mall (addiction to commerce and consumerism) is as much a place of addiction as the sports bar, the gas station (addiction to oil) and the tobacco shop. But I am trying to focus explicitly on the spaces of chemical dependency and substance abuse.

Futureboy: yes, how spaces also transform over time, spaces of addiction becoming places of gentrification, or larger community healing, or whatever. It is interesting to gage the history and life expectancy of a ‘space of addiction’, its own evolution and how that impacts the more pervasive culture of addiction. Rather than treating root causes of addiction in society, are we just trying to obliterate their havens, remove their spaces, further marginalize addicts by taking away their places of refuge?

bRink: yeah, what are the kinds of ‘spaces of addiction’ we should be seeking to create instead? Is there such thing as a responsible place of addiction? Besides the treatment center, that is a great question, I think.

Orhan, great pics!

Slantsix: “What I think would make a much more interesting piece of research would be to look at manufactured places that specifically cater to addiction and compulsive/obsessive behaviour: shopping malls, casinos, bars and pubs, arcades (do they still exist?), cigar shops, liquor stores, etc.”

I believe if you reread much of what I have stated, this is my intention, to unravel how much space is a producer of addiction as much as it is a product of it.

Thanks everyone please keep the discussion rolling!

Mar 8, 07 4:06 pm  · 
liberty bell
I am trying to focus explicitly on the spaces of chemical dependency and substance abuse.

To further narrow your focus, is it only illegal substance abuse? Because the hidden, anonymous space of a crack house is certainly different from the very public space of a see-and-be-seen coffee house. But god knows those folk standing in line at Starbuck's every morning really need their fix!

Mar 8, 07 4:41 pm  · 

lb....I'm In line....but I buy only free trade...

Mar 8, 07 10:01 pm  · 

Ya....right....supporting those minorty rich South American Farmers.....which also happen to be doctors, lawyers, investment bankers who just happen to have diversifed and included Coffee
Plantations along with their Berkshire Hathaway Stocks.

Mar 8, 07 10:03 pm  · 

The first place that comes to mind when I think of alternative spaces of drug addiction happen in Vancouver's downtown eastside. There, drug addiction is realted a number of very significant social problems. The downtown eastside is the origin of the term 'Skid Row', it is statistically the poorest and least healthy neighborhood in Canada, just blocks away from the vibrant urban city center, CBD, historic districts, chinatown. A big concern is the spread of aids there, which given the population is on the verge of being eepidemic. In the downtown eastside, it is not uncommon to see heroine addicts shooting up in the streets... Some very low property value blocks from some of the highest property value in the country. Revitalization efforts there continually threaten the population there with gentrification and displacement by the specialty coffee drinking dog walking culture of high end condominium developments, a gradual territorial encroachment of these large scale high end mass highrise residential developments.

At the center of this is the Carnegie Center, a community center and library (pictured above) where many of the homeless there are able to feel at home... To the majority of people driving by, it is a place surrounded by homeless people milling about, but to the people there it is like a urban hearth at the center of their community where there are free lectures and seminars given by volunteer graduate students, art and poetry classes, a bank where people can open an account without needing an ID... In a nearby park with childrens playgrounds and community artwork, there are also needle disposal canisters, highly visible and brightly decorated with images of flowers.

There are rehab centers, youth centers, and shelters, but there are also safe houses, places where drug addicts can safely do drugs with clean needles, security, where there are actually medical personel on site to ensure safety, and drug users are safe from police persecution, etc. It seems pretty different from what you would normally think of as a crackhouse, whether this kind of liberal policy is progressive or not is the subject of alot of debate...

Canadian House Drugs Committee Calls for Cannabis Decrim, Safe Injection Sites, Heroine Maintenance

Mar 8, 07 11:07 pm  · 

To put that in context, I did some study of the carnegie center and surrounding neighborhood for a paper in grad school related in part to this:

foucault's "of other spaces", heterotopia

also, edward soja's thirdspace... This is an interesting read, it was a bit of an eye opener for me...

Mar 8, 07 11:21 pm  · 

Maybe its also worth looking at modern drug culture in films or in literature, with a particular eye to the spaces they inhabit?

Mar 8, 07 11:35 pm  · 
Smokety Mc Smoke Smoke

This is one of the best threads I've seen on this website ... I feel like I'm learning so much from reading it ...

Mar 9, 07 10:05 am  · 

a bit off topic... but...

I just read about a town near where I am living (the town is Salinas CA), where they are planning to build a homeless kitchen/ culinary Institute/ homeless training program at the culinary institute as a means to help re-integrate the ambitious back into traditional work/ have a desination restaurant.

I missed the first discussion last night (was working) but they are planning a "charette" this Saturday. (this is in quotes b/c I am not sure that it will actually be a design charette, but will more likely be a public discussion all day). Anyways, I am really excited about the prospect of such an interesting project in this rural area. Apparently there is a skid row here (never knew it, and I was raised in a nearby town).

I apologize for the tangent, figured this was the best thread to spill my enthusiasm! I'll keep you all updated on whether it really is getting built! (I really hope they have their s**t together... they have a grant from the local university, but I don't know anything else yet).

Mar 9, 07 12:01 pm  · 

Spaces of Addiction: the MArch thread!

Mar 9, 07 12:24 pm  · 

This makes me think of addiction and drug use as motivators for street level adaptive reuse. Not only of the interstitial spots mentioned earlier, overpasses, etc. but of the disused and underused as well. Like warehouse parties in the early days of rave: bust the lock, get some lights and video screens, and transform a leftover industrial relic into a gateway to another dimension for a night. One intereesting thing about this aspect is that the specific place doesn't matter, just the vibe of being outside space and time, the actual warehouse could be anywhere, and might even change from party to party.

Classically, the next step in that line of thought is Hakim Bey's Temporary Autonomous Zone, which I'm sure you're aware of. And of course all the situationist and anarchist background to that.

Also, for media depictions of spaces of addiction, it'd be tough to find a better place to start than The Wire. Reused warehouses and garages, industrial spots, empty lots and alleyways, and of course the always present boarded up rowhouse, all figure prominently as locations for this show.

Mar 9, 07 1:26 pm  · 
bronson, architect/assassin

futureboy: yes, I concur completely with your analysis of 'scene' co-dependency, and that is something I have wanted to research for some time. new york is a wonderfully colorful example of how these forces can change the face, and body, of a city. Its an illustrated version of some perverse free market economy of flesh, fornication and fantasy, where supply and demand occurs simultaneously on so many levels of operation. I guess I just glazed over that when I stated addiction was both product + producer of sub-cultures. If I knew more, I would draw specific examples to Shanghai or Amsterdam, or any of the Eastern or European cities, that followed similar growth patterns during eras from the Opium Wars to before + after first World War, and since. Even Atlanta, my current hometown, had similar ebbs + flows after Reconstruction, through the '60s, '70s + 80's; its at the point now that every developer knows they can sell twice as many units if they throw in the word 'loft.'
Of course through all this transformation/regeneration/gentrification does anyone stop getting high? Nah. Now metro Atlanta is seen by law enforcement as THE HUB of crystal meth distro-operations, supplying the entire east coast. And if you believe the news channels, the biggest drug busts occur in the suburbs; completely validating the acceleration via freeways theory.

bRink: Vancouver, though I've never been, appears to be an excellent example of a sanctioned 'addiction' sector; and that that sector also serves as the artiste epicenter of the city confirms futureboy's thoughts on the scene codependency. I am anxious to see how tolerance treats the problem, assuming that addiction is seen as a problem. For every homeless addict there is an affluent addict, though maybe not affluent for long, that is willing to lobby for fair treatment of the addict(ion) as disease(d). And your next post, alluding to various media, specifically film + music, as a virtual field of addiction is another excellent topic that could be its own thread, plus e-bay, porno + youtube addiction. Oh and archinect for some of y'all.

To everyone I didn't specifically address, I have read many intriguing observations, but my eyes are getting sore from scrolling up and down to read + re-read posts to reference, so I'll get at y'all later.

Finoki: this thread is challenging me to reconsider my current theses ideas. The hardest part, for me, would be to specify which aspect of this discussion I would delve into; so many potential digressions!

Mar 10, 07 12:15 am  · 


took a british friend to vancouver last summer. ended up walking clockwise ( i think) around granville from gaslamp. ended up in this one area, everyone looked completely cracked out. sounds like the same place. definitely unsettling - and a similar feel to my kantonspital experience in basel, though on a grander scale.

also, i guess there is some debate over the origins of "skid row" between seattle and vancouver.

the story i was told, is that yesler way is the orginal skid road, from skidding logs from lake washington to yelser's mill on elliott bay (and for whom the street is named). and that bars and brothels popped up around the road as that's where the loggers hung out. dirty.

Mar 10, 07 1:15 am  · 

Well, you are where you live...

Mar 10, 07 1:50 am  · 


I'm not sure if I would call the downtown eastside the artiste epicenter of vancouver exactly, there is a bit of that, but I agree with your point about the affluent addict demographic, they do exist, but they inhabit a very different place in the city. Vancouver is quite diverse, there are lots of pockets of different kinds of people, maybe different ways of seeing?

Regarding media / television addicts, it reminds me of that Darren Aronofsky movie, what was it called... requiem for a dream. Sort of a didactic version of trainspotting, with all these parallel and related narratives about addiction...

Is archinect an addiction?


Yeah, there is some debate over the origins of skid row, I remember the first time I came to Seattle, hearing something similar... funny that Seattlites and Vancouverites would both try to claim the origins of skid row for their own urban history, as if it were something to be proud of...

The strange thing about it is, how immediately different one area of the city is from another... Vancouver is incredibly diverse, territorial boundaries seem to be as much physical as mental, as if the touristic cobblestones of gastown for example are physical markers of mental maps, have different meanings to different people. To tell the truth, my first reaction to the downtown eastside was similar, it can feel somewhat unsettling when you don't know the city and mistakenly wander upon a place like that, where you are an outsider. But then, maybe someone from that community would feel equally threatened or unsettled if you were to pick them out of their place and drop them into the middle of say the central business district or a university campus? I'm not sure that I find the people there really dangerous, if you talk to them, you might find that alot of them are very decent people, the circumstances are more sad than scary. I'm not sure what to think of this liberal approach to the drug issue... On the one hand, I can see how it doesn't help the issue. On the other hand, I'm sure that there are as many drug addicts in less tolerant cities, except perhaps their living conditions are even worse and they are continually outcasted and persecuted by police. They're just two different outlooks on how to treat difference, whether cultural or class... Not to derail the original thread, but the place does in some way make the person, at least it defines mental boundaries. Like hobbite says, you are in many ways where you live.

According to Soja (and Lefebvre), in the book I referred to earlier, if spaces are not just perceived (physical) but conceived (mental) and "lived", a discussion of space very much relates to the people who inhabit them...

Mar 10, 07 5:16 am  · 

i'm pretty sure i talked about this before... i had some interestlingly spirited discussions with some german and swiss architects in basel if the swiss approach was correct (basically, giving addicts drugs, since addicts trying to get high commit crimes) - if addicts don't have to commit crimes to get high, there would be less crime. and there was, but i also felt that was due to different circumstances (a fairly liberal gov't, cops with semi-auto guns, liberal marijuana laws and higher per capita than almost every other country)

Mar 10, 07 1:30 pm  · 

It's 5 am, this is an interesting topic but i don't have time to read it all, but i feel like posting something long-winded so here goes:

Addiction is nothing new (i.e. modern) or western, it has been with us from the beginning of human existance. Drugs, or chemical substances which alter ones state of reality. Have gone from public usage to private and are slowly re-emerging into the public. Drugs were intitally often used as part of ritual ceremony, cherished for their (at that point) inexplicable and miraculous abiltiy to alter one's preception and hence give off what was largely considered to be a spiritual experience. Ancient man incorporated these drugs into religion and tribal customs, and in the tribes of the americas, africa, and asia, drugs were used in the public space or with groups in closed huts, but it was largely a social activity. Beer and wine have been with us since civiliztion began, and at the time, you either had alcoholic beverages to drink or water. Alcohol's usage was quite public, and spaces in which it was used varied from the public square to the private den.

With the emergence of the three faiths (judaism, christianity, and islam) all three of which typically denounce drug use in some fashion and to different extents depending on the time period, culture, and locale, the spaces associated with drugs went underground, and there we got the image of the den, the pub, dark insular spaces which limited the users contact with the outside world. Yet alcohol was still for the most part a public affair (pub=public house) however it seems the usage of alcohol was attacked more and more by organized religion and hence it might not have been as pervasive in the public realm entering the 20th century.

Now, in the west drug usage and addiction is becoming more and more inbedded in our culture of self-worship and market. Drugs are no longer about religion, but about some existentialist persuit of self and/or personal happiness. With the three faiths waining in power in the west, it is very likely that drugs will become more and more mainstream as each generation becomes more secular and denounces the overtly racist and unjust practices associated with the old order of drug laws and subsequent enforcement. I think that as far as space is concerned, these drugs which were once confined to extremely insular spaces will become more and more publicly oriented where the old order of the crack den will be replaced by the hash cafe.

One important thing to note however, is that addicts of illegal (i.e. "hard") drugs define the spaces they use to toke up. No architect ever designs them, hence these space are completely user-defined and adapted to the purpose of getting high in a safe, insular environment away from society. The goal of the space is to remove them as far as possible. Once these drugs are no longer taboo, it is likely that we will have to begin exploring "space of addiction" in a very real sense.

Mar 11, 07 5:27 am  · 


Fascinating topic, Bryan did you further your research? I am starting my M.Arch thesis in January and I am looking into this topic.

My interest stems partially from a previous research project that I did in my undergrad (self-initiated) where I briefly explored the relationship between a publicly recognized and equally stigmatized space of addiction and drug use, a well-known square in Montreal Square Viger.

I don't have the intention of using this site for my thesis, but one thing that I realized is how hard it is to address addiction without feeling patronizing in a way. I also felt lost in my research so many times as this topic can go in so many different ways! 

I was wondering if you or anyone had tried to materialize this interest with addiction, addictive behaviors, or drug-use into an architectural project? Like the women halfway house, it is a very interesting example indeed!

As for drugs in movies, I could recommend Enter the Void by Gaspard Noe. Looking into cinema or literature could be another way to understand space as it relates to addiction. A good book to look into could be David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

Nov 18, 14 10:54 pm  · 

My husband is a former addiction therapist. Addiction is environmental, but it is the social environment. Addiction is a learning disorder. Addiction: A disease of learning and memory. Addiciton is learned coping, usually from social and relational stress. 

People that relapse do so because they go back to an environment with the same triggers. It is why relapse is common and residential treatment is sometimes the only way some people can get help, because you change the social environment completely. It is a social-relational problem, and the solutions are social-relational too.

I've been in a crack house or two or ten, one of my chilldhood best friends was an addict, recovered now. 

Nov 19, 14 10:27 am  · 

Coffee, pop, sex, shopping, exercise, food, prescription drugs, tv and computers can all be addicting, should these addictions have an equal opportunity for your architectural studies, or is just the drama and taboo of substance abuse that is interesting?

Nov 19, 14 10:42 am  · 

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