Care Beyond Biopolitics

Exterior view of l’Eau Vive hospital, Soisy-sur-Seine, France, 1960s. Image Courtesy of Archives of Nicole Sonolet, collection of Christine de Bremond d’Ars

What would it mean to design buildings that exceed the economic accountings of liberal biopolitics, that instead offer an entirely different rationale for supporting health? In the years that Michel Foucault conceptualized the term biopolitics, he was part of a constellation of researchers and architects who developed care praxes that defined the value of life and its maintenance through a desire-based calculus. The welfare state institutions of architect Nicole Sonolet in particular—mental hospitals, public housing complexes, and new village typologies built mainly in postwar France and postcolonial Algeria from the 1950s to the 1980s—were designed not only to support but to center the needs of people often excluded from design processes. Sonolet’s mental health centers for residents of Paris’s 13th arrondissement, in particular, were key projects for discovering a design practice tied to the provision of care for its own sake.

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