Surveillance and Frontier

originally published in Vigilancia e Fronteira – Museu na Segunda Linha de Defesa da Jurumenha and Estudo Prévio 7.



This work intends to be a reflection on the action of the eye, analyzing its history and evolution and the way we have been sing it to decipher and understanding our surroundings.

Intends more than anything to show the reader a new way of looking at architecture and landscape, the object, as something that creates emotions and communicates, exemplifying with concepts and study cases, in this way this essay analyses various elements from architecture pieces to installations and art pieces.

Its a reflection on diverge aspects of the conditions of limit, frontier and surveillance, seeking to praise the limits of landscape and vision as a place an space of contemplation, instability and change. The proposal intends not only to valorize this idea of retrospection on the concept of landscape, but also to create something that the place identifies by itself.

The vision as an instrument creator of space and architecture.


The concept of surveillance remotes from the beginning of times, not only to answer to pragmatic questions like defense, protection and security but also in control of territory to who it inhabits or invades; from the XVIII century it started to have a more visible impact in the way society is seen. It was during the Age of Reason that the observer had his great relevance and reckoning as a paradigm of cognition. The illuminism “Its defined by the modification of the already existent relation that connects the will, authority and use of reason”, and it searched to concentrate the power of reason to perfect society and previous knowledge.

Currently, exists a antagonistic system to the Age of Reason. This system technologically advanced practices all social control, that subtly imposed by video surveillance systems to the control used by the internet over society.

The inspection on our daily actions its practically absolute through all types of mechanisms and systems that make part of our daily habits, many times without people realizing it. The most actual mechanism of control developed first with photography, then with cinema and finally through the optic caption through the television camera. The concept of Big Brother descendant from the Television of George Orwell in 1984 (Orwell, 1949) applied to todays is one of the examples.

The society of control spread insidiously to almost all aspects of the quotidian.

In the mediation between interior and exterior provided throughout the eye, sensorial organ that captures light and transmits perception of the surroundings, the subject (exterior) its analyzed throughout this perception active on the object (interior), its in this way that the object adquires knowledge.

The eye in this aspect stands out s the organ of most importance, praised by its passive activity. On the contrary of other organs, this one has the capacity not only to absorb but also to establish an interconnection between two human beings creating a non-verbal communication. The eye as a mediator between interior and exterior of the subjective world, used to create the distinction between one side and the other can only be interiorized through the subject on this frontier called eye.


The visual organ has suffered through time a series of evaluations from thought involved on its capacities. Being an active mechanism far superior to the other cognitive organs it allows not only observation but can be also used as a mechanism of socialization and learning, more than learning I would say it seeks reason and knowledge.

EP7-AV-Daniel Chodowiecki - Das Auge der Vorsehung 1787

figure 1 – The Eye of Providence

Way before vision was used on various strands of Iluminism during the XVIII century we can find many illustrations and compositions that come from the XVI century, the imposition of control its permanent in representations that come from this period until the control of the media on todays age. Through time, all this symbology imposed on the actions of people a regime that dictates the limits and frontiers between what and what not can be done, since there was always something constantly observing.

Among many examples, the work of Jan Provost, A Sagrada Alegoria (Provost, 1510-1520) stands out, it already proposes a hierarchy of control through the mechanism of the eye. It is a complex image with elements that can be individually identified, being that the allegoric elements are organized through a central line and relate mutually. Everything is thoroughly placed so that the eye stands as the dominant element. In this case the eye represents the eye of God, the focused symbol present in the paint, he possesses an supreme authority that does not tolerates any resistance. This eye has been used constantly as a christian symbol through times, it dictates on the religious practice the existence of a omnipresent being that controls, knows and all sees.

The illusion of constant control induces the first control in social history, were our daily actions contribute to the well being or not of our futures. Nevertheless is to suggest that there was an acceptance from people for a symbolic supervision, this internalization from the believers that imposes a practice of surveillance.


figure 2 – Allegorie Chretienne

The hierarchy of this power of vision can be observed in the pairing of Hieronymus Bosch, Sete Pecados Capitais (Bosch, 1480-1500), on of the first examples in modern paint history to represent not only the allegory to the vision. The paint is composed by a black background with five circles, four in the corners and a bigger central one, the smaller circles represent the final destination that every being will have to face, death, hell, the final judgement or heaven, with the central circle made of many elements that separates it from the other four.

In the center we can see represented the eye of God, overlooking Christ, this one observes the seven sins and can be understood as a reflection of the world under the eyes of God. Finally and reinforcing the message, above the circle we can find the sentence Cave Cave Deus Videt (“Attention Attention God Sees”).

All this composition reinforces the surveillance of God on the actions of people and the price to pay if any of the sins shall be committed, through the painting it is represented an absolute power of vision, avoiding words to describing it, imposing the idea of surveillance, but being at the same time an object of reason, so that who ever possesses such power has the ability to adquire knowledge, to be illuminated at the same time that imposes control over the others.

EP7-AV-Hieronymus Bosch Seven Deadly Sins

figure 3 – Seven Deadly Sins

This control is not present only psychologically through representation, the presence of the vision as enforcer of order and control exists and appears primarily in countless military structures scattered through national rays. The military architecture which main function was to protect and defend the territory, was also planned with the aim to surveil that territory centralizing its power.

To understand this surveillance phenomenon it is necessary to apply the inherent logic of observation, in the case of towers surveillance is enacted through the fact that at the same that they observe, they also let themselves being observed.


One of the first historical references on towers is the Babel Tower, this tower was never built due to the confusion in communication and languages imposed by God on the constructers, nevertheless the eye and observation control on something that dominates the landscape does not need the aid of words to express itself.

In the end of the XII century emerges the Domus Fortis (Lords Castle), a fortified structure that functions as an affirmation of noble power over the rural population. The tower was elected at the time as symbol of power, similar to the ancient Donjon castle the Domus Fortis demonstrates this search for prestige and power.

The residence of Lourenço Fernandes da Cunha, the Cunha Tower, emerges on the ends of the XII century (1171) in Entre-Douro-e-Minho and is one of the oldest examples of a residence that ostentates the various components of the Domus Fortis. The stately tower possesses a stone structure, of square footprint and is localized on a small elevated hill. Its footprint contrary to the Donjon, that was situated over an elevated plane for a better visual control over the territory, intends to give priority to habitability reinforcing the legitimacy of the possession of agriculture spaces.

The towers were clearly the symbol of power and new residences of the noble lords, they generally presented a squared footprint like the example above, the structure was almost made of stone with two or three floors made of timber, having components of defense they were mainly surrounded by a pit. The access was guaranteed through the first floor which was movable so that it could retract in case of menace with few openings available made of narrow cracks. In this particular case the tower being used as ostentation of power, it desired to be observable.

The Dornelos Tower, built in the XII century, shows a quadrangular footprint of five by five meters wide with the ground floor without openings, the access through a wood bridge that connected to the first floor answering to the necessities of defense, the staircase made of timber could be removed, with three floors, this tower could be observed in the distance.

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figure 4 – Torre de Dornelas

Alhambra would be the medieval islamic architectural example still in existence today, it represent the culmination of the Islamic culture in the Iberic Peninsula. Its name in arabic its Qal’at al-Hamra, or The Red Fort, this name comes from its material used during construction, red clay that could be found in the region. Localized at the top of a hill, it started has a fortress on the end of the XIII century, after it was converted into the city palace, for most of its history, it functioned has a Royal Palace due to its high site elevation and its separation of the city of Granada. The hill elevation worked as a natural defense, being a strategic place of protection and a symbol of royal power. More than its location, other elements like the stone wall surrounding the citadel, doors and towers created the appearance of a fortress. The tower and its location could only be sustainable through the riches of its owners, simple things as water had to be carried to the hill through a system of aqueducts and cisterns.

Again Alhambra summons the memory of many medieval Christian fortress on its design composed by a castle, a palace and a residential attachment. The citadel or at least its oldest section is built over a isolated and steep promontory, protected from possible attacks. In fact the aspect of the fortress can derive from the existent tradition of stately towers, that were localized out of the towns, in either way this care on military character promoted not only authority but power.

As other examples, La Vela watch-tower with twenty five meter height was used has symbol of conquest when the Spanish conquered Granada in 1492. This tower was added to the walls in the XVIII century and restored in 1881. The Porta da Justiça, with its enormous arch upon a square tower was used by the Moors as a justice tribunal, again clearly a symbol of authority for who from affair watched the fortress.


figure 5 – Torre de Comares, Alhambra

The Comares Tower built in the XVI century is the biggest of the built towers in Alhambra with a height of forty five meters, represents the moment were the observer and the act of observation is taken to its extreme. This tower is associated to the most important moments in the history of Alhambra.

It is without saying that the Alhambra towers not only characterize its landscape but also dominate over them.


figure 6 –  Torre de Menagem do Castelo de Melgaço


Not following the idea of observation of an object over the territory, another type of structure, the Panopticon, imposes an observation over itself.
The Panopticon (Pan meaning everything and Opticon visible), concept realized by Jeremy Bentham and published for the first time on open letter that date from 1791, of which the objective went through the construction of an utopia that came from the reality of the exterior world in search of human control through drawing. These panopticon were realized on the idea of prisons, a prison that allowed the entirety of its space to be observable with mechanism of vision and equilibrium, essential mechanism on the search of duty as a superior objective. Before the Panopticon, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux built in Arc-Et-Sedans (Ledoux, 1775-1778) a salt factory that had a specific characteristic, an observation central that was used as means of applying enforcement but also as a way of acquiring knowledge of what was happening, this means control from a neuralgic point of a existing structure.

This model of prison of circular plan, composed by various levels and systems, was understood as the “eye of providence”, that in this case having a religious connotation. Through means absolutely architectonics, Bentham makes in this way possible the application of a system of order and efficiency with only the authority of surveillance.

The assumption of the Panopticon structure, is based on the idea of constant surveillance of the individual, even if this individual was not being observed. The psychological feeling that the subject is under constant observation, makes the observed already feel the object of observation, controlled on his domain. This worked through the provision of circular mode of cells with gaps that allowed a huge entry of light into the interior of the cells, these cells pointing his entrance to the center of the circle, where there was a watchtower. The light effect created by the glass openings, allowed backlit a check by those who watched, on the other hand, the observed could not be aware if it was actually being observed by someone, that is, there is a sense of constant vigilance  even when there was not.

The sensation caused by the eye, can be understood by Georg Simmel, arguing that in his sociology of the senses humans understand it through the senses as the eye creates a “bridge” between the understanding of two people. This connection is lost only when the direction of the eye is diverted from direct contact. The cells that are in a circular gallery are separated by a watchtower where you can find the guards. Both volumes have two floors, the director also being located in the central volume at a higher level could observe both the cells as the guards. The inspection is then introduced through a ubiquitous monitoring, surveillance based on the imagination of those who are to be observed; religious connotation are obvious. In the search for unique and perfect model of prisons there are unknowns that are demonstrated by the various phases of the panopticon, but always with a certain vigilance and absolute control, rational society, ie “the paradox of a prison as an ideal society ‘( Trigueiros, 2011).


figure 7 – The Panopticon Penitential 

Although the proposal of Bentham was never realized, his ideas emerged for a lot of proposals later on. Numerous prisons followed the model of the Panopticon being one of the more closely cases more the prison of Lisbon. Not containing a circular plan, the prison responds to all other concepts of Bentham.

In the case of Eastern State Penitentiary, architect John Havilland, materialize issues thrown up in the eighteenth century and nineteenth principles, using a radial system of surveillance. Surrounding the radial building is a walled structure containing watchtowers in their corners. The central building is characterized by a radial structure, consisting of seven blocks. The interception point of all rays acts as a strategic vantage point, not following the typology of the Bentham Panopticon Bentham but using the concept in its design.

As a result, the Havilland prison appeared in London as the improvement of the solutions above. The penitentiary Pentoville, architect John Jebb, is characterized by a semi-rradial type of surveillance based on the concept of Panopticon. In this case every detail has been studied, since prison location to orientate, always with the aim of strengthening the Panopticon system.

During the nineteenth century were built other prisons, based on the type of Eastern State and the concept of Panopticon, it is in this context that the Penitentiary Chain of Lisbon (Carvalho, Le Cocq, Ferraz, XIX century / XX) emerges between 1873/85.

Designed according to the panoptical star model of radial plant comprises two largest extension wings arranged in the direction of the largest dimension of the land and intercepted by four smaller sides of polyhedral octagonal volume configuring a set of six arms radiating from the focal point or panopticon, indicated by a vertical space.

The introduction of the 1867 prison system is achieved by the way the prison should be built requiring an appropriate structure, obviously allowing for easy monitoring of the guards on the prisoners, something which is essential in the concept of Panopticon. To meet the security objectives and to top of it all surveillance, it was adopted a radial system walled with a single main entry. This model, easily simplified, based on the provision of parallelepiped bodies containing rows of outer cells juxtaposed in battery style organization, according to radial axes delineated from one central focus, which you can visually reach all corridors and doors all the cells. In the center is the strategic point of control over the wings that are distributed radially, again following the Easter State model and responding to the concept of Bentham’s Panopticon.

Contemporary to the Penitentiary Chain of Lisbon comes the Penitentiary Chain Coimbra (Ferraz century. XIX) which is also designed in the Panopticon plant Radial model in a Latin cross shape. Consisting of four horizontal orthogonal volumes on the sides, combined with lower four wings constitute a set of eight arms radiating from a focal point or Panóptico which is marked by a vertical space. The prison project arises from the “Project Penitentiary District” prepared by engineer Julio Ricardo Ferraz in 1875, already author of the Penitentiary Lisbon project. Since it is about that design type that arises plans of prison chains of Coimbra and Santarém, which together with the Lisbon, are the only three examples of application of radial plant model in the Portuguese prison architecture.


figure 8 – Eastern State Penitential

This unique look to constitute society without help objectified forms works without language, revealing that look always discloses looking. It should be noted as Bentham, although not sympathizing with the Christian religion, had the perception of its real intrinsic importance in society and uses its themes to impose their ideas on the Panopticon.


At the same time that the Panopticon was developed by Jeremy Bentham the Panorama arises. This is a tool that helped us identify places or characteristic elements of some place, as opposed to a painting that it is an object that has symbols that if we are not familiar and not identify them we can not have the perception and knowledge of the presented places. The concept of Panorama arises in 1787 by Robert Barker’s hand and throughout the nineteenth century was to become quite common. The picture 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 full possibilities of language, words are no longer necessary elements for the explanation of the piece, this speaks of a space already understood and filtered by an observer. This means that a space represented, is not what we are seeing at all, but rather a reality created from an objectified understanding of another person.

This explains the vision as supervision, ie the frame created by the observer reapplied as an object, an object that already has some connections with the viewer, links already posted for this look. A frame is no more than one projection orientated in the case of a panoramic, it is a full projection of the surrounding.

Visual perception is inseparable from muscle movement of the eye and the physical effort involved in focusing on an object. Initially the eye was intendido as a pure transmission device but in the nineteenth century comes to be understood as a sensory apparatus in which the process itself was getting tired of that in perception. The observation is increasingly outward, that is, the display body and its objects begin to constitute a single field.

For the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, the sociology of vision is an integral part of his existential ontology, in which the human exists is defined as a being, whose free projection possibilities with reference to a world of objects, is a move towards an unattainable self-sufficient totality (Sartre, 1956). Sartre is concerned with the act of looking, and the look is the primary means by which individuals are led to be recognized as part of the world of objects. Rather than trying to demonstrate how relationships are formed through sight, Sartre argues that such relations people communicate an essential aspect of your being, that without the act of looking could not 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 to be 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 the look is a pure form of constitution of social relationship Sartre believes that all eyes are piercing, because when it is viewed holds up a place from which there is no escape and where you are defenseless. Sartre’s look is synthesized by functions such as supervision and monitoring that refer to the control of human beings, placing them in a comprehensive perspective of another individual.


figure 8 – The Panorama

In 1800 the individual as an observer, has become 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 are part of the exploration of the limits of time.

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

Contemporary to the afterimage concept the diorama arises based on the incorporation of a property observer a mechanical apparatus that contains the subject in a temporal optical experience. The diorama removed autonomy to the observer, placing the audience on a circular platform, which constantly move allows different views and different light sensations. The adaptation of the eye to move drops the idea that vision is a limited and static body of the camera obscura.


But what is this object and the subject? In other words, we can understand the object as all that is observable or analyzed by the sight itself, what the surveillance is trying to achieve and control, as opposed to the person who is the entity whose ability to learn is given by the look, therefore, the watch or look becomes the third element to be analyzed.

The paradox between the eye as a mediator, through analysis of an object in question, associated with the view that has the towers happens when the observer is at the position which is observable through another element, as example a tower, i.e. the tower ( the observed object) is both the object and the observed. In the background each type of surveillance is necessarily linked with the observation, but surveillance can arise without performing observation operations.

Note is to use a distinction to indicate one side and not the other, that is, the mark of a boundary where the eye acts as a barrier between two sides.

The distinction and indication create observation. First it is considered that must be observed after introducing the distinction; by introducing a distinction indicating starts to receive a corresponding specification.

The observer is the third element of his observation, it is the expert observation, which dictates what to watch (display) and the barrier of note (distinction) where someone else can see what he sees and only ask what is the distinction.

Adding the perception observation, we have a new paradox because we can not observe at ourselves without our knowledge, that is, when we observe someone else and we have no knowledge of this person included the distinction and we get our perception of that person, otherwise It can not happen because we already have our perception of ourselves.

An observer can observe itself only seen as another, this concept is implemented in a closed circuit video installation from Peter Weibel Observation Observation: Uncertainty (Weibel, 1973), wherein the observer is placed in center of a video system and can be seen for itself through an apparatus monitors, but always on his back. What happens is that the observer is always watching your back getting the picture as if it were another observant, and when trying to get away from this sight of view and see if you really can not see yourself, or your back you only realize that you’re back is view from each angle, reinforcing the artist’s intention. The experience of observation on the observation gets an important role when applied to the construction of space, as happens in this facility.

EP7-AV-Beobachtung der Beobachtung Unbestimmtheit

figure 10 – Beobachtung der Beobachtung: Unbestimmtheit

A “self-observation” carries with it consequences for the phenomenon of surveillance and therefore observation. The term “self-observation” occurs according to an organized sequence recursively, which must be seen as a system where observation is understood as a continuation of borders, one of the most relevant examples that demonstrate the operation of the limits of observation is Roland Barthes reference to the presence of the Eiffel Tower in Paris built in 1889 for the Universal Exhibition by Gustave Eiffel, still the tallest structure in Paris. To find ourselves in the tower, we realize that it is the only place in Paris which we do not have the perception of the tower, but from the tower lets you see at the same time, there is no view in Paris that the tower does not reach that is not achievable this way, the Eiffel Tower becomes an important object, a landmark in the city, an importance given not only by but also because it is the very symbol of Paris. This moment created by the tower is unique, we tend to create things that come but that has nothing you can do (such as looking out the objective of a camera, or our own eye that never can be observed), however, there are things remaining hidden from the gaze itself


The tower creates a moment of separation between what you see and what to let it be seen, it reached an extremely far distance of field of view, that is a panorama, which is nothing more than watching an any angle on the landscape and the territory.

Eiffel realized with altitude the panoramic vision gives us the world to read and not only to realize, so it is corresponding to a new sensibility of vision. Allowing transcend feelings, deep down the picture is no more than an image we try to decipher where we try to recognize known sites, to identify reference points being that for meeting the full understanding has truly panoramic view.

Kengo Kuma in 1994, designed the Kirõsan observatory (Kuma, 1994) which located atop a slope allows the observation of the territory.

“The Observatories demonstrate the self-centered nature of human perception.” (Kuma, 2008)

The observatory becomes understood as an observation control device that, through physical experience allows the observation of the territory and the experience of it. The observatory appears as a single narrow slit inside the hillside, with a slit all that is visible from the outside, visitors begin and end their observation from this slot. What was once seen now reverts to the act of observing.

Inside the observatory, some installed monitors allow the viewer to see himself, not knowing where the video camera is located.

Self-observation allows this device to recognize that to observe is necessary to be observed and instead to be observed is necessary to be observe.


figure 11 – Aerial view of Eiffel Tower

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

“(…) There may be a story sensing own inner hidden mechanisms by which space is constructed as inside? What to say, a history of own detection, controlled look, the look of control and controlled look. But where traces of the look will be scored? What we have to continue? What clues? “(Colomina, 1996).

The Moller House of Loos through one space, in the living room seated from the couch one can look at the outside and can have a full view of the house at the same time, you have the feeling of being seen on the couch, which is in back to the window, and then the feeling of being watched and simultaneously the feeling of comfort from the inside.

The control can be understood when we are sitting on the couch and can observe the entire house, we can control who comes in and who goes out. The sense of being controlled is caused from the outside and not finding facing the same and so we do not know whether we are being watched, we just have a feeling. Comfort is given by the sense of control provided by the sofa position and so the sofa turned against 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 beholder turns into making possible only a mental image of the outside garden, because the window in this case contains only light as the space function. The observer becomes the observed by another that is outside the house and it’s like inside because this achieves everything that happens inside and so the interior merges with the outside.

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

Adolf Loos can turn this vision mechanism in something higher, it controls the inner observer, the outside observer and still manages the observer becomes seen when sitting on the couch, ceding control to both observers.

For so that the observer feels that he is no longer be observed that the viewer has control over the inside and passes control to the outside observer who has the ability to control the inside.

EP7-AV-moller house

figure 12 – Moller House, Viena


When Loos introduces mirrors inside their homes he reinforces the idea that the window is only light to enter and the all-seeing eye of the observer must turn towards the interior, also reinforces the idea of control and surveillance, because through mirror, although the viewer is facing outside, he is in control of the interior.

The paradox of introducing a mirror on the inside of a house is revealed when the mirror is intended as a window, but the window that divides the inside of the outer now does not divide the inner reflection.

As Loos, long before in Las Meninas (Velazquez, 1656), from Diego Velázquez, optical illusion raises issues reversing our perception of the look. The paint at first glance is nothing but a representation of the daily life of the Spanish royal court, brings with it many underlying meanings.

Velázquez represents himself, in his studio or perhaps the Palace of Madrid painting two figures, one by Infanta Margarita accompanied by their bridesmaids and merits a silly Italian; adding these two other invisible visible characters that are reflected in the mirror that is exactly in the center of the frame, these characters are King Philip IV and his wife, Mariana.

“(…) A skillful hand is suspended in the air, caught the attention of the gaze of the painter; and looking in turn stuck waiting a gesture. “(Eddy, 1970).

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

The fact that the picture depicted in the painting be back to us breaks the established relationship between the look of the painter and what he is to do, so it is never understood the perception of the painter as to what is to paint or what It is watching. Between spectator and model, we never know who we are what we are doing if we are to observe or be observed, because as soon as the artist puts us in the table as force in the model part of the representation and are placed in an invisible image forever. The painter can accentuate this time representing a window on the right where the light emanates and takes us to the screen that has his back to us, making us enter the scene represented.

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 it.

So we understand that the painter represented in the table is in the paint and that we are the painter’s model presented to us as a mirror. This mirror is a second contradiction of Velázquez; why wait to be reflected in it, in fact the reflection is another reality beyond us, that is, this reflex reflects the space beyond the framework in which we, spectators are admiring. In fact the mirror is not to reflect anything that is in space or the painter who has his back to him, not even the figures at the center of the room, it reflects the invisible. The invisible in this case is only because we do not see it directly, that is, the mirror allows us to see what the painter is watching (your model), which basically is what is visible to him.

Now we realize that the mirror, at the center, is the answer to understanding the context, is interesting to note that all the characters represented are looking out of the scenario, or are looking at the actual scene. The mirror observes and is observed by the true scenario, where the models of the painter are, does not reflect the painter because this is not part of the mirror image as well as the king and queen appear in the mirror because they are not part of the scenario, however they observe from the mirror that is beyond the frame.


figure 13 – Las Meninas

The mirror is the time when the individual is aware of his condition and of its existence, that is, the mirror reflects only and only the truth.

Occupying a unique place in the imagination of human history as the mirror was described as a symbolic matrix accompanying the human quest to know and understand our identity sharing the same function as the look has. 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 or surveillance is commonly understood as the act of control over another object, in some situations it can only be considered an act of a series of operations of a subject on the same object.

So when the observer looks in a mirror it is impossible to be observed without their knowledge, without awareness that is being observed. Suggesting a counterpoint to the very origin of the word vigilance, imposes an observation without knowledge or consent of the observed. This contradiction, this paradox revealed at the very moment that the observer is seen, for it through their own endogenous image, or the image he conceives of himself, believed in their interaction a moment of control, as if one suspicious behavior.

By the time the observer looks in the mirror, not only notes but also get to see what is behind you, therefore, to observe a mirror, the observer has the perception of what is around it.

In the work Las Meninas (Velazquez, 1656) Velazquez we can find this contrast. The position in which the painter is represented in its workforce, creates us a bothersome sense of a non-realism or impossible situation, he is the observer, but at the same time the observed object, its position and placed on the paint is the time between the visible and the invisible, the moment when the author is to see what this represent, it now dominates the paradox. It creates yet a third situation, he observes who is out of the picture, the observer of this.


figure 14 – False Mirror


The look has been throughout history manifesting itself in several ways, making themselves look as a structure or mechanized system but always with the objective of investing in society concepts associated with power that bring with them control concepts, surveillance and field about territory or about something else at all. The visual organ, which came to be understood as something that is more than pure transmission but also the visual control when transported to the architecture when there is a need for control over the territory, together with the control emerging visual power, showed structured power still present nowadays, the big towers pruned find today in large urban centers are no more than economic power demonstrations over the place, this power that wants to convey an image or imposition by placing it in the landscape and being one observable framework of any approach point.

The perception and knowledge that is acquired through the associated view in the mirror reveals the truth as it focuses upon a centralized image in which he observed us and we observed the observable. Our knowledge is reflected at the time as a centralized image when we are facing a mirror.

Surveillance and position of gaze create the border and the way that the individual travels in search of reason and architecture should be one of the connecting means between this search and the understanding of their surroundings, landscape and man’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, óleo sobre carvalho, 20 x 16”. Museu do Louvre, Paris
[4] – Hieronymus Bosch. Seven Deadly Sins c. 1480-1500, óleo sobre madeira, 47 x 59”. Museu do Prado, 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] – Cadeia Penitenciária de Lisboa. Século XIX / XX, Eng. Joaquim Júlio Pereira de Carvalho, Eng. Luís Victor Le Cocq e Eng. Ricardo Júlio Ferraz.
[8]- Cadeia Penitenciária de Coimbra. Século XIX / XX, Eng. Ricardo Júlio Ferraz (1824-1880).
[9] – Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, Part II, 1956
[10] – Peter Weibel, Beobachtung der Beobachtung: Unbestimmtheit, 1973, instalação de um circuito fechado, dimensão variável. Fundação Generali, Viena
[11] – Observatório de Kirõsan. 1994. Kengo Kuma. Ehime, Japão
[12] – Observatories demonstrate the self-centred nature of human perception.

Kengo Kuma. Anti-Object: The Dissolution and Disintegration of Architecture. 2008. Erasing: Kirõsan Observatory, Ochi-Gun, Ehime, 1991-94. p.49
[13] – Moller House. 1928. Adolf Loos. Viena
[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, óleo sobre tela, 318 cm x 276 cm, Museu do Prado, 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. Capítulo I : Las Meninas. p.3
[18] – Diego Velázquez. Las Meninas c. 1656, óleo sobre tela, 318 cm x 276 cm, Museu do Prado, Madrid



Figure 1Daniel Chodowiecki. The Eye of Providence. 1787. Decapagem, 4 x 5”. Coleção privada.
Disponível em : AAAAAAAAASk/bcQdXIJls6w/s640/Daniel+Chodowiecki+-+Das+Auge+der +Vorsehung+1787.jpg

Figure 2 – Jan Provost. Sacred Allegory c. 1510-1520, óleo sobre carvalho, 20 x 16”. Museu do Louvre, Paris
Disponível em : AAAAAAAABI4/yBDmsnZqzWM/s1600/Jan+PROVOST,+Allégorie +chrétienne.jpg

Figure 3 – Hieronymus Bosch. Seven Deadly Sins c. 1480-1500, óleo sobre madeira, 47 x 59”. Museu do Prado, Madrid
Disponível em : Bosch7Deadlies.jpg

Figure 4 – J. Braga. Torre de Dornelas
Disponível em :

Figura 5 – David Roberts. Torre de Comares, Alhambra
Disponível em : Roberts_David_Tower_Of_Comares,_Alhambra,_Granada.jpg

Figure 6 – Jorge Francisco Martins de Freitas, VRFoto. Torre de Menagem do Castelo de Melgaço. 2010
Disponível em : 0001.jpg

Figure 7 – Willey Reveley. Desenho da planta e alçado do Panóptico. 1791, Lápis, Caneta e Águarela, 17 x 24”. Biblioteca da University College London
Disponível em : panopticon1.jpg

Figure 8 – John Havilland. Serigrafia de P.S: Duval and Co., 1855. Vista aéreada Penitenciária de Eastern State
Disponível em : 2011/05/Eastern_State_Penitentiary_aerial_crop.jpg

Figure 9 – Robert Barker. O Panorama. 1793, Águarela. British Museum, London
Disponível em : AAAAAAAAApg/6vv_FeSmbTM/s1600/panhistory_barker_double.gif

Figure 10 – Peter Weibel, Beobachtung der Beobachtung: Unbestimmtheit, 1973, instalação de um circuito fechado, dimensão variável. Fundação Generali, Viena
Disponível em : schmid/schmid05-13-05-19.jpg

Figure 11- Alphonse Liébert. Vista aérea da Torre Eiffel durante a exposição Universal de Paris, 1889
Disponível em : Aerial_view_of_Eiffel_Tower_and_Exposition_Universelle,_Paris,_1889.jpg

Figure 12- Adolf Loos. Moller House, Viena, 1928
Disponível em :

Figure 13- Diego Velázquez. Las Meninas c. 1656, óleo sobre tela, 318 cm x 276 cm, Museu do Prado, Madrid
Disponível em :

Figure 14 – René Magritte. The False Mirror. 1929, óleo sobre tela, 21 x 32”, Museu de Arte Moderna, Nova Iorque
Disponível em : mirror-1928




ANDRADE, Amélia Aguiar. A Construção Medieval do Território. Lisboa : Editorial Livros Horizonte, 2001. ISBN 972-24-1122-5. 166 pág.

BARTHES, Roland. Mythologies. Londres : Editorial Vintage, 2009. ISBN 9780099529750. 187 pág.

BENJAMIN, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Londres : Editorial Penguin, 2008. ISBN 978-0-141-03619-9. 111 pág.

COLOMINA, Beatriz. Privacy and Publicity. Modern Architecture as Mass Media. Massachusetts Institute of Technology : Editorial Cambridge : MIT Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0-262-53139-9. 389 pág.

FOUCAULT, Michel. The Order Of Things. An Archaeology Of The Human Sciences. London : Editorial Routledge; New Ed edition, 1974. ISBN 0-415-04019-1. 448 pág.

FROHNE, Ursula; LEVIN, Thomas Y. e WEIBEL, Peter. CTRL [SPACE]. Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother.Karlsruhe, Alemanha. : Editorial Cambridge : MIT Press, 2002. ISBN 0-262-62165-7. 655 pág.

HAYS, K. Michael. Architecture Theory Since 1968.Londres : Editorial Cambridge : MIT Press, 1998. ISBN 0-262-08261-6. 825 pág.

IRWIN, Robert. The Alhambra. Londres : Editorial Profile Books, 2005. ISBN 1861974876. 224 pág.

KUMA, Kengo. Anti-Object: The Dissolution and Desintegration of Architecture. Londres : Editorial AA Publications, 2008. ISBN 978-1-902902-52-4. 151 pág.

TRIGUEIROS, Conceição. Panóptico. As Ordens da Vigilância. Uma arquitetura moralista. Casal de Cambra : Editorial Caleidoscópio, 2011. ISBN 978-989-658-109-1. 109 pág.



EVANS, Robin. Bentham’s Panopticon. An Incident in Social History of Architecture. Londres : Architectural Association Quarterly, 3, numero 2, Abril- julho, Oxford/Nova Iorque, 1971. p. 21 – 37



COLOMINA, Beatriz. The Split Wall : Domestic Voyeurism. Disponível em : Colomina-Split%20Wall.pdf

VIDLER, Anthony. The Ledoux Effect: Emil Kaufmann and the Claims of Kantian Autonomy. Editorial Perspecta, 2002.
pág. 16 – 29. Disponível em : uid=3738880&uid=2&uid=4&sid=55870752263


About alexandre vicente

born in 1985, is a portuguese architect with a master degree by the Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa with the thesis Surveillance and Frontier, Museum in the Second Line of Defense of Jurumenha between 2010 and 2012 worked at rc+jv arquitectos in some public competitions and made short collaborations with barbini arquitectos and chp arquitectos. in 2010 is the winner of the Trienal de Arquitectura de Lisboa 2010 student competition with a project for Cova da Moura. in 2012 wins the SECIL Universities Award 2011

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