inhabit a wall

Football stadiums are like fortresses. Nothing to be seen from the outside; an hermetic, inaccessible private space for public celebrations; an indicator stating urban power and measuring international recognition. The amount of seats proves a reliable capacity to organise mega-events and the amount of stadiums in a city almost aims to display physical superiority. This contemporary way of colonising a territory has a lot of similarities with medieval castles. How can Real Madrid’s Bernabéu football Mecca, then, be read as a Norman Keep dating back to the 12th century?

When looking onto the constructive elements, the “wall” plays a definitive role, acquiring in both cases a gigantic dimension. The Wall understood as the interface layer with an outer face touching the exterior and an inner one related to the main space. Between these two faces, it is where the highest density of human activity takes place.

A defensive bastion is mostly inhabited in its thickness; a several metres deep structure supporting the whole building, but also lodging the whole variety of tiny and intricate chambers for everyday life: wardrobes, storage, chimneys, fireplaces, staircases, sleeping chambers, sitting facilities, lord office, chapel, ovens… Bernabéu Stadium also has the evacuation routes located in its perimeter, audience stands, changing rooms, VIP lounge area, eateries, shop, trophy showcases, toilets, lockers… In both situations, the main scene is performed in a rectangular central hall with all its pomp, but the Wall is the actual domestic living space; the real Show, the space for all kinds of transactions.

As described in “Growth of the English House” (Gotch, 1909):

Everybody knows that an Englishman’s house is his castle, but it should also be remembered that in early times an Englishman’s castle was his house. Castles were not necessarily military strongholds; many of them were so, but many of them, again, were nothing more than fortified houses, and it is in these fortified houses that we must seek the first germs of our own homes, the earliest evidences of domestic architecture.

When cutting horizontally one of these fortified homes, one discovers the richness and complexity of inhabiting a wall. “The plan is quite simple, consisting of a large room (38 by 31 ft.) on each floor, enclosed by thick walls which are honeycombed with mural chambers and recesses.” A whole series of functions serve the main room. Like in a stadium event, former Keeps even provided viewers with a surrounding gallery (triforium) to look down onto the two-storey high halls.

The abstract and labyrinthine character of the Wall, in both stadiums and bastions, makes it impossible to recognise from the exterior the incredibly intense activity, negotiations and conspiracies, going on beyond the entrance; always occurring before entering the main rectangular stage.

[1> Real Madrid Bernabéu football stadium by deconcrete2011][2,3,4> Medieval English castles – floor plans from GOTCH: Growth of the English House, 1909][5> Carney Castle floor plan via carneycastle]


  1. Pingback: Walls as Rooms: British Castles and Louis Khan : socks-studio

  2. Caio Barboza


    My name is Caio Barboza and I am writing on behalf of Val Warke & Andrea Simitch, Associate Professors at Cornell University’s Department of Architecture.

    They have been asked by Rockport Press to write a book on the language of architectural design — a primer, of sorts, of the basic principles that might shape potential curricula for architectural educators while providing an inspiration to future architects. It is to be published next year by Rockport Press. Each chapter features a specific principle, illustrated by a number of contemporary and historical examples, each to be accompanied by an extensive caption that will discuss the image in its relation to the chapter’s topic.

    To that end, we would very much like to include your image (floor plan) of the Hedingham Castle for the chapter on Analysis. If you could supply us with a TIFF or other high-resolution version, we would hope to include it in the text. Naturally, we would give appropriate credits and/or acknowledgements for the image, as well as contact information, if you wish.

    We would be grateful if you sent the above information to

    Looking forward to your response,

    Caio Barboza
    Project Assistant
    Bachelor of Architecture 2013
    Cornell University

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