Psychoanalysis is the study of the unconscious mind and the process of subconscious thinking. The relation between spaces the physical body occupies and the subconscious mind are often the subject of discourse in the relation between psychoanalysis and architecture. The discipline of psychoanalysis was created by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and used to treat psychological issues, but it’s highly controversial and its position as a science remains conflicted. 

Since its introduction in the 1890s, there have been various iterations of Freudian psychoanalysis like Lacanian psychoanalysis, Freudian-Marxist theory, and some subjective analyses tangential to psychoanalysis like phenomenology, for example, have been used by thinkers like Heidegger in inditing and thinking concerning architecture.

Architecture in Freudian Psychoanalysis

Contrary to some modern thinkers, Freud was hardly ever concerned with spaces. Since psychoanalysis deals with repressed memories and the unconscious, in most cases, it was not necessarily typical to think of in terms of physical embodied spaces. “Psychoanalytic procedures are devised in order to arrive at a singular, primal event, the moment when the original object of satisfaction was lost: an object whose loss is subsequently masked (and yet indirectly indicated) in myriad everyday disguises in the ordinary, familiar objects that are its substitutes, appearing as our wishes, daydreams, hallucinations, or delusions.” (MacCannell, 2005). 

Freud however does describe the influential pipeline from childhood to adulthood in how a child’s nature and nurture may lead to the preferences for the spaces we subconsciously wish to occupy as adults (Abell, 2020). 

“What seemingly matters most in Freud’s style of psychoanalysis, then, are those temporal, historical events whose connections to the present are hidden, lost, and dropped out of the sequential narrative of life, but which have never actually been severed from it.” (MacCannell, 2005). 

For instance, Freud cites historical examples such as the destruction of the Roman Forum and its excavation as an analogy of layers of buried histories of the people and the civilization that was vanquished and essentially represented unremembered events. The subjectivity and the visceral nature of architecture are deliberated by Juliet Flower Maccannel in writing on the relation between Freudian theory and space, wherein the author questions how and why architecture affects people in such visceral and extremely personal ways (MacCannell, 2005). 

Deconstruction and Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis and deconstruction may be considered parallel affairs in how they attempt to break down or decipher whatever may not be apparent. Jacques Derrida founded deconstruction philosophy which consequently influenced the deconstructivist movement of post-modern architecture and the works of numerous “starchitects” such as Frank Gehry, Daniel Libeskind, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, Zaha Hadid, to name a few. 

A crossover between Psychoanalysis and Architecture Sheet2
Eisenman Architects. Aronoff Center for Design and Art. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021].
A crossover between Psychoanalysis and Architecture Sheet1
Binet, H. (2016). Zaha Hadid’s Port House in Antwerp. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 14 May 2021]. 
“Is deconstruction simply the psychoanalysis of philosophy?” (Samson, 2009). Freudian psychoanalysis is a highly controversial subject, nevertheless, it did play a part in influencing Derrida’s theory of deconstruction. The common ground between both psychoanalysis and deconstruction is the “decentering of the subject”, the concurrent hysteria that’s experienced spatially and temporally. 

However, psychoanalysis delves into the unconscious to understand idiosyncrasies and the most personal of thoughts, while in the case of deconstruction, all that is within is laid bare on the surface (Samson, 2009) in the case of deconstructivist architecture; and in the case of deconstructivist writing, the meaning of texts is explored by breaking them down. 

Infrastructure of the Unconscious 

“Instead of treating the unconscious as a reservoir from which a person’s deepest fears emanate, Lacan suggested that the “unconscious is structured as a language”” (Ralph, 2015). 

Jacques Lacan’s theory of the unconscious is tangential to Freud’s, but Lacan interprets the unconscious of every being as a unique language of itself. Michael Ralph cites this hypothesis of Lacan and takes it further by suggesting that along with the linguistic apparatus of the unconscious, it also has an “infrastructure that establishes the coordinates for individual and collective experience in the world. It provides the architecture through which we move as we navigate the world we have inherited” (Ralph, 2015).

Between Freud, Lacan and Žižek, the theories surrounding the unconscious, in how it is an irrational aspect of being which thinks and contemplates its existing social structures in the physical world, is an analysis of how psychoanalysis plays a role in architecture; specifically in how we experience the tangible and intangible aspects of our lives, which could mean the built environment but also the existing constructs and predicaments we try to navigate through every day.   

Psychoanalysis and Critical Theory  

Critical theory was introduced as a school of thought that combined the ideologies of Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud in understanding the philosophies in tandem with socio-economic theory. There is much criticism that neither critical theory nor psychoanalysis have any scientific basis since both the disciplines are concerned with the irrational part of the mind, and with understanding the correlation between social relations and the unconscious mind. Critical theory concerning architecture deals with socio-economic issues rather than anthropological issues.

Critical theory like psychoanalysis delves into the subconscious and attempts to analyse its relation to social constructs and predicaments, and it is often criticized as failing to provide clear directives towards political action and considered revisionist, a diluted form of Marxism that considers some parts of Marxist theory while negating others. 

Psychoanalysis, although a mode of study of the subconscious mind, has been contemplated with relation to architectural thinking, which needless to say does not involve merely the built environment, but also the socio-political-economic structures that exist, whether or not they’re a part of most of the pedagogy. As discussed here, there have been numerous variations and developments within the field of intersectional psychoanalysis. 

Further contemplating, agreeing/disagreeing and advancing such theories may be necessary for a comprehensive understanding of not just the architectural profession, but also social strife which everyone must be aware of and be a part of, especially now more than ever.


MacCannell, J.F. (2005). FreudSpace: Architecture in Psychoanalysis. In: J. Winer, J.W. Anderson and E. Danze, eds., Architecture and Psychoanalysis. The Annual of Psychoanalysis, pp.1–15.

Csordas, T.J. (2012). Psychoanalysis and Phenomenology. Ethos, 40(1), pp.54–74.

Ralph, M. (2015). Architecture of the Unconscious. Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 25(2), pp.163–175. 

Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Psychoanalysis. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

Wikipedia Contributors (2019). Critical theory. [online] Wikipedia. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

Wikipedia. (2021). Freudo-Marxism. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

Wikipedia. (2021). Intersectionality. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

Routledge & CRC Press. (n.d.). Freud for Architects. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

Lakehead University. (n.d.). A Phallus by any Other Name… Is Deconstruction the Psychoanalysis of Philosophy? [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

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