The Shadow of Zaha Hadid – Lilith Magazine

…So why am I thinking about her so much? Perhaps Hadid’s death is particularly upsetting because, as Thomas de Monchaux wrote in The New Yorker, architects tend to flourish later in life, making Hadid’s death at age 65, with only 10 years of constructed buildings, all the more premature. Or perhaps, as the New York Times article suggested, it was her singular position as the greatest female architect that amplified her death as a personal loss to me as a woman architect. But alongside my admiration, and slight envy of Zaha Hadid, I hear a small ugly voice whispering in my head. This voice says, “she was too big for life and so she died.” It is true, I admit, that she defied so many social norms, being ambitious, creative and successful, and choosing not to marry or have children. This, the ‎Trump-like-misogynist voice in my head says, was too much; the universe could not maintain this kind of female presence…”

read more at lilith

Esther Sperber is the founder of Studio ST Architects, she writes and lectures on architecture and psychoanalysis.

Manifesto Fest 2015

Division/Review has published a package of manifestos (first presented at the 2015 Division 39 Conference) by Will Braun, Jill Gentile, Lynne Layton, Tiffany McLain, Tracy Morgan, Jonathan Shedler, Esther Speber, and Robert D. Stolorow.

View the entire issue online or grab the Manifesto Fest PDF here!

[ Thanks to Esther Sperber and David Lichtenstein for the PDF. ]

>> Esther presents her manifesto on YouTube.

“Free Association”: A Technical Principle or Model for Psychoanalytic Education?

I would like to begin this post with a dogmatic statement that is intended solely for the sake of discussion and, hopefully, not to alienate my many friends who teach in either psychoanalytic or academic institutions. I know that many of them are even involved in training psychoanalysts in universities and that they probably owe a great deal to such institutions and are understandably grateful for the education that they obtained from that experience. Others who are not involved in academia as such may be associated with free-standing psychoanalytic institutes that are nevertheless modeled on academic education and, for that reason, you may feel identified (at least in principle) with the academic model of education.

Though my psychoanalytic training was not at a university, I was educated, like everyone else, at a university in my undergraduate education and, like many, obtained a PhD in psychology at a graduate institute. So my experience is not that alien to yours, though I confess I sometimes wonder if I have lost my memory of having traveled here from another galaxy, when I realize how out-of-step I feel when I have the occasion to teach at a graduate school, which I do now and then, in California. Be that as it may, I believe that psychoanalytic education of some sort belongs in academic institutions, even if I am about to share with you my reservations about conceiving psychoanalytic training along academic lines. …

[ Download the whole article as a PDF here. ]

Where silent infantile sexuality was, democracy shall be: A Psychoanalytic Manifesto

Psychoanalysis was founded to discover truths of human nature and to heal by means of truthful discourse. Sigmund Freud, after experimenting with hypnosis, began working instead in the familiar but also radical terrain of human speech. He landed upon the technique of free association after patients, almost all female, pushed back against his leading questions; free association followed from his surrender to the voices of women. It calls in turn upon the patient to surrender all the thoughts that occur to her, without editing, censoring, or concealment, and to yield to their truth in the context of address, of an intersubjective discourse.

Through such socially unconventional conversations, Freud wandered into uncanny territory. It wasn’t only the unconscious that compelled his attention, but also the peculiar signage of unconscious terrain. He named this signage “infantile sexuality” and he recognized it as both utterly normal and utterly perverse.

If psychoanalysis desired a path of least resistance to public acceptance, it couldn’t have chartered a more brilliant means of ensuring its self-defeat. But as Freud and every practicing psychoanalyst since has discovered, the path to resistance is the very path to cure; and every psychoanalysis follows this obstacle-ridden odyssey. This odyssey proceeds by means of encrypted signs that tell a universal story even as they also reveal an infinitely varying trail of singularity. Freud’s genius was to recognize psychoanalysis’s enduring validity as desire’s tale and travails.

How was the infant’s sexuality to be revealed? Infants, by definition, are without language (in-fantem). What Freud intuited early on was the need for a space of speech. A space between speaker and listener, a space between the raw sensual body and its experiential energies, and the psyche’s mind. Somewhere in there, we might say, was the soul—desire’s voice. But it would take the transformation of the patient from mute infant to speaking adult to enfranchise and claim her desire and to emancipate her mind and her body. All by means of winning her freedom to think and to speak, through a signature practice of free thought and free speech.

Freud dismissed and denigrated our draw to illusion and self-deception; but he was not deterred from his goal of translating the energies of what the body spoke. He glimpsed the power of an enlightened speaking subject. He glimpsed but never realized the power of psychoanalysis to democratize desire, to grant human beings their natural and inalienable rights to own their sexuality, libido, and free speech privilege. Revolutionary? At the very least, threatening to the world of encrusted power arrangements.

There will always be resistance. Through speaking (which also includes listening, translating, and interpreting), the patient names and shares unspoken desires and forbidden knowledge, knowledge many will resist hearing. Psychoanalytic cures, like democratic actions, require speaking truth to power, enlisting the voice of the marginalized in the franchise of speech, surviving destruction, liberating desire. The content of that conversation, however sentimental, naïve, and idealized it may sound to say, is one of freedom and truth—but also of hope, compassion, generosity, excitement, love, and a striving toward equality.

The once meek shall inherit the earth through the natural design of human speech and relationship, harnessed through a technique of free association, through a dedicated practice of speaking desire—democratizing desire— in the context as well as under the constraints of transference. Free speech, be it democratic or psychoanalytic, is the lever that redistributes voice and human agency. A truly egalitarian model that Marx and the communist manifesto might wish to claim! But one that has at its core a vision that Tocqueville anticipated for democracy, one that we might envision for psychoanalysis: When “plain citizens … get together in free associations, they have something of nobility in their souls.” Nobility borne of translating the infant’s mute sexual curiosity and natural “perverse” desire into a talking that cures.

The demise of the person in the psychoanalytic situation

The demise of the person in the psychoanalytic process may seem like a strange choice of subject matter as the words “person” and “personal” are not technical terms in standard psychoanalytic nomenclature. Typically, both terms are invoked, if at all, in a strictly offhand way when referring to non-transferential and non-technical behavior or experience in the context of the psychoanalytic treatment relationship.

For the majority of analysts, so-called personal aspects of the treatment situation have little, if any, role to play in the psychoanalytic process as it is typically conceived. For many, it is the absence of a personal engagement with patients that distinguishes psychoanalysis from its user-friendlier cousin, psychodynamic psychotherapy. It has become increasingly commonplace that contemporary psychoanalysts of virtually all persuasions reduce the psychoanalytic process to the analysis of transference, resistance, and more recently, enactments. This has resulted in the general assumption that virtually all of a patient’s reactions to the person of the analyst should be treated as transference manifestations.

Similarly, most if not all, significant interventions by the analyst in response to transference phenomena are informed by whichever technical principles a given analyst elects to follow. This is a view held typically, for example, by Kleinian, classical Freudian (i.e., American ego psychology), and most contemporary relational analysts, all of whom tend to deconstruct the very notion of a person-to-person engagement out of the psychoanalytic process. Such analysts often concede that interactions of a personal nature occur invariably during every analytic encounter, but such occurrences usually are deemed irrelevant, and even impediments, to the analytic process, and are avoided scrupulously or, when unavoidable, systematically analysed….

[ Download the full article as a PDF here. ]

A Manifesto on Manifestos

I am excited to announce the opening of the Manifesto Fest publication!

This is a space for psychoanalytic manifestos, a place in which we can remember why we love psychoanalysis, and try to share this excitement with a wider world.

Psychoanalysis fosters a particular way of understanding the world: childhood, love, racism, political conflict, obesity, art, loneliness…. These topics fill the printed papers and online news feeds yet rarely make use of psychoanalytic insight and knowledge. Perhaps you are also discontented with the status quo in which analysts spend an inspiring and frustrating amount of time writing for one another, safely keeping their words isolated behind the subscription walls of PEP WEB?

So, while there is great value in carefully crafted clinical presentations, theoretical explorations, footnotes and citations, it is urgent for the well-being of psychoanalysis to learn to distill what the field can offer and why it matters. So I indulge in manifesto about manifestos, unabashedly trying to seduce you to try to use this mode of writing.

I realize this is not easy. The training of a psychoanalyst promotes quite the opposite mindset, one of reflection, nuance, non-judgment, a resistance to actions, an observing eye…. Manifestos must be assured, forceful and convincing.

The word manifesto comes from two Latin origins: Manifestus: obvious and Manifesto: make public. Therefore the manifesto makes the obvious public.

Omnipotent and playful, manifestos were powerful tools of the avant-garde movements of the twentieth century. Think of the far reaching political effects of the Communist Manifesto written in 1848.

“At its most endearing” writes Mary Ann Caws, in the big yellow book titled “Manifestos — a Century of Isms,” “a manifesto has a madness about it. It is peculiar and angry, quirky, or downright crazed” (p. xix). “The manifesto is by nature a loud genre, unlike the essay…. It calls for capital letters, loves bigness, and demands attention.” She describes the politics of the manifesto as “Nowness and Newness.”

The heyday of manifestos was the decade between 1909–1919 when Marinetti published The First Futurist’s Manifesto followed by Malevich, the Cubists, Dada and the Surrealists among others. They were published as pamphlets, posted on walls and showered like rain in public plazas. Manifestos are arrogant, they call for action, oppose the existing, demand change, sometimes they are even violent: “Leave Dada, Leave your Parents, Leave your Wife” called one.

Generally, Mary Ann Caws tells us, the manifesto stands alone. It does not lean-on or refer-to other texts. At times, a short sentence captures a big idea. No architect can forget Mies’s modernist “Less is More” or its provocative reversal by Robert Venturi into “Less is a Bore.” In fact, Caws writes, architects have adopted the manifesto style as their professional dialect.

Psychoanalysis has a unique body of knowledge which it uses to help its patients. But I believe it have the power to transform the way we view the individual, relationships, and society.

So let us indulge in this kind of omnipotent, playful speech and see where it takes us and how it might affect the public discourse.

We welcome manifesto submissions, 500–1000 words long.
Please email

See the Manifesto Fest Publication

Esther Sperber is the founder of Studio ST Architects, she writes and lectures on architecture and psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis Should Join the Slow Movement as Slow Therapy

We live in a fast world. We eat fast, travel fast, read fragments of stories with great rapidity. And then we realize that in this haste we have lost something valuable.

The slow movement, which started with slow food in the mid-eighties, expanded to slow reading (read every word), slow travel (notice the beauty of the wild flower field) and slow schooling (respond to each child). These slow movements share an appreciation of the pleasure and connoisseurship that come with slowing down.

We can now add Slow Therapy to the slow movement, a new branding for psychoanalysis.

The fast pace of the 21st century has many advantages. On a long drive we welcome a fast burger, a college student fast-crams for her exam and a working mom fast-travels home to kiss her baby goodnight. But in this rush, and the constant noise of an ever increasing stream of input we consume, it is hard to hear our own thoughts and needs.

Therapy has also quickened. There are sets of exercises and tested protocols that aim to quickly reduce the patient’s suffering, and of course, we must quickly help those who are anxious, depressed and traumatized. The starving person cannot wait, must not wait for the slow cooked dish.

But when the emergency is over we can then engage in a different kind of therapy, one that is slow, mindful and deep. Psychoanalysis is this kind of therapy; it is an invitation to listen to echoes of the past, to the delights of the body and the voices peopling our minds. In the presence of an analyst, we listen to relationships speak through us. We learn to notice feelings.

Why don’t you give it a try?

First you must turn it all off. Turn off the beeps, pings and rings, your email, texts, facebook, twitter. Turn off the TV, your music feed, the pod cast, the news show. Close the book, fold the newspaper, put down the magazine. Don’t worry, they can wait.

Come in. Lie down. I know, your parents would get so angry when you put your shoes on the couch, but here it is ok. The rules are different.

Slow down. Let the outside world fade away, your bosses voice is getting fainter, that shopping list can wait. Don’t worry, it won’t be boring. You’ll see. Other things will surface.

When is the last time you listened to your body? Feel that ache from your morning run? You feel good about your new exercise routine. Your eyes are tired, maybe you need more sleep? You hear your own breathing…. A thought travels by, your body reacts, desire feels good. You know, you could do this more often…

When is the last time you heard your own thoughts? Remember that strange dream? An early childhood image surfaces in your mind — you are two years old, the war siren startled you from your afternoon nap. Grandmother is standing in the doorway. Your emotions are profound and moving, let them wash over you. Hear what they want to say.

When is the last time you tried to understand your relationships? There is this mysterious thing — transference, and in it your feelings about me are both real and unreal. They reflect old habits of being. Do you see yourself as your colleagues see you? Do you cast people in familiar, fixed roles? Slow down and you can’t help but notice these fascinating dynamics.

I don’t want to pink wash slow therapy. When you look inside, and think about your past, there are likely some unpleasant feelings lurking, those you never wanted to feel again. You might be overwhelmed by a new and unfamiliar sense of intimacy or enraged that your inner ghosts were awakened. But by getting to know yourself, embracing your own past, you will feel embraced and more alive.

Rich and complex flavors require fresh produce, attention and time. Slow therapy also depends on care, attention and time so that emotions and affects can flourish.

Psychoanalysis is a slow mode of therapy, a practice of listening to bodies, minds and relationships. And like slow food, psychoanalysis allows us to taste the rich flavors of a full life.

Originally presented at the Manifesto Fest, Psychology and the Other Conference, October 10, 2015. Also appeared on Medium.

Esther Sperber is an architect and the founder of Studio ST Architects ( She also lectures and writes on architecture and psychoanalysis.

Site, Insight, Incite!


Human knowing is complex and magnificent. We know with our mind and body, in waking thought and dream images, in memory and amnesia, in enactment and insight. We know as monads and dyads and triads and fields. We know with language and fantasy, with sex, and gender, and queerness. We know through traumas, and pleasures, culture and politics, drive and instinct, cognition and emotion, aggression and love.

We learn to recognize our own feelings through the mirroring of parents and caregivers and we think within a relational field of people and places. The physical environment participates in these learning processes of widening human and social experience. Architecture creates stages on which new ways of living can occur.


Architecture is another way of thinking, it is a process of building boundaries. We design spaces but our tools are its limits; we trap places between stone and glass walls. But building envelopes do more than enclose, facades also need to connect. A building is an interface between our fragile body and the powerful forces of nature, between individual solitude and the social, pulsating metropolis.

Buildings facilitate the connection of the individual to the city and its infrastructure. Electricity travels in and out of copper wires, pumped water arrives at our faucets and sewage departs for the treatment plant. People enter and exit in rhythmic currents and air, light and heat stream in and out. Architecture is a meditation and elaboration of self-other relations.

Physical spaces, like their inhabitants, simultaneously have undeniable limitations and myriad possibilities. Like psychoanalysis, architecture awakens thoughts, memories, dreams, projections and affect, creating theliminal space between the individual and the world, between ego and reality. It is in this intersubjective zone that we live our lives.


Trauma restricts our emotional and rational abilities; it dissociates and splits off affect. Our environments also segregate population and functions, relegating that which is less beautiful or unstable to hidden peripheries. Mental health is the ability to embrace life to the fullest. Urban health might be similar. The task of architecture is to expand the range of human experiences and activities, to invent and nurture spatial pathways for robust living.

Our cities create spaces for human activities. Public monuments evoke respect for organized democracy, homes shelter and rejuvenate, schools promote community and curiosity and malls entertain with consumerism. We expect these spaces to feel good and safe

Architecture has always been a conservative cultural expression. It depends on governmental support, financial institutions, building codes and clients. While twentieth century modern art expanded the subjects deemed appropriate for art, modern architecture remained loyal to an almost unchanging mission, stated by Vitruvius two millennia ago. It embraced the task of “firmitas, utilitas, venustas.”

While stability, unity and beauty are positive aims, buildings must also embrace broader goals. Is it not our task as architects to facilitate a reclaiming of those split off and to help people, places and functions burdened by dissociation due to trauma or repression? Shouldn’t our city be home to the most diverse and magnificent expression of human knowing and living?

It is through the reality of the architecture SITE, the radical will to INCITE and the empathic, emotional INSIGHT, that architecture can become a transformational agent creating spaces for living.