All posts by Esther Sperber

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.

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.