In a very fundamental way, architecture can be defined as the enclosure of space. This act of enclosure also carries with it a social reasoning, as well as consequence. The act of enclosure is an act of power and definition, through the way that it breeds a sense of property and territory. In his book No Trespassing, Anders Corr quotes Stanford law professor Margaret Jane Radin’s theory that “property is necessary to give people ‘roots,’ stable surroundings, a context of control over the environment, a context of stable expectations that foster autonomy and personality, Property is a property of persons; and this understanding of property is held to be necessary for human freedom.” (p. 58) So, enclosing a place of our own, a private dwelling, is an important part of our identity and livelihood. This theory has been described as the personality theory of property.
John Locke also has a famous perspective of property and how its value is derived and claimed. Locke says that fundamentally nature is without value. It exists as commons that is shared between all. It is through our labor that we create value. We mix our labor with the land, add value, and are able to claim it as property for ourselves. This is a sort of primordial appropriation and enclosure of the commons to form private property. Locke, however, also adds some restrictions to this model. One of these restrictions states that property can be accumulated “at least where there is enough, and as good left in common for others.” While the meaning of this is certainly up for debate, it suggests that some should be left as commons for all to share or that it should be left so that others can enclose their own property as necessary.
Just as there is vastly unequal distribution of wealth, there follows to be an unequal distribution of private property. Squatting movements operate in such a way that they challenge the established conventions of property. They use Locke’s exception to act upon the established forms of property, reclaiming the unused excess property for their own needs. They mix their labor with unused property and thus make it their own (also similar to the personality argument).
Thinking about challenging the conventions of property also makes me consider the issue of eminent domain. The state has the power to claim private property from its owners without consent for the use of public projects. In a sense this is a reverse operation of the privatization and enclosure of the commons. Ostensibly it is bringing private property back into the public sphere. It makes me wonder if there is some potential in the idea of a more democratic bottom-up approach to eminent domain that makes use of abandoned private property to bring it back into the public realm, as opposed to the top-down approach of eminent domain.