by Roger Luckhurst. Reaktion Books, May 2019. 240 p. ill. ISBN 9781789140538 (h/c), $35.00.
Reviewed January 2021
Gabriella Karl-Johnson, Architecture Librarian, Princeton University, firstname.lastname@example.org
Hallways often occupy a strange place in architecture, functioning as forgettable interstitial spaces on the one hand and sites of deep unease on the other; they seem to be spatially empty but psychologically packed. Roger Luckhurst takes us through every wending avenue of this architectural feature’s history in his new book Corridors: Passages of Modernity. Luckhurst’s motivation is not only to detail the history of the corridor but also to uncover the reasons why we have come to regard hallways as eerie sites of dread and alienation. Corridors puts forth compelling narratives to answer this central question and, in the process, infuses a sense of enchantment into this often-overlooked spatial zone.
Luckhurst suggests that to live in contemporary Anglo-American culture is to exist in “an anti-corridic world,” an environment dominated by open plan offices and idealized loft homes, where hallways are little but functionalist infrastructure and architectural leftovers. Moving from the history of circulatory spaces in antiquity through the Baroque, Luckhurst traces the emergence of the corridor in European architecture and links the roots of our corridic unease to the mythology of labyrinths. Following the first appearance of hallways in the grand homes of the moneyed and powerful in eighteenth century England to the utopian proposals of Fourier’s phalanstery, hallways served the purpose of enhancing domestic privacy and allowing further specialization of interior spaces, all of which Luckhurst situates as quintessentially modern. Corridors attentively recounts each step of the hallway’s lineage, first bringing substance and presence back to the corridor, then illuminating the dystopian filmic worlds set within.
As a professor of modern literature whose previous books have focused on film history, the author’s approach to the corridor emphasizes film studies as a central analytical lens. Luckhurst draws on a range of moving image references, from cinema to video games. The text provides an evocative analysis of the hallway in cultural and architectural history using touchstones that will be familiar for many readers. Both scholarly and approachable, the engaging prose of Corridors is suited to a popular audience as well as specialized scholars. The rich descriptions may prompt a desire to re-watch classic films like The Shining or seek out some of the more obscure visual materials mentioned in the book.
Corridors serves as a good counterpoint and companion to the “Corridor” volume of Rem Koolhaas’s encyclopedic Elements of Architecture (Taschen, 2014). Whereas Koolhaas’s publication presents a compendious taxonomy of built spaces, Luckhurst’s text narrates a compelling cultural history of this architectural feature. Through lively prose that unfolds its central question with the intrigue of a page-turner, Corridors makes for pleasant vacation reading as well as scholarly study. Corridors: Passages of Modernity would be a publication of interest for film studies, visual studies, and architectural history.