Although it has never been completely neglected, the notion of love has often been discredited or rejected within academic circles (Weis, 2006). Judged “too elusive”(Weis, 2006), or “[...] too emotional for social scientists to take seriously”(Ackerman, 1995), the assumptions that the emotion was too subjective or too convoluted to be studied have pervaded social sciences and have historically contributed to its invalidation.(Jónasdóttir,2015) Following the academic tendency to favour negative emotions such as fear, anger, depression or hate (Lindholm,2006)(Hayes,2017), scholars have preferred to focus on “[...] what happens when love is deficient, thwarted, warped, or absent rather than love per se [...]”(Ackerman, 1995). While these angles have been necessary to the valuable recognition of the pluralities of gender, romantic and sexual diversities, and have provided essential insights on the patriarchal, heteronormative and consumerist masks(Kipnis,2009) that love has been taking, the consideration of the overarching notion of love has been a topic routinely averted by academic inquiry.(Jónasdóttir,2015) Considered either as untouchable (as if studying it would annihilate its magic)(May,2019), or too polysemantic (meaning too many things to too many people)(Hamilton,2006), love has acquired a quasi-sacrosanct character which led it to be often considered as a form of religion for the modern world. (Lewis,2013[1936])(Solomon,1983)(Weber,1946)(Beck and Beck-Gernsheim,1990)(Illouz,1997)(Lindholm,2006)(May,2011)(Seebach,2017)(May,2019) Considering that virtually no other concepts are still under such taboo — like suicide or religion might have once been — love appears to be re-emerging in academia in line with what Foucault was describing as the insurrection of subjugated knowledges: when seemingly fluffy, obvious or banal notions burst in disclosure to reveal deeper social tensions and more complex realities. (Foucault, 1980) 

Even if reluctances are still present, an array of contemporaries, from all social sciences, have now started to pay closer attention to love by progressively identifying its centrality in a series of social phenomena. Building on the shoulders of giants such as Marx, Hegel, Durkheim, Weber, Simmel or Benjamin, who have all considered the notion in their work (Illouz,2020), the field of “love studies”,(Ferguson & Jónasdóttir, 2015) that surfaced through the affective turn of the 90s, (Clough, 2007) is attempting to create bridges between the individual experience of love and its origin, meaning and capacities at the societal level. We now recognise that the historical bypass of love within social and natural sciences was probably just one more mark of its critical role and potential.(May, 2019) Often compared to the taboo previously associated to sexuality,(Blum, 2005) we now are able to overcome that academic timidity typically connected to love and welcome its study as valid study matter. We accept that if the understanding of social, political, religious and economic structures is crucial for an awareness of how the world operates and how it could be, we should not be leaving aside the consideration of our emotions, especially one that occupies such a central role in our lives. We accept that we should not overlook a tension that has been saturating all forms of art, that reflects our resisting nature in the face of oppressive forces (Alberoni, 1979)(Illouz,1997)(hooks, 2000)(Vaneigem, 2010)(Hardt & Negri,2011)(Badiou, 2013)(Horvat, 2016)(Han, 2017) (Grossi and West, 2018), that has been sustaining one of the most fertile nest of our imagination,(Chessick, 1992, 2005) (Liberman, 2009) (Förster, Epstude and Özelsel, 2009) and that, some have suggested, sits at the cornerstone of the “discovery” of the modern individual (Morris, 1972). Finally, we understand that the history of love, in this eclectic assemblage of cultures that we call Western, has been running in parallel and occupying an elemental role in the history of modernity(Illouz, 2013)(May, 2019)(Giddens,1993), the history of fiction(Ashe,2018)(Girard,2013), the history of women’s emancipation(Paz,1993)(Solomon,1983)(Ackerman,1995)(Nehring,2009)(Ferguson & Jónasdóttir, 2015)(Cannone,2020), and the history of resistance itself (Hardt,2011)(Nussbaum,2015)(Horvat, 2016)(York, 2018). 

Even if still emerging, this understanding has now virtually penetrated all fields of studies, changed practices and generated new sensibilities in research methods and outcomes.(Jónasdóttir,2015) A shift that has affected all areas of research with the blatant omission of spatial practices. In a field (1) at the intersection of poetics and ethics(Pérez Gómez, 2008), a hotbed of emotional implications (2) where considerations on intimacy, privateness and publicness are commonplace, if not fundamental (3) where the use of creativity is enmeshed in its most relational and emotional dimension, (4) where the correlation between its practice and the advent of modernity is dialectically defined (Heynen,2000), (5) where fictional narratives are interlaced with human activity, engaged at many levels, from research to programme to design, and (6) where we have been trying to draw paths for decades, if not centuries, to imagine ways to resist oppressive structures such as market imperatives or patriarchy, it is inconceivable and preposterous that we can literally count on one hand the few who have ventured in trying to build bridges between an emotional intention at the heart of life and the field responsible for understanding and materialising the setting in which we want this life to exist and develop. It is this glaring indifference towards love, a notion with conspicuous relevance for a field concerned with human’s emotional relation with their environment, that has generated and fuelled the interest into this research.  

Only by unpacking the spatial dimension of love, how it came to be and how it is, will we be able to understand the possible links and implications of the notion for spatial practices. By focussing on its urban dimension, we will firstly be describing how could an emotion, such as love, be materialised in space by presenting another emerging concept: the one of atmospheres. Secondly, we will be trying to untangle what we might be talking about when we talk about love by highlighting in literature two aspects of its nature with particular relevance for architecture and urban design. Thirdly, we will trace a history of how the modern expression of the urban atmosphere of love has come into being by looking at its roots in three social transformations of the past centuries. Finally, we will attempt to outline, enlighten by interviews conducted with twenty participants of different backgrounds, the recurring motifs of a contemporary urban atmosphere of love.

While other cities could have been selected, the whole study will be taking Paris as a background. Its triple reputation as the Capital of Love, the Capital of Modernity (Harvey, 2006), but also as the site of major social upheavals of Western history, has propelled its relevance as a contextual location. The current text being also linked with a design project that aims to make use of the findings to visualise an alternative spatial future for a suburban area of the French Capital, the geolocalisation of the investigation was essential. We will see that by embodying the concepts of possibility, difference and delight, the notion of love and its spatiality has proved itself to be potent, not only to reveal the deficiencies of reality, but also to gracefully assemble the paths and clues to “[...] give us a chance to inhabit it fully” (Chollet,2004; my translation). 

the notion of love and its spatiality has proved itself to be potent, not only to reveal the deficiencies of reality, but also to gracefully assemble the paths and clues to “[...] give us a chance to inhabit it fully”

Although it has never been completely neglected, the notion of love has often been discredited or rejected within academic circles (Weis, 2006). Judged “too elusive”(Weis, 2006), or “[...] too emotional for social scientists to take seriously”(Ackerman, 1995), the assumptions that the emotion was too subjective or too convoluted to be studied have pervaded social sciences and have historically contributed to its invalidation.(Jónasdóttir,2015) Following the academic tendency to favour negative emotions such as fear, anger, depression or hate (Lindholm,2006)(Hayes,2017), scholars have preferred to focus on “[...] what happens when love is deficient, thwarted, warped, or absent rather than love per se [...]”(Ackerman, 1995). While these angles have been necessary to the valuable recognition of the pluralities of gender, romantic and sexual diversities, and have provided essential insights on the patriarchal, heteronormative and consumerist masks(Kipnis,2009) that love has been taking, the consideration of the overarching notion of love has been a topic routinely averted by academic inquiry.(Jónasdóttir,2015) Considered either as untouchable (as if studying it would annihilate its magic)(May,2019), or too polysemantic (meaning too many things to too many people)(Hamilton,2006), love has acquired a quasi-sacrosanct character which led it to be often considered as a form of religion for the modern world. (Lewis,2013[1936])(Solomon,1983)(Weber,1946)(Beck and Beck-Gernsheim,1990)(Illouz,1997)(Lindholm,2006)(May,2011)(Seebach,2017)(May,2019) Considering that virtually no other concepts are still under such taboo — like suicide or religion might have once been — love appears to be re-emerging in academia in line with what Foucault was describing as the insurrection of subjugated knowledges: when seemingly fluffy, obvious or banal notions burst in disclosure to reveal deeper social tensions and more complex realities. (Foucault, 1980) 

Even if reluctances are still present, an array of contemporaries, from all social sciences, have now started to pay closer attention to love by progressively identifying its centrality in a series of social phenomena. Building on the shoulders of giants such as Marx, Hegel, Durkheim, Weber, Simmel or Benjamin, who have all considered the notion in their work (Illouz,2020), the field of “love studies”,(Ferguson & Jónasdóttir, 2015) that surfaced through the affective turn of the 90s, (Clough, 2007) is attempting to create bridges between the individual experience of love and its origin, meaning and capacities at the societal level. We now recognise that the historical bypass of love within social and natural sciences was probably just one more mark of its critical role and potential.(May, 2019) Often compared to the taboo previously associated to sexuality,(Blum, 2005) we now are able to overcome that academic timidity typically connected to love and welcome its study as valid study matter. We accept that if the understanding of social, political, religious and economic structures is crucial for an awareness of how the world operates and how it could be, we should not be leaving aside the consideration of our emotions, especially one that occupies such a central role in our lives. We accept that we should not overlook a tension that has been saturating all forms of art, that reflects our resisting nature in the face of oppressive forces (Alberoni, 1979)(Illouz,1997)(hooks, 2000)(Vaneigem, 2010)(Hardt & Negri,2011)(Badiou, 2013)(Horvat, 2016)(Han, 2017) (Grossi and West, 2018), that has been sustaining one of the most fertile nest of our imagination,(Chessick, 1992, 2005) (Liberman, 2009) (Förster, Epstude and Özelsel, 2009) and that, some have suggested, sits at the cornerstone of the “discovery” of the modern individual (Morris, 1972). Finally, we understand that the history of love, in this eclectic assemblage of cultures that we call Western, has been running in parallel and occupying an elemental role in the history of modernity(Illouz, 2013)(May, 2019)(Giddens,1993), the history of fiction(Ashe,2018)(Girard,2013), the history of women’s emancipation(Paz,1993)(Solomon,1983)(Ackerman,1995)(Nehring,2009)(Ferguson & Jónasdóttir, 2015)(Cannone,2020), and the history of resistance itself (Hardt,2011)(Nussbaum,2015)(Horvat, 2016)(York, 2018). 

Even if still emerging, this understanding has now virtually penetrated all fields of studies, changed practices and generated new sensibilities in research methods and outcomes.(Jónasdóttir,2015) A shift that has affected all areas of research with the blatant omission of spatial practices. In a field (1) at the intersection of poetics and ethics(Pérez Gómez, 2008), a hotbed of emotional implications (2) where considerations on intimacy, privateness and publicness are commonplace, if not fundamental (3) where the use of creativity is enmeshed in its most relational and emotional dimension, (4) where the correlation between its practice and the advent of modernity is dialectically defined (Heynen,2000), (5) where fictional narratives are interlaced with human activity, engaged at many levels, from research to programme to design, and (6) where we have been trying to draw paths for decades, if not centuries, to imagine ways to resist oppressive structures such as market imperatives or patriarchy, it is inconceivable and preposterous that we can literally count on one hand the few who have ventured in trying to build bridges between an emotional intention at the heart of life and the field responsible for understanding and materialising the setting in which we want this life to exist and develop. It is this glaring indifference towards love, a notion with conspicuous relevance for a field concerned with human’s emotional relation with their environment, that has generated and fuelled the interest into this research.  

Only by unpacking the spatial dimension of love, how it came to be and how it is, will we be able to understand the possible links and implications of the notion for spatial practices. By focussing on its urban dimension, we will firstly be describing how could an emotion, such as love, be materialised in space by presenting another emerging concept: the one of atmospheres. Secondly, we will be trying to untangle what we might be talking about when we talk about love by highlighting in literature two aspects of its nature with particular relevance for architecture and urban design. Thirdly, we will trace a history of how the modern expression of the urban atmosphere of love has come into being by looking at its roots in three social transformations of the past centuries. Finally, we will attempt to outline, enlighten by interviews conducted with twenty participants of different backgrounds, the recurring motifs of a contemporary urban atmosphere of love.

While other cities could have been selected, the whole study will be taking Paris as a background. Its triple reputation as the Capital of Love, the Capital of Modernity (Harvey, 2006), but also as the site of major social upheavals of Western history, has propelled its relevance as a contextual location. The current text being also linked with a design project that aims to make use of the findings to visualise an alternative spatial future for a suburban area of the French Capital, the geolocalisation of the investigation was essential. We will see that by embodying the concepts of possibility, difference and delight, the notion of love and its spatiality has proved itself to be potent, not only to reveal the deficiencies of reality, but also to gracefully assemble the paths and clues to “[...] give us a chance to inhabit it fully” (Chollet,2004; my translation). 

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