From Glass Architecture to Big Brother: Scenes from a Cultural History of Transparency

Scott McQuire


In this essay, I want to reposition the Big Brother phenomenon in the context of an earlier debate about domestic space which occurred during the emergence of architectural modernism in the first decades of the twentieth century. At issue then was the physical reconstruction of the home, particularly through the increasing use of glass as a design element. While glass architecture is even more prevalent in the present, its spatial impact—particularly in terms of its capacity to alter the relationship between the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’—has now been matched or exceeded in many respects by the effects of electronic media. By tracing the parallel between the unsettling spatial effects produced by both glass construction and the electronic screen, I will sketch a cultural logic linking the modernist project of architectural transparency to the contemporary repositioning of the home as an interactive media centre.


Big Brother; architectural modernism; glass; transparency; media; modernism

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