Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon allows a central watchman, hidden within a watchtower, to observe inmates without them being able to tell if the watchman is present. This creates an asymmetrical surveillance where there is a physical sense of exposure to authority. Inmates, then, have this constant awareness of the threat of being watched and each one polices over his own self.
Shifting from a transcendental to an immanent mode of surveillance, this project enlists every inn guest to supervise the ensemble of other guests – while at the same time being supervised himself.
Instead of a centralised point of surveillance, the ‘watchtower’ is dispersed in the form of an elongated common area. Enclosed with a one-way mirror, it stands, on one side, the whole length of the building; reflective on the outside, transparent from the inside. Guests on the inside will be able to watch over the movements of the guests on the other side – the Watchman.
On the other side, the mirror reflects every action of the guests passing by. Here, people have an acute awareness over their own visibility, either through the sight of their own reflection or through the awareness of the presence of people on the other side.
All circulations are condensed in this in-between space, and weaves in and out of the mirror façade, the role of each guest oscillating between the ‘watched’ and the ‘watcher’. The temporality of the guest’s position (hidden inside or exposed outside) heightens the sense of his ability – and thus, others’ as well – to watch and be watched.
Through directly borrowing elements from Bentham’s Panopticon – light/dark, exposed/hidden, transparent/opaque – the backpacker inn creates a more subtle form of surveillance instead of the harsh spaces of his prisons. Here, guests share intimate living spaces with strangers with a sense of security.