In addition to the usual terms like “vacant lot” or “no-man’s land”, the use of the French expression terrain vague (Chateaubriand, 1811) seems to be increasing in the international community.
Could this be because the terrain vague, beyond negativity or casual descriptions, evokes more than any other lexical assemblage the paradoxical condition of space and territoriality in contemporary culture? Between nomadism and sedentarity, the terrain vague keeps the question and its potentialities open – concrete virtualities. While the term vague links to flux, indetermination and void, terrain refers rather to the idea of the border and of ground that can be occupied. Can we preserve this unusual coexistence without reducing it to one term or the other ? This is the stake suggested by the figure of terrain vague: to open the territory without dissolving its constructive qualities.
Rather than the normative vacuity associated with hygienist planification, the terrain vague speaks about porosity. Its void constitutes the counter image of the functionalist city, the Achilles heel of its prophylactic and ostentatious phantasms. The pore is both cavity and passage, a place propitious to the development of processes that escape control and contaminate representation by transversal infiltrations. As an indeterminate zone, the terrain vague destabilises the clarity of the urban figure and resists the “spectacular”. In a world more and more mediated and virtualised, it offers the possibility to tame and to experience the raw reality of a new type of impure Wilderness.