[iDC] Public Sphere Polka
lists at haque.co.uk
Sun Jul 9 15:32:30 EDT 2006
At 09:27 +0100 09.07.06, Trebor Scholz <trebor at thing.net> wrote:
>How does all this change the way we navigate the city? How does it
>relate to architecture? Perhaps some locative scholars, architects,
>activists, and artists have to join this round of conversations now?
As an ostensible architect perhaps this is my cue to join in...
It seems quite strange to me that architects these days don't appear
to be participating in the kinds of imaginings of the future that
they used to (e.g. Archigram, etc.). Some might say this is a good
thing of course; but isn't it funny that, although Tony Dunne (of
Hertzian Tales) has spoken frequently about how the architectural
process of speculation was a great influence on the way he thought
about designing objects back in the early 90s, now it is architects
(myself included) who refer to him because of his designs for
In fact, although we are almost at a time when we can build whatever
we can imagine -- device, building or experience -- suddenly
architects appear to have a kind of "writer's block" and, in the
mainstream anyway, seem destined to fall back on the usual
form-producing role that they feel so comfortable with. This was
quite well illustrated at Game Set and Match conference earlier this
year. Ostensibly at the forefront of crossovers between architecture
and technology, too many of the discussions revolved around either
designing blobs or designing things that move blobs. Discussions
about the social relevance of technology in the architectural world,
or what impacts current movements concerning the *production* of
technology might have on the profession of architecture were minimal.
There were a few discussions of "open source" but they tended to
espouse the usual top-down approach that institutions (of which
architecture is one of the most powerful) usually have.
I confess I had a bit of a clash with Ole Bouman, from Archis, whose
work I usually admire, when he fell into the common trap of assuming
that "open source" is just another means of consumption by claiming
that architecture has always been open source in that it has always
built on what comes before... Conference convener Oosterhuis had a
similar approach, claiming that his work was open source because the
coding of the design was freely available if anyone asked. These
approaches to 'openness' merely allow architects to pat themselves on
the back, congratulate themselves that they're au-fait with current
affairs, but keep constructing their usual sculptures for
inhabitation by others, which disregard the productive capacity of...
So I think architects are generally somewhat opting out of these
kinds of discussions, or are complacent with their position with
respect to technology.
Again an illustration from GSM: architect Marcos Novak was discussing
a trip to Constant's studio a few years back (Constant = New Babylon
dude) and relating how he showed some of his computer renderings to
Constant, but Constant seemed only interested with the way the
on-screen cursor responded to hand movements of the computer's mouse.
I took this to mean that Constant was concentrating on the only part
of the work that had any relevance to human engagement. Oosterhuis
and Novak took this to mean that avant-garde architecture had so far
transcended the revolutionary "masters" that even the masters could
no longer understand it! Frankly, I think Constant got it right and
it's about time we returned to some of the territory he covered,
because it's certainly not fully explored.
I use GSM as an example, simply because I had such high expectations
of it, since there are very few architecture+technology events these
days (feel free to correct me!). I'm pretty confident the
"Architecture and Situated Technologies symposium" will be a nice
antidote! Less and less of the built world is produced by
architects... However I do think that architects are able to bring
something to the table, and that is an ability to think
meta-systemically (ok, so this is both a bug and a feature).
Space (in the public/private sense) has tended to be a battleground
for institutions rather than individuals; and the fact that
architects are less involved with such discussions is not necessarily
a good thing, because it just means that technologists become that
much more important (as evidenced by the way that mobile technology
manufacturers tend increasingly to be designing the way that you and
I related to each other in space).
It feels almost like the cold war (when two opposing parties
regulated each other) is over... and the worst is yet to come: the
technologentsia is winning the battle for our spaces, and this is a
thing that should be resisted. Ubiquitous computing, and the
complexities of increasingly invisible technologies simply mean that
we are being removed from any spatial decision-making processes we
once particpated in (that may be too nostalgic...).
My own particular interest is to refer back to cybernetics,
particularly of the second-order variety -- this is the cybernetics
in which the observer is not distinct from a system, but is actually
a participant in a system. Unfortunately the word "cybernetics" has
taken on a skewed meaning in the last couple of decades, being
confused with artifical intelligence (which is in contrast a
top-down positivist approach), cyberspace and cyborgs. I think that,
now that we are more comfortable with postmodern (e.g. 'death of the
author') explanations in which a consumer can be a producer,
cybernetics, in particular Gordon Pask's Conversation Theory, might
allow us to challenge the traditional architectural model of
production and consumption that places firm distinctions between
designer, client, owner, and mere occupant. It may help us consider
instead architectural systems in which an architectural participant
takes prime role in the production of the space s/he inhabits, a
bottom-up approach which would result in a more productive
relationship to our spaces and to each other.
This way of thinking about architectural systems is not necessarily
technological: it is not about making your online shopping experience
more efficient, or your apartment funky and interactive. Nor is it
about making another nice piece of hi-tech lobby art that responds to
people flows through the space (which is just as representational,
metaphor-encumbered and unchallenging as a polite watercolour
landscape). It is about designing tools that people themselves may
use to construct (in the widest sense) their environments and thus to
build their own sense of agency. It is about developing ways to make
people themselves more engaged with, and ultimately responsible for,
the spaces that they inhabit. It is about investing the production of
architecture with the poetries of its inhabitants.
Hmmmm..... I think I was supposed to introduce myself first. So,
apologies for the length and I hope that suffices as a way of saying
I am Usman. and. I. am. a. recovering. architect......
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