[iDC] Re: Cities, Speculation, and the Non-addressable (Mark Shepard)

Usman Haque lists at haque.co.uk
Tue Sep 26 15:31:53 EDT 2006

Related to recent posts by Mark and Molly, I also owe a response to 
John Sobol, who responded to the post I made many weeks ago and to 
which I promised an answer shortly (apologies that I allowed so much 
time to stretch!).

John Sobol said:

>  Hence the unsurprising resistance of established architects -
>  no matter how futuristic - to such a radical ethos. The
>  question I have though, is: what technologies can enable this?
>  Especially, what digital technologies?"

This is a pretty fundamental question because it raises two issues: 
first, what constitutes "technology" and, second, can "technologies" 
be radical?

It seems to me that a definition of "technology" has to encompass 
"that which some people have and others can't have", because the 
extent to which "everybody" has it, contributes to a decline in 
anything being considered "technology". In this sense, technology is 
only a currency of possession and exclusion. I don't think that any 
particular technologies in themselves have any capacity to 
empower/liberate/[insert euphoric verb here] because they are defined 
by the opposite.

Since technology is so closely allied to power, can it ever be 
"radical"? I'm reminded of Tafuri, in 'Architecture and Utopia': "The 
ideology of design is just as essential to the integration of modern 
capitalism in all the structures and suprastructures of human 
existence, as is the illusion of being able to oppose that design 
with instruments of a different type of designing, or of a radical 
'antidesign'". He suggests that architects can never participate in 
being radical because the very practice itself is so closely tied to 
capitalist production means.

Tafuri's dismissal of architecture's potential as a radical process 
has always frustrated me: because I grudgingly agree with it even 
though I would like to prove it wrong...

But this gets back to the question that Mark highlights:

>  I would argue
>  that it is this silence on the part of architects that actually
>  contributes to a future so many here have expressed concerns about.

On reflection, I'm not sure it is silence: I wonder whether they 
(should I say "we"?) even know about such technological developments? 
It seems that being so enamoured, and protective of, the formalistic 
design approach has made the architectural profession less intent on 
participating in discussions concerning 
'that-which-goes-on-inside-my-building' and they seem to have just 
slipped by the wayside. Ubiquitous computing: it's just interior 
design, right? Send me the electrical plan and I'll slip it in at the 

The unfortunate fact is that for the majority of those interested in 
using technology at an architectural scale, it is sufficient to add a 
nice polite "interactive" facade which changes colour in response to 
occupancy patterns/sidewalk flows/temperature/light level/[whatever] 
as if being merely responsive is going to alter people's 
relationships to the structure any more than painting it would.

As I see it, interest in hertzian and networked space is a 
satisfactory first small step in the right direction, because it 
negotiates between a fascination with form (ala blobs) and a 
fascination with architectural program (ala early Tschumi) because 
such an approach deals explicitly with both the relationship between 
people and their physical spaces and with topological frameworks that 
give rise these relationships.

A subsequent step must be to question the design process itself, no? 
How might the production itself of an architecture *really* be 
"interactive" (in the sense that Maturana or Pask use the word)? 
Surely such an architecture would never be "complete"? This is why I 
find it quite interesting that Omar, too, is interested in the notion 
of "performance": because performance is a work, the production of 
which is very much the work as well. I look forward to conversations 
about these in New York....


p.s. regarding Molly's post that mentions Archigram and the 
Situationists in the same paragraph, I'm reminded of the Archigram 
lecture at Columbia University (was it in 1998? when they had their 
big exhibition in NYC) when Peter Cook and David Greene had a public 
disagreement about whether or not they had been influenced by the 
Situationists -- Peter Cook maintained that their work had no 
connection, David Greene was adamant that there was. I think you can 
see a reflection of this in their individual works.

p.p.s. Omar, I know I owe you an abstract!

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