[iDC] Cities, Speculation, and the Non-addressable

Brian Holmes brian.holmes at wanadoo.fr
Wed Sep 27 13:04:07 EDT 2006

franck ancel wrote:
> I think that the symposium/exhibition in Paris, 1997, 
> "TransACHITECTURES02"with an introduction by Virilio is more interesting 
> that this old feed back in Pompidou. And "Hybrid Space : new forms in 
> digital architecture" is not sold out (cf. Peter Zellner, Thames & 
> Hudson, 1999).

Well, that's interesting, I'll check it out someday.

But the Pompidou thing was exactly on the subject that seems 
to be at stake here: constructing digital architecture. And 
this "bande annonce" I mentioned has the advantage of 
showing what some of the blob architecture looks like. The 
French version of the page has a text:


It says:
"It is not a matter, here, simply of digital architecture or 
of an exhibition of "virtual" architects preoccupied mainly 
with questions of representation (virtuality, hyperspace) 
but of a modification in the industrialization of architecture.
The generalized use of applications based on algorithmic 
systems implies transformations in the tools of conception 
and production. A "non-standard" architecture is a 
reflection on the language of this discipline as well as on 
its field of application, based on an exploration of digital 
elements. Traditional construction can now be contrasted to 
production by the prototyping of prefab architectural elements.
The notion of "non-standard" appeared in mathematics in 1961 
with the works of Abraham Robinson. The implications are 
multiple and touch all the disciplines where algorithmic 
systems can be applied, for example artificial intelligence, 
but also morphogenetics (the development of forms). The 
question being asked here is how the digital process, as in 
the field of publishing, has changed the economy of 
architectural production, from design to construction."

I found the whole thing kind of morbidly fascinating, due to 
the virtuosity of what was being presented, and also the 
total void of any social imaginary for the possible use and 
inhabitation of this stuff. At the time I wrote a small kind 
of review for my colleagues in the journal Multitudes, which 
I translate here from French:

The exhibition "Non-Standard Architectures" presents some 
extremely free research into morphogenesis, rendered 
possible by computer-assisted design. It's an exhibition of 
maquettes, often carried out by the kind of 
three-dimensional modeling machines used in contemporary 
industry. Few of these plans have actually been realized. 
Sinuous, irregular curves are generated by the application 
of complex algorithms to data gleaned from various kinds of 
forms (built volumes, topological figures, musical or dance 
motifs, etc.). The most interesting of the groups presented 
here is called Nox. They show: a modular office space, or 
really, a hive, destined for use by TV creatives, with work 
spaces that take the form of randomly exploded bubbles; a 
rock-concert hall with a multi-use program, constituted of a 
series of curving ribbons that have been stretched out to 
varying degrees; a kind of huge neon light-sculpture the 
size of a water tower, vaguely resembling an extracted 
tooth, which changes color according to the fluctuating 
emotions of the city's inhabitants who are supposed to 
communicate their moods to their municipal monument via a 
website; and finally, a sort of openwork pavilion with a 
generous, rhythmic frame, like a sculpture by Moore or 
Brancusi transformed into a hollow, diaphanous volume. The 
plan of this last pavilion or folly (which exists in 
reality, as does the tooth-monument) was generated on the 
basis of an analysis of choreographic motifs, translated 
into strips of cut paper which were then elevated into 
undulating volumes. The pavilion is equiped with eight 
movement sensors that are used to recombine the fragments of 
an electro-acoustic composition, so that the visitor 
gradually understands that his/her presence in the structure 
influences the music played in the space, but without ever 
being able to determine exactly how. Both the pavilion and 
the tooth-monument constitute something like a baroque for 
the twenty-first century.

Nox images: www.arcspace.com/architects/nox/d_tower/index.htm

The desire behind this aesthetics of the complex curve -- an 
undeniably powerful desire, conveying very real expectations 
of contemporary individuls -- is to recover some kind of 
flexibility in the most positive sense of the word, via 
sophisticated algorithms translated into forms by computer. 
This work is at antipodes from Corbusian orthogonality and 
standardization, in flight from the bureaucratic ideal of 
equality that underlay them: it's an architecture for the 
flexible personality. As several commentators have noted, 
there is no social conscience in this panorama of the 
architectural future: the projects are above all private 
homes, museums, quasi-sculptures, corporate shrines and 
consumer spaces. But once built -- and these forms will be 
constructed, they are already being constructed in the 
Netherlands -- this non-standard architecture will 
definitely have a social function: that of the postmodern 
sublime, which allows the individual to measure him or 
herself against the terror of the unknown, and to adapt to 
situations of cognitive dissonance and disjunction, where 
one can only have partial mastery over the flow of 
information and sensations into which one is nonetheless 
immersed. Like baroque architecture in its time, this will 
be a dazzling spectacle for the greater number who will 
tremble in admiration; and it will also be a disorienting 
but stangely reassuring spectacle for the transnational 
elites, who will always be able to recognize a few familiar 
technical elements in the apparent chaos (a feedback loop, 
the translucent sheen of a particular high-tech 
polymer....). In short, here as elswhere, the bureaucratic 
norms of the industrial period have been overcome, but only 
through virtuoso, high-end performances, leaving the great 
majority without anything to hang onto, and failing to open 
up any constructive path for a thinking of the multitudes....


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