[iDC] participatory "design", tech resistance, and pragmatism

mark bartlett mark at globalpostmark.net
Thu Sep 28 15:09:19 EDT 2006

re: usman's and others, reflections on "interactive" design, and on  
the possibility of art/architecture shaping technology in resistance  
to the military, and the call for addressing the marginalized. re:  
the last, i suggest that its an issue of pragmatism - realistic  
assessment of how social change happens, which has a great deal to do  
with "scale of tactics and strategies."

dutch architect Hermann Hertzberger comes to mind, as he builds  
incompleteness and permutability into his housing designs so that  
they can be finished by occupants and/or arranged by choosing from a  
palette of options. and his design strategies in general  promote  
"interactivity" in every social and environmental way possible. there  
is much to reap here for the benefit of more specifically  
technological approaches. his concept of "living courtyards" is  
worthy of note, and his de-reification of the concept of "house."

a few quotes from his website project descriptions follow.   http:// 

Each of these row houses consists of a basic dwelling core over the  
full depth, with next to it a freely interpretable zone the same  
size. In some cases this zone has been built-up with an additional  
living-room area, at times with extra sleeping space upstairs. In  
others, it has been fully glazed like a sort of greenhouse where the  
occupants are free to add whatever form they wish. In yet other cases  
this zone has been left entirely open. Then the house is the basic core.

The patio houses consist of two ‘naves’: one with bedrooms, bathroom,  
storage space, entrance and patio, and one that is not subdivided  
containing the living room/kitchen. The great width of the house  
(8.10 m) allows the brief to be tailored to individual requirements,  
whereby one can choose between living on the street side or around  
the patio. Or one can opt to live up on the roof garden and roof  
terrace floor, with the possibility of a void to the ground floor.

Key to the plan is a sophisticated modular residential layout that  
allows for endless variations and combinations. We have developed a  
plan that can be laid out and expanded in many different ways.

A comparison to Tschumi's writings in Architecture and Disjunction,  
is necessary here because it lays out one model for realistic  
analysis based on "dynamic architecture," and "event architecture."  
If Parc Villette is one embodiment of his theory, it's failure in his  
terms, function over form, use over style, event over 'program,' (in  
its narrow sense) etc., is worth contemplating, and the reasons  
should not all be laid at his feet, but, also at the feet of the  
municipal agencies responsible for it's maintenance, gathering of  
public interest to that site, at the feet of the publics themselves,  
etc. These are failures Hertzberger did not have to contend with.  
There is a social component built into most of his projects, with a  
remarkable integration form studio to users to clients, etc. In many  
ways, he is the better proof of Tschumi's concepts. His work would be  
a superb case study in which to run test case scenarios of  
integrating technologies, exactly because of the degrees of success  
at social integration in his projects. It would make for an excellent  
studio component. And obviously this approach could be broadened to  
test many types of already existing sites/projects. This approach  
might even gain economic backing as it  follows the "proof-of- 
concept" model required by funding sources. Another way to put this:  
what would it mean to reshape Media Lab methods as less military/ 
capital driven, and more genuinely involved in social problems? That  
is, if "proof-of-concept" means, "social proof of social concept?"  
Tschumi sites his own disillusionment at that being possible, given  
that architecture is that which embodies the values and needs of  
existing military-industrial-information forces. Herteberger  
succeeds, at least to some extent.

  it's worth revisiting as one reference point, some pioneers in  
social inclusion in the design process, like Sim Van der Ryn and  
Michael Calthorpe (UCB) on community design, sustainability, eco- 
design. http://new-ced.berkeley.edu/ced/people/query.php? 

it strikes me that Michale Albert's (Alternet) concept of  
"parenonomics" - participatory economics - is conceptually and  
pragmatically relevant here.  the term is his, though not the concept  
which is shared by other social theories in one way or other,  
including some versions of anarchism. I site albert here only because  
he is quick to hand: http://blogs.zmag.org/search/node/parecon. the  
pioneer here was late economist, Kenneth Boulding, who not only wrote  
the landmark, Human Values on Spaceship Earth (1966), but other works  
like: The Economics of Human Betterment (1984). Manual Castels, who  
is an "urban planner," hasn't come up here in the short time i've  
been on this list. I assume he has. but social networks in his  
analysis has much to offer this discussion.

to move beyond lip service to participatory anything means radical  
social transformation, and the ONLY place i see this happening  
productively is in Latin America. It IS happening in Venezuela and  
Bolivia to a lesser degree. It is happening in the Zapatista efforts  
in social and political terms. One of the extraordinary mechanisms  
for social change in the Venezuela context is the creation of Social  
Missions aimed at particular social problems. Illiteracy was wiped  
out nationally in 72 months (without digital technologies at all)  
with a massive volunteer education program.  Now that the country is  
up to high school level, they are moving on to universal college  
level education.
social_missions.html  It works here because there is government  
support, (which means coordination and political and economic  
backing) and because the efforts are bottom up, inclusive, and local.

Abandoning the cult of the expert implies abandoning the cult of the  
leader as well. But the paradoxical lesson is, this succeeds only  
when there is government support, or social movements strong enough  
to force the governments hand (like the newly emerging Immigration  
Movement in the US). frankly, i see absolutely no hope for  
participatory roles in any facet of technological development in the  
dominant so called developed countries. Diagnosing the problems is  
easy. Fixing them is another matter entirely.

The question of real social change may be scaled thus:
What would it take in the US, Europe, Australia, say, to establish  
effective Social Missions for civilizing and socializing  
technologies, urban spaces, rural spaces, etc.? It would take nothing  
less than a broad social movement. A million individuals working  
independently on prosocial issues will have zero impact 99% of the  
time. While 10 coordinated efforts have impact 10% of the time.  
Collective thought is fabulous, but easy. The question is: how to  
collectively act. Organizations like APC (Association for Progressive  
Communications) and WSIS (World Summit on Information Society, UN),  
and World Social Forum, are working along these lines. Is it possible  
to join forces to makes these efforts bear fruit?

Less grandly:
What architecture would result from the superimposition of , say,  
Tschumi/Hertzberger, Albert/Boulding, Ryn/Calthorpe, Castels/Mike  
Davis, Social Mission as model for the "studio"? There are many  
possible substitutes for any of these names, of course.

one example, with compelling pragmatic and symbolic value, and of  
course not without it's problems: http://www.thelandfoundation.org/? 
About_the_land. the way this project delimits it relations to  
"technology" is interesting - no to electricity, yes to solar and  
natural gas powers, based on their social impacts. it's "house  
projects" are another matter.

In terms of strategies/tactics, it makes me think of efforts to  
create sustainable fisheries. Designate fishing-free zone along the  
entire west coast of the US, (in process in CA), where fish may  
replenish their numbers and then migrate to fishing-allowed zones.  
There is a social lesson for arch-tech here, i think.

though the tenure system might have to be changed, as it seems mostly  
to be a fishing-allowed zone.

mark bartlett

On Sep 27, 2006, at 12:21 PM, Mark Shepard wrote:

> Brian pointed to Non-standard Architectures @ the Pompidou. Frank  
> referenced "Hybrid Space : new forms in digital architecture". To  
> that I would add the Non-standard Praxis symposium @ MIT - http:// 
> architecture.mit.edu/project/nsp/
> Ahh... The usual suspects. The starchitects are in the house!
> It's high time we get beyond the blob, the digital hybrid, and the  
> tendency of architecture to merely "represent" ideas in formal  
> terms using the common digital tools (CAD/CAM, digital fabrication)  
> available to us today. I think for some architects at least, the  
> whole "constructing digital architecture" debate has really run its  
> course. Moving beyond screen-based simulations or real-time  
> "reactive" spaces (which are often no more than glorified automatic  
> door openers), the questions today have less to do with the old  
> digital/analog debate.
> I know I'm the one who introduced the form-fetish syndrome into the  
> discussion, but I did so more as a provocateur than anything else.  
> It's been more than a decade since people like Niel Denari   
> conducted a graduate design studio at Columbia on blob-form as a  
> graphic strategy, or Greg Lynn introduced concepts of generative  
> form, iteration, and responsiveness into the design process (also  
> at Columbia). I'm not a historian of the term, but I recall hearing  
> (and using) blobitecture (and its close cousin "spaghetti  
> architecture") as a derisive label for the work going on there at  
> the time. (Mea culpa: I was a graduate student there then). I find  
> it remarkable that these terms could be still "in vogue" today.
> I think Usman's on to something here:
>> 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.
> Architecture in this sense involves a dialogue (conversation?)  
> between people, physical space, and the topological frameworks that  
> structure and inform this dialogue. What happens when this dialogue  
> is understood not in terms of real-time "reactions" or "responses,"  
> but rather over an extended time-frame? The life of a building, for  
> example? What happens when the "certificate of occupancy" (issued  
> by the building inspector when a building is considered "finished"  
> and safe for inhabitation) is not the end of the design process,  
> but merely another step along the way?
> +
> mark shepard
> +
> http://www.andinc.org
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