wk16 reading response

May 5, 2010

MMFX: Klinger and Kolarevic

After Adolf Loos’ book “Ornament and Crime” in 1908, ornamentation became a dirty word.  The fallout of this was three-quarters of a century of shape manipulation, with little regard paid towards materiality.  Now, after a significant pass of time, we are returning to ornamentation, but from a new vantage point, having witnessed the advent of the computer.  This new sort of ornamentation we are privy to is based largely out of algorithmic explorations via the power of the computer.  What is interesting is that it is, up to this point, mostly a surface phenomenon.  This sort of material and manufacturing complexity is applied to and exists within only the surface of buildings.  This happens through pneumatic actuators, sensors, and computational control systems, as well as manufacturing processes.  These mechanical components, integrated together, exhibit a sort of “smart behavior”.  They help to create this new kind of complexity and ornament.

The question that has been raised deals with the appropriateness or relevance of ornament.  Through much of the period of Modernism, it became clear that singular, simplistic form and material was not fit for human habitation.  Humans were not able to really connect with that body of architecture.  Instead, Klinger and Kolarevic suggest that ornament can be engaging, interactive, multi-sensory, and embed in a space meaning that has the potential to evoke emotional resonance.  This type of “ornament” is different than the ornament Loos rejected in the early part of the 20th century.  I suppose it is similar in that, generally speaking, ornament is meant to enhance surface, give scale and texture, and be symbolic as well as catalytic for its place and time.  But this new ornament, called material and manufacturing affects, seems to use previously unavailable technology in a way that 1) is born out of nature, following principles and processes that lead to maximum efficiency (biomimicry) and 2) attempt to reconnect people to place through the potential of interactivity.  This is different from traditional building ornament in that is does not represent nature, as well as the fact that traditional building ornament was static, and didn’t act and react given variable inputs (feedback loops).  This new ornament is “smart”.

The architecture that has come from this school of thought varies widely, but one good example would be the work of Herzog and de Meuron.  Their “functionalist” ornamentation seeks to integrate decoration, structure, aesthetics, meaning, and function all within the skin of a building.  Following notions that E.H. Gombrich set forth (see note below), their work seeks to create a balance between seemingly simplistic geometry and complex ornamentation.  Computers have allowed us to create seemingly complex patterning and shapes from relatively simple rulesets (parametric design).  This is where we are now in terms of using nature to inform design.

The question becomes, though, how can we design in a way that truly integrates all of the aspects of complex environments with human awareness?  How can we be truly connected with nature, and with each other?  This is the difference between pneumatic actuated, computer controlled environments versus the more organic, complex environments James Cameron created in his latest blockbuster, Avatar.  The barrier here seems to be interface and information transference.  Interactive environments are a first step, but still a far cry from seamless integration and unity between humans, nature, and information/meaning.

Note: E.H. Gombrich- “I believe that in the struggle for existence organisms developed a sense of order not because their environment was generally orderly but rather because perception requires a framework against which to plot deviations from regularity”.   Therefore, he says the human mind has a need to create a “careful balance” between complexity and order.  The mind is constantly trying to find the underlying structure within complex environments.

wk16 notes

May 5, 2010


wk15 reading response

April 21, 2010

Abstracting Craft: Malcolm McCullough

Malcolm McCullough says “Hands are the best source of tacit personal knowledge because of all of the extensions of the body, they are the most subtle, the most sensitive, the most probing, the most differentiated, and the most closely connected to the mind”.  Hands are our intellects extension into the physical world.  They allow us to carry out our intentions.  Not only are they explicitly able to interact with the physical world around us, providing innumerable feedback mechanisms, but can also make/use tools to amplify characteristics necessary for interaction with the physical world.  The notion of hands as being a source of knowledge and skill does not exclude the need for our other sense organs that also interact with the physical world.  We too have sight (eyes), sound (ears), taste (tongue), smell (nose) which all aid in our discernment for the world around us.  But it is touch (hands) that has largely gone unnoticed.

What I find more interesting that the medium of the hand itself, or even the tools that it makes to use, is the interaction between multiple mediums that can hardly be quantified.  The eye must see first, for the hand to know what to do.  Each of these biological mechanisms of interaction with our physical world provide a wealth of feedback, all of which is synthesized and made sense of by the mind.  It is within these interactions, and within the power of the mind, that I find real value.  This is what I think true skill is.  It is having a conscious, critical knowledge of how you are interacting with tools, with the physical world that surround, with another living thing, and using that knowledge to progress that interaction in new and unforeseen ways.  McCullough uses the example of the MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) controller in the field of music.  This tool hasn’t made other more traditional instruments obsolete.  Rather, it has provided a new way (an interface) for allowing many musicians to actually design the sounds they want.  It is another tool, not unlike the guitar, that “users” interact with to create, mix, change, reinterpret sound.  It can be critiqued in the sense that it is, out of the starting gate, limiting to some degree because there is a preconceived notion of what the midi controller can do.  That is like saying “over there is an autocad building” and “there is a rhino building”.  But, in fact, it is not the tools that are limiting, but the minds ability to use those tools.

wk15 notes

April 21, 2010

wk15-Mccullough-abstracting craft

wk14 reading response

April 20, 2010

Architectural Curvilinearity: Greg Lynn

Reacting to the popular deconstructivist approach, Greg Lynn worked to find other ways of combining complex programmes and disassociated elements of particular sites and contexts.  Instead of embodying social, cultural, and physical differences in formal conflicts, he sought to create “folded architecture” that began to both formally and programmatically, aesthetically and tectonically roll and layer discrete differences into a cohesive whole.  The resultant architecture became a continuous language that was much more complex and complete than merely formally juxtaposing incongruities.

“Pliancy allows architecture to become involved in complexity through flexibility.  It may be possible to neither repress the complex relations of differences with fixed points of resolution nor arrest them in contradictions, but sustain them through flexible, unpredicted, local connections”.

The above quote is how Lynn begins to synthesize some of the ideas he appropriates from Deleuze on the nature of smoothness and continuous variations/continuous development.  What I think is so interesting about this quote, though, in the unencumbered way which Lynn applies ideas of nature and living.  Diversity is not a new idea to the biological sciences.  It is a basic prerequisite to life.  Yet it has largely gone unnoticed in the architectural discipline, who has concerned itself primarily with critical form exploration.  Lynn approaches this notion of diversity from an entirely new vantage point.  He doesn’t want to point out differences for the sake of formal definition.  Rather, he wants to design for flexibility, adaptability, in a way that will provide opportunities for unpredicted connections and interactions.  He isn’t simply designing diversity into the form, but is trying to create an architecture that might accommodate or promote diversity, ultimately in a cohesive way.

He tests the ideas of folding, because, as he says, its process of overturning and layering will “mix smoothly multiple ingredients in such a way that their individual characteristics are maintained”.  Additionally, folding allows for the emergence of viscous mixtures.  That is to say “the nature of pliant forms is that they are sticky and flexible… As pliant forms are manipulated and deformed the things that stick to their surfaces become incorporated into their interior”.  What Lynn alludes to here is what some biologists might call adaptation.  Within an ecosystem, each part has an effect on every other part, therefore one small change in the system tends to have a ripple-effect and cause a large change in the whole.  It seems as if this is what Lynn is talking about in regards to pliant forms.  This pliant characteristic of architecture has the opportunity to be excellently adept because the architecture itself grows and changes with a changing environment/context.  It internalizes external forces.  It is never static.  Rather it has dynamic stability.  It is able to quickly make itself relevant again given ever-changing circumstances.

wk14 notes

April 20, 2010

wk14-Lynn et al-Folding in architecture

wk13 reading response

April 19, 2010

Universal Architecture: Buckminster Fuller

I would like to talk about Buckminster Fuller’s notion of Universal Architecture as humanity’s supreme survival gesture.  He makes two remarks that seem to speak to each other, but also delineates his thoughts on evolutionary biology and the future of life.

“The whole composition should never be dependent on the relative success of any one unit; and, or positively stated, all units should be independently (flexibly, angularly) aligned to the whole composition of structure, and therefore progressively replaceable by ever more adequate unit solutions, thus making for an evolutionary growth to an intellectually (selectively) refining totality… which later invokes revolutionary, and iconoclastic, replacements of ‘whole old composition’”.

“Life continuity via universal architecture [as an external mechanical aid, structure for survival].  The new universal architecture of a physical-intellectual-scientific external machine holds promise of accomplishing the life balance”.

It is obvious that Fuller is searching for an architecture or framework that might begin to ensure “life continuity”.  What I find so interesting is that he is choosing to do this through what he calls universal architecture.  This, to some degree, seems to go against principles we find in biology.  For instance, the principle of diversity, up to this point in history, has ensured evolution and survival.  Diversity allows for an efficient process of elimination, ensuring the most adept genes get passed to the next generation of species.  What Fuller seemingly suggests is going against the principle of diversity through what he has termed ‘universal architecture’.

I can fathom that what he really meant by universal architecture was not simply one physical solution meant to solve the complex myriad of issues we are faced with at any one time, but rather a universal way of addressing every problem we are faced with, through following principles of life, such as flexibility, adaptability, intelligence, etc.

These thoughts seem particularly suitable for slow evolution, and one might imagine the human race evolving quite nicely.  But looking at contemporary issues, such as nuclear warfare, climate change, solar degeneration, we should also consider how we might promote the continuity of life given catastrophic events that hold the potential to drastically change our environments over a short period of time.  I suppose Fuller alluded to this when he spoke of “external mechanical aid and structure for survival”, given the fact that humans may not be able to adapt internally at a pace fast enough to ensure our survival, therefore we rely on our intellect to promote life continuity.

wk13 notes

April 19, 2010

wk13-Bucky-architect as world planner

wk13-Bucky-universal architecture

wk12 assignment

March 31, 2010

wk12 reading response

March 31, 2010

On Scarpa/Scope of Tectonic: Kenneth Frampton

Scarpa’s adoration for the joint has much to do with detailing of a space and an acute attention to the parts.  Further, there is importance placed on the interaction and interplay of these parts, rather than the focus placed on the whole.  For Scarpa, this all relates back to the experience of the place.  For me, this has much more to do with how small changes in the details affect much larger processes of the whole (not unlike Lorenzo’s butterfly).

This relates back to ethics insofar as we must “work with the recollections of traditions, with the traces of the past, with the expectations of meaning for the future, since there can no longer be absolute rational deductions”.  If the joint (or details, for that matter) are treated as a kind of tectonic consideration, the meaning of the whole can be found in the reality of the part.  This notion of a new way of seeing architecture can become a great generator for design.  Not unlike Corbusier’s plan as generator, Scarpa’s joint provides the impetus for creation and creation of meaning, based in the reality of experience.

Architecture is born out of a definite past, exists within the present, and will have a future.  Using the joint as a springboard for an evolution of the design doesn’t quite seem sufficient.  I hope, rather, to consider not only the evolution of design, but also the evolution of the built work.  I think the real potential of architecture lies within it becoming a framework for its users to then appropriate the spaces as they see fit, naturally evolving the space over time.  It is here, that the details are critical.  The details must carry forward from history the same language that the whole of the architecture is speaking.  This consistency resonates within the users of the place, promoting feelings of belonging, and subsequently liveliness of the place.  This is the potential I see in Scarpa’s joint.