wk16 reading response

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.

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