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CONVIVIUM-04 DIGITAL-ANALOG THE ILLUSION OF NOVELTY THE PREDICAMENT OF ICONS 10-29-11 - JOHNSON MUSEUM OF ART


[Our insistence on exploring new territory, experimentation, and on the never before seen, is driven by the assumed uniqueness of the instant- that never before experienced moment in time. It is our increasing obsession with novelty and its apparent authenticity, as the essence of the present and simultaneous glimpse of the future, that has left the building in the no man’s land between the very small (technology) and the very large (culture).] Current architectural design can be described as existing in a state of static futility, based on the realization that form alone will not solve the problems of society; the collective reduction of architecture as driven by either form, function, or process is still not the entirety of the problem, it is separated from the continual changes of the socioeconomic and political engines. To ignore this necessity is to perpetually live in a state of utopian intentions; the symbols or abstractions that architects embed into buildings will erode with time- the signifieds are in constant flux. Through the temporal nature of allusions to past representations, the autonomy of the signifiers will become apparent; each of the significations will evaporate with the unstoppable progression of time and technology. The embodiment of this tripartite reduction in design can be expressed through the architectural diagram and despite its ubiquity, the process of its creation, the signification of its components, and its utilization in the design process, it shifts with every stylistic demarcation. “Operating between form and word, space and language, the diagram is both constitutive and projective; it is performative rather than representational.� This performance of the diagram, creation and interpretation, is reliant on its inherent malleability, the infinitum


of tantalizing possibilities imbued within the lines on the page. The seduction of design potentialities, the flexibility it offers, presents the diagram as a “tool of the virtual rather than the real, and a means of building (in both senses of the term) a virtual architecture, of proposing a world other than that which exists.” A shift in the representation of diagrams occurred with the increasing role of abstraction in modernity, or more appropriately, a deviation from the typical citations of design elements; columns were no longer representative of classic orders nor a complete abstraction of the ideology of structure, technology was the message being cited. The shifting representation in architectural design, from representing the past to representing the technological culture, positions the discipline within a progressing role of abstraction; and these “abstractions of abstractions, have increasingly over the last two centuries become little more than ciphers understood only by the professional circle around the architect, meaningless to client and layperson alike...Both [Victor] Hugo and [Henri] Lefebvre ground their indictments on what they consider the root cause of the “fall” of architecture: representation, or more specifically, the too easy translation of the new graphic techniques used by the modern architect into built form. Architecture, that is, looked too much like the geometry with which it was designed and depicted. Geometry is thus seen as the underlying cause of architectural alienation, the degradation of humanism, and the split between architecture and its ‘public’”. Representation “is about its own meaning rather than being a message for another previous meaning.” The act of re-presenting, from any source material, becomes the operative term for design and this act is


more significant than any specific citation; this simulacra for the architectural discipline is resultant from the increasing displacement of representational meaning- “today the classical signs are no longer significant and have become no more than replications.” The emptying of signs to a serial replication of intention, or the becoming objects of signs, presents the architectural object, whose will to authenticity, is only equaled by its inability to express any meaning beneath the surface or through time. The role of semiology, or more importantly, the symbolic justification utilized in design is inherent to the discursive nature of architecture; this futile quest for symbolic meaning and the discipline’s internal criticism is resultant of the feared loss that occurred with the primacy given to reason. “Through semiology architecture seeks its own meaning, while tormented by the sense of having lost its meaning altogether.” This sense of loss attributed to the formalistic nature of positivism, marks again, a shift towards the interior, to discourse, and away from discipline; the injection of symbolic meaning combined with the ephemeral nature of semiotics leads to a city of vacuous symbolism, these “exasperated objects ... of pure form, that in their baroque formfulness disguised the fact that they had nothing to say.” Roland Barthes expands on the issues of urban semiology by expressing that “signifieds are like mythical creatures, extremely imprecise, and at a certain point they always become the signifiers of something else; the signifieds are transient, the signifiers remain.” So since modernity in its complete rationalism, turned to the manifestation of function through form, it returned to that Baroque sense of formfulness; this return to


form replaced the representations of the classical with the representations of the machine age- the method remained the same, only the references changed. The representations of diagrams and built form shift again in the age of the generative design, and whether inspiration is found in “jellyfish or geopolitics” ; this movement away from the abstraction or replication of historicized form and towards plurality or ambiguity, is an attempt to “overcome the problematic dualisms that have plagued architecture for over a century: form and function, historicism and abstraction, utopia and reality, structure and enclosure.” An adjustment to a new referential system, away from modernism’s “kit-of-parts conceptualism” or the historical jests of post-modern citation, reveals that the infinite variation of generative forms still offer their own limited vocabulary: “blobs, swarms, crystals, [and] webs” define the contemporary architectural landscape. The subservience of architectural form to its method of design construction is certainly not a new critique, but the aesthetic implications of each particular software seem to be growing in intensity. The critics who offer post-centric delineations of contemporary paradigms should adjust to the progressive waves of software popularity. Nostalgic views of years past reveal the current Post-Form-Z projects, soon to be replaced by Post-Maya and Post-Grasshopper. The computational limits of each digital generation tool intrinsically defines its moment in time, as modernity’s lexicon was established through the representation of function and technology, the computational language is inherently defined by its programming language- was that a Java, C#, or Python building we just saw?


In regards to the displaced process of architectural creation, the sterility evident in modernism, rejected in post-modernism, and now resurgent in the computational, is “an ironic sensibility that prefers the arbitrary rigor of an imposed and consciously subverted system to any emotive expressionism.” The methods of production and design are increasingly not “drawn from architecture, but from animation [or aerospace] software that generates its complex forms with the help of digital avatars that work, independent of the architect, to produce multiple iterations of possible combinations.” The new digital modern embraces technology, but rejects the standardization or serialization of its predecessor; multi-axis mills and advanced fabrication delivery methods construct these new building elements- never the building in its entirety and rarely two elements that are the same. The use of software to manifest scientific phenomena, organisms, or correlational data into scale-less forms, provides only a false simulation to the discipline’s interdisciplinary origins; this kitsch design in its quest for a true environment, typically ends with “too much design and too little authenticity” . The need for difference, and the novelty of form generation, has become reliant on [aestheticizing the banal] , that cosmetic mask which veils the superficiality of surface generation. “The aesthetics of digitalization, moreover, seem driven less by a polemical belief in the virtues of an abstract representation of a new world, than by the limits of a software’s replication of surface, color, and texture: the potential openness of the sketch, of the drawn line in all its subtleties, is reduced to think-line clarity and allover surface pattern.” It is not a pursuit of form


for form’s sake, but an output of data; seeking infinite variation to replace any concept of actual variety, the over reliance on any particular software enters a seeming paradox as the computational bounds of reason are inherently limited to binary thought. The new representation for the diagram is that of process- hidden to the untrained eye, its evidence is apparent in its reliance on the quantitative, which limits its capacity for response and does little more than offer a digital consensus to the design process. The architectural manifestation of data as the embodiment of the real, of the authentic truth, is in actuality a single alternative selected from the infinitely random choices of articulated surfaces and lofted blobs. “[This] fiction becomes simulation when it does not recognize its condition as fiction, when it tries to simulate a condition of realty, truth, or non-fiction. The simulation of representation in architecture has led, first of all, to an excessive concentration of inventive energies in the representational object.” Where originally a form was abstracted or re-presented through a simulated signification of space- now in the aesthetics of digitalization, the complex form is an abstraction of the already abstract (data), these diagrams of data are ‘built’, not interpreted -reality is abolished and replaced with a simulation of technical perfection. The shift to the diagram as the unifier of diverse programs and forms is limited by the singularity of diagrammatic thought; while diagrams of a data-streams are compounded sets of information, their representation is singular- it is the three-dimensional extrusion of the gathered data. The avoidance of interpretation or accountability, declaring ‘it’s what the data conveys’, effectively lobotomizes any criticality of design; it is this


confusion between process and product and the inferred correlations/causations of data, that instigates these anxious attempts to justify form. Can fluidity be interpreted, or does a structure need undulating curves extracted from the equations of hydrodynamics to make a fluid building. “Once analysis and reason replaced self-evidence as the means by which truth was revealed, the classic or timeless quality of truth ended and the need for verification began.” From the “abstraction of abstractions” to “diagrams of diagrams” the nature of representation within the discipline of architecture evokes a certain dynamism; from the shifting nature and subtlety of the cited sources, to its applicability and manipulation within the design process, “the architectural figure always alludes to [or aims at the representation of] some other object, whether architectural, anthropomorphic, natural or technological.” This reliance on external references, conveys that despite analog or digital methodologies, contemporary architects are not constructing their buildings, it is the act of representation which creates the notions for built form.


Works Cited Barthes, Roland. 1970. “Semiology and the Urban” Rethinking Architecture. Ed. Edmund Leach. London: Routledge. Brown, Jeffrey. 2009. ARCH 5500/5501 Studio Syllabus. Houston, Texas. University of Houston Eisenman, Peter. 1984. “The End of the Classical: The End of the Beginning, the End of the End”. Perspecta. 21. Eisenman, Peter. 1988. “The Authenticity of Difference: Architecture and the Crisis of Reality.” Center: A Journal for Architecture in America . Lerup, Lars. 2000. After the city. Cambridge: MIT Press. Love, Timothy. 2003. “Kit-of-parts Conceptualism: Abstracting Architecture in the American Academy.”Harvard design magazine no. 19. Tafuri, Manfredo. 1976. Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Vidler, Anthony. 2004. “ARCHITECTURE’S EXPANDED FIELD.” Artforum International 42, no. 8. Vidler, Anthony. 2000. “Diagrams of Diagrams: Architectural Abstraction and Modern Representation”. Representations.


The Illusion of Novelty