images by: Brantley Highfill
tional regimes from scientific and technological discourses, assuming that those will somehow quickly get us out of our predicament while still preserving our precious lifestyles. I don’t see that happening.
to an extent that mechanization never allowed. Take scripting, for example, which is tremendously powerful. It’s radically different than older forms of mechanical representation that generated something like the Nolli plan.
Scherer: Okay, take the Nolli Plan of Rome – that’s a fairly subjective data set, but it allows for the visualization of data in a way that might not otherwise be immediately comprehensible to the public. Then today, we’ve got Venturi Scott Brown, and let’s say that they’re designing in a way that’s related to that visual framework and that dataset. But we can imagine that, with other datasets and other tools, we might have different projects emerging from it.
As architects, we have to understand that our disciplinary subjectivity has radically changed over the last three decades – especially over the past decade. Nearly all the decisions that we used to make mechanically are now electronically automated. That’s not a pejorative statement, and certainly mechanization contains its own forms of automation. But electronic automation is predicated on entirely different control loops, and arguably has more drastic implications as the proposed scope of intervention expands. As that happens, the automation of decisions around datasets becomes much more pertinent. As soon as one begins to speak in the language of landscapes and territories and populations, one can no longer remain naïve to the basic fact that we are presently abrogating our agency to automated processes whose full reality we haven’t bothered to understand. We are very facile with those processes, and we possess tremendous technical acumen, but we don’t understand them. I’ve not yet seen an adequate history of scripting in design, much less one that manages to reconstitute some plausible theory of ‘automatic agency.’ That phrase is, in some sense, historically contradictory. If today it is simply an empirical fact – which I believe it is – we must find ways to reinscribe the concept of the subject within this radically altered technical field.
May: I think in part what you’re suggesting is that all datasets are subjective, which is why it becomes so important to understand the features of statistical reasoning at work on a particular set of information. We haven’t discussed it yet, but a significant factor – alongside the wartime desire for telemetry – behind the becoming-electronic of environment has been a drive towards automation. So in a way you can say, “yes, life became electronic.” But that wasn’t some sort of natural or geological process. It was motivated by an intense, one might even say oneiric obsession with automation. Automation is a dream buried so deeply in the modern psyche that we can no longer see its horizon. In any case, certain kinds of statistical-electrical processes can be automated