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tarp Not Nature


Architecture Manual SPRING 2012

Not Nature

Spring 2012


Architecture Manual SPRING 2012

Not Nature

Not Nature Spring 2012


xxxxxx Architecture Manual is produced by the students of Pratt Institute Graduate Architecture and Urban Design.

Editor in Chief Sarah Ruel-Bergeron

Senior Editor Hannibal Newsom

Editorial Staff Dillon Hanratty Jeian Jeong Annette Miller Sierra Sharron

Faculty Advisor Erik Ghenoiu

Cover Image: Courtesy of Chris Jordan Midway: Message from the Gyre, 2009 - current On Midway Atoll, a remote cluster of islands more than 2000 miles from the nearest continent, the detritus of our mass consumption surfaces in an astonishing place: inside the stomachs of thousands of dead baby albatrosses. The nesting chicks are fed lethal quantities of plastic by their parents, who mistake the floating trash for food as they forage over the vast polluted Pacific Ocean. Back and Inside Cover Images: Courtesy of Hannibal Newsom

For subscription requests or to contact the editors please email The views expressed in this publication are held solely by the contributors. printed in Canada

Erik Ghenoiu The World is Not Enough


Sarah Ruel-Bergeron Cheat Sheet


Moderated by David Theodore A Strange Reconciliation: A Conversation about Architecture and Science with Peter Galison and Antoine Picon


Graham Harman Morton’s Ecological Thought


Timothy Morton Architecture without Nature


suckerPUNCH Something Wild[er]


David Ruy Returning to (Strange) Objects


Alisa Andrasek with José Cadilhe Synthetic Ecology: Recomputing Nature


David Gissen A More Monumental, Non-Naturalist Environment


Meredith TenHoor The Space of the Stomach- Rungis, Ile de France, 1969/c 2009


Edward Eigen Further Exclamations on Lemurian Fauna with Brief Notes for a Botanical Martyrology


Ralph Ghoche Nature by Design


Ferda Kolatan Of Mixing and Making


Hannibal Newsom Still, Life


Jason Vignieri-Beane HELLO_ECONET


Kutan Ayata Minority Report


Ed Keller On Architecture’s Use and Abuse of [Models of] Life


Theodore Spyropolous Constructing Behavioral Environments: Notes on a Systemic Ecology


Patrik Schumacher Architecture’s Next Ontological Innovation


Sanford Kwinter Cooking, Yo-ing, Thinking


Catherine Ingraham Architectural Glossary for a New Nature (Selections)


The World is Not Enough Erik Ghenoiu

“It is the same in architecture as in all other arts: its principles are founded on simple nature, and nature’s process clearly indicates its rules (...) by imitating the natural process, art was born.” --Marc-Antoine Laugier, 1753


ow, at a moment when architecture is questioning the legitimacy of the ethical justifications behind the recently vastly-expanded range of its process, the time seems ripe to investigate some of the assumptions informing the state of the practice. Younger scholars and practitioners are raising their voices against the now twenty-year-old paradigm of an architecture based on the management of relationships of meaning, program, use, and flow, identified under various rubrics including the field condition. Widespread attention has returned to the inexhaustible meaning of architectural objects that always exceed the intentions, techniques, and even aesthetics that generated them. This turn is now finding common ground in the object-oriented ontology (OOO) emerging in continental philosophy and led by writers including Graham Harman and Timothy Morton. Not only does OOO resonate with the design urge to move back towards a focus on the object, it has set its sights on a new critique of what has perhaps been the pre-eminent ethically-charged field condition in contemporary architecture: the idea of nature that stands behind sustainability. For Harman and Morton, nature and the field alike are”sensual objects,” existing only as a perceptual reality, outside of place and time, and without physical form. Design, we know, is not nature. If the old divide between the natural and artificial--between the man-made and the not man-made--is useful at all, then on a basic level nature is everything and everywhere that design is not. But if we shift our imagined perspective outside of the agenda of human or at least humanist self-interest, there is of course little natural difference between a form generated by, say, Le Corbusier and one generated by a swallow, or by erosion, or by the presumed prehistoric origin of existence. Swinging back to the selfish 1

1 “Sensual object” is Harman’s rewording of Husserl’s “intentional object,” see Graham Harman, Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things. Chicago: Open Court, 2005.


perspective, we can see that the first of these forms emerges from a self-consciousness on the part of the agent of design that knows it can learn from the other three. Increasingly over the history of design, the thing this consciousness tends to learn is that its own efforts are sloppy, insufficient, and probably irresponsible in comparison to the others. So if design defines nature as something (anything) before and outside of itself, it then uses that definition to judge its own work and to identify directions for new effort, either formal, technical, functional, or programmatic. Biomimicry, parametricism, emergence, and sustainability are among the many recent architectural enthusiasms fueled by treating this chimerical and didactic definition of the relationship between natural and non-natural as if it were an external, verifiable, and preexisting reality. Looking back further, movements like organicism, the Art Nouveau, most of the Arts and Crafts, and major branches of functionalism were reliant on the same reification. Indeed, so much of the best architecture and design theory of the last two centuries has arisen from this tradition that any approach we might now develop to move beyond it will necessarily be based on the concept it is trying to supersede. When the parallel fields of evolutionary biology and economics were taking form around architectural ideas like fitness, function, utility, efficiency, and structure, somewhere between Adam Smith’s invisible hand and Darwin’s natural selection the chance arose for architecture to appropriate something in return. Previously, the act of design had seemed to be a fairly close parallel to divine creation and maybe even at times an homage to it, following a code that seemed to be located somewhere between number and proportion. With the arrival of evolutionary biology and its cognates, some extremely compelling aspects of the formation of the undesigned world became accessible on a level much more visceral than the mathematical tip-of-the-hat that had ruled the field during the centuries of classicism. However, this access came at a price. Natural selection was one of a large apparatus of self-organizing systems throughout the 19th century expansion of the natural sciences that did not require the (implied) hand of a designer. If the field of design

Intelligent design? August Endell, Atelier Elvira. Munich, 1897-1898.

wanted access to the seemingly superior order of truth and the refinement of formal adaptation possible through the assimilation of ideas like evolution, to turn the artificial into a second nature, this could only be done by sacrificing something of the essence of authorship. If the classical architect was in this sense a craftsman, then the evolutionary architect was like a factory worker operating machinery not of his own devising. Since about the 1860s, when design first really engaged with this problem, this problematic role has remained a constant possibility within architectural practice. A potential arrière-garde position to recover the role of the designer appeared just before Darwin first popularized the idea of natural selection in the counter-principle of “intelligent design” as promoted by Paley and others. The advocates of intelligent design argued that if the mechanism(s) by which the natural world took shape were intricate and seemingly complete unto themselves, then this implied the hand of a designer at work -- in the creation of the tool that generated the output if not primarily directly in the character of the output itself. Though many 2

architects rejected this interpretation of biological epistemology and the cultural politics that surrounded it, nevertheless the idea of a tinker capable of setting the rules of the larger systematic game had a strong appeal for the translation of these ideas into design theory. For either position, however, designers had to develop an explanation of the parallel between biological processes and design objects that were distinctly not biological. If the morphology of organisms was derived as a response to external conditions, then design as a discipline of functional and programmatic solutions could be conceived along similar lines as a kind of adaptation. Predictable, internal laws of natural growth could be reproduced in the design process if not in the process of construction. Mutation, variation, and historical transitions could then be perceived in the development of style, and fitness could be measured by a matrix of form, program, and style (like the one Pugin had already developed to justify the Gothic Revival in England). In turn, the idea of species found a close parallel in the idea of type. The design response to the exciting new developments in naturalist science thus found a reasonably clear transposition to design theory, but gradually within design’s own internal discussion the division between natural selection and intelligent design recurred. By the end of the century architectural functionalism was mostly understood as a commonly-pursued evolutionary process, while a trend like organicism was deployed more in the spirit of the single, authoritative designer. Around 1901 the tide turned sharply against organicism with the decline of the Art Nouveau and Jugendstil; by 1914 the tables were turned with the famous Werkbund Streit that set in motion the defeat of early Sachlichkeit. The pendulum would swing back and forth in different variations throughout the 20th century. If indeed a swing is currently underway from the architecture of a mesh of relationships to a focus on the object, from a kind of functionalism to a refocus on form, then from the viewpoint of architectural history this is comparable to the older move from evolution to intelligent design. In light of this history of the discourse, a few themes become evident in much of the recent design work that attempts to navigate the boundary between field relations and objecthood through the language of design’s relationship to the natural sciences. Here I can discuss some of the compelling implications and strategies that have begun to be visible in a few of them. Free juxtaposition versus the functional-morphological parallel. The field-process-flow-system-relation approach to architecture in recent years insisted upon a clear and often ethically-sensible ground for making a specific appeal to any given natural

2 See Stephen F. Eisenman, Design in the Age of Darwin: From William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2008.


process, form, or structure. The functional requirements of the design problem had to have a legible or even a direct parallel in the morphological processes at work in the natural counterpart. Projects participating in the new object focus observe no such principle and often deliberately choose parallels far removed from direct functional justification to demonstrate the refusal of the ethical imperative. Formal choices become compelling not for reinforcing the intentional network surrounding the object, but actually for drawing attention to the incommensurable excess of the object beyond its representation in any individual perception. This makes the object visible in a sense that it would not be if it were “correctly” functioning in a predetermined (ideological) system, much like Graham Harman’s presentation of Heidegger’s principle of the broken tool. It is interesting, however, that work done within the return to the object has not abandoned the occasional gesture of the unstable end product. I refer to an instability that is a relic of a process-based formal model, in which the architectural product is either chosen at an (often arbitrary) moment in the generative process or in fact is planned to continue changing during and after its construction or deployment. The insistence on the primacy of process in this kind of gesture might seem to be tied to the relational ties of the field model, but the fact that it persists unchanged in object-oriented architecture at the least shows that these objects do not need to be perceived or presented as stable entities. 3


Designed decay. Unlike the directed mechanism of adaptation and survival of the fittest, design is free to embody (genetic) failures, monsters, and connotations of death, decay, and rot. Design success can be achieved in cases that would have meant biological failure because a design, not being alive, does not need to reproduce, except possibly as an influence. This is because the life of design such as it is takes place in the discourse and not literally in the object-- even if the object can now perfectly easily be made out of living cells. The idea of morphogenetic design in the “emergence” discussion of the mid-2000s mostly refused to allow for decay or at least of the possibility of biological nonviability as a potentially desirable design goal, but more recent projects have begun to assume indifference toward the question of viability. This has already taken a character reminiscent of the decadent poetics of the 19th century, as symbolized by J. K. Huysmans’ 1884 novel Against Nature, which establishes a difficult relation to the concepts of function and criticality that recalls a number of recent architectural projects. 5

3 Note that structure is also always a sensual object and not a physical one, and that infrastructure is even further removed, being only the structure infra (between and beneath) real objects. On Structure see Antoine Picon, “Architecture, Science, Technology, and the Virtual Realm,” in Antoine Picon and Allesandra Ponte, eds., Architecture and the Sciences: Exchanging Metaphors. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003, pp. 294-313, p. 299. The sense of infrastructure is from Pier Vittorio Aureli. 4 For this, see Graham Harman, Towards Speculative Realism: Essays and Lectures. Zero Books, 2010. 5 For an exploration of this theme in the context of a broader survey, see “Something Wild(er),” the selection of projects curated by suckerPUNCH in this volume.


This idea of decadence or non-viability is only now beginning to be explored as a possible condition for designed ecologies, probably because, from the viewpoint of the stilldominant sustainability paradigm, such a pursuit seems perverse a priori. However, cases like the shrinking cities of the post-industrial world might easily be taken as a testing ground for such ecologies. The persistent problem of scale. The return to the object has accompanied a simultaneous obsession with the nano-scale in architectural design, perhaps because the concurrent precision of detail works against the tendency toward scalelessness that was prevalent in the last several decades. However the consistency of design techniques before and after the object turn have meant the continued generation of design objects that are not intrinsically tied to a specific scale, even if they are in principle explicitly generated by site conditions. However, even objects not generated by their site (which could be a building site, a landscape, or a body) are being generated such that they reach scalar “sweet spots” at almost predictable points. It becomes a key question for the apparent decontextual impulse in the object turn that the rescaling of an independently-generated object can create tensions, sympathies, and spatial relationships similar to objects generated supposedly directly by contextual forces. This transition seems to be in sympathy with post-human(ist) theory as well, but is also problematic in that it destabilizes the position of specificity in the order of the design process, conflicting with the assertions of several theoretical traditions and opening the door to easy abuse. Techniques of distraction. A hundred years ago a turn toward the object was the rallying point for the defense of the designer as artist, while the architects of the field of relations favored strategies that distracted the user from the presence of the designer’s hand to gain access to the feeling of authenticity and inevitability that accrues to vernacular places. Now, techniques of concealment and naturalization are used freely in both conceptions of architecture, but in different ways, and always against an overwhelming contemporary disciplinary emphasis on design as an exception from the ordinary. The manipulation of relations has favored the distraction technique of making the built place seem like the result of forces and considerations over which the designer had no control, obfuscating the agency of designers but not the visibility of the act of design. The object turn leaves the forces in the perceived field of relations ambiguous and sometimes contradictory, but achieves a kind of naturalized authenticity of the object through the presence of a technically-complex excess of detail. In this mode, a project that is ideologically and formally bizarre can appear as almost banal due to its concurrent and highly-orchestrated claim of (visual) normalcy.

In all of these trends, architecture not only creates objects in the sense of OOO, it also stages them. Harman, Morton, and their allies posit a kind of hermetic object: hermetic not in that it is sealed away from our understanding, but in that it cannot be entirely understood, that some aspect (and perhaps most) of it lies outside of the part susceptible to understanding in general, and much more so to any specific understanding. But almost all of the architecture of the object turn remains reliant on the assumption of a highly privileged viewer, if not for the sake of its own formal character, then at least for the judgement that can recognize its formal productions as distinctive, fascinating, original, or successful as architecture. The strangeness of other objects and entities besides ourselves as identified by Harman and Morton is easy philosophical fodder for the contemporary architect. The strangeness of otherness (objects, animals) and of the unexpected (mutation, monument) are both susceptible to manipulation through empathy between manipulator and manipulated: architect and user, artist and viewer, and so on. In the terms of OOO, this kind of empathy is accessible only by transforming the physical object (or its representation) into a sensual object, displacing its actual physical reality with a false, stage-set, superficial reality-- in other words, with design. This reinstatement of the subject-object relationship and the constitution of the subject through the object-world makes the object turn in contemporary architecture something of a refusal of the ideas of Morton and Harman or at least a hard limit on their appropriation, but safe for the older architectural proposition of posthumanism. In the end, there is one field of relations that architecture cannot dispense with, and that is the field of architecture itself. “Architecture” is resolutely, definitively not an object, but an elaborate and highly-charged constellation of roles and relationships. These relationships build and are built upon a set of real objects, but are not constituted by them. Architecture makes its own objects worthwhile, and tells us how to read them, how to evaluate their meaning and importance. Subtracting the field of architecture from almost any architectural object will remove almost anything worth discussing about the object, and certainly almost everything about its relationship to the designer. So even in the most resolutely object-focused branch of architectural work, the field inherently, inevitably still trumps the architectural object itself, even if other field standards like perception, experience, program, and function are to some degree set aside by the adherents of the new position. Among the design fields, architecture holds a special position in terms of scale: it is located precisely where the design of objects turns into the design of environments-- of complete systems of relations fully programmed in meaning and interpretive intention, but at the same time (and in a degree of balance) composed of the objects or objective reality 6

6 See K. Michael Hays, Modernism and the Posthumanist Subject: the Architecture of Hannes Meyer and Ludwig Hilberseimer. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1995.

constituting the form that manifests this systemic structure. In other words, architecture is the place where we design not objects, but worlds. These worlds are distinct from the reality outside their confines, where the act of transition between their spatial, social, formal, and aesthetic logics and those of the world outside them is marked, sometimes abrupt, always perceptually shocking to the occupant even if we have grown accustomed to a very quick reacclimation between those shocks. The life that is possible in the Villa Savoye is different from that in Central Park, and both are fundamentally different constitutions of (human) reality than the places a hundred yards away from either of them. Certainly worlds in this sense are largely comprised of subjective experience and ordering, and thus reducible in strict OOO to yet another type of sensual object. But worlds are also still resolutely concrete, and if not necessarily always physically real, they are at least always potentially so. The concept of the architectural work as world is slippery, easily undermined, and a classic refuge of now-disparaged poetic phenomenology in architecture, but it may also serve to help resolve some of the too-easy polarities of the field-object debate. The lesson of architecture as the mesh of relations was that no matter how sophisticated the system, the object persistently embodied a blunt reality that was always vastly more than the system could account for; the lesson of the return to the architectural object will likely be that systems of relations continue to seep in and organize both subjective and objective reality, themselves influencing the relative weakness or strength of the connectivity they reflect. Architecture’s capacity to make ersatz worlds, or to point to what it might mean to make them, is perhaps what makes it not only interested in these debates, but interesting for them. Human environmental intervention has the potential not only to impact the world of which it is a part, but also at times (and at time more than symbolically) to secede from that world and to selectively reconstitute its conditions: to decide that the given, real world is not enough for its purposes. The act of architecture begins with this decision to reconstitute through secession. This changes nothing for objective matter--except for its spatial disposition and often its molecular construction--and changes nothing for the natural world--except for intervening in and eventually reinventing its supposedly self-organizing ecologies. The idea of nature, so seemingly real, may often be little better than a politically retrograde abstraction. Architecture, with its capacity to take critical action across the divide between relations and objects, without being reducible to the first and with a stake in the inexhaustibility of the second, can make a make a more complex claim on the status of the real.  7



7 There is a long history of this branch of analysis of architecture and the built environment, For the present discussion, see for example Mircea Eliade, The Sacred and the Profane: the Nature of Religion. 1957; Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1959 8 Or overmined, pace Harman. 9 Whether architecture “really” impacts connectivity in the terms of the philosophical debate is questionable at best, though perhaps in a limited sense possible within an epistemological critique of OOO. In the terms of the architectural debate, the point is more defensible.


Cheat Sheet Sarah Ruel-Bergeron


he following are a set of field notes that lay out the state of academic studio culture from the student’s perspective. The goal is to understand a variety of current methodologies that speak to the questions within Not Nature. Network: The brain. A volcano. Facebook. The rain forest. Architecture seems to finally be getting the hang of the network as a driving force to create form. The concept seems simple: the world is now understood through meshes and architecture is made of spaces, so we spatialize the mesh, inhabit it, and make the world entirely interconnected – simple enough. In one of my first graduate studios, we were asked to map the forces on a given site as a point of departure for our design process – a common strategy throughout similar architectural programs. We mapped the “intensity of the intensities” of contextual flows in a line drawing. We created abstraction through the scalar differentiation of essences. We projected the drawing onto a surface that acted as a cloth in a modeling software and was set to react to codified forces from preset options: wind, gravity, turbulence, etc. Press play and the cloth goes crazy; add more cloths, rotate, flip, translate, and between the cloths you begin to decipher spatial implications. By mapping the site’s forces as a network of existing conditions, we aimed to arrive at a context specific, reality-based, dynamicallyshaped architectural proposal. This particular project’s forces were mapped directly from the site, but a similar procedure can be completed by processing other types of potentially relevant data, such as weather patterns, bird migrations, daylight calculations, subway schedules, and so on. The information is processed and generalized into diagrams of flows, swarms, and aggregations, then fused with programmatic diagrams of use. Simulations are called upon to show an active and dynamic process of creating space from a conceptual diagram. Although necessary to the process, the act of pausing the animation not only eliminates the dynamism that was the procedure’s first intent but the arbitrary decision of the precise moment to pause exposes the limited rationale within the process. Diagrams are practical descriptive tools, however they generalize information in a relatively similar format, meaning that although the site-specific forces are being mapped in individual 8

contexts, the range of forces that are translatable are limited and inevitably become repetitive. In this sense, the network model converts architecture into a quasi-formulaic process for contemporary spatialization. Through the lens of the designer the compartmentalization of data translated into the formal language of continuous surfaces becomes recognizable as having stylistic similarities. As architects we are not scientists, sociologists or planners, and the result risks being plagued with insincerities. This model will eventually be forced to reveal itself as a series of arbitrary decisions and generalizations. More than a recipe for contemporary spatialization, the diagram provides the discourse for a justified production of space. Nature: You. Me. Papyrus-shaped columns. Glowing bunnies. Controlled reproduction. As nature based models, self-organization and self-regulation are of interest to designers as processes of production. Programs that understand swarms, flocks, and contained randomization have been embedded into architectural discourse and practice. Currently, all programs that script would fall under the category of programs that can process and spatialize data through these nature replicating models. Without entirely understanding them, designers have employed these models to introduce complexity into simple programmatic and site specific projects. Many current academic studios adopt this methodology, however students are mostly illiterate to this entirely foreign language and find themselves defaulting either to given baseline formulas or downloaded scripts as the only way to move forward. These generative techniques embody powerful tools that are revered by students who may or may not fully understand their potential or implications. Because these programs yield instantaneous, spatial results and are scientifically backed by intricate mathematical models, designers feel freed from the guilt of manual arbitrary decision making. This model is no better for production than the much scoffed-at biomimicry. It introduces complexity that stands alone as reasoning. Through computed randomization (which is not really random at all), it produces results one would assume to find under microscopes. Physicists use these models to understand

how randomization creates mutations that cause evolution, while architects are just quick to adopt the terminology (mutations, morphing, generations, etc) to explain spatial production. The abstraction of superficially processed data, formalized through nature-replicating models and explained through scientific vocabulary, produces forms that have an organic visual language. The fundamental question is whether this association to the natural sciences is advantageous to the justification of a field that is continuously concerned with autonomy. Historically, the natural sciences have been in an intertwined relationship with architecture, and severing all ties between them is not only unnecessary but impossible. However, it is not through the distortion of an imitation of natural processes that architecture will find a fruitful relationship with science. Each field is sufficiently complex to see a future in a type of symbiotic relationship rather than finding answers in mimicry or replication. To move forward the current conceptual interpretation of nature requires an important revision. Ecology: A friend’s bathtub. Brooklyn. Lemurs. The body. In the last century, architecture and nature have been separated into distinct categories rather than interacting entities. Modernist architecture established the barrier between the interior for strict human habitation and the exterior for nature which was kept physically at bay but visually present as a part of the framed composition of the building. A recent studio in one of the leading schools of architecture analyzed agricultural villas as a way to address both categories and entities as interrelated conditions – as objects . The project called for a synthetic landscape, a type of futuristic ecology. As a point of departure the studio examined a historical precedent, partially as an aesthetic proposal but also to mirror the methodology and rigor of fantastic architects. To create these landscapes a selective process of erasure and distortion changed the villa into a set of components. Through simple repetition the trained eye and hand made the key decisions that by arraying, agglomerating, and deforming created vast fields. Landscapes of artificial relationships and structures replaced nature and science. Although the program called for futuristic farms of human consumption, the individual subject seemed abolished from these glossy foreign lands. At this exaggerated scale, the proposal became sublime, a grotesque fusion of overwhelming and commanding beauty. Architects are trained to make aesthetically beautiful, conceptually precise projects. The quest for the sublime forces an aesthetic agenda, relinquishing programmatic and conceptual clarity. In the case of the above described project, trained instinct was explicitly the fundamental driver for formal creation. Through an object-based definition, ecology is defined as the sum of its parts, and this project relies on the agglomeration and density of the parts for the aesthetics of the system. The range of rendered and created imagery that is used in architectural academia and practice is being favored over standard forms of representation by market demand – the general public is much quicker to understand a rendered perspective over an orthographic drawing, but

the student risks using it in the form of a vignette to replace a comprehensible plan or section which speaks to an understanding of volume, space and relationships. Once the power of the image supersedes the logic of the object, the architect becomes a graphic artist, the representation of the concept becomes more important than programmatic or spatial clarity. The image can only be read as suggestive, rather than physical, and in this way divorces itself from the practice of architecture. The argument can be made that this catalog of visual research should be the focus of architectural academia, but as a student entering a career in practice the lack of tangibility in this type of methodology jeopardizes the validity of the degree upon completion. Object: Human. Building. Bacteria. Dialogue. Universe. Object-Oriented philosophy returns the object to the architect by claiming that a field of relations is no longer the main thing that makes up the world around us. As a practice interested in aesthetics, architecture is finding itself constricted by a form-making process based on networks, forces, fields, swarms. But just as the Kantian world view never rid the practice of making arbitrary, instinctual decisions, the object based view will not be able to rely solely on formal and aesthetic judgement. Critics will always question the process, and its justification may be distilled down to technical descriptions of aesthetic and formal experimentation. Form and theory may change but the architectural goal of making beautiful spaces of inhabitation – human or non human – prevails through time and it is the architect’s responsibility to create an embodiment of the social state of our progressing society. It is in this sense that architecture can be a dynamic networked object entirely participating in the contemporary environment. In brief. Students are more computer-literate than ever before, which translates into a professional environment that rewards the mastery of the widest range of software. An unquestioned push for the command of these skills risks undermining our aesthetic and conceptual cognition. Academic studio culture is at a pivotal moment where all involved are grappling with an important paradigm shift in contemporary architectural discourse. This cheat sheet originates from the firm belief that it is not a moment to hone our computational skills but rather to power forward through the questions at hand with the lessons we have learned into unknown theoretical territory. The essays that make up Not Nature directly address these issues in a lively debate about the state of contemporary architectural theory, discourse, academia and practice. 


A Strange Reconciliation: A Conversation about Architecture and Science with Peter Galison and Antoine Picon Moderated by David Theodore

in a useful way is that both Antoine and I are interested in materiality, and the way that questions of design, engineering, and architecture might be thought about both historically and in the contemporar y world. We share a theoretical orientation that takes materiality seriously. Material culture and the object are important to both of us. 3

gives it a special liveliness that is perhaps part of the same ethos that motivates this issue of tar p. How are we conceiving architecture and science at this moment, and can we get away from the older ways of speaking?

Peter Galison is the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor and Director, Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments, at Harvard University. (left) Antoine Picon is the G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the Histor y of Architecture and Technology and Co-Director of Doctoral Programs at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. (right) David Theodore is a PhD candidate in the Histor y of Architecture, Medicine, and Science at Harvard University. Peter Galison: Design has a double anxiety surrounding it in the current moment. One part concerns design and art. Is design art? You can see that anxiety, for instance, in the tension and the explosive interest in design at the Museum of Modern Art. Paola Antonelli and others have reached a whole new generation of younger people who go to MoMA to see design, but who don’t go to see, say, the Picasso show. The other concerns design and science. It used to be pejorative to call scientific work “design.” Design, physicists thought, was something that would go on at engineering school or at Intel, not in the heartland of pure science. But now design has this double aspect, on the one side reaching towards engineering and science, and on the other reaching toward art. That 1

1 See e.g. the 2011 exhibition Talk to Me: exhibitions/2011/talktome/


Antoine Picon: But how can you design both architecture and molecules? What does design bring to the table, solutions or problems? For architects—and this is a bit different from design in science—design is a way to let problems emerge. Younger designers are so anxious to participate in solving the problems of the world. One has to remind them that problem-solving is precisely an engineering activity. Today, with sustainability, we risk a return to this ver y positivist dream of scientific technology. In architecture good design is about revealing tangible issues, but not necessarily complete solutions. PG: When I was editing the book The Architecture of Science, I was struck by how many people felt the obligation to argue against the idea that architecture was nothing but a kind of calculus. That was sur prising. It had never occurred to me that someone would think architecture was nothing other than an automatic calculus, like running a program to build a curve bet ween t wo points. But I presume the notion had enough sway back in the ‘50s and ‘60s so that still in the 1990s people felt obliged to naysay it. 2

AP: There’s also the prestige of science. Architecture as a discipline is always anxious about its prestige. That’s one of the few things that has been transmitted with the DNA of western architecture. It’s even in Vitruvius. There’s a longing for supremacy and, at the same time, a deep insecurity. Architecture aspires to be as rigorous and noble as science, and that provokes the counter-reaction: “No! architecture, will never be science!” PG: Where we might be able to enter this conversation 2 Peter Galison and Emily Thompson, eds., The Architecture of Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1999.

David Theodore: Let me ask the correlationist question. Speculative Realist philosophers want to turn from epistemology to ontology. They use Speculative Realism as a way out of the constructivism of postmodern theor y by pointing out (and rejecting) instances where questions about the existence of objects are turned into questions of how we might know those objects. Ray Brassier, one of the organizers of the first Speculative Realism conference, had this to say about the movement: “the only thing that unites us is antipathy to what Quentin Meillassoux calls ‘correlationism’—the doctrine, especially prevalent among ‘Continental’ philosophers, that humans and the world cannot be conceived in isolation from one other—a ‘correlationist’ is any philosopher who insists that the human-world correlate is philosophy’s sole legitimate concern.” How would you characterize the human-world correlate in your own work? 4

AP: I don’t see how in design you can escape the link bet ween human and world. In design there is something in your mind, and by the end there is an external object. And you have to explain what kind of relations there are bet ween the t wo. The idea of imagination, mental process, representation: this is the important problem. PG: I think a lot about design in the sciences. The histor y of the field I work most in, particle physics, is about how to use evidence to show the existence of something. How does a bubble chamber picture, or spark chamber data, or counts in images, how do they aggregate to form evidence that then can be used as a representation of a world that already exists? In that sense, the question really is fundamentally epistemological, about how we get and secure knowledge. But these days, colleagues in physics departments are now also concerned with making things. If you want to figure out how to make the smallest conceivable transistor out of a couple of atoms, how do you do that? For them the question isn’t so much documentation, but production. It’s a design problem. At first this I think rather dramatic change met with a lot of resistance in physics departments. 3 See e.g. essays by Galison and Picon in Things that Talk: Object Lessons from Art and Science, ed. Lorraine Daston. New York: Zone Books, 2004. 4 Ray Brassier interviewed by Bram Ieven in 2009 for nY 2; see transitzone/against-aesthetics-noise.html

People would say, “That’s engineering, that’s not physics.” But you don’t hear that anymore. Physicists are tr ying to make objects, to make DNA strands part of computation, or to make on-off circuits that can be added up to make the smallest conceivable memor y structures, or to make nanoscale things in molar quantities, not one-off the way physicists have always thought. These changes have had interesting consequences, one of which is a much less anxious relationship to aesthetics, so that you’ll see physicists interested in design. In the nineteenth centur y, physicists were proud of the nonaesthetic quality of their work. Aesthetics was seen as pulling in an artistic direction away from verisimilitude. Now the journal Physics of Fluids has a prize each year for the image that is both aesthetically interesting and scientifically forceful. 5

AP: Perhaps science and design have evolved in opposite directions, which has enabled them to meet up. One could say that science has moved from a vision of itself as an argument to a vision of itself as a maker. Design– and engineering, too–was always totally immersed in making. But in design, aesthetic sensitivity has become less important, because argument is the main question. Making is for designers the natural condition, but design now asks: what’s the point? what is the argument? what is the why? There is a growing obsession with argumentation in design, and a growing obsession with making in science. This criss- crossing historical evolution enables hybridization. DT: What about realism? Science still believes in an independently existing world, doesn’t it? PG: Independently, but maybe not pre-existing. When John and Washington Roebling built the Brooklyn Bridge, they weren’t worried about existence. The designerbuilders worried about whether the bridge was robust, or whether it would survive under different circumstances. Those are engineering questions. What’s changed is a move away from representation to presentation. I agree with Antoine that argument is always part of it. Scientists are not abandoning argument. But they’re not worried about whether something always existed. Some still do of course. Scientists at CERN are asking whether the Higgs particle exists. Its existence has consequences for the beginning of the universe as well as its current and future functioning. But existence is not the question when you’re designing a nanostructure. You’re not worried whether this circuit always existed. That would be a ludicrous 5 Physics of Fluids maintains an image gallery at motion


question. That’s not what they’re interested in. AP: I think you hit upon something really important, which is the crisis of representation. Reality is not given through representation today, it’s given through manipulation. Let’s take for example the representation of a building. The traditional idea was that even if the building did not exist, the image represented something that could exist, and it was of the same nature as the representation of an existing building. Today we see an image as something that has effectiveness in the material world—it can trigger processes of construction, processes of recognizance, etc. There still remains for me a question of the relation bet ween the image, the building and what we have in the head, what we call knowledge in the end. I don’t see how you could go back to any kind of solipsist or idealist position negating the fact that external reality exists. The issue is not ultimate reality, the issue is, ultimately, how do we relate to reality. PG: These questions about ontology are just not what scientists engaged in nano- construction and bioengineering are focused on. Once you’re in the mode of generating philosophical problems that no longer address the concerns of the scientists, then it seems to me you’re in precarious philosophical territor y. That’s what Wittgenstein was constantly warning about, that is, making intra-philosophical questions that no longer answered to our concerns: questions of the type “is my sweater really blue?” Live, philosophically-informed questions ought to at least be dealing with matters of concern, and those concerns should include those of scientists and engineers. This connects to the argument of the last sections of the book Objectivity I wrote with Lorraine Daston. You could say that the problem of representation is one in which you have a bi-layer world. You have a world and then you have a representation of that world. Realists are people who think the t wo layers can be attached, that there are arrows that go from model to reality. There are many ways of challenging this bi-layer reality, and images play a role in that. You can ask, for instance, does this electron microscopic image accurately portray what goes on in a neuron? You could say no, there’s a problem of artifacts, or inter pretation, or that its stains don’t work properly. But if you’re doing nano-manipulation, the image isn’t used as pure documentation to say whether something existed or it didn’t exist. The image is part of the tools. If you look at the floor plan of a nano-lab like the one that’s just behind this building, you’ll see lots of visualization modules surrounding a laborator y. And the reason is not 6



Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity. New York: Zone Books, 2007.

because they’re tr ying to document something, to show the accuracy or the correspondence bet ween model and reality, it’s because they’re doing something with images. AP: I am really struck these days by how the organicist metaphor has come back in the design world. There’s a new organic discourse in the digital around emergence which really per plexes me. 7

DT: Do you have a specific example? AP: Take Karl Chu, who tells us that nature is a computation. From now on what computation does is emulate nature. I think it goes back to the idea that design is an extension of nature, an idea you find already in nineteenth- centur y German architecture, with architects such as Karl Friedrich Schinkel, who believed that design was pursuing and extending the work of nature. 8

PG: Antoine’s observation is ver y interesting. In physics there was a moment after W WII when simulation became ver y important. A really interesting contrast developed bet ween those who thought that nature was best got at through platonic models and those who thought it was best replicated through stochastic simulations. Physicists realized they could simulate the processes of what went on in a nuclear reactor or a nuclear bomb, and solve problems that were other wise intractable to them through older analytic techniques. This became known as the Monte Carlo method. The computer was programmed to use real or pseudo-random numbers to allow a process to unfold. The Monte Carlo became ver y popular among physicists to solve all sorts of problems, not just in nuclear matters, but also in weather, in fluid dynamics, in all sorts of things. For some scientists this random simulation was actually truer to the processes of nature than the analytic techniques that had been used for hundreds of years, because, they said, nature was at its root random. A stochastic model of a stochastic reality (so this group thought) was actually a replication of reality rather than a model of it. If you might call those people the “Stochasticists,” they were opposed to the Platonists, like Einstein, Dirac, or Maxwell, who said that the furniture of the world was written in the language of differential equations, of exact curves. This mathematics was what was really true behind things that looked random. 9

AP: Today we see a kind of strange reconciliation, a new 7 Antoine Picon, Digital Culture in Architecture: An Introduction for the Design Professions. Basel: Birkhäuser, 2010. 8 See for instance Karl Chu, “Metaphysics of Genetic Architecture and Computation,” Perspecta 35, 2004, p. 74-97. 9 On the Monte Carlo method and artificial reality, see Galison, Image and Logic, p. 689-780.

organicism or vitalism unheard of in the past. Vitalism used to be adverse to computation. From the eighteenth centur y on, you had a stable opposition bet ween people interested in mechanics and those interested in medicine and vitalism. Today we see the merging of these t wo traditions. Digital designers interested in computation have the idea you can imitate life. For those interested in the application of cellular automata to modeling, for instance, this is a looming idea. The discourse of emergence, which is so strong among so many designers, precisely suspends the question of deterministic versus random or stochastic. They are interested in how order unfolds from apparent randomness. DT: Their situation sounds ver y close to the stochasticists Peter just described. AP: It is both different and related through the reality of computation. For many digital designers, the difference bet ween the model and real life gets abolished in important ways. PG: To go back to the beginning, speculation on cellular automata came through the work of Stanislaw Ulam and his colleagues, who were also the people creating these Monte Carlo methods and simulations. So they are closely related. It also occurs to me that surrounding the art world there’s this fascination with neuro-acts and neuroaesthetics. That point of view often takes a computational picture as the root of that which is neuronal, and so by extension, a computational picture of aesthetics. Not that this notion hasn’t encountered huge resistance; it’s a battle that continues. But there is a kind of “pancomputationalism” that we see across many different domains, from art and architecture to aesthetics and psychology. DT: Cities seem to be mixed in the ways we’ve been talking about, that is, they are hybrid objects that combine the abstract and the physical. Is a city a real thing? AP: A city is not really a thing. Or it’s a ver y imprecise thing. There is still a problem of representation. To call something a city is inseparable from a certain set of preconceptions we have. I am interested in thinking about these categories, strangely abstract and at the same time concrete, that we mobilize to read technological reality. For instance, “infrastructure,” which came not long after “structure” in the mid-eighteenth centur y, was a way to divide the world into a platform structure and then a superstructure. It was a ver y general divide. But “structure” does not exist naturally. How do we

construct categories like structure or image or map to read the world? PG: We have some classical relations we go around with almost unquestioned about the relation bet ween abstraction and the physical. One way is to think that we come up with ideas in the most abstract of mathematical physics, and then we form models of it that become applied physics, and then it filters down, maybe through the other disciplines, through chemistr y and biology, or it goes down to more and more applied mechanical or electro-mechanical things and eventually it will end as something on the factor y floor that can be made and manufactured and become physical. It’s a descent from the most abstract through many intermediate processes to the most concrete. The second way follows the opposite direction. It’s the idea that we consider abstraction in a sort of Platonic ascension, that we look at machines, and then we abstract simple machines, and then we abstract principles, and eventually we get up to some object in Plato’s heaven. But what happens when the concrete and the abstract really enter together? When Einstein or Poincaré look at trains or clocks or telegraphs, but also at philosophy, and the abstract principles of what becomes relativity theor y? I’ve recently been doing work on Freud. He was thinking about censorship practices in W WI Vienna through what he had learned about censorship in the mind. All of his work involved postal net works and gathering information through newspapers, that’s how he thought. He was really worried about actual censorship: can he send a letter to his son at the front, can he get a paper through to his collaborators? He used the practices of the censor in Vienna to articulate and modify his notion of psychic censorship—a mix of the most abstract and the most concrete. 10

It interests me a lot when objects function both in their material form and in abstraction simultaneously, not through this long process of ascension from the factor y floor to Plato’s heaven or vice versa, but in their comingling all along. I’m less interested in metaphors of ascent or descent, but instead in the sudden presence together of ver y abstract and ver y material things. DT: Is a building, a work of architecture, always, as Peter just described it, suddenly and simultaneously making present the abstract and the physical? AP: Oh yes, I think architecture is always about that. 10 Peter Galison, Einstein’s Clocks, Poincaré’s Maps: Empires of Time. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.


But more and more I’m interested in a physical, almost physically empathic, dimension. You remember Panofsky and his ver y strange analogy bet ween scholasticism and Gothic construction? I think we have all kinds of constructive metaphors like that in the head. Construction is related to the way we understand our own thought, and to the way we relate to the world through our body.

hundred years. The existence of sociology, for instance, depends on the status of the collective. So it appears to me t wo different questions could be asked. One is, “can you have non-material objects that are worth calling objects?” And the other is, “are there multiple ways of parsing a given object, whether it is material or nonmaterial?” which is what Antoine is pointing to today.

DT: In what way is it not a metaphor?

AP: And these are old problems. For the Romans, you had a question: when you fix something on the wall, is it part of the wall or is it independent? That was linked to the concept of ornament. For the Romans ornament was something fixed to the wall that you could still intellectually consider as distinct. A brick is not an ornament, but fixed marble on the wall is an ornament. So you see, where is the object? Today we have difficulty understanding what the Romans understood as ornament.


AP: Of course it’s always a metaphor. If you go behind the metaphor, though, you get to the fact that through objects we construct categories to read the world. When we produce objects, we also produce division— not metaphors, but ways to divide, analyze, and sort the world. An object for me is always a kind of protoargument. The difference is that if it was an argument, you would not need an object. In architecture today form always needs to be related to an argument; but if it’s an argument, it’s not architecture. 12

DT: Is ever y object a hybrid object? AP: For me there are t wo ways of understanding objects. One way is to place them in net works as Bruno Latour does, seeing the object as an actor. I’m more interested in other properties of the object. First, the object has a material epistemology. An epistemology, before being ethereal, is material, linked to the way we produce and understand objects. Second, an object is a physical experience, a relation to the body. If you visit a cantilevered building, you feel some kind of anxiety, or pain, or exhilaration; you feel something almost in your bones. Yet nothing a priori will tell you how to divide it into parts. Nothing will tell you how to distinguish a ceiling from a wall. When we are in this room, we understand that there is a floor and a ceiling and so on, but there is nothing in the room itself that forces us to distinguish them. The ver y fact that we conceive an object and recognize it as an object is linked to categories and experience. And it’s this that allows them to participate in a complex Galisonian argument where you can find clocks, maps, and special relativity. There is already something in the object that links to these epistemological questions. PG: Different histories carve up the world and objects in different ways. Do you count a city as an object or not? Is an individual person an object? Or are collectivities objects? These are the foundational debates that have wracked ever y academic discipline for the last several 11 Erwin Panofsky, Gothic Architecture and Scholasticism. Latrobe: The Archabbey Press, 1951. 12 Antoine Picon and Alessandra Ponte, eds., Architecture and Science: Exchanging Metaphors. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2003.


DT: So it’s an historical problem. AP: It was a cultural problem, but also a legal problem. In Roman law, there is the strange case of an aristocratic family that was forbidden to sell wall ornaments, because the ornaments were considered part the family’s heritage. Romans saw ornament as something that “piled up.” Ornament was like wealth or money. Hence you had to constantly increase the quantity of ornament, of the family, of the empire, of the city. We have a qualitative vision of ornament and a relatively quantitative vision of the fabric. The Romans saw it in reverse. When we see Roman bathhouses we think that what is quantitative is the masonr y and what is qualitative is the marble, but ornament is much more complicated. DT: Part of the discussion in Speculative Realism has to do with emergence. At what point do you have something that you call an object, yet still take parts away from it, so it’s not understood as an aggregate but as an entity? AP: I think we live in a post-Deleuzean world. We see objects more as processes that unfold than as static entities. Emergence is linked to a certain philosophical dimension going from Deleuze up to today. So you have that line. Then you have a certain understanding of the physical world as described by science linked to a certain understanding by designers. And then there is something at stake in the discipline: what do designers really do? Do they shape forms like potters? Or are they people who manage dynamisms? Today’s designers wish to go beyond the potter, who finishes a building like you finish a piece of potter y. So “emergence” is also the name given to a professional claim for the social relevance of architecture.

DT: Is that true in science today? PG: The example of ornament is a beautiful one. The way that entities enter into our world is ver y consequential. I agree with Antoine these are not categories determined once and for all. Take DNA. What is DNA? Well, we can say that what it really is, is the mechanism of genetic transmission of information. But then it turns out it’s also part of computation. So then what is it? Is it part of a computer? Which is more fundamental? Once you build new scientific structures (to come back to the term Antoine was discussing before), it changes the status of individuation and categorical classification. Physicists worr y about emergence, too. The question might be seen to be purely metaphysical, or it might be seen to be a question of directing our attention to certain phenomena, or it could be a political economic one in the sense of whether you support disciplines. For instance, there is the famous debate carried out bet ween Philip Anderson and Steven Weinberg concerning whether condensed matter physics is as fundamental as particle physics. Is condensed matter physics just particle physics carried out on more complicated systems? Anderson would say that when you talk about heat or superconductivity or any other collective phenomenon, it’s not a property of an individual particle. Lasing is a collective phenomenon. It’s meaningless to say that a single electron is “lasing.”

too. That is to say, the virtual is not bloodless, without physicality. All you have to do is look around at cyber bulling, cyber security, and cyber war fare. These are responses to having a presence in a virtual world. It is extremely consequential in the physical world how we’re playing things out in the virtual one. AP: We’re not yet in a totally dematerialized world. To access this immaterial world, you need a big screen, and cables, and server farms that create heat: all of these have physical dimensions. PG: And surveillance, privacy, identity. These are questions that are ver y pressing. AP: The truth is the world is becoming more hybrid, but it’s not dematerializing. That’s a pure fiction. PG: I agree with that completely.

Harvard University Science Center 6 Februar y 2012

You could say the question is purely metaphysical, concerning where you think first things should be located. The particle physics question concerns foundation, the fundament of our universe. So for scientists it was an argument about metaphysics, but it was also an argument about a $15 billion superconducting supercollider which they wanted to build in Texas. DT: With buildings are we again discussing objects at a different register from the ontological level of realism and anti-realism? What about physicality? AP: The urgent question is, how do we rearticulate what we still do in the physical world? The virtual world creates as many material problems as it’s supposed to solve. It’s space consuming, there are format obsolescence issues. A lot of things will probably not be digitized. Lots of old papers and so on. This electronic world needs a lot of physical spaces, energy, etc. Which might be its real limit. We may reach a point where information is just too expensive to store. PG: Yes. We’ve talked about the abstractions inherent in the immediate physicality, but the opposite is true 15

On the Mesh, the Strange Stranger, and Hyperobjects: Morton’s Ecological Ontology Graham Harman


n Timothy Morton’s The Ecological Thought, the terminological pillars for most of the book are “the mesh” and “the strange stranger.” A third key term, “hyperobjects,” dominates the final pages of the book. In his forthcoming work Realist Magic, Morton offers the following comparison between his terminology and my own: “In Harman’s terms... mesh is a sensual object. The real objects are the strange strangers.” The difference between real and sensual objects is certainly just as fundamental for me as that between the mesh and the strange stranger is for Morton. Thus, his comparison between the two pairs of terms is worth examining, especially since Morton has recently been one of my closest colleagues in object-oriented philosophy circles. If there is a difference between the pair mesh/strange stranger and sensual/real, in what does it consist? And why have we failed to notice it so far? If there is no difference between them, do they at least have different effects, given the different subject matter tackled by me and Morton respectively? Let’s consider these questions as they arise in Morton’s The Ecological Thought, which he describes as the “prequel”(3) to his perhaps even better known 2009 book Ecology Without Nature. 1



1. Connection without Holism Morton defines his ecological thought in the first two sentences of the book: “The ecological crisis we face is so obvious that it becomes easy –for some, strangely or frighteningly easy– to join the dots and see that everything is interconnected. This is the ecological thought.”(1) At first glance it might seem that Morton is asserting a holistic world-view, an ontology dominated by an all-encompassing universal whole. No one will be surprised to hear that “the ecological crisis makes us aware of how interdependent everything is.”(30) We read further: “The modern age compels 1 Timothy Morton, The Ecological Thought. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2010. *All parenthetical page references in this article are to The Ecological Thought; references to other books take the form of footnotes.* 2 Timothy Morton, Realist Magic. Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press, forthcoming 2012. 3 Timothy Morton, Ecology Without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 2009.


us to think big... Any thinking that avoids this ‘totality’ is part of the problem. So we have to face it.”(4) Instead of some sort of 1960’s privileging of the local over the global, we need to think big.(20) This wholeness is so vast that it seems to extend infinitely in both directions, since “scale is infinite in both directions: infinite in size and infinite in detail.”(30) Nor does Morton cheerfully celebrate this situation. Instead, he seems to view it in a spirit of friendly, informal grimness: “Yes, everything is interconnected. And it sucks.”(33) But before we rush to conclusions about the meaning of the ecological thought, we should note that there are two possible readings of the thesis that everything is interconnected. We could read it in the sense of a strong connectivity: everything is completely determined by its interactions with everything else; nothing is an independent, autonomous thing outside its relations. This strong connectivity is the standpoint of holism and of relational ontologies more generally. We find it in Alfred North Whitehead’s view that an actual entity can be analyzed into its prehensions (relations), as well as in Bruno Latour’s dictum that an entity is nothing over and above whatever it transforms, modifies, perturbs, or creates. But the phrase “everything is connected” might also be read in the less extreme sense of weak connectivity. Here it would simply mean that all objects belong to a single network, with no dualistic separation between mind and matter, spiritual and corporeal, or anything else of the sort. Weak connectivity would amount to nothing more than what Manuel DeLanda calls a flat ontology, “one made exclusively of unique, singular individuals differing in spatio-temporal scale but not in ontological status.” The philosophy of Latour (at its less holistic moments) also has this element of weak connectivity, as is clear from his implosion of the nature/ culture distinction throughout We Have Never Been Modern. 4


If we try to determine whether Morton adheres to strong connectivity (holism), or simply weak connectivity (flat ontology), the answer soon becomes obvious – Morton is a flat ontologist rather than a holist. Consider the following passage: “The ecological thought isn’t about a superorganism. Holism maintains that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. ‘Nature’ tends to be holistic. Unlike Nature, what the ecological thought is thinking isn’t more than the sum of its parts.”(35) As early as the introduction, Morton had announced that “we must challenge our sense of what is real and what is unreal, what counts as existent and what counts as nonexistent. The idea of Nature as a holistic, healthy, real thing avoids this challenge.”(10) What he emphasizes is not holism but symbiosis (33 -34), and if trees exist in symbiosis with lichens, this implies that some links are symbiotic and others are not. After all, these trees do not melt into a holistic, gelatinous lump that also includes sardines, farmers, and black holes. The meaning of “everything is connected” is not holistic, but democratic. For Morton no less than for DeLanda, entities may differ in spatio-temporal scale but not in ontological status. “The ecological thought doesn’t just occur ‘in the mind.’ It’s a practice and a process of becoming fully aware of how human beings are connected with other beings– animal, vegetable, or mineral.”(7) Morton continues: “Ultimately, this includes thinking about democracy. What would a truly democratic encounter between truly equal beings look like, what would it be – can we even imagine it?” (7) Humans must descend from their modern philosophical throne: “There is no being in the ‘middle’ – what would ‘middle’ mean anyway? The most important? How can one being be more important than another?”(38) This does not mean that humans are deemed “worthless,” as is often asserted by lazy critics of object-oriented philosophy. Instead, humans simply become one object among many trillions of others, though they remain an exceptionally interesting one for us. “To believe in a self is actually to believe in an object, although it may seem a subtler kind of object than a brick or a chair.”(120) If deep ecology is committed to a pristine nature untouched by human artifice, the breakdown of the human/ world dualism leads Morton to proclaim a “dark ecology.” (59) We will soon learn that the darkness comes from what Morton calls “the strange stranger.”(80)



4 Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality. New York: The Free Press, 1978, p.19. 5 Bruno Latour, Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1999, p. 122. 6 Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Reality. London: Continuum, 2002, p. 58. 7 Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern, trans. C. Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993.

2. The Mesh and the Strange Stranger We now turn to the mesh: “a vast, sprawling mesh of interconnection without a definite center or edge. It is radical intimacy, coexistence with other beings, sentient and otherwise...”(8) Despite the phrase “radical intimacy,” we have already seen that Morton is no radical holist. His mesh simply flattens the world into “the interconnectedness of all living and non-living things.”(28) (The term “mesh” was chosen, after much reflection by Morton, instead of such

related terms as “network” and “web.”) And “the mesh of interconnected things is vast, perhaps immeasurably so. Each entity on the mesh looks strange. Nothing exists all by itself, and so nothing is fully ‘itself.’”(15) It cannot be described as beautiful or sublime, since it inhabits “a subaesthetic level of being, beyond the cute and the awesome.”(91) Much like Latourian networks, the mesh links together all objects that exist. But unlike those networks, the mesh does not reduce things to their interactions or intimacy with their neighbors. No total intimacy is possible, for although everything in the mesh is intimate with everything else,” it is also true that “strange strangers are right next to us.”(78) Morton puts it wonderfully in one of the most important passages of the book: “Interconnection implies separateness and difference. There would be no mesh if there were no strange strangers. The mesh isn’t a background against which the strange stranger appears. It is the entanglement of all strangers.”(47) The key difficulty in interpreting Morton’s strange stranger is that, despite Morton’s tacit call for a flat ontology, this concept seems to describe only living organisms. For instance, Morton at one point promises “[to provide] extra shading to the idea of strange strangers, the life forms to which we are connected.” (17) And further, “even if biology knew all the species on earth, we would still encounter them as strange strangers, because of the inner logic of knowledge. The more you know about something, the stranger it grows.”(17) At another point he asks, “If all conscious beings are machines, do they still have strange strangeness?”(111) as if machines in the usual sense (windmills, dryers) were not strange strangers in the ontologically special manner of conscious creatures. This might seem to undercut Morton’s flat ontology, in which all types of entities are on the same democratic footing. Even his wonderful short litany of strangers from Wordsworth consists entirely of humans: “Wordsworth... confronts us with strange strangers – discharged soldiers, blind beggars, grief-crazed mothers.”(90) In another suggestive passage, he tells us it is “the fact of consciousness, which forever puts me in a paradoxical relationship with other beings– there is always going to be an ironic gap between strange strangers.”(124-125; emphasis added) And finally, Morton says rather unequivocally that “instead of ‘animal,’ I use strange stranger,”(41) which seems to more or less settle the question. The danger here is that Morton’s ostensibly flat ontology is not flat at all, and the mesh is prevented from fusing into a holistic network only by those local black holes known as sentient organisms. Even when Morton tells us that “the strange stranger lives within (and without) each and every being,”(17) the context strongly suggests that by “being” he means living beings, not beings in the sense of entities in general.


3. Hyperobjects The third key concept in The Ecological Thought is hyperobjects: “products such as Styrofoam and plutonium that exist on almost unthinkable timescales.”(19) While Hyperobjects receive relatively minimal treatment in the book in comparison with the mesh and the strange stranger, it is hardly less interesting than these two star concepts of the book, and we might imagine an entire future book by Morton on the hyperobject theme. The reader can only bask in morbid fascination as Morton reminds us that many of the disposable junk objects we contemptuously use will far outlive us: “Materials from humble Styrofoam to terrifying plutonium will far outlast current social and biological forms.”(130) Stated differently, “hyperobjects do not rot in our lifetimes. They do not burn without themselves burning (releasing radiation, dioxins, and so on)... Living tissue is usually far more stable than chemical compounds. But hyperobjects outlast us all.”(130) And even more poetically: “There is a joke about wanting to be reborn as a Styrofoam cup – they last forever. Hyperobjects don’t just burn a hole in the world; they burn a hole in your mind. Plutonium is truly astonishing to contemplate. We think of light as neutral or benign. Radiation is poisoned light.”(130) Indeed, the vast temporal dimensions of hyperobjects gives them an almost holy quality: “Hyperobjects are the true taboos, the demonic inversion of the sacred substances of religion... Future humans’ treatment of hyperobjects may seem like reverence to our eyes.”(132) With the role of strange stranger apparently reserved for animals, inanimate things take the stage in Morton’s book primarily in the form of hyperobjects, with their vast temporal scale. This is not to suggest that Morton lacks all sense of spatial vastness. Far from it. Throughout the book he implores us to reject the false sublimity of the infinite and confront, instead, the more threatening fact of colossal finite quantities: “imagining infinity might be easier, and more gratifying, than imagining very large quantities such as 1084 cm3 – the volume of the Universe (according to Manfred Eigen).”(118) Morton cites the archangel Raphael from Paradise Lost as calling attention to the possible countless planets inhabited by countless beings, (122) with Milton channeling the then-recent ideas of the executed Giordano Bruno. Yet Morton reserves his true cosmological admiration for the people of Tibet: “Should we wish to send astronauts to Mars, we could do worse than train Tibetans and other indigenous peoples for the ride. They would only have to learn to push a few buttons.”(15) He reports on a two-week camping trip to Tibet as follows: Above me, the Milky Way never looked so big. Imagine a really wide carpet runner. Now multiply 18

that by about three. Fill it with thousands of points of dustlike stars. Add about thirty new stars to the Big Dipper. Imagine shooting stars so frequent you don’t have to look for more than half an hour to see about ten. Some of them make a sound as they burn up in the atmosphere. (26) Along with this hyper-geography of the Tibetans, there is a spiritual life more than worthy of it: Tibetans live very close to outer space, so it’s not surprising that they include it in their culture. When asked where he came from, the first Bön king (Bön is the indigenous culture) pointed up to the sky. No, I’m not saying that Tibetans came from outer space. The tantric teachings say there are 6,4 00,000 Tantras of Dzogchen (texts of a form of Tibetan Buddhism). On earth we have seventeen. Up there, in the highly visible night sky, perhaps in other universes, there exist the remaining 6,399,983. Up there, someone is meditating. (26) Six million Tantras of Dozgchen in the sky might seem to have little in common with Styrofoam cups in a dump, or plutonium buried in the dust of Nagasaki. Yet all of these things inhabit vast spatial or temporal scales that trouble the easy intimacy of the mesh. In this respect, hyperobjects (time) and what we might call tibetobjects (space) are no less disturbing than the strange stranger known as the living organism. 4. Morton and Object-Oriented Philosophy We recall Morton’s still unpublished words from Realist Magic, cited near the top of this article: “In Harman’s terms... mesh is a sensual object. The real objects are the strange strangers.” In my own philosophy, sensual objects are those that exist only in the experience of another object – such as mental images of cats and trees in distinction from these objects themselves. Meanwhile, real objects are those that not only exist whether I look at them or not, but which are incommensurable with any part of them I might see. Real objects are like Kantian things-in-themselves, except that whereas for Kant the Ding an sich only withdraws from direct human access, real objects withdraw from each other as well. Billiard balls, just like people, only make contact with phenomenal versions of each other, while the balls-inthemselves lie beyond all possibility of causal contact. When the terms are described in this way, it becomes clear that there are definite points of similarity between Morton’s model and my own. Like Morton, I hold that all things are interconnected in the “weak” sense that they 8

8 Timothy Morton, Realist Magic. Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press, forthcoming 2012.

all belong to the same plane of reality, though not in the “strong” holistic sense of everything being entirely in contact with everything else. The mesh links all human and nonhuman things, but they do not make contact with one another in their full depths – or at least this is true of strange strangers. In this sense, Morton is correct that the mesh is a gridwork of sensual objects rather than real ones. The real objects of the world must always remain partly outside the mesh in which everything is linked. As for the strange strangers, Morton is again correct that their manner of troubling all sleek connections with an untamed inner surplus is enough to make them resemble the real objects found in my philosophy. There is, however, the one incompatibility we have already stressed. The Morton of 2010, at least, seems to restrict the title of strange stranger to living organisms, and in this way he turns an ontological distinction (relational vs. non-relational) into a taxonomical one (non-living vs. living). We find several other passages in The Ecological Thought that seem to clash with the spirit of my own work. Whereas the objects of my object-oriented philosophy are characterized by identity, Morton (perhaps influenced on this point by Derrida) tells us that “knowledge itself... asserts that nothing has intrinsic identity.”(36) To this day, Morton remains the strongest opponent in speculative realist circles of the law of non-contradiction, as seen in his strong attraction to the work of “dialethic” philosopher Graham Priest. In a similar spirit, Morton defends the notion that “the mesh is always made of negative difference, which means it doesn’t contain positive, really existing (independent, solid) things.”(39) This notion returns a bit later in the book: “We can’t say for sure that there are specific entities out there.”(66) And whereas object-oriented philosophy strongly defends the emergence of new objects at all possible scales of reality, Morton at one point seems to defend the central role of consciousness in generating individuals, when he critiques in passing “the popular systems theory idea of ‘emergence,’ that systems can organize themselves without much (or any) conscious input.”(131) This seems to put him directly at odds with DeLanda, who responds to two interviewers as follows:

means to tap into energy sources (fermentation, photosynthesis, respiration). To think that a “brain” is needed goes beyond Cartesian dualism and fades into Creationism: matter is an inert receptacle for forms that come from the outside imposed by an exterior psychic agency: “Let there be light!” 10

From all these considerations, a rich portrait emerges of Morton’s relation to other object-oriented philosophies, including my own. On some points Morton may have modified his position since 2010. On other points, such as his suspicious attitude towards the law of non-contradiction, Morton maintains to this day a highly individual stance on the object-oriented landscape. How these differences will develop over time remains an open question. But with his basic commitment to a flat ontology of human and nonhuman beings, Morton is entirely in accord with the spirit of most object-oriented thinkers. All agree in working towards  an ecology without nature.


It is absurd to think that complex self-organizing structures need a “brain” to generate them. The coupled system atmosphere-hydrosphere is continuously generating structures (thunderstorms, hurricanes, coherent wind currents) not only without a brain but without any organs whatsoever. The ancient chemistry of the prebiotic soup also generated such coherent structures (auto-catalytic loops) without which the genetic code could not have emerged. And bacteria in the first two billion years of the history of the biosphere discovered all major 9

Graham Priest, Beyond the Limits of Thought. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003.

10 “Any materialist philosophy must take as its point of departure the existence of a material world that is independent of our minds: Interview with Manuel Delanda.” In New Materialism: Interviews and Cartographies, ed. I. van der Tuin & R. Dolphijn. Ann Arbor, MI: Open Humanities Press, forthcoming 2012.


Architecture without Nature


Timothy Morton


n an age of ecological emergency, it is imperative not to be hidebound by a concept that developed during the very period that created the crisis. This concept, Nature, is indeed partially responsible for the current situation. Even substitute concepts such as lifeworld and environment risk only being “new and improved” versions of Nature. Building, which automatically addresses scales of time and space beyond habitual human comprehension, also automatically addresses nonhuman beings in the broadest sense: lifeforms, geological strata, the biosphere, atmospheric gases, sunlight. What is required is a view that recognizes nonhumans as partners on “this” side of social space, no longer conceived as exclusively human. What is also required is a view that refuses to reduce one entity to another – both reductionism and holism are problematic. In sum, we need to transition from the time of nature to the time of coexistence. For this, it is necessary to turn to the emerging object-oriented ontology movement, spearheaded by Graham Harman. The concept Nature and its “new and improved” upgrades such as environment, web of life, and lifeworld are all reifications. On the one hand, they are too abstract – when I look for Nature what I find are pine trees, pollen, polar bears and porcupines. In fact, I don’t even find these, because according to Darwinian science, even the concept species is too abstract a term to account for the multiplicity of mutant lifeforms. Darwinism, as a matter of fact, accords far more with the notion that every lifeform is in some sense completely unique, not the expression of some abstract species, since there is no thin, rigid dividing line between species and variant, or between variant and monstrosity. Such dividing lines are necessarily retroactive conceptual impositions. On the other hand, Nature, environment, web of life, and lifeworld are too concrete. They are objectified “things” that exist in some “over yonder.” Either this concretion is purely mental – the web of life exists in the (human) mind – or it is physical and subtends, and is thus more real than, the beings that find themselves in it or emerging out of it. This latter possibility is what philosopher Graham Harman calls undermining: the positing of some entity as more real 20

in an elevator, they shuffle around all over the place. Now physicists are wondering whether coherence and nonlocality are not confined to the very small, since quantum coherence has now been observed in a tiny tuning fork visible to the naked eye – thirty microns long, very very long indeed from the point of view of an electron. And nonlocality has been observed in fullerenes, buckyball shaped carbon molecules. This is all bad news for mechanistic theories of causation, which rely on point particles staying put in a pregiven space and time. If the very fabric of spacetime is an emergent property of beings such as planets, coffee cups, and rubber ducks, it’s a good bet that more complex phenomena such as web of life and Nature are also not deep structures that underlie lifeforms, but rather are emergent properties of them. This in turn is congruent with the neo-Darwinist idea of the extended phenotype, the idea that genomic expression does not stop at the ends of, say, a beaver’s whiskers, but extends all the way to the end of a beaver’s dam. In this sense, the vast majority of the soil we walk on, the places we visit, the mountains we climb, let alone the air we breathe, are simply distributed expressions of DNA. A chalky cliff is the tale of millions of years of shells deposited by mollusks. Oxygen is the toxic outgassing of bacteria in the ancient Archaean era of earth. A spider’s web, a subway station, a beehive – surely human architecture is in this sense an extended phenotype, pace Marx’s distinction between “the worst of architects” and “the best of bees.” Which is not to say that building is predictable by DNA. There is no “gene for” anything, let alone a gene for an architrave or pilaster. Since there is no “gene for” anything, DNA expressions (phenotypes) are just as real as the genome (genotypes). Beavers are as real as their DNA. Indeed, Darwinism forces upon us the conclusion that there are no species and that they have no origin. If emoticons had existed in Victorian Britain, Darwin could have saved us a lot of bother by putting a ‘; )’ at the end of his title The Origin of Species. Darwin’s line of reasoning is this: if a species is only an abstract generalization, it is also impossible rigorously to distinguish between a species and a variant. Likewise, and this is an even deeper problem, it is impossible to distinguish rigidly between a variant and a monstrosity. Thus what we confront is only ever this specific being we now call polar bear, nematode worm, rhinovirus. Strangely then, Darwinism gives us a non-totalizable plenitude of unique beings, not a generic sludge.

than another one because it is more fundamental in some sense. The first possibility, that the web of life is only a (human) mental construct that gives meaning to beings such as butterflies and algae, is what Harman calls overmining. A thing is said to be overmined (rather than undermined) when it is “reduced upwards” to an affect of some other being, such as a human mind. In both cases, the concretion of Nature and web of life overwhelm other things. A mouse is only real because of the network in which she finds herself, according to an argument of Deep Green philosopher Arne Naess. Yet we can easily imagine firing the mouse into space: she would be a dead mouse, but still a mouse. The mouse is not reducible to the web of life. Rather than this game of overwhelming one thing with another thing, I suggest instead that we think of relations (Nature, web, network) as ontologically secondary to things. Rather than providing the foundations of things, relations float “in front of” things. Such a view is at least congruent with the last century of physics, from relativity theory to quantum theory, even if it makes problems for mechanistic biological theories, which are somewhat prevalent. For if causes and effects – the way things relate – hover ontologically “in front of” things, then we must dispense with causality as a series of mechanisms that underlie things. This view turns out to be a kind of ontological illusion caused by human familiarity with a certain region of beings such as watches, watermills, steam engines, and air pumps. Victorian scientists began to guess differently when they discovered that the front of an electromagnetic wave is shorter than it should be – it was this anomaly that prompted Einstein to formulate special and general relativity, establishing that time and space are emissions of objects, not some neutral container in which objects sit. Furthermore, at the level of the very small and the very cold, objects seemed to occupy more than one place at once (quantum coherence and nonlocality). At this level, to measure means to deflect (with another quantum such as a photon). At this level, it is evident that things don’t stay put waiting to be seen by some observer. Like people left to their own devices


1 This is the example given by Aaron O’Connell in “Making Sense of a Visible Quantum Object,” TED Talk, March 2011, making_sense_of_a_visible_quantum_object.html, accessed March 7, 2012. The phenomenon O’Connell describes is available in O’ Connell, Aaron D., M. Hofheinz, M. Ansmann, Radoslaw C. Bialczak, M. Lenander, Erik Lucero, M. Neeley, D. Sank, H. Wang, M. Weides, J. Wenner, John M. Martinis and A. N. Cleland, “Quantum Ground State and Single Phonon Control of a Mechanic al Ground Resonator,” Nature 464 March 17, 2010, 697–703. 2 Karl Marx, Capital, tr. Ben Fowkes, 3 vols. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990, 1.284.

Figure 1.

R&Sie, Dusty Relief, 2002

Since a lifeform is not reducible to its genome, nor reducible upwards into a function of (human) categorization (this is what the Linnaean concept of species boils down to), an ecological view of reality must be irreductionist, that is, it must cleave to unique beings. Unique here does not mean individual. There is a difference between the utter uniqueness of this specific lifeform, and the idea of an individual, which requires a set of which it is a member. By way of analogy, think of the generic American front lawn: they are individual insofar as they embody the private property of an individual. But they are far from unique. In fact, in many jurisdictions attempts to make the front lawn unique are banned. The lawn must conform to a certain standard: it must be plain, shaved smooth like a “jarhead” Marine with a crew cut, watered to maintain its even greenness, and so on. I bring up the lawn for another reason: it is a horizontal, privatized version of the concept Nature. In suburban space, the lawn symbolizes the noli me tangere of Nature, the performance and preservation of a rigid boundary between the human and nonhuman realms: Keep Off the Grass. Visiting Geneva, Lenin was amazed by the pristine lawns, symbols of republican equality, and their “Keep Off” signs. The lawn is a horizontal Barnett Newman painting, an abstract painting that embodies privacy in public, a decent distance between one’s neighbors, an open and free exchange between property owners. Nature, in the form of national parks, is simply a larger, often more vertical, version of the same thing. More abstractly, Nature is an abstract space over yonder that I can never quite reach, so “Keep Off the Grass” embodies it well, like a hysterical symptom. This lawn, this actual lawn, is not really generic at all – it is its own miniature ecosystem teeming with insects and worms, fungi and bacteria. It is a being in its own right, consisting of a plenitude of other beings –­ like Leibniz’s 21

no away to which to send anything. The idea that ecological design must deal with shunting flows around depends upon a more or less reactionary idea of Nature, the away to which things are flushed. If instead there is no cosmic background, no world or Nature into which human badness can flow, the idea that good quality means speeding up the flow of shunting dirt around becomes obsolete. A recent project by R&Sie, Dusty Relief (2002), suggests another approach altogether. The project is a building in Bangkok that will be electrostatic (Figure 1 and 2). Eventually the building would be covered with a gigantic fur coat of dirt. It would attract dirt rather than distributing it, since away has lost its luster, why not? Instead of trying to constantly tweak an illusion, thinking and art and political practice should simply relate directly to nonhumans. We will never “get it right” completely, but trying to come up with the best kind of world is just inhibiting ecological progress. Art and architecture in the time of hyperobjects must as automatically directly include hyperobjects, even when they try to ignore them. For instance, consider the contemporary urge to maximize throughput: to get dirty air flowing, for instance, with air conditioners. Air conditioning is now the benchmark of comfort; young Singaporeans are starting to sweat out of doors, habituated to the homogeneous thermal comfort of modern buildings. Such architecture and design is predicated on the notion of “away.” But there is no “away” after the end of the world. It would make more sense to design in a dark ecological way, admitting our coexistence with toxic substances we have created and exploited. New ideas such as Dusty Relief are counterintuitive from the point of view of regular post-1970s environmentalism. Process relationism has been the presiding deity of this thinking, insofar as it thinks flows are better than solids. But thinking this way on a planetary scale just becomes absurd. Why is it better to stir the shit around inside the toilet bowl faster and faster rather than just leaving it there? Monitoring, regulating, controlling flows: is ecological ethics and politics just this? Regulating flows and sending them where you think they need to go is not relating to nonhumans. Regulation of flows is just a contemporary mode of window dressing of the substances of ontotheological nihilism, the becomings and processes with which Nietzsche wanted to undermine philosophy. The common name for managing and regulating flows is sustainability. But what exactly is being sustained? “Sustainable capitalism” might be one of those contradictions along the lines of “military intelligence.” Capital must 3


Figure 2.

R&Sie, Dusty Relief, 2002

monads, the view I am beginning to advocate here implies that a thing contains a plenum of other things, like fish ponds within fish ponds, perhaps ad infinitum. To exist is to be a unit, to be unique, yet to contain more on one’s inside than exists on one’s outside. Each entity is like that, which is simply another way of expressing our insight about the irreducibility of things. The view I am advocating here is that of Graham Harman, pioneer of object-oriented ontology (OOO). I believe that OOO gives us a way to think of architecture without Nature, because it allows us to think of beings as irreducible and unique, yet composed of a host of others: a crowded universe, teeming with multitudes. What counts in such a teeming universe is the quality and quantity of affiliations between beings. Since there is no Nature to which one must cleave, what matters is not an anesthetized experience of feeling part of something bigger, but establishing bonds of intimacy between beings. Architecture without Nature, then, must concern itself with establishing these affiliations. The more affiliations there are, the more fragile the network, since to allow a thing to exist is to allow it to be inconsistent, to allow it to be irreducible upwards or downwards. Thus to take a rather practical example, why should buildings concern themselves with shunting flows of air and dirt from one place to another? For about a century vectors have been the rulers of architectural design space, as buildings have striven to distribute or eliminate heat and dirt from their vicinity. But if there is no yonder, if we know that when we flush the toilet the waste goes somewhere, there is 22



3 David Gissen, Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environments. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009, p. 79; “Reflux: From Environmental Flows to Environmental Objects,” paper at Materials: Objects: Environments, NIEA, Sydney, May 19, 2011. 4 R&Sie, Dusty Relief,, accessed December 20, 2011. 5 Stephen Healey, “Air Conditioning,” paper at Materials: Objects: Environments, NIEA, Sydney, May 19, 2011. 6 Neil A. Manson, “The Concept of Irreversibility: Its Use in the Sustainable Development and Precautionary Principle Literatures,” Electronic Journal of Sustainable Development 1.1 (2007),, accessed January 8, 2012.

keep on producing more of itself in order to continue to be itself. This strange paradox is fundamentally, structurally imbalanced. Let’s consider the unit of capitalism: the turning of raw materials into products. Now for a capitalist, the raw materials are not strictly natural. They simply preexist whatever labor process the capitalist is going to exert on them. Surely here we see the problem. Whatever preexists the specific labor process is a kind of lump that only achieves definition as a valuable product once the labor has been exerted on it. What capitalism makes is some kind of stuff called capital. The very definition of “raw materials” in economic theory is also “stuff that comes in through the factory door.” Again, it doesn’t matter what it is. It could be sharks or steel bolts. At either end of the process we have featureless chunks of stuff – one of those featureless chunks being human labor. The point is to convert the stuff that comes in to money. Industrial capitalism is philosophy incarnate in stocks, girders, and human sweat. What kind of philosophy? If you want a “realism of the remainder,” just look around you. “Realism of the remainder” means that yes, for sure, there is something real outside of our (human) access to it – but we can only classify it as a kind of inert resistance to our probing, a grey goo, to adapt a term suggested by thinking about nanotechnology – tiny machines eating everything until reality becomes said goo. It’s no wonder that industrial capitalism has turned the earth into a dangerous desert. It doesn’t really care what comes through the factory door, just as long as it generates more capital. Do we want to sustain a world based on a philosophy of grey goo? Nature is the featureless remainder at either end of the process of production. Either it’s exploitable stuff, or valueadded stuff. Whatever: it’s basically featureless, abstract, grey. It has nothing to do with nematode worms and orangutans, organic chemicals in comets or rock strata. You can scour the earth from mountaintop to Marianas Trench. You will never find Nature. It’s an empty category looking for something to fill it. Grey goo. Rather than only evaporating everything into sublime ether (Marx via Macbeth: “all that is solid melts into air”), capitalism also requires and keeps firm long-term inertial structures such as families, as Fernand Braudel explored. The Koch Brothers and GE would be two contemporary examples. One part of capital, itself a hyperobject, is its relentless revolutionizing of its mode of production. But the other part is tremendous inertia. And the tremendous inertia happens to be on the side of the modern. That is, the political ontology in which there is an “away.” But there is no “away” in the time of hyperobjects. Capitalism did away with feudal and pre-feudal myths such as the divine hierarchy between classes of people. In so 7

7 Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, tr. S. Reynolds, 3 vols. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982–1984.

doing, however, it substituted one heck of a giant myth of its own: Nature. Nature is precisely the lump that pre-exists the capitalist labor process. Martin Heidegger has the best term for it: standing reserve, bestand. Bestand means “stuff,” as in the old ad from the 1990s, “Drink Pepsi: Get Stuff.” There is an ontology implicit in capitalist production, then, which is strictly materialism as defined by Aristotle. This specific form of materialism is not fascinated with material objects in all their manifold specificity. It’s just stuff. This viewpoint is the basis of Aristotle’s problem with materialism. Have you ever seen or handled matter? Have you ever held a piece of “stuff?” To be sure one has seen plenty of objects: Santa Claus in a department store, snowflakes, photographs of atoms. But have I ever seen matter or stuff as such? Aristotle says it’s a bit like searching through a zoo to find the “animal” rather than the various species such as monkeys and mynah birds. Marx says exactly the same thing regarding capital. As Nature goes, so goes matter. The two most progressive physical theories of our age, ecology and quantum theory, need have nothing to do with it. What is Bestand? Bestand is stockpiling. Row upon row of big box houses waiting to be inhabited. Terabyte after terabyte of memory waiting to be filled. Stockpiling is the art of the zeugma – the yoking of things you hear in phrases such as “wave upon wave” or “bumper to bumper.” Stockpiling is the dominant mode of social existence. Giant parking lots empty of cars, huge tables in restaurants across which you can’t hold hands, vast empty lawns. Nature is stockpiling. Range upon range of mountains, receding into the distance. Rocky Flats nuclear bomb trigger factory was sited precisely to evoke this kind of mountainous stockpile. The eerie strangeness of this fact confronts us with the ways in which we still believe that Nature is “over there” – that it exists apart from technology, apart from history. Far from it. Nature is the stockpile of stockpiles. So again, I ask, what exactly are we sustaining when we talk about sustainability? An intrinsically out of control system that sucks in grey goo at one end and pushes out grey value at the other. It’s Natural goo, Natural value. Result? Mountain ranges of inertia, piling higher every year, while humans boil away in the agony of uncertainty. Just take a look at Manufactured Landscapes: the ocean of telephone dials, dials as far as the eye can see, somewhere in China. A real ocean – it lies there at this very moment. Or consider the gigantic billowing waves of plastic cups created by Tara Donovan in Untitled (Plastic Cups) (2006; Figure 3). In massive piles, the cups reveal properties hidden from the view of a person who uses a single cup at a time, a viscous 8




8 Aristotle, Metaphysics, 213, 217. 9 Marx, Capital 1.620. 10 Edward Burtynsky, Manufactured Landscapes: The Photographs of Edward Burtynsky. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003; Jennifer Baichwal, dir., Manufactured Landscapes. Foundry Films, National Film Board of Canada, 2006. 11 Slavoj Zizek, Enjoy Your Symptom! Jacques Lacan in Hollywood and Out. New York: Routledge, 2001, p. 209.


my sunscreen. The deep reason for why sustainability fails as a concept, then, has to do with how we are not living in a world. It is thus time to question the very term ecology, since ecology is the thinking of home, and hence world (oikos plus logos). In a reality without a home, without world, what this study calls objects constitutes reality. I here use object in the special sense reserved for it by OOO. Objects are unique. Objects can’t be reduced to smaller objects or dissolved upwards into larger ones. Objects are withdrawn from one another and from themselves. Objects are uncanny. Objects comprise an untotalizable non-whole, not-all set that defies holism and reductionism. There is thus no top object that gives all objects value and meaning, and no bottom object to which they can be reduced. If there is no top object and no bottom object, it means that we have a very strange situation in which there are more parts than there are wholes! This is what Levi Bryant calls the strange mereology of objects. Objects are like Doctor Who’s Tardis: bigger on the “inside” than they are on the “outside.” This makes holism of any kind totally impossible. Even if you bracket off a vast amount of reality, you will find that there is no top and bottom object in the small section you’ve demarcated. Even if you select only a sector of reality to study somewhere in the middle, like they do in ecological science (the mesocosm), you will also find no top or bottom object, even as pertains to that sector alone. There are not even quasi-top and quasi-bottom objects, then! It’s a bit like a magnet. If you cut it, the two halves still have a north and a south pole. There is no such thing as “half” a magnet versus a “whole” one. So why is holism such a bad idea? Surely there could be other possible holisms that adopt some version of “both-and” thinking so that neither the parts nor the whole – whatever the whole might be – are greater. Perhaps the parts are not necessarily lesser than the whole but exist in some both/ and synergistic fashion; you could have – simultaneously – “withdrawn” objects and something else ( just to satisfy our modern need for things that aren’t static, let’s say an open - ended, perhaps always-expanding something else). First, we must walk through some semi-related points about this line of questioning. It sounds like good value to have “both–and” rather than “either–or,” to our somewhat consumerist minds (buy one get one free). But I’m afraid this is a case of either–or: holism or not. As for the “open-ended” “something else,” for OOO this is just another object. Or it doesn’t exist except as an appearance-for another object. Let me explain. But first, in another sense the part–“whole” model OOO deals with is indeed a kind of “both–and.” This is the sense in which the parts are not replaceable components of the whole. The more we open up the Russian

doll of an object, the more objects we find inside. Far more than the first object in the series, because all the relations between the objects and within them also count as objects. It’s what Lacanians call a not-all set. Objects in this sense are fundamentally not subject to phallogocentric rule. What we encounter in OOO is a Badiou-like set theory in which any number of affiliations between objects can be drawn. Strictly the contents of these sorts of sets are bigger than the container. Sometimes deep ontological issues are solved by studying children’s books, so perhaps this is a good time to consider one. A children’s story called A House is a House for Me tells us something about ecology, since oikos, the root of eco-, means home. The text is a wonderful jumbly plethora of objects:

14 Mary Ann Hoberman, A House Is a House for Me. New York: Puffin Books, 2007, p. 27.

15 Mary Ann Hoberman, A House Is a House for Me. New York: Puffin Books, 2007, pp. 27, 34, 42-48.


Figure 3.

Tara Donovan, Untitled (Plastic Cups) 2006

malleability. In Donovan’s title, the cups are in parentheses, the “untitled” outside parentheses, as if to highlight the way the cups are “saying” something beyond their human use: something unspeakable or hard to speak, for a human. The title of no-title places the work both inside and outside human social and philosophical space, like a garbage dump, which the gigantic pile surely evokes. Societies embody philosophies. Actually, what we have in modernity is considerably worse than just instrumentality. Here we must depart from Heidegger. What’s worse is the location of essence in some beyond, away from any specific existence. To this extent, capitalism is itself Heideggerian! Whether we call it scientism, deconstruction, relationism, or just good old fashioned Platonic forms, there is no essence in what exists. Either the beyond is itself nonexistent (deconstruction, nihilism), or it’s some kind of real away from “here.” The problem, then, is not essentialism but this very notion of a beyond. This beyond is what Tara Donovan’s work destroys. Think of what Tony Hayward said, the CEO of BP whose callousness made international headlines. Hayward said that the Gulf of Mexico was a huge ocean, and that the spill was tiny by comparison. Nature would absorb the industrial accident. I don’t want to quibble about the relative size of ocean and spill, as if an even larger spill would somehow have gotten it into Hayward’s thick head that it was bad news. I simply want to point out the metaphysics involved in Hayward’s assertion, which we could call capitalist essentialism. The essence of reality is capital and Nature. Both exist in an ethereal beyond. Over here, where we live, is an oil spill. But don’t worry. The beyond will take care of it. 24

Meanwhile, despite Nature, despite grey goo, real things writhe and smack into one another. Some leap out because industry malfunctions, or functions only too well. Oil bursts out of its ancient sinkhole and floods the Gulf of Mexico. Gamma rays shoot out of plutonium for twenty-four thousand years. Hurricanes congeal out of massive storm systems, fed by the heat from the burning of fossil fuels. The ocean of telephone dials mounts ever higher. Paradoxically, capitalism has unleashed myriad objects upon us, in their manifold horror and sparkling splendor. Two hundred years of idealism, two hundred years of seeing humans at the center of existence, and now the objects take revenge, terrifyingly huge, ancient, long-lived, threateningly minute, invading every cell in our body. When we flush the toilet, we imagine that the U-bend takes the waste away into some ontologically alien realm. Ecology is now beginning to tell us of something very different: a flattened world without ontological U-bends. A world in which there is no “away.” Marx was partly wrong, then, when in The Communist Manifesto he claimed that in capitalism all that is solid melts into air. He didn’t see how a kind of hypersolidity oozes back in to the emptied-out space of capitalism. This oozing real comes back and can no longer be ignored, so that even when the spill is supposedly “gone and forgotten,” there, look! There it is, mile upon mile of strands of oil just below the surface, square mile upon square mile of ooze floating at the bottom of the ocean. The cosmic U-bend is no more. It can’t be gone and forgotten – even ABC News knows that now. W hen I hear the word “sustainability” I reach for 12


12 13 Levi Bryant, The Democracy of Objects. Ann Arbor: Open Humanities Press, 2011, pp. 208–227.

Cartons are houses for crackers. Castles are houses for kings. The more that I think about houses, The more things are houses for things. Home, oikos, is unstable. Who knows where it stops and starts? The poem presents us with an increasingly dizzying array of objects. They can act as homes for other objects. And of course, in turn, these homes can find themselves on the inside of other “homes.” “Home” then is purely “sensual:” it has to do with how an object finds itself inevitably on the inside of some other object. The instability of oikos, and thus of ecology itself, has to do with this feature of objects. A “house” is the way an object experiences the entity on whose interior it finds itself. So then these sorts of things are also houses: A mirror’s a house for reflections... A throat is a house for a hum... … A book is a house for a story. A rose is a house for a smell. My head is a house for a secret, A secret I never will tell. A flower’s at home in a garden. A donkey’s at home in a stall. Each creature that’s known has a house of its own And the earth is a house for us all. 15

The time of hyperobjects is the time during which we discover ourselves on the inside of some big objects (bigger than us, that is): earth, global warming, evolution, and so on. Again, that’s what the eco in ecology originally means: oikos, home. The last two lines of A House is a House for Me makes this very clear. 


Something Wild[er] suckerPUNCH

To modify nature is our nature.1 Nigel Tufnel: If we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do? Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.2 For centuries, architects and artists have been looking to nature and its patterns for design inspiration with a mixed bag of results oscillating from the mimetic to the systemic. Whether through biomimesis or the aestheticizing of natural systems, the aspiration to use nature as project generator has often fallen short of the very same beauty and complexity it invokes and strives to replicate. Expanding on an often superficial understanding of complex natural processes or systems, architectural applications have tended toward relentlessly Voronoi-patterned structures and building skins that look like dragonfly wings on speed. Rather than settle for half-hearted attempts at biomimicry, doomed to always fall short of their model, the projects presented here confront the aesthetic and cognitive boundary between the natural and the fabricated, celebrating the deviation, mutation, and augmentation that define the not-natural. The past decade has seen the same natural processes and systems emulated in the name of optimization and performance, only to leave one with the feeling that nature somehow did the same with greater elegance and ease. It is time to leave the honeycomb to the bees and to stop chasing the banyan leaf’s drip-tip. Why settle for a poor man’s version of nature, and at the same time, why settle for its relentless perfection? This collection of work sidesteps mere mimicry in favor of a souped-up version of nature, augmented and intensified in search of new forms. Exciting new effects and sensations emerge from this amplification, creating a contemporary hyper-natural aesthetic. Concurrent with the past decade’s adulation of natural systems and adoption of their forms, resultant designs have carefully denied the inconvenient truths of these systems. The continuity and precision of digital technologies almost exclusively disregarded the dirty, fractured, hairy, and animal realities celebrated by nature itself. The works here mark a retreat from the unarticulated, naked unibody, a retreat to equally calibrated and technologically advanced representations and fabrications capitalizing on grit, controlled decay, and an earthy palette. Their aesthetics are appropriately untamed, wild, and glitchy. Together these shifts shape a contemporary aesthetic that builds on natural inspiration to create a projective rather than mimetic result. Seeds of designs can begin with a natural process or visual ambition, but through mutations and shifts outside of nature, can begin to project new outcomes that are neither nature nor architecture, but something new. The wild unruliness of nature’s systems and structures is seed for a liberating, speculative language of mutations and augmentation. Formal Frankensteins are born of the sublime mash-up of unexpected assemblages, the natural breathing life into the artificial. 1 Jason Hopkins, “Posthuman Futures,” Abhominal/Posthumans, January 20, 2011, posthuman-futures. 2

This is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner (1984).


perry HALL

still from TIDAL EMPIRE (ANIMIST), 2011

LucyandBart (lucy McRAE & bart HESS) Germination (Day Eight), 2008 28

robert GILSON Quarantena

advisers: Devyn Weiser & Sir Peter Cook. 29




(n)certainties, Columbia University GSAPP (Fall 2011) adviser: Francois Roche (with Ezio Blasetti & Miranda Romer)

mengyi FAN & joseph JUSTUS Acqua Alta2 32

michael BURTON

Future Farm Foot Growths, 2007


photo: jean-charles TOMAS

Commonwealth Seltanica Light 34


Microcosmic Aquaculture

naomi OCKO & benjamin RILEY InocuLate Weep


Biostructure III, 2010 36


Returning to (Strange) Objects David Ruy


ince the mid-nineties, architecture has accelerated its move away from the discourse of the architectural object towards the discourse of the architectural field. Architects today are preoccupied with considerations of architecture as a by-product of socio-cultural milieus, as a conditional component of technocratic systems and networks, or even as the provisional end calculations of measurable parameters within the literal or construed environment. These days, it seems per fectly natural to think of architecture as a consequence of its context, however it is defined. The coordination of external force (sometimes measurable, sometimes hypothetical, and sometimes downright imaginar y) is understood to be a central concern of contemporar y practice. Those who love architecture remain ambivalent about this state of affairs. On the one hand, we see earnest desire for engagement in the affairs and conditions of the world. This desire for relevance and participation in current events has de-emphasized the architectural object and emphasized the application of architectural intelligence to a wider field of operations. It is important to emphasize that this desire is sincere, and it is difficult to find fault in the inclination to be an active participant of the world. On the other hand, operating within the larger field has resulted in the authority of the architect becoming vague and ambiguous. It has been difficult to define what exactly is meant by “architectural intelligence.” It has also been unclear whether or not such intelligence is actually needed by the “real world.” It may be a severe underestimation of the intelligence that is already operating in the world in other forms of practice. The de-emphasis of the architectural object has taken some of the magic out of architecture as attention is geared towards the facts and figures of the global network. The mysterious power of architecture is rarely spoken of today without embarrassment, but still, the loss of architecture’s significance and influence as an independent 1 Stan Allen’s concept of the “field condition” was a seminal moment in this regard. See Stan Allen, Points + Lines, Diagrams and Projects for the City. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1999, pp. 92-103.



object seems to be an ever-present source of lament. It is only in the longer view of architectural histor y that this shift from object to field seems odd because architecture has predominantly been presented throughout its histor y as a thing in the world, largely independent of external influence. This shift from architecture as a practice of embodiment (of values, idealities, or of the universe itself) to architecture as a practice of coordination is a peculiar feature of the Modernist legacy. The peculiarity of this change in interest largely escapes notice today because the contingency of architecture on external conditions seems to have become a default assumption. Considerations of the architectural object itself, independent of its context, now seem esoteric, and arguments for architecture’s autonomy are judged to be anachronistic. Though there are some notable exceptions, architects celebrate contingency more than autonomy today. The prevailing desire is for architecture to avoid being insular, form larger networks of relations, and, in general, be more engaged in the conditions of the contemporar y world. It is worthwhile to study this shift in more detail because there are some profoundly problematic assumptions in theories of the architectural field from an ontological point of view. But perhaps more tangibly, this shift has unexpectedly reshaped expectations concerning the authority of architects and the power of architecture. 2




2 At recent lectures Rem Koolhaas has been regretfully pointing out that architects never appear on the cover of Time magazine anymore. The implication is that to have more authority and influence, architects need even more engagement with the contemporary situation. But it is hard not to wonder if the reverse might be necessary, since this is already the prevailing tendency and the architect’s predicament seems to be getting even worse. 3 Without a doubt, there has always been a degree of contextualism in architecture. But I would like to make a distinction here between pre-Modern practices with those methodologies that emerged throughout the Modernist period where architectural form was determined and constrained through rational measure of external factors (zoning envelope becoming architectural form, for example). However, this is a general tendency. Many exceptions can be identified. 4 The most well-known and explicit example would be Peter Eisenman. Throughout his career, Eisenman has emphasized the autonomy of the architectural discipline. 5 Throughout the past two decades, Sanford Kwinter has made an invaluable contribution in documenting and critiquing the Modernist legacy in contemporary urbanism and architecture. His speculative theories have had a profound influence on the current generation of architects. See Sanford Kwinter, Far from Equilibrium. New York: Actar, 2008.

Both of these concerns (and they are surprisingly linked) need to be addressed in order to assess the current state of the discipline and develop an alternative to the gloomy forecasts for the practice. But before these concerns are addressed, nature must be mentioned. Although the expression of cultural values and the integration of architecture with urban fabrics are more widely recognized as contextual considerations, the urgent contextual concern today pertains to architecture’s relationship to nature. Nature is the ultimate milieu, the all-encompassing field of material phenomena. Perhaps architecture’s movement from object to field culminates in the vision of the involuted erasure of the architecture/ nature divide as a desirable outcome. In this respect, the examination of architecture’s move from object to field, at this moment in time, is also an examination of architecture’s move towards nature. It is important to consider this move from both the standpoint of architecture as a discipline and architecture as a practice. As an old discipline, architecture finds the problem of nature deeply imbedded in its histor y; nature has often been a source of architectural innovation. Starting in antiquity, accelerating through the Renaissance, and going underground in Modernism, we can find architecture looking to nature for aesthetic inspiration, formal models, and proportional constraints. Even in cases where architecture deliberately avoided nature in favor of developing an explicitly rational theor y, nature was always the sublime other bracketed by such rationality. Geometr y and proportion, form and function, and structure and ornament are some of the major disciplinar y territories that have been revolving around the problem of nature. Nature has ceased to be a mythical source of design inspiration, but continues to be mined for architectural knowledge with investigations into such things as nonlinear dynamics, self-organizing systems, genetic algorithms, and biological morphogenesis. Although some would make the objection that such investigations are not properly disciplinar y (because of their origins in science), investigations such as these continue to have as their goal the design of significant architectural objects and are rarefied experiments by a relatively small group of experts that are primarily interested in the discipline, and not the practice, of architecture. In contrast, architectural practice has not had much concern for nature until recently. Besides basic pragmatic concerns for manipulating the ground, keeping the rain out, or making sure the interior has enough light and air, the practice of architecture has been more concerned with the endless logistics of the building itself. This has 6


6 See Jeffrey Kipnis, “/Twisting the Separatrix/,” Assemblage (April, 2009). 7 Detlef Mertins has written extensively on the lesser known organicist strains of early Modernism. See Detlef Mertins, “Bioconstructivisms,” in Machining Architecture, ed. Lars Spuybroek. London: Thames & Hudson, 2004, pp. 360-369.

dramatically changed. Faced with the impending doom of global warming and environmental collapse, architectural practice has been forced to also contend with the even more impossible logistics of the environment itself. To cope with such demands, ecological theor y has necessarily entered into the architectural practice. Ecological theor y and its extension into the ethics of architecture’s material practice has outlined the imperative of sustainable practice today, and has largely replaced the disciplinar y investigations of nature that were dominant in the academy prior to Modernism. Though the words ‘nature’ and ‘ecology’ seem interchangeable in contemporar y discourse, it is important to make a critical distinction between them, insofar as ecological thought involves a ver y particular way of understanding nature. Ecological theories predominantly project systems that describe a field of discernible the individual constituents of a given relations, ecological system being of less concern than the relations themselves – so much so that even the constituents of an ecological system are themselves theorized as ecological systems in their own right (the internal ecological network of a particular human body, for example). Nature, seen through the ecological telescope, is a grand network of relations where the appearances of objects (rock, tree, frog, cloud, human, etc.) are super ficial, and the network of relations is understood to be the deeper reality. The grand finale of architecture’s movement from object to field may ver y well be the collapse of the architectural object into a field of relations that then dissolves into a general ecological field of relations that constitutes the world. And thus, architectural practice unintentionally becomes subsumed by ecological practice. Though it is difficult (and perhaps unethical) to contest the perceived sustainable imperative of the early 21st centur y, there is cause for hesitation before the prospect of architecture’s disappearance as it becomes an entirely new form of practice based on ecological thought. Sustainable politics have become forceful and monolithic in recent years, resulting in new codes and protocols for all material practices. It has become an inescapable reality that architecture now has to grapple with. But what exactly is being sustained in sustainable practice? Though critics are emerging, that which is being sustained is generally understood to be the equilibrium of human material practices in their relationship to nature. Human material practices, such as architecture, have been bombarded with criticisms (mostly fair ones) for its 8


8 Some recent ecological theorists would object to this generalization as addressing a primitive ecological project 9 An extreme version of this is the systems dynamic model of Jay Forrester constructed in 1970 while a member of the Club of Rome, a think-tank currently based in Winterthur, Switzerland. The attempt was to model the entire world as a single interrelated system. His model predicted environmental collapse in the early 21st century.


oblivious greed and short-sighted exploitation of material resources. Architecture, along with other practices (such as the manufacture of electronic products), is now required to consider the long-term equilibrium of its practice in relationship to nature. However, it is important to note that this equilibrium is an extension of the widely held belief that nature itself would be in equilibrium if not for the malevolent intervention of mankind. As if nature is like a grand calibrated clock that humans keep throwing out of sync, and it takes focused consideration to be the careful caretakers that keep it running on time. To put it more bluntly, nature is good while humans are bad. Laws and protocols are seen as necessar y in order to promote good behavior, because good behavior does not seem to come “naturally.” As an alternative to the caretaker model, perhaps the darker scenario from the standpoint of individual liberty is the idea that the world is a single ecological system or network. In such a case, the maintaining of equilibrium is tantamount to ever yone having their role in the machine (because we would be part of that system too). In other words, you are a necessar y cog within the clockwork of nature. You can’t break the machine if you’re part of the machine. And like a cog in a clock, you cannot change your relationship to the system. This is politically problematic. In response, recent ecologists have made a concerted effort to theorize emergence and change in the hypothetical systems of nature, incorporating such principles as feedback and nonlinearity to address what appears to be an obvious need to address change, novelty, and a politically necessar y condition of indeterminacy in human action. However, these theories are still problematic, and the mythological image of nature in equilibrium continues to be a dominant cultural mindset despite its obvious sentimentality. All observable evidence indicates that nature is not and never has been in a state of equilibrium. Careful observation has always revealed nature to be in a perpetual state of change. If we are to take the flux of nature seriously, we would then have to understand sustainable practice as a willful act that seeks to maintain an artificially constructed equilibrium with maximum benefit for human occupation over the long term. Because nature itself is not stable, the stability would have to be forced. If the sentimentality associated with the mythological image of nature is eliminated, the aesthetics of gentle stewardship and bias against artifice would go with it, leaving nothing but impossible questions regarding what exactly constitutes maximum benefit for human occupation, and the even more difficult questions how to construct and enforce such conditions. 10


10 See Daniel Botkin, Discordant Harmonies, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990. 11 See Adam Curtis, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, part 2: The Use and Abuse of Vegetable Concepts, DVD. BBC, 2011.


The flux and instability of nature is an astonishingly problematic condition because ecological system theories, despite their many successes, have never been able to fully account for change in networks of relations. This is where the philosopher, Graham Harman, introduces an important observation—“relationism” leaves no room for conditions in excess of those relations (by its own definition), and therefore provides an inadequate account of how change comes about. To quote Harman: 12

All of these positions overmine the object, treating it as a useless substratum easily replaced by direct manifestations. Though we claim to be speaking of objects, they are really nothing more than palpable qualities, effects on other things, or images in the mind. But there are problems with relationizing the world in this way. For one thing, if the entire world were exhausted by its current givenness, there is no reason why anything would alter. That is to say, if there is no difference between the I who is what he is and the I who is accidentally wearing a yellow shirt from India at this moment, then there is no reason why my situation should ever change. An injustice is thereby done to the future. 13

Making this provocative observation, Harman goes on to espouse greater focus on the development of an ontology of objects, and objects alone, abandoning ontologies of the mind in relationship to the world (Husserl’s phenomenology, for example among many others). In this new object oriented ontology, the human being is a being like any other (an object like any other). The provocative extension of this line of thought is the necessar y conclusion that objects withdraw from one another. To explain this initially cr yptic idea, it is necessar y to be briefly reminded of the problem previously pointed out concerning relationism. If an object could be completely exhausted by a summation of its relations, there can be no way for the object to change its relations. Therefore, there must always be something about the object that is in excess of its qualities and relations. There will always be some “dark nucleus of objects” (as Harman puts it) that is withdrawn from access by other objects. The being of the object is always more than its relations. If we pause for a moment and apply this ontological insight to the current discussion, we can suppose that the architectural object— if it is indeed unified—is always more than any summation of its internal relations. The architectural object, like any 12 Graham Harman concisely presents a critique of prevailing ontologies (relational ontologies and materialism is of particular interest here) through his denial of “undermining” and “overmining” philosophies. See Graham Harman, The Quadruple Object. Alresford: Zero Books, 2011, pp. 7-19. 13 Ibid, pp. 12-13.

object, would have that “dark nucleus” that cannot be exhausted by a list of its qualities. Going further, this object oriented ontology would have to throw the being of any relational model into doubt. Though networks and fields may continue to be eminently useful models of understanding, they carr y with them a flawed ontology. In the end, the field is not real in the same sense that the object is. None of this suggests the abandonment of all field models, however, we can conclude that field models cannot be legitimized as a deeper way of understanding the thing in front of us; it is, upon analysis, quite the opposite. We can continue to incorporate field models for their usefulness, but should remind ourselves that they are artificial constructions. Perhaps most astonishing in this object oriented ontology is that two terms that have been used liberally throughout this current discussion, “nature” and “world,” are themselves not real objects. What we refer to as “nature” or the “world” is comprised of real objects (this frog, that tree, this river, that building), but the hypothetical super-container of them all is actually not a real object (it is a false unity). In this respect, Harman’s object oriented ontology opens up a unique possibility of rethinking the peculiar problems associated with the problem of nature. A return to the object would have to be understood as a turning away from a mythological or sentimental understanding of nature and a turn towards the particularities and the essential strangeness of the objects themselves. Just as Timothy Morton in ecological criticism sees the need to investigate the possibilities of an “ecology without nature,” we may also want to investigate the possibilities of an architecture without nature. It must be emphasized that this does not mean the abandonment of interest in current environmental problems. In fact, it is the reverse: the intensification of interest in studying the particularities of the problems ahead of us. Abandoning idealisms of nature, we are left with greater interest and focus on the objects of nature themselves. We would start to think that the particularities of the objects are not meaningless accidental features, but imbricated with their being. There would also be a productive indeterminacy in our consideration of objects because we would recognize that objects are always to some degree withdrawn and strange. While thinking about this object oriented ontology, it is fascinating to finally consider how the architect is to be understood. Assuming, for a moment, that the architectural object is unified as an object, what is the architect doing exactly in making such objects? Remember that the architect is also an object in this ontology – not an enlightened mind outside of the world of objects giving form 14

14 See Timothy Morton, Ecology without Nature. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007.

to formless matter. The making process is something ver y different in this scenario than what we’re used to. Perhaps “making” is not even the appropriate word anymore. It is impossible here to do full justice to this emerging movement in contemporar y philosophy, but the primar y intention here is to indicate possible alternatives to the idea of architecture as a field of relations, and describe some initial speculations about what it might mean to return the focus to the architectural object itself. A return to the architectural object as a disciplinar y priority cannot be a nostalgic return to pre-modern academic obsessions with character, propriety, and the idealities of compositional balance. Nor is this return to the object a simple return to figuration and detached massing. “Object” here should not be understood in a literal sense. Much of what has been learned throughout Modernism is now invaluable, or at the ver y least, indispensable to architecture’s possibility of being in the world. A return to the architectural object, strange as it may be, is not a call to rewind the tape of histor y, but instead a call to carefully avoid what might be unproductive dead ends in current directions, due to an ill-conceived ontological foundation. A renewed focus on the architectural object itself should not fetishize the discipline’s histor y, but instead be a recognition of what is withdrawn and strange in the architectural object’s interaction with other objects (including the human being, but also non-human beings) as we continue our current practices of making new objects. A return to the architectural object would move interest back to the thing itself. Obvious enough. But this is not so obvious given architecture’s tendency to illustrate theor y through practice. In other words, architecture has a tendency to consider theor y as somehow being more important (or real) than the project through which it manifests itself. A return to the architectural object suggests that theor y is always retroactive to the architectural object, and is itself another form of making. Architectural theor y would always have to be retroactive because if indeed the architectural object is real, there will always be something about the architectural object that will be withdrawn from theoretical access. However, as a form of making in its own right, the production of architectural theor y may be less constrained and more creative than it has been of late. By relaxing hang-ups over legitimacy, the interaction between the architectural theorist and the architect might possibly be more promiscuous and produce more children. For the maker of the architectural object, the idea of the muse continues to be absurd, but muse-like ideas of intuition or phenomenal sensitivity persist because creativity continues to be perplexing and mysterious. In the language of object oriented ontology, the strange, withdrawn interaction between objects sometimes 41

brings forth a new object. To apply it to the problem at hand, in the interaction between the architect, as object, and other objects (be it a place, a material, a piece of software, or a preexisting theor y) a new object sometimes appears. What exactly happened in this interaction will be to some degree occluded. In other words, a successful object-making event cannot be completely encapsulated by a methodology that might repeat the success. Good architects have known this for a ver y long time. Perhaps this is just a new way of confirming some old thoughts through a novel ontology. It would also have to be recognized in this line of thought that there is a lot more to craft than is generally thought. As a non-theoretical interaction between the maker (as object) and the various objects of the making process, “craft” is the ambiguous word that has, in the past, identified the peculiar expertise of the maker in its relationship to materials. The relationship is somewhat visible through evident techniques, but again, the interaction is strange, as the objects are withdrawn from complete access to each other. In this line of thought, the authority of the maker does not originate out of a certification according to generalized standards, the authority of the craftsman comes from the strange individuality of the maker. There is something about the master craftsman, as object, that cannot be reduced to a set of qualities, and is irreproducible. If the architect, as object, could be reduced to a set of qualities, it seems per fectly natural to see the authority of individual instances of the architect compromised. In fact, why don’t we go ahead and implant all of those qualities into an artificial intelligence and have as many architects as we want? Is it just a technical problem of programming the artificial intelligence? Or, more likely, is it a fundamental problem of never being able to completely encapsulate the architect (again, as object) through a list of its qualities? As difficult it may be to accept, the individuality of the architect, on a deep ontological level, needs to be recognized in order to claim more authority because ever y maker then is a one of a kind. Finally, with regard to the power of architecture, the manifold meanings and conflicting interpretations of the architectural object need to be recognized not as undesirable misinterpretations and accidents of perception but as strange, but real, interactions between objects. Because the interactions between objects are irreducible to a finite set of discernible relationships, the interactions are unpredictable and strange. “Meaning” understood as a consequence of interaction then cannot be critiqued in terms of proper and improper interaction. The multiplication of signification through the interaction of strange objects signals again what can be thought of as an old thought, that the mysterious power of the architectural object persists beyond individual readings or individual interpretations. 42

The compromise of the architect’s authority and the diminishing of architecture’s power through the dissolution of the architectural object into a field of discernable relations seems to be an accidental, selfinflicted wound. Through the sincere desire to be more in the world, architecture may have accidentally turned away from the ver y real objects right in front of it, including the architectural object itself. The full implications of this nascent ontology remain to be seen. At the ver y least, however, there seem to be strong reasons for considering the significance of the architectural object once again,  and reflect upon its strangeness.

Synthetic Ecology: Recomputing Nature Alisa Andrasek with José Cadilhe


oday's world agenda is profoundly concerned with climate change and global warming, and the debate is strongly raising the urgency to address notions of ecology in design practices. Nonetheless, current approaches to sustainability – energy certifications, "eco" and "green" nomenclatures – are reductive, and insufficient to respond to these demands. Thus, they are mainly answering to indexes and percentages, exploring hi-tech facades and performances of single building systems in isolation from others. While in fact, there is an opportunity to "understand buildings as producers of nature (...) more than just the chemical and physical metabolisms of nature inside of buildings.” In this context, Slavoj Zizek claims that we need a new ecology – ecology without nature. Ecology is taking a conservative role in society, based on the romantic ideal of nature as the "balanced order of self-reproduction whose homeostasis is disturbed, thrown off the rails by the imbalanced human interventions." Along those lines, Timothy Morton writes that "ecological thought can't say what nature is" because it would remain an ideal or conservative concept, almost like a myth. “Indeed, what we need is ecology without nature: the ultimate obstacle to protecting nature is the very notion of nature that we rely on." Nature is not a balanced and harmonious entity that is in stasis but a complex system that can evolve through events with catastrophic proportions. Therefore, the built environment and architecture can be addressed as proactive contributors to the ever changing and evolving ecological network. The synthetic turns out to be part of nature, participating in and manipulating existing conditions to improve all the processes already present, raising the ecosystem's complexity. 1




1 David Gissen, “APE” in Design Ecologies - Essays on the Nature of Design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010, p. 63.
 2 Slavoj Zizek, Censorship Today: Violence, or Ecology as a New Opium for the Masses. Lacan, 2007, <>.
 3 Timothy Morton, Ecological Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010, p. 35. 4 Slavoj Zizek, Censorship Today: Violence, or Ecology as a New Opium for the Masses. Lacan, 2007, <>.

Through recent simulation technologies run via extreme computing, it is becoming possible to access behavioral tendencies of matter at a finer grain. Discoveries in material science can now be incorporated through simulations into massive resolution material speculations in architecture, opening doors for rich synthesis. Embedding real time processing of the physics of matter into design-search space enables the designer to work with the levels of material intricacy and resolution found in complex systems in nature (think mutability of crystal growth, fine porosity of coral reefs, or intricate distribution of thermal flows through termite structures as qualities of newly synthesized built fabrics). Instead of designing at the order of scale of rooms and middle scale structure, architecture descends into the cellular grain of matter: transmission of light, heat, vapor, and friction. Simultaneously, found, site-specific, physics of processes such as massive scale erosion and sedimentation in coastlines, or ice melting, can be incorporated as building blocks of architecture. Such architecture is drawing on large data from the finer-grain physics of matter: matter as information, enabled by computation. This new speculative image of matter reveals things that go beyond established concepts of “nature,” via matter as information, matter as an active agency, and matter as strange and unnatural. These tendencies affect both technically enriched material formations (through transformations in fabrication and manufacturing), but also activate previously hidden material powers toward designs beyond our anticipations in both formal imagination and performance. Moreover, challenging traditional notions of material and structural optimizations, new systems are designed with increased resiliency, plasticity, and malleability of complex ecologies. Finally, it allows for speculative proposals of unprecedented nature, complexity, intricacy, and scale...


Fissures: Port Terminal, Kaohsiung Taiwan

Inorganic synthesis feigning organic vitality -Reza Negarestani on Biothing (2010) Mathematics of fractals is frequently used to calculate coastline behavior, given variable degrees of “roughness” and multiple orders of scale in natural coastlines. Fissures Port Terminal project reflects the idea of such a complex articulation within the tectonics of the building. The fabric of the architecture is highly heterogeneous, structured through rapid changes in textures and experiences, unfolding a multiplicity of parallel environments within a single building. In Fissures, highly constrained facade details are based on precise robotic manufacturing specifications synthesized with logics of multi-agent systems based on swarming behaviors found in flocks of birds, schools of fish, and the like. The result is a facade design resonating with the complexity of “natural” formations, and yet is extremely “unnatural”... The experience of such a facade would be strange since it would seem very familiar and yet very counter-intuitive given its underlying mathematical order. Tall narrow “canyons” act simultaneously as light wells for the building as well as shading elements, providing an abundance of light while preventing overheating. The waterside arrival sequence is accentuated by the strong “fissure” facade with deeper folds as receptacles for jetways 8


Figure 1.

Biothing / Phosphorescence

Phosphorescence: Pop Music Centre, Kaohsiung Taiwan

Speculative Material Agency Biothing’s work and academic research addresses these resources as architectural opportunities that reveal new forms of experimentation and the emergence of novel design sensibility. According to Lambros Malafouris, “the only available starting and obligatory point of passage for the emergence and determination of agency is that of material engagement.” 5

We should point out that Biothing as an ‘open’ approach cannot be encoded or in any way prepared in advance. Even the computational core of the project, i.e. the so-called Genware, can claim temporal but not ontological priority over the project’s branches and creatures. For everything that grows out of this ‘library of seeds’ will in turn change something of its initial structure. Biothing’s creatures do not live on the outside but within their emergent cosmos. Once materialized their relationship with their surrounding world is not that of a fixed boundary that encloses and divides space but instead of a porous surface, or else, a boundary that serves as a connecting interface. It is a dynamic world of formative and transformative processes and movements that constantly generate new formations, swellings, growths, and protuberances. 6

5 Lambros Malafouris, “At the Potter’s Wheel: An argument for Material Agency” in Material Agency: Towards a non-anthropocentric perspective. New York: Springer, 2008, p. 23. 6 Lambros Malafouris, “VitalMateriality/Biothing” in Biothing CollectionFRACCentre:HYX, 2009, p. 38.


An example of the synthetic binding of agencies of various origins – hydrological, chemical, biological, climatic, and cultural, could be observed in Biothing’s “Phosphorescence” project. The site is located within a tropical clime, where public life flourishes during the night. The culture of night markets and nightlife in general is very popular, accompanied by electrified street lightscapes. In such a context, the project attempts to resonate with ingredients of local urban phenomena, the aesthetics of which are very compatible with colorful light choreographies of Taiwanese pop-music culture. At the same time, it addresses the contamination of water and soil conditions at the formerly industrial location. Current research shows that implementation of underwater LED lights has a major accelerating impact on the growth of algae. Plants are used neither as a decorative nor a “green aesthetic” element but as a material that is recomputed to achieve new performative behaviors. Farming algae in symbiosis with LED light fields generates a lightscape new to the Taiwanese streets, and expresses a new material ecology where pop meets sustainability: culture fuses into nature. Remediation processes are not hidden, but revealed and activated as design elements. The site glows and shimmers resonating experiences found in pop culture. A magnetic masterplanning network extends the city fabric into the sea through the fibers of underwater lights laced throughout the site. 7

8 Biothing, <>. 9 Manufacturing specifications observed from the processes developed by FibreC by Rieder.

for arriving and departing passengers. Tidal fluctuations and the arrival of larger boats create water movements and waves that crash against the seaside facade of the building. Passengers are transferred into the building through the first fissure, which is a cooling water garden where water gushes in, producing sound events. The proportions of extremely long and tall spaces with “canyon-like” glazed surfacing produce a poly-dimensional experience: a crystalline fabric. Additionally, in a design for bridge-like floor plates, intricate tectonics enable distributed and redundant signaling through lighting systems that can produce more intuitive legibility for the circulation of the passengers. A population of lighting particles embedded into the floors and ceilings could be programmed to respond to increased crowd migration through the terminals. They constitute material qualities of environments – a slowed down lighting storm embedded into the fabric of the architecture. In parallel, academic research directed by Andrasek at the Design Research Laboratory at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London under the “Proto/e/co/logy” agenda has engaged this notion of synthetic ecology. Computational algorithms and the introduction of agency, noise, and redundancy become part of a speculative approach that achieves different orders of complexity and performance. Moreover, distributed design systems open new Top Left: Top Right: Bottom:

Biothing / Fissures Interior Biothing / Fissures Exterior Biothing / Fissures

7 BioThing, Competition entry for the Pop Music Centre in Kaohsiung Taiwan, 2010, (


Figure 5.

Plug In / Endemic Interstices

opportunities to engage large data sets to model behavioral features and systemic approaches to materiality. Therefore, matter acquires active agency in the process of becoming, instead of being treated as a passive design ingredient. Both information and materiality broaden the architectural scope towards material ecology. Going away from the division of natural v. artificial, design becomes a catalytic agency in the process of amplifying found environments and synthesizing new ones. The concept of nature opens towards synthesis of new kind of naturespace- synthetic ecologies in this case recomputed through the emerging protocols of architecture. Endemic Interstices (from a thesis statement of the project)

Endemic Interstices targets the production of proto-architectural entities as a bottom up system with the capacity to self structure, adapt and coevolve within the environment considering natural resources as part of a tectonic system. The project aims to create synthetic ecologies by harvesting the physics of natural processes not only as a design generator but also as a tool for fabricating complex formations by computation of matter. Hence the need to tap into the field of nonlinear dynamics, more explicitly into matter predisposition to self organize in rich complex patterns.

Figure 6.

Plug In / Endemic Interstices

In fact, “the research reconsiders the potential of earth in architecture, however, the main focus is not on the potential of becoming the building block, but instead on

the soil behavior under varied environmental conditions.” Therefore, by analyzing soil cracks, this research proposes a prototypical system that negotiates cracking physics, energy information, and a “constant flux” of matter as part of the construction process. The physics of mud cracking was captured using computational physics and large data sets processed through the synthetics of computational time and used as formwork for the construction of highly intricate

10 Plug In (DRL team composed by Daghan Cam, Ulak Ha, Alexandre Kuroda and Karoly Markos), Endemic Interstices, Master Thesis in Architecture and Urbanism – Design Research Laboratory. London: Architectural Association School of Architecture, 2012, p. 28.

11 Ibid., p. 14. 12 Lambros Malafouris, “At the Potter’s Wheel: An argument for Material Agency” in Material Agency: Towards a non-anthropocentric perspective. New York: Springer, 2008, p. 35.





Figure 7.

Plug In / Endemic Interstices


Figure 8.

Blue / Natural Prosthesis

structures which would be nearly impossible (and irrational) to produce through conventional construction methods – especially on the proposed sites without access to high technologies. This approach captures what Stuart Kauffman refers to as complex “order for free.” Moreover, a non linear fabrication system – “Cast in Crack” – is taking advantage of matter to achieve intricate organizations and a series of crack patterns that could later be triggered strategically through geological composition and achieve different performances and emergent properties as they are related to the non-linear dynamism of local conditions and climate. Further location-based physics (such as humidity collection through the pores of such a structure, learned from vernacular architecture on sites characterized by water scarcity), local winds, and the like, were incorporated into a design process through simulation. These “adaptive strategies” resonate with morphological characteristics and ingredients such as density, porosity, and size of the crack fabric. Apart from physics, local culture and practices of collective construction with mud are taken into account. Here, material agency is profoundly related to the computational simulation but also to the information of the host environment. Together they generate synthetic ecologies as a synthesis between the natural and the artificial.

Natural Prosthesis

13 Stuart Kauffman, “Order for free” in At Home in the Universe. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press USA, 1995, p. 71 14 Plug In, Endemic Interstices, Master Thesis in Architecture and Urbanism – Design Research Laboratory. London: Architectural Association School of Architecture, 2012, p. 166.

15 Lambros Malafouris, “At the Potter’s Wheel: An argument for Material Agency” in Material Agency: Towards a non-anthropocentric perspective. New York: Springer, 2008, p. 24. 16 Timothy Morton, Ecological Thought. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010, p. 47.




Similarly, “Blue” developed a body of research entitled “Natural Prosthesis,” highlighting architecture as a proactive participant in the recomputation of existing ecosystems and landscapes, raising different forms of political understanding of the territory. This proto-system inputs large data sets from its host environment through simulations and 3D scanning tools. Reading water depth and velocity, types of terrain, vegetation, and
possibilities to increase sedimentation, a “dance of agency” highlights different potentials in the site such as grass fields, oyster farming, or inhabitable spaces; outputs that could later grow and evolve by increasing the activation percentage of the system. Increasing the resolution and zooming in, the agents start clustering around areas with high velocity and proximity to the riverbanks following the main directions of the water forces, and within their neighborhoods and hierarchical orders emergent structural organizations are defined according to physics but with minimal local impact. As a result, global and large-scale effects are achieved such as new land formations and biodiversity enhancement. Ecology is also related to the notion of “coexistentialism.” Therefore, it became particularly relevant to explore how different agencies could inhabit the same territory, negotiating its specificities and speculating about non-anthropocentric architectural models. Fish, migratory birds, bivalves, and people were all agencies taken into consideration as 15


Figure 10.

Blue / Natural Prosthesis


A More Monumental, Non-Naturalistic Environment David Gissen

F Figure 9.

Blue / Natural Prosthesis

fundamental to engaging architectural intent and defining spaces, structures, and different orders of scale. To reinforce some elements, biorock aggregation is activated under the water, while an expandable bio-foam system that works with sweating pipes is activated above the water. These pipes have a very important role because they are defined with different patterns to generate and control foam expansion, aggregation, and textures. “The emergent behaviour of the foam was potentiated and enabled interesting structural performances, fundamental to providing closed spaces with “flexible and resilient properties.” Natural Prosthesis also engages materiality as a political and environmental statement, a social stimulus that promotes awareness and proactive attitudes within society. Material agency becomes an artificial expression of political and environmental concerns to critically address its impact in the environment and the need to change current methods of production. 17

The Architectural Synthesis of (New Kinds of) Nature The observed examples highlight alternative modes for an architecture that uses computation and algorithmic power not only as tools to speculate new design opportunities but also as novel ways to address material agency and new forms of experimentation. Furthermore, they reveal new paradigms in engaging architecture within a vast ecological network, establishing active feedback with its surroundings. Nature as a balanced and harmonious system does 17 Blue (team composed by: José Cadilhe, Julia Almeida, Michail Desyllas, Salih Topal), Natural Prosthesis, Master Thesis in Architecture and Urbanism – Design Research Laboratory. London: Architectural Association School of Architecture, 2012, p. 157.


not exist; it is an unpredictable massive force where the catastrophic event is part of its internal logic. Instead of trying to employ science and regulations to control or preserve the "pure version" of nature, we could embrace the pressures and increasing complexity in which built environments need to operate. Open synthesis with kernel in computational turn has a potency to bind myriad agencies, human/non-human, natural/artificial. The built environment is not something outside nature but a crucial part of the ecological realm. Scientific breakthroughs and technology as part of our culture are already embedded within nature proper. Ecology embraces nature and man-made structures almost identically, which then provides an opportunity to define architecture as a series of creative protocols that embrace and amplify the physics of nature and synthesize new environments – "at the same time entirely natural and entirely artificial." Consequently, architecture cannot only be an active agency in the promotion of a better environment but also in the recomputation of complex ecologies where host environments get enhanced in its properties. Ultimately, the protocols of architecture become a synthetic producer of new kinds of nature.  18


18 Anneliese Latz, “Regenerative Landscapes - Remediating Places” in Design Ecologies - Essays on the Nature of Design. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2010, p. 194. 19 Ibid.

or the past five years, I have been interested in writing about and visualizing a conception of environment within architecture that is more historical than statistical, more representational than affective, more thing than flow, and more resolutely monumental than pervasive. I would contrast this monumental and historical idea of environment to the ways in which the concept of environment is generally positioned within contemporary architectural practice. Today, architects often utilize the concept of “environment” to invoke a pre-representational realm of flows and forces – natural, scientific, social, political, even mystical. Such a concept of environment appears most clearly in the vectored graphics architects use to visualize an environment – those little arrows that typically represent the movement of air, heat, or water. In some cases, the environmental vector becomes a metaphor for less naturalistic forces - via charts and statistics or other external realms through which architecture responds or emerges. Such an environmentidea appears as a sack of quivering data. It contains a pronounced present-ness via the language of physical forces and information, whether we examine the air over a 19th century city, the path of ice in the arctic, or the exchange of capital in the beginning of the 21st century. Many architects imagine all of these things – swirling around architecture, impacting architecture and the physiology of its subjects in a totalizing and immediate manner. Architects interested in nature and data are not the only ones chained to the movements of environmental flow. Various computationally situated and neo-expressionist architectural approaches also site their work within the environmental vector, but with a more intense mystification of the source. Extending through writings on animate form, fields, and neo-baroque affectual aesthetics, the form, subjects, and representational techniques of these theoretical approaches also become imprinted with vectored pathways. This work sublimates these latter aspects of architecture into a vitalistic milieu but with a more super-natural and animist aura, versus the architectural environmentalist’s or geographer’s more natural and social orientation. Architecture appears as so deeply immersed within its setting – or the impressions

that it puts upon a viewing subject – that the distinction between object and context collapses. Ironically, the most ardent naturalistic environmentalists and computational aesthetes share a very close vision of the context within which their work emerges – a thick space of force and prerepresentational influences on the subject. To think past the vectored environment in architecture is to think past the scientific, technological, and naturalistic sublimation that dominates our understanding and experience of environments. It requires us to understand both an environment within which architecture is set, and one that is within architecture as something other than trajectories, flux, and molecules. For me, this would imply a partially Kantian concept of environment – rooted in understanding environment with an aesthetic emphasis. In his discussion of the perception of the ocean, Kant wrote that we have a more aesthetic sense of it when we forget its scientifically defined contents and uses (the structure of its currents, its role as a biological realm, or a site of commerce) and begin understanding it as both a form and as a series of a-scientific impressions. In this specific case, the ocean takes on a monumental character as we become aware of it as something other than a pathway, a context for life, or as a system of wave frequencies. In the context of architecture and environment, I am interested in aesthetics as a type of a-scientific form of experiential understanding that can begin to lend environment a monumental, potentially more object-like character. To achieve a monumental sense of environment via conceptions of Kantian aesthetic distance would be intensely paradoxical. To continue with the ocean example, it would require us to understand the ocean as a thing – in a Kantian sense – but it would also at the same time require us to understand its possibility as an environment – the setting for life and the living. Thus, this desire to monumentalize and objectify environment contains several powerful and interesting tensions: monumentality typically requires visibility, form, and a separation between subject and object such that the object emerges as a distinct figure. Yet, from a scientific viewpoint, environment can never be 51

Reconstruction of the Mound of Vendome

Pittsburgh Reconstruction

fully removed from the subject. The idea of environment from Comte to Darwin to Canguilhem is completely reliant on the immersion of the subject. We can gaze at other objectified environments that we are not obviously attached to, for example, when we look at fish in a fish tank, to cite one of many examples. But we still observe environment as the context for life – the fish tank is simply a type of theater of environment that reflects and reaffirms our own experience of milieux as something we exist within. Within the fishtank, the water inside the tank becomes analogous to the air we breathe. Environment is pervasive, and within a liberal philosophical context all things emerge from their environment. The living and its environments stick to each other. A more radically socialist perspective considers the environment to be endlessly created by its subjects and pluralistic – versus homogenous and given. This gives us a much more satisfying idea of environments that are in endless production and that we may produce. But whether a more liberal or radical concept of environment, environment and subject appear to share an inseparable union. I think one way to resolve this paradox would be to both eliminate the intense naturalism and scientism within architectural invocations of environment, and to also unhinge the idea of environment from the present-tense of its subjects. That is, environment appears partially disconnected 52

from any instrumental use for both our life and the present life of other beings – like a fish tank without its fish – but that holds the potential to function as a setting for life. It’s not that this monumental concept of environment is dead; rather, it does not aestheticize or invoke an environment as the absolute context for contemporary life. There is a disconnect between what we understand as an environment and the lives of the subjects who gaze upon it or are within it. A monumental environment might invoke, reconstruct or represent environments that have vanished from the context of the city or that await a life that is yet to be lived. It is an environment that may point the way to some life we lived (past-tense) or are not yet living. I’ll offer some examples of the latter possibilities of monumental environments from my own experimental historical projects, but these are meant as examples rather than absolutes. What the monumental environment can be or become extends beyond the particular historical and reconstruction-ist bent of these two examples. Nevertheless, these two projects point to some possibilities for the monumentalized environment.

Pittsburgh Reconstruction: Imagine the smoke that once hovered over an industrial city reconstructed as a figure and in isolation over the present context of the city. Against the sealed towers of the contemporary city, the smoke can no longer be read as quite the same devastating milieu it once was. It may serve to visualize an environment that is no more and enable us to understand our own carbon-saturated environment as something that may, one day, pass into history as well. Reconstruction of the Mound of Vendôme: Imagine an environment that invokes a more revolutionary environmental and socio-natural scenario: in the center of the Place Vendome wrapped around the base of Napoleon’s column is a glass box dotted with holes, such as one may find in a natural history museum or zoo and that typically holds plants or animals. Inside is a monumental mound of lifeless dirt. The mound is a reconstruction of the one built there by members of the 1871 Paris Commune. The Communards created this mound of dirt as a type of cushion for when they toppled Napoleon’s column – a hated symbol of war and imperialism – to the ground. The contemporary glass box and its dirt mound stands there under the rebuilt column as both an object of the past and a possible future in which that column

will be moved or will no longer exist – an environment with a type of revolutionary history and potential. Of course, there are many other possibilities for a monumental historical environment to be visualized and examined within architecture. These two examples and the above outline begin to suggest how environments might become unhinged from visualizations of naturalism, animism, and present-ism. I believe the absence of these things within a setting that we still understand as an environment lends environments a type of grandeur or magnitude of aesthetic meaning that I label “monumental.” These projects and the above, brief essay also suggest the paradoxes of producing environments outside of scientism, super-naturalism, and present-ism. Whatever the paradoxes, our contemporary socio-natural and environmental anxieties, as well as our progressive political aestheticizations of environment, deserve a monumental response as much as the pervasive realist one, and much more than one of escapist mystification. 


The Space of the Stomach – Rungis, Ile de France, 1969/c 2009 Meredith TenHoor

Photograph of market buildings at Rungis, 1968. Source: Techniques et Architecture 30, no. 3 (1969): 88.

Anyone who eats in Paris consumes traces of the Rungis International Wholesale Market, a filter and conduit for most food that enters the region. Rungis opened in 1969 as a replacement for Central Paris’s obsolescent food markets at Les Halles. Designed by Beaux-Arts trained architects Henri Colboc and Georges Philippe, Rungis was a testament to centralization, technocratic planning, reinforced concrete and machine operated modernity. In the 1960s, planners dreamed that it would not just put an end to the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions at Les Halles but also, through the use of both regulation and information technologies, make food into a cheap, standardized commodity. This would in turn leave room in household budgets for purchases of other consumer goods. Something decidedly not natural would make way for new modes of consumption. Sustaining life cheaply shifted the ground of politics from bodies to desire. Rungis would be a catalyst for the transition from a Fordist to a yet-to-bearticulated post-Fordist regime. The market is a place where the biopolitics of food are articulated in space and time, where architectural decision-

making transforms the art of sustenance. Rungis is entirely present inside Parisian bodies, and necessary to sustain them. But Rungis market itself is some distance outside of the city, located anonymously behind Orly airport, invisible and undetectable to all but the people who work there. What is this unnatural place that defines one of our most primary means of accessing nature? What follows is a brief tour.

The bus drops off passengers at the “Restaurant Bridge,” a place once meant to be a panoramic showcase of the market for tourists. That program has long since been abandoned; a market as functional as Rungis seems no place for leisure. Fortunately for the hungry, someone is selling croissants from a kiosk below.


1 I have described how Rungis transformed consumption in France in the following articles: “Decree, Design, Exhibit, Consume: Making Modern Markets in France, 1953-79” in Governing by Design: Architecture, Economy, and Politics in the Twentieth Century, eds. Arindam Dutta, Timothy Hyde, Daniel M. Abramson. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, Spring 2012, and “Architecture and Biopolitics at Les Halles” French Politics, Culture and Society, Vol. 25 Issue 2, 2007.


Courtesy RATP, 2005.

Tourists are not generally allowed in Rungis market; you can’t simply drive in. The easiest way to visit is to follow people who work there. They take the 216 bus. It slips through Paris without stopping, hops on the highway, slides through a thicket of unmarked corporate buildings and abandoned construction sites. There is a pause alongside an empty field. Office workers and a few women with children descend and purposefully walk to invisible destinations. You finally reach Rungis a few moments later.

Plans for a panoramic restaurant at Rungis, c 1972. Source: Archives Départementales du Val-de-Marne, Créteil, France, archive 2447 W, box 667.


The technocratic vision of a market without organs designed during the 1960s is everywhere violated today. Shirtless men and gleaners amble through truck lanes. Open-air toilets, designed to allow truck drivers quick relief and back on the road, are as unhygienic as they come.

Restricted parking places are reclaimed by vegetables. Fruits become graffiti.



In the icy fish and seafood pavilion, fish are kept in a permanent state of fresh death. Plexiglass booths shield workers’ bodies from the same fate. Telephones are conduits for negotiations between the two zones. Fruit and vegetable pavilions.

Michel Foucault coined the term “biopolitics” to describe the investment of the French government in maintaining the health and life of its citizens. Once it seemed technically possible to foster or diminish the possibility of survival, new political discourses could emerge – not just about health, but about the realms of experience which could and could not be governed. To articulate the operations of these politics, Foucault always described material spaces (the eighteenth century hospital, prisons) which served as metaphors for power relations. The marketplace, too, is one of these spaces – indeed it is the ur­-site of western treatises of political economy. But if the material serves as a resource around which concepts of modern forms of power can take shape and be debated, what then of the spaces that created these discourses? 2

The uses of space are endlessly varied and complex, exceeding the shared language of theory, or even photography. A logic of extraction could then be said to govern both the relationship between theory and space and between sustenance and nature: theories of political economy


experience of space


Rungis touches both of these equations: nature is made into sustenance and the market becomes a cipher for political economy in France. (President Sarkozy always visits when he wants to make a point about hard work.)

2 See Foucault, Michel, Blandine Barret-Kriegel, Anne Thalamy, François Béguin and Bruno Fortier, Les Machines à Guérir : aux Origines de l’Hôpital Moderne. (Paris: L’institut de l’environnement, 1976) and Michel Foucault, Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the College De France, 1977-78. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.



Further Exclamations on Lemurian Fauna with Brief Notes for a Botanical Martyrology

The Case of Philibert Commerson, Pierre Sonnerat, and Daubentonia madagascariensis by

Edward Eigen

AI’AY’, s. The Aye-aye, a singular nocturnal animal endemic in Madagascar, to capture which, the natives say, causes illness or death. Same as AHAY (Betsim.), and HAIHAY [Antsih.]. Supposed to receive its name from its peculiar cry. Cheiromys madagascariensis—Rev. James Richardson, A New Malagasy-English Dictionary (Antananarivo: The London Missionary Society, 1885).

“T Yet that equation only seems to reflect the biopolitical optic of Rungis’s architects and planners in the late 1960s, one which cleaved life into separate domains of nature and information. Their dreams of a bloodless post-Fordist informational economy were rendered architecturally at Rungis. But as these photographs show, the market did not quite comply. Labor is manual. The biological still intervenes. Rather than read this as a failure, we should use the market that exists to generate a new biopolitics. Somewhere between the shark’s skin and sharkskin suit, excess, waste, rot and very material human labor are hooked up to loading docks, biodiesel trucks, forklifts, and handheld scanners and together they make a provisioning apparatus. I visit and revisit Rungis because it is both theoretical and material: a resource through which we live and a resource for conversations about how we want to do so. 

he time had come,” Émile Blanchard wrote of the arrival of naturaliste-voyageur Philibert Commerson on Madagascar, “when the large island was visited by a true observer.” Before as well as after Commerson (1727–1773), adventurers in remote realms on the map and in the mind, bent on commerce, colonization, and guarded contact with the unknown produced fearfully and enticingly misleading accounts of this long-misplaced continental fragment. Blanchard, for his part, had made a name for himself during an entomological expedition to Sicily, collecting specimens for the Muséum d’Histoire naturelle of Paris. His traveling companion, the zoologist Armand de Quatrefages, commemorated the voyage in his lively Souvenirs d’un Naturaliste (1854), in which descriptions of the ruins of Agrigentum and the nervous system of gasteropodous mollusks were complimented by accounts of the daring submarine explorations made by the expedition’s chief, Henri Milne-Edwards. Commerson voyaged far beyond the Mediterranean’s classical waters. But when, in the nineteenth century, the ornithologist and pioneering zoogeographer Philip Lutley Sclater put a word to his darkly alluring destination, it was one of distinctly ancient Roman inspiration: “I should propose the name Lemuria!” The significance of Sclater’s excited proposition is not only to be sought in the name he conferred on Madagascar. It is equally, and perhaps especially, to be found in the slender exclamation mark, a sure and visible sign that he knew of what he spoke. The seeming misnomer, “Lemuria,” led the mammalogist William Henry Flower to suggest that “the history of a name is often 1


1 Émile Blanchard, “L’Île de Madagascar,” Revue des Deux Mondes 100 (July 1, 1872): 72. [40–75]. 2 Philip Lutley Sclater, “The Mammals of Madagascar,” The Quarterly Journal of Science 1 (April 1864): 219 [213–219]. On the theory of origin of Madagascar as a fragment of Gondwána-Land, see Eduard Suess, Das Antlitz der Erde, vol. 1 (Prague: F. Tempsky, 1885), 768.


not a little curious.” Although the steps are not numerous, he writes, it might puzzle a classical scholar, ignorant of zoology, to explain the connection between the island of Lemuria and the Roman festival of that name. It was the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus who connected the image of Lemures, the restless spirits of the departed, to the most curious of the singular creatures found on Madagascar, on account of its nocturnal habits and ghost-like aspect. These were animals, which, almost needless to say, Linnaeus had never seen. They existed for him in the haunted realm of natural history, in which Latin binomials unequivocally stood in for beings often described or merely mentioned by others. The botanical explorer Carl Friedrich Philipp von Martius provides an image of Linnaeus firmly planted in the remote academic fastness of Uppsala, “at the writing table of a small room, from which the dictator of natural history sends throughout the world his works written in that terse, genial Latin in which his whole self is mirrored.” All the world, it would seem, looked to Linnaeus, Knight of the Order of the Polar Star, for a means of sorting out the confusing play of likeness and unlikeness that animates the “theater of nature.” Yet whether Linnaeus was a dictator or rather a wise and impartial legislator was a matter of much partisan debate. In Paris, GeorgesLouis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, sternly warned of the tendency of systematic arrangements, in particular the sexual system, to “impose on the reality of the Creator’s works the abstractions of the mind.” Pierre Flourens rehearsed an already familiar critical formulation when he juxtaposed the great literary and descriptive enterprise that was Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi to its striking conceptual limitations. According to Flourens, the history (description) of animals, or, as it is was then beginning to be called, zoology, is composed of the 3



3 W[illiam] H[enry] Flower, “Opening Address in the Department of Zoology and Botany,” Nature 18 (August 15, 1878): 420 [419–423]. 4 Von Martius, “Notice of the Life and Labours of De Candolle: extracted from the Address delivered before the Royal Botanical Society of Ratisbon, at its meeting of the 28th of November 1841,” The Annals and Magazine of Natural History 12 (1843): 13 [1–20]. The passage was translated by Asa Gray. 5 Georges-Louis Leclerc, comte de Buffon, “Premier discours de la manière d’étudier et de traiter l’histoire naturelle,” cited in Phillip R. Sloan, “The BuffonLinnaeus Controversy,” Isis 67 (1976): 359 [356–375].


history of each species in itself, and the methodical distribution of all species compared to one another. Buffon marvelously understood the first task, the work of history properly speaking, while failing to understand the second, methodical distribution. “Buffon never saw, in a clear way, the purpose of method in natural history. Rather, he confused it with description or history.” As succinctly articulated by Buffon himself, “true method” consists of “the complete description and exact history of each thing in particular.” Nothing more and nothing less. Leaving aside Linnaeus’s and Buffon’s disparate notions regarding the nature if not the very reality of species, there remained the practical need and desire to oversee the relationships—more tenuous than was readily admitted—between words, images, and things of every description. While Buffon composed a natural history of the Cabinet du Roi, over which he was the jealous superintendent, it was the role of Linnaeus’s students to hold a mirror up to the world beyond the epistemologically comforting confines of his cabinet. The variety of nature was reported back to him by his “apostles”—Daniel Solander, Pehr Kalm, Olof Torén, and, among others, Carl Fredrik Adler (died of fever on the coast of Java), Fredric Hasselquist (died of tuberculosis in Smyrna), Peter Forsskål (died of Malaria in Yemen)—who traveled to the Americas, Africa, India, throughout the Occident and Orient, collecting plants, animals, and minerals. “Linnaeus’s numerous disciples,” wrote Pierre-Joseph Amoreux in his éloge of Antoine Goüan, “fortified by his principles, saw through his eyes, and, scattered throughout distant lands, supplied him with plants and seeds. With this powerful aid Linnaeus could, just like the geographers, travel all the world without displacing himself.” Goüan, the doyen of Linnaean taxonomy in France, was notable even among the generation of talented Montpellierain naturalists educated by the medical doctor, botanist, and faithful correspondent of Linnaeus, François Boissier de Sauvages. It was through Goüan that Commerson, who had come to Montpellier to study medicine, was brought to the attention of the “Buffon of the North.” It is worth noting that Sauvages was arguably at the origin of the popular misconception that Linnaeus altered the name of the genus Bufonia, Caryophyllaceae, as a mean-spirited pun on bufo, or toad. (The genus Bufonia has been variously spelled, authors either accepting or rejecting the doubling of the f ). As is so often the case, the biblio-biographical history of a genus or species is to be found 6






6 Pierre Flourens, Buffon: Histoire de ses Travaux et des Idées (Paris: Paulin, 1844), 2. 7 Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, Générale et Particulière, avec la Description du Cabinet du Roi, vol. 1 (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1749), 24. 8 On Linnaeus’s apostles see, Sverker Sörlin, “Scientific Travel: The Linnean Tradition,” in Tore Frangsmyr, ed., Science in Sweden: The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 1739-1989 (Canton, MA: Science History Publications, 1989), 96–123 9 Pierre-Joseph Amoreux, “Notice historique sur Antoine Gouan, professeur de botanique à l’Ecole de Médecine de Montpellier,” Mémoires de la Société Linnéenne de Paris 1 (1822): 666–667 [656–682]; Amoreux, “Examen de la Correspondence botanique d’Antoine Gouan (pour faite suite à son Eloge),” Mémoires de la Société Linnéenne de Paris 1 (1822): 683–730. 10 Pascal Duris, Linné et la France, 1780-1850 (Paris: Librairie Droz, 1993), 41. 11 Paulin Crassous, “Lettres de Commerson, contenant un détail succinct de son voyage autour du globe, & précédées d’une notice de sa vie, de son caractère & de ses ouvrages,” L’Esprit des Journaux 8 (An 6 [1797]): 162 [151–184].


in the correspondence of Linnaeus, “toward whom at that time converged all discoveries of interest in natural history.” In studying the extensive record, Linnaeus’s French biographer Antoine Laurent Apollinaire Fée—himself a botanical explorer of Madagascar— demonstrated that it is entirely plausible that Linnaeus understood “Bufonia Auctore Fr. de Sauvages,” as it was originally published in “Nova Plantarum Genera,” a thesis of 1749 defended by Carl Magnus Dassow, by external reference to Juncus bufonius (toad rush), which the marsh plant very closely resembles. It was Sauvages, however, in his Methodus Foliorum seu Plantæ Floræ Monspeliensis (1751), where Buffonia first appears, who gave “official consecration to the error, in complete disagreement with its etymology.” Sealing its fate, the generic characters were followed by the words “dicata illustrissimo Horti Regii Parisiensis Præfecto, et Acad. Regiæ Scient. Paris. Sodali D. de Buffon.” Nothing if not critical, Georges Cuvier cast doubt on another oft-repeated anecdote, relating that Linnaeus commissioned Commerson to make a study of Mediterranean fishes at the request of the Queen of Sweden, Lovisa Ulrika. The impression remains that Commerson was willingly enlisted as one of Linnaeus’s worldsurveying proselytes, even if dispatched on a local errand along familiar coasts. But it was Michel Adanson who perhaps understood most profoundly the debilities of Linnaeus’s practice of seeing at a distance, by proxy. In the Preface to Familles des Plantes (1763), the visionary botanist enumerated with much seeming equanimity the “partisans and critics” of the sexual system, while giving particular attention to the polemic between Johannes Georgius Siegesbeck (contra) and Johann Gottlieb Gleditsch (pro). Further dispelling the notion that Linnaeus bore ill will toward Buffon or any of his other critics, Fée notes that Siegesbeckia orientalis L. is a most beautiful Composita. But it was not what appeared on the page, either in the precepts delineated by Linnaeus in his Philosophia Botanica, nor in Joseph Pitton de Tournefort’s Institutiones rei herbariae (1700, 1719), its very title evoking a botanical catechism, that prompted Adanson to doubt the adequacy of even the best worked out artificial system. Rather it was the five years he had spent in Senegal, in the service of the Compagnie des Indes. His dramatic description of his toils as an observer served as a rebuke to Linnaeus’s sedentary habits. It was in Senegal, in 1750, Adanson wrote, that he was “penetrated by the idea and convinced of the insufficiency of the systems of Tournefort and Linnaeus,” which had no place in them for the majority of plants particular to Senegal’s torrid climate. 12




Adanson’s experience of these unvisited regions, without recourse to familiar or reliable sources of reference, botanical or otherwise, proved to him the “use of journeys.” The scope of his empirical ambition stands in marked contrast to the ethos of Linnaeus’s October 1741 address on the necessity of “traveling inside one’s native land.” A cameralist, Linnaeus advocated a form of self-knowledge, autopsia, an inventory of local nature, and with it an understanding of the conditions in which foreign plants and animals could be transplanted and “tamed to our climate.” Arriving back at the port of Brest in January 1754, Adanson recuperated from the difficult passage before returning to Paris during that year’s severe February frosts, which destroyed the plants that had survived the journey. But his experience in Senegal fortified Adanson with insight and powers of coadunation, allowing, if not forcing, him to see things differently. What was to be done with things for which no place had been anticipated in artificial systems. The overwhelming rush of external experience, the perceived dissonance of new-found facts with existing systems of order, forced Adanson to revisit his subjective self. In a sort of life-changing vastation, Adanson delivered himself from the strictures of artificial abstractions. He expressed the need to “strip myself of former prejudices,” concluding that it was in “nature itself that needs to be sought nature’s system,” a “universal” natural method that would consider all parts of the plant and plants of all sorts: temperate, tropical, and glacial. Lest a Rousseauan note be heard to sound in this stripping away of received notions, it is well to recall that Rousseau himself was a fervent admirer and teacher of the Linnaean system. A Genus distinct from the Monkey The ghostly Lemur arrived at the threshold of Linnaeus’s taxonomic enterprise in the pages of George Edwards’s A Natural History of Birds (1751), and in some sense in the guise of Edwards himself. “Your portrait in my study brings you every day before me,” Linnaeus wrote to the English naturalist and engraver, “and reminds me of your indefatigable assiduity in collecting, delineating, and describing.” Linnaeus’s Lemur catta, which first appeared in the 1758 tenth edition of the Systema Naturae, was based on the Maucauco, of which Edwards provided the “first zoological description from nature.” Both clarifying and confusing matters, Linnaeus later provided Edwards with Latin names for the index of his book, in which the ring-tailed lemur became Simia sciurus,

Madagascariensis, or the Madagascan squirrel monkey. But none of this is to say that Edwards himself had been to Lemuria. “This animal,” he writes, “was brought from the Island of Madagascar, by my Friend Capt. Isaac Worth, Anno 1748, who touched there in his Return from India.” Here was the touch of the real, the date of Worth’s first contact noted as if it were immutably inscribed on the cornerstone of a well-founded edifice of natural knowledge. Edwards kept the animal alive in his house for some time, during which he observed that it was a “very innocent, harmless Creature, having nothing of the Cunning or Malice of the Monkey-Kind.” Sharing his home with this anything but domestic creature, whose supposed resemblance to a “house cat” speaks of the innocent reassurance of the familiar, Edwards keenly recognized that it belonged to “a Genus distinct from the Monkey.” Where men and satyrs (Ourang-outangs, from the Malay words orang (man) and hutan (forest)), sub-men, apes, and other (near?) relatives belonged in the order of things was a matter of animated concern in the correspondence of Linnaeus and Edwards. In a letter dated Uppsala March 20, 1758, Linnaeus thanked Edwards for the “valuable present” of seventy five plates of birds and other rare animals from his Gleanings of Natural History (1758). “Nothing can more conduce to the advancement of solid natural knowledge,” Linnaeus wrote, “than such beautiful and excellent figures, accompanied by such exact descriptions.” He was particularly appreciative of the plate of the satyr, since it was in the 1758 edition of the Systema Naturae that Linnaeus sought to subdue the unruly order of Primates, which replaced the order Anthropomorpha he had introduced in the 1753 edition. For Linnaeus, himself an exemplary specimen of Homo sapiens europaeus albus, it was, as always, a matter of checking his sources. “If I am not mistaken,” he writes to Edwards, “[the satyr] will prove a different animal from the Ouran[g] Outang of Bontius’s Java, p. 34 (sic), though it may be the same as the Indian Satyr of Tulpius, book 3, chap. 56.” Whichever animal it was that Linnaeus eventually called Simia satyrus, inhabiting the far distant islands of Sumatra and Borneo, it was caught within a network of references and (mis)citations. His sources were not without their own doubts. In an instance of legend and allegorical reasoning vying with direct observation, Tulpius, whose chirurgical skill was arrestingly depicted in the Dutch painter Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp” (1632), concluded that either satyrs do not exist, or, if they do, they must be the animal shown in the plate.

17 Michel Adanson, Familles des Plantes, Pt. 1 (Paris: Vincent, 1763), clcvii. 18 Linnaeus, Oratio qua peregrinationum intra patriam asseritur necessitas, habita Upsaliae (1741). On the practice of autopsia see Alix Cooper, Inventing the Indigenous: Local Knowledge and Natural History in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge Univeristy Press, 2007), 167. On cameralism and transplantation see Lisbet Koerner, Linnaeus: Nature and Nation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999), 133. 19 Michel Adanson, Histoire Naturelle du Sénégal (Paris: Claude-Jean-Baptiste Bauche, 1757), 190. 20 Adandon, clcvii. 21 Linnaeus to Edwards (Uppsala, March 20, 1758), in James Edward Smith, ed., A Selection of the Correspondence of Linnaeus, and Other Naturalists, vol. 2 (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1821), 497. 22 Linnaeus, Systema naturæ per regna tria naturæ, vol. 1 (Stockholm: Laurentii Salvii, 1758 [10th edit.]), 30. René Primevère Lesson, Species des Mammifères Bimanes et Quadrumanes (Paris: J.-B. Baillière, 1840), 223.

23 George Edwards, A Natural History of Birds, pt. 4 (London: College of Physicians, 1751), 197. 24 Ibid., 197. 25 Linnaeus to Edwards, 496–497. Edwards to Linnaeus (London, June 2, 1758), indicates, “the subject from my figure was drawn is the Pigmy of Edward Tyson, M.D. F.R.S. who wrote a treatise, with a great number of copper plates.” Edward Tyson’s Orang-outang, sive, Homo sylvestris, or, The anatomy of a pygmie compared with that of a monkey, an ape, and a man (London: Thomas Bennet, 1699). 26 Jacobus Bontius [Jacob de Bondt], Historiae naturalis et medicae Indiae orientalis, in Gulielmi Pisonis [Willem Piso], De Indiae Utriusque re Naturali et Medica, libri Quatuordecim (Amsterdam: L. & D. Elzevirios, 1658), 84; Nicolai Tulpii [Nicolaes Tulp], Observationum Medicarum Libri Tres (Amsterdam: Ludovicum Elzevirium, 1641), 274. 27 Rudolf Wittkower, “Marvels of the East. A Study in the History of Monsters,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5 (1942): 191 [159-197].






12 Antoine Laurent Apollinaire Fée, “Linné aurait-il, dans une intention mauvaise, altéré l’orthographe du nom de genre Buffonia,” Bulletin de la Société Botanique de France 4 (1857): 763 [762-766]. 13 Carl Magnus Dassow, “Nova Plantarum Genera,” Amoenitates Academicae, vol. 1 (Leiden: Cornelium Haak, 1749), 112. 14 Fée, 763. 15 Georges Cuvier, Achille Valenciennes, Histoire Naturelle des Poissons, vol. 1 (Paris: F. G. Levrault, 1828), 122, n. 1. 16 Siegesbeck, Botanosophiae verioris brevis sciographia in usum discentium adornata . . . (Petersburg: Typis Academiae, 1737); Gleditsch, Consideratio Epicriseos Siegesbeckianae in Linnaei Systema Plantarum Sexuale (Berlin: Ambrosium Haude, 1740).









Even if the essence or mere existence of Simia satyrus was limited to the pictorial surface of the plate, it contributed to an expanding family portrait of the Primates. In 1758 Linnaeus added a new species of Homo, the cave-dwelling “nocturnal” man Homo troglodytes, said to live on the island of Amboina in the East Indies, for which he provided the synonym Homo sylvestris, namely, Jacob de Bondt’s Ourang Outang. Linnaeus was sensibly moved by reports of these “children of darkness, who turn day into night and night into day, and who appear to be our nearest relatives.” However, his English biographer Richard Pulteney allowed that in this respect he seems to have been misled by the “accounts of credulous travelers, otherwise he would not have placed what is properly a Simia in the same genus with Man.” Linnaeus was not so much misled as happy to find in Homo nocturnis an apposite and opposite mate for Homo diurnus, also know as H. sapiens. It was also in the tenth edition of Systema Naturae that another, that other nocturnal creature, Lemur catta first appeared. It was placed at the beginning of the order Simia, immediately following H. troglodytes. With Edwards’s domestication of its single depatriated representative in the Occident, the Lemur had found its tentative place in Linnaeus’s system. But what the Lemur was was essentially a matter of where it was from. And it was an “aberrant form,” the Chiromys madagascariensis, Cuvier, that hearkens us back to Madagascar. Literally so. The Aye-aye, as it is familiarly known, was discovered by Pierre Sonnerat, a self-described disciple of Commerson, in 1780, two years after the death of Linnaeus. “Since that date,” writes Flower, “its native land has been more freely open than before to explorers, and many specimens have been obtained.” While true in some general sense, the many real and tangible exceptions to this statement, which is to say the continued inaccessibility of Madagascar to Western eyes, even while images of the Lemurian continent flourished in the imagination, explains in part the auditory hallucination and the telling misrecognition in, and by which, this curious species was continuously (mis)described. Ian Hacking has discussed the phenomenon of radical mistranslation, which he names with clinical-sounding precision malostension (“ostensive definition,” or definition by pointing, seeks to convey the meaning of a term by offering specific examples). Malostension occurs, he writes, “when an expression of the first language is taken by speakers of the second language to name a natural kind.” For one notable example, Hacking cites an anecdote related by W.V.O. Quine in a printed conversation with Hilary Putnam: 28





28 Linnaeus, Systema Naturae (1758), p. 24. 29 Christianus Emanuel Hoppius, “Anthropomorpha,” Amoenitates Academicae 6 (Erlangen: Io. Jacobi Palm, 1789 [2nd. edit.]), 72. See also Thomas H. Huxley, “On the Natural History of the Man-Like Apes,” in Man’s Place in Nature and Other Anthropological Essays (London: Macmillan and Co., 1894), 1–72. 30 Richard Pulteney, A General View of the Writings of Linnaeus (London, 1805), 176. 31 Flower, 420. 32 Ian Hacking, “Was There Ever a Radical Mistranslation,” Analysis 41 (1981): 171 [171–175].


Quine: David Lewis pointed out a nice example to me [ . . . ] There was, in the nineteenth century, a French naturalist named Pierre Sonnerat, who was doing field work in Madagascar. A lemur went up a tree, and Sonnerat asked a native, “Qu’est que c’est?” The native said “in dri,” which in Malagasy means “there he goes.” Sonnerat thought that the native understood his question and had given the answer, and the animal is known as the indri to this day. 33

In a few short steps, and making inevitable reference to the Oxford English Dictionary, in which the missionary Rev. James Sibree is cited as its source, Hacking finds the anecdote was an “unacknowledged word-for-word translation” of an observation made in 1868 by the Netherlandish missionary and naturalist François Pollen. In his “Notices sur Quelques Autres Mammifères Habitant Madagascar et les Îles Voisines,” Pollen explains, “the word Indri is an exclamation that the Malagaches, especially the Hovas, use each time they wish to draw attention to some object. The term means: look, behold, watch.” For our purposes, all that is missing from Pollen’s definition is the point (pointing out) of exclamatory emphasis—the “!” Hacking’s avowed purpose is to subject the anecdotes offered by Quine in support of his a priori thesis of the indeterminacy of translation to close and factual scrutiny, to show that in fact supposed mistranslations are often readily cleared up. Thus he documents that Sonnerat’s encounter with the lemur was not merely a fleeting (auditory) perception, in which he overheard the cry of “indri.” Rather, he asks the natives what “indri” means, and is told that it means “little man of the woods.” He later acquired a living specimen, which he had the chance to observe closely enough to produce an engraving of it for his Voyage aux Indes Orientales et à la Chine, fait par ordre du Roi depuis 1774 jusqu’en 1781 (1782). Yet what the anecdote reveals, if only by its survival through unchecked repetition, is the unsettling resonance of the moment of encounter, not with that which is not yet known, but with that which might remain unknowable, even or perhaps especially after it has been pointed out. And it is in this, the surprised and surprising emphasis on the drama of (mis)recognition, that the lawyer-zoologist Sclater and the self-described martyr of botany Commerson were alike. “What an admirable country, this Madagascar!” Commerson wrote. Precise naturalist that he is, Blanchard catches the (lack of ) nuance: “Like an exclamation, the striking truth of it echoed throughout Europe: the great African island resembles no other country in the 34


33 Ibid., 172. 34 James Sibree, Madagascar and Its People: Notes of a Four Years’ Residence (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1870). For an discussion of Sibree, the missionary enterprise, and the symbolic meaning of the Traveler’s Tree that appears on the cover of Sibree’s book, see Gillian Feeley-Harnik, “Ravenala Madagascariensis Sonnerat: The Historical Ecology of a ‘Flagship Species’ in Madagascar,” Ethnohistory 48 (2001): 31–86. 35 François Pollen, “Notices sur Quelques Autres Mammifères Habitant Madagascar et les Îles Voisines,” in Recherches sur la Faune de Madagascar et de ses Dépendances d’après les Découvertes de François P. L. Pollen et D. C. van Dam, pt. 2 (Leiden: J. K. Steenhoff, 1868), 20.

world.” Madagascar might thus have entered the anything but collective spatial consciousness of Europe by means of echolocation, indeed long before it appeared on any map, at least reliably so. What follows is a brief and admittedly incomplete life-story of the Aye-aye, the initial and subsequent linguistic and zoological (mis)recognition of which bears explanation, and exclamation! 36

“What an admirable country, this Madagascar!” Commerson’s words appeared in a letter, dated April 18, 1771, Île de Bourdon, addressed to his friend and patron, the astronomer Jérôme de Lalande. First published in de Fréville’s edition of Supplément au Voyage de M. de Bougainville; ou Journal d’un Voyage autour du Monde, fait par MM. Banks & Solander, an account of the circumnavigation undertaken by two of Linnaeus’s most intrepid apostles, it was through the medium of Lalande’s oft-cited éloge of Commerson that his initial report from Madagascar, this “promised land for naturalists,” was most widely broadcast (While Commerson joined Louis Antoine Bougainville’s famed voyage to Tahiti, de Fréville’s volume should not be confused with Denis Diderot’s Supplément au voyage de Bougainville of the same year, a moralizing essay in dialog form on the underlying savagery of France’s colonial ambitions). Lalande’s éloge proved to be a more effective work of commemoration than that earnestly undertaken by Cuvier. As a tribute to his great and final devotion to natural history, Cuvier, the “legislator of science,” sought to have Commerson’s mortal remains laid to rest below the Daubenton column at the Jardin des Plantes. The plan was abandoned, however, when Julien Desjardins, founder of the Société d’histoire naturelle de l’Île Maurice, to whom Cuvier had delegated the solemn task, could not locate any trace of Commerson’s grave. The ground, it was said, “remained mute.” The Réunion-born medical doctor Auguste Vinson, a friend of François Pollen’s and member of the French deputation that attended the coronation of Radama II, of which he produced an important report, wrote in touching terms of Commerson’s lack of sepulture. “He did not have even the most modest tomb, the simplest stone to shelter his final place of rest!” Those who benefit from his extensive manuscripts, kept at the Muséum d’histoire naturelle, “still do not know his place of rest.” What was not lost from the record was Commerson’s exclamation, properly understood, which appeared and reappeared, stated and restated by all the biographers for whom Lalande’s éloge was invariably the source, “sometimes of them copying it, others abridging it with more or less skill and exactness.” Keeping tabs on the record was the writer and historian of the Jardin des Plantes Paul-Antoine Cap, whose own biography of Commerson was based on a discriminating review of the manuscript and published sources 37




36 Blanchard, 72. 37 Fréville’s Supplément au Voyage de M. de Bougainville; ou Journal d’un Voyage autour du Monde, fait par MM. Banks & Solander (Paris: Saillant & Nyon, 1772), 253. 38 Auguste Vinson, Salazie; ou, Le piton d’Anchaine, légende créole (Paris: Ch. Delagrave, 1888), 435. 39 Emile Vinson, Célébrités Créoles: Philibert Commerson (Saint-Denis (Ile de la Réunion), La Maille, 1861), 12. 40 Paul-Antoine Cap, Études biographiques pour servir à l’histoire des sciences, vol. 2 (Paris: Victor Masson, 1857), 90.

as well as recollections that had been retained within Commerson’s family. Cap was not just recording or repeating what he had heard, but attempting to ascertain what Commerson had done and said. Like the distinct parts of which, according to Flourens, natural history is composed, these two ambitions are not always or perhaps ever exactly the same. What is preserved by the repeated insistence on Commerson’s exclamation is the observation, in the form of a presentiment, that Madagascar could potentially exhaust the resources of language, exceeding the scope of what had and could be imagined by the sort of artificial system devised by Linnaeus and vehemently dismissed by Adanson. Commerson writes to Lalande, It is not in a rapid survey that one can know its rich growths. It would take many years of study; indeed, it would require entire academies, for so ample a harvest of things. For naturalists Madagascar is the true Promised Land. There nature seems to have withdrawn into a private sanctuary, to work on models different from any she has used elsewhere. There you meet the most unusual and marvelous forms at every step. The Dioscorides of the North would find there enough for ten augmented and revised editions of his Systema naturae, and would without doubt finish by allowing in good faith that he had yet to lift the corner of the veil. 41

As for the Dioscorides of the North, his own exposure to the plants of the East Indies was through the large collection made in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) by Paul Hermann whose herbarium, after having been lost for an extended period of time was sent to Uppsala. In his Flora Zeylanica (1747), Linnaeus speculated not altogether unreasonably, given its rich profusion of plants and animals, that Ceylon was the site of Adam and Eve’s once-paradisiacal garden. Whether the study of Madagascar would in fact yield ten new editions of the Systema Naturae can perhaps be ascertained by consulting the Bibliographie de Madagascar. In 1903, the Comité de Madagascar, an organ of the pro-imperial lobby, opened a public subscription to erect a monument to the soldiers and sailors who had died during the Second Madagascar Expedition, which, in September 1895, “triumphantly consummated” two and a half centuries of perseverance in making Commerson’s promised land for naturalists into “French territory.” The director of the Comité de Madagascar, the Marseille soap manufacture Jules-Charles Roux, a friend and patron of Galliéni and Lyautey, allowed that “another monument of an altogether different type” remained to be erected. This was to be a paper monument, the five-volume Collection des Ouvrages Anciens Concernant Madagascar, edited by the father and son industrialists and naturalists Alfred and Guillaume Grandidier. The Collection covered the period from the Portuguese explorer 42


41 De Commerson to De la Lande (Île de Bourbon, April 18, 1771), Supplément au voyage de M. de Bougainville, 255–256. 42 Linnaeus, Flora Zeylanica (Stockholm: Laurentii Salvii, 1747), 11. 43 Guillaume Grandidier, Bibliographie de Madagascar (Paris: Comité de Madagascar, 1905).


Diogo Dias’s first sighting of the island (August 10, 1500) through 1800. The Bibliographie de Madagascar brought the monument up to date. The Bibliographie’s final entry, no. 5188: Maurice Zimmermann, “The Forest of Madagascar” (1899), provides a sort of metric with which to assess, at least notionally (and spatially), Flower’s claim that since Sonnerat’s time the lemur’s native land has been more freely open than before to explorers. A student of Vidal de la Blache, in his article Zimmermann builds on Alfred Grandidier’s important paper, “Sketch of a Map of the Island of Madagascar,” in which Grandidier recalls his own misadventures during his research expeditions of 1865 and 1866. All his notes were destroyed by fire, along with two Sakalavan skulls which he had procured “not without danger,” and an herbarium of medical plants from the west coast. The map published by Zimmermann was at once more precise than Grandidier’s sketch but similarly betrays the difficulties of knowing Madagascar. Drafted by the geographer Émile Félix Gautier, who in 1895 was named director of education of Madagascar, the map first appeared in the Atlas accompanying the Guide de l’Immigrant, the phantasmagorically detailed three-volume collection of information and instructions for newcomers to a land that had long defied comprehension much less occupation. It is the map’s key that bespeaks Zimmermann’s own problem of comprehension, even when furnished, as the Bibliographie de Magascar attests, with a vast accumulation of references. The first shaded block of the key signifies “Confirmed Forests” (Forêts constatées). The second block, which corresponds to a far more expansive area on the map, indicates speculative growth: “Probable forests according to the laws that seem to preside over the distribution of forests.” Linnaeus’s own desultory quest for a natural method of classification, the need and shape of which had appeared to Adanson in a moment of brilliant and desperate insight, took on for him the properties of a cartographic projection. “All plants show their contiguities on either side, like territories on a geographic map,” Linnaeus wrote in the Philosophia Botanica. The more apt reference here, however, might be the “Carte Botanique de la France” that Augustin Pyramus de Candolle prepared for the third edition of Lamarck’s Flore française. The map was intended to represent two distinct but related layers of information: 1. the general distribution of plants within France’s borders; and, 2. the extent to which these plants were known by botanists. To emphasize the degree to which each province had been explored by naturalists, he placed on the map only the names of 44



44 Jules-Charles Roux, “Avant Propos,” in Alfred Gandidier, Guillaume Grandidier, Collection des Ouvrages Anciens concernant Madagascar, vol. 1 (Paris: Comité de Madagascar, 1903), v. 45 Alfred Grandidier, “Madagascar,” Bulletin de la Société de Géographie ser. 6, vol. 2 (1871): 88 [81–108]. Maurice Zimmermann, “La forêt de Madagascar,” Annales de Géographie 8 (1899): [74–82]. 46 Linnaeus, Philosophica Botanica (Stockholm: Godofr. Kiesewetter, 1751), 27. § 77. “Methodi Naturalis Fragmenta studiose inquirenda sunt” (The fragments of natural method are to be closely investigated). “Plantae omnes utrinque affinitatem monstrant, uti Territorium in Mappa geographica.” See also, James L. Larson, Interpreting Nature: The Science of Living Form from Linnaeus to Kant (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 39.


cities or villages that had been herborized, and varied the typeface to indicate how intensively they had been studied. It was misleading claims about the unusual pattern, density, and distribution of Madagascar’s forests that exemplified for Alfred Grandidier the need to confirm his own sources. In his “Report on Diverse Publications Relating to Madagascar” (1884), he notes that “much has been written on Madagascar since the sixteenth century. Hundreds of works and maps have been published both in France and in England, but the descriptions one finds in them are very incomplete. The judgments of the authors are often questionable (contestables, the very opposite of constatées). He readily admits that “not everyone sees far-off countries with strange customs with the same set of eyes. But one must still reproach the majority of travelers who have written about this country for having generalized their observations, most often seen from a particular point of view, and to have applied to the entire island that which they saw in one small corner of it.” Clearly such partial and particular encounters did not answer to the highest ambition of science, which was to “lift a corner of the veil that hides from us the secrets of nature.” As for Madagascar’s interior, Grandidier writes that until recently all that was known came from a “novel.” This was the book published by Leguével de Lacombe, Voyage à Madagascar et aux Îles Comores (1840). The itineraries described by Lacombe, as replete with local detail and incident as the Guide de l’Immigrant was with useful facts, were “scrupulously reproduced” by the geographers on their maps, on which were indicated the most humble villages, the smallest rivulets named or mentioned by Lacombe. Unfortunately, Laborde’s account was almost entirely false, drawing on otherwise reliable descriptions of the coastal regions to make sense, blindly and at a distance, of an unvisited interior. Here was perhaps the most flagrant example of those who had “knowingly deceived the public, deriving their accounts from their imagination.” But it was Commerson’s exclamatory invitation to explore Madagascar that might be at the source of the misperceptions that had grown as if from its indifferent soil. As it happens, Grandidier concludes his survey of sources by correcting the notion of the “incomparable fertility of the island,” which had naturally led to ideas that it would be an endless garden of sugarcane, coffee, cocoa, vanilla, cotton, and other valuable plants. All the evidence Grandidier gathered pointed to the simple conclusion that it was a mistake to speak of Madagascar generally. To begin with, it was not covered in green—only one tenth of its surface was forested (an unusually low proportion), and two thirds of the island, if not absolutely sterile, were effectively unexploitable. If recent travelers such as Gabriel Marcel were led to describe the island as a “mountain of verdure,” Grandidier writes, they were echoing what had been “exclaimed” by Commerson. But not faithfully. Marcel himself wrote that it was this very “cry” that had inspired Grandidier to undertake his Histoire naturelle, physique et politique de Madagascar. 47



47 Alfred Grandidier, “Rapport sur diverses publications relatives à Madagascar,” Revue des Travaux Scientifiques vol. 4, no. 1 (1884): 74 [74–78]. 48 Grandidier, “Rapport sur diverses publications relatives à Madagascar,” 74. 49 Gabriel Marcel, “Nos droits sur Madagascar,” Revue Scientifique ser. 3, vol. 5 (April 7, 1883): 429 [430–434].

But Grandidier seems to have been more attentive to Commerson’s own reluctance to provide a “general understanding,” having himself only “visited a small corner” of the island. Commerson thrilled to the “view of strange and singular (insolites) forms” which the island held in store. Gautier consequently understood that the only generalizable feature of life on Madagascar was its “originality.” As Adanson had written of the plants of Senegal, Grandidier observed of Malagassy fauna: it does not “fit within the framework established on the experience of other faunas.” It was constitutively an other fauna. And for Gauthier, this was “exactly what is expressed by Commerson’s often cited “cry.” For all who heard it, however many times removed, the call was the same: come see (venir voir) for yourself. 50

The Cry of Exclamation and Astonishment It is possible, indeed necessary, to examine the failure of generality in specific terms. Pierre Sonnerat was sent to Madagascar by Pierre Poivre in September 1779 through late 1780 as part of continuing French efforts to subvert the Dutch spice trade. His Voyage aux Indes Orientales et à la Chine is an essay in caution when confronted with the shrinking limits of the familiar: 51

through late 1780. As Lavocat tells it: “one night, during one of their expeditions, being at the foot of a wooded mountain, [Sonnerat] viewed a strange animal, which he had not seen before and that the indigenous people who accompanied him told him they did not know. This animal, having the aspect of a wild cat, fled slowly; it was soon trapped and was given the name Aye-aye for the cry (cri) that it let out in its fright—and not, as has been said, for the cry of the Malagache when they saw it.” The source of the report that it was the Malagache, and not the animal, that let out the cry was in fact none other than Sonnerat. Considering Lavocat’s failure to correctly copy or abridge the stated facts of Sonnerat’s account, it is the Lacombe-like surfeit of local color that proves impressive. Early evening, the foot of a wooded mountain—are these places to be looked for among the “probable” forests on Zimmermann’s map? Do we see more when we have observed nothing at all? Sonnerat provides a fairly comprehensive field description of the animal. But it is the name we need to begin with. As Sonnerat indicates, “it preserves the cry of exclamation and astonishment of the Madagascar inhabitants; we have only known it for a little while, because we do not frequent the west coast, the part of the island it inhabits. The inhabitants of the east coast assure me that this was the first time they had seen it.” What does the exclamation mean for the language of natural history, its evolving and self-policing patterns of usage? In point of fact, “!,” the Sign of Certainty, was introduced by the botanist Augustin Pyramus de Candolle in his Regni Vegetabilis Systema Naturale (1818) to indicate that a species had been described according to an authentic specimen seen by the author himself. As his son Alphonse de Candolle explains in the chapter treating orthography in La Phytographie: ou, l’Art de Décrire les Végétaux (1880), the introduction of such a sign was useful and necessary when the practice of citing authors without concurrent examination of actual specimens was prevalent. “!” identifies a deliberate act of seeing. By contrast, “?” was the Sign of Doubt, related to “!” as Homo diurnis was to Homo nocturnus. It was important to place doubt where and when it belonged, de Candolle wrote. “At the end of a sentence it refers to the general sense of that sentence; after a word or a numeral in a sentence, to that word or numeral. Between parenthesis (?), it implies doubt felt by the person who transcribed the assertion of another author.” How does this discipline apply to the naming, indeed the sounding out, of Malagasy fauna? No. 2056 of the Bibliographie, Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire’s “Considérations sur l’Aye-aye de Madagascar,” Décade Philosophique (1795), exemplifies the long and difficult work of assigning this much discussed creature its proper place in the order of things. Among the species Sonnerat brought back from his voyages, Geoffroy writes, the Aye-aye is the one most 53


I cannot give a general description of Madagascar; the extent of the country and the variety of its cantons would require too long a stay. The multitude of governments and the continuous wars in this country otherwise oppose travel and observeration; I will limit myself then to describing that which was within my reach to learn and to examine. 52

The restrictions on what counted as reliable knowledge were both internally and externally imposed. Yet in spite of his caution, Sonnerat’s most remarkable discovery was destined to become one of the most confusing and sought-after species in nineteenth-century Europe. This was the Aye-aye. There are twenty-two entries for the Aye-aye in the Bibliographie de Madagascar. Let us consider, for instance, no. 3051: [Achille] Lavocat, “Observations sur le Myspithèque, dit Aye-aye de Madagascar,” Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences, inscriptions, et belles de Toulouse 10 (1888): 389–399. The name myspithecus (from Greek mys for mouse and pithicus for monkey) was given by Henri Ducrotay de Blainville, who later thought better of it and changed it to myslemur, recognizing the Aye-aye’s relation to the lemurs, but nonetheless expressing its mixed or dual nature. Lavocat, a professor at the École vétérinaire de Toulouse, had had a chance to inspect a preserved specimen at Bordeaux. But there is much that appears unlikely about his account. According to Lavocat, Sonnerat made his discovery in 1788; Sonnerat was in Madagascar September 1779 50 Émile Félix Gautier, Madagascar: Essai de géographie physique (Paris: Augustin Challamel, 1902), 3. 51 Sonnerat was the nephew of Pierre Poivre, the naturalist and enlightened colonial administrator. 52 Pierre Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes Orientales et à la Chine, fait par ordre de Louis XVI, depuis 1774 jusqu’en 1781, vol. 2 (Paris: Chez l’Auteur, 1782), 315.


53 Achille Lavocat, “Observations sur le Myspithèque, dit Aye-aye de Madagascar,” Mémoires de l’Académie des sciences, inscriptions, et belles de Toulouse 10 (1888): 389 [389–399]. 54 Pierre Sonnerat, Voyage aux Indes Orientales et à la Chine, fait par ordre de Louis XVI, depuis 1774 jusqu’en 1781, vol. 4 (Paris: Dentu, 1806), 124. 55 Alphonse de Candolle, La Phytographie: ou, l’Art de Décrire les Végétaux (Paris: G. Masson, 1880), 285.


worthy of “arresting the attention of zoologists.” First encountered by surprise, naturalists needed to fix their attention on its fugitive essence. Its “singular and bizarre” conformation separates it from all other families of “known animals.” One is a bit “stunned” to find certain analogies with monkeys, makis (the Malagasy name for L. catta), Didelphes (pouched animals), and Glires, gnawing animals including rodents. “I studied it with care,” Geoffroy writes, “and soon enough understood that one cannot place it within any known genera, and that it was consequently a species sui generis.” The “care” taken by Geoffroy, a form of observational expectancy that resulted from having arrested his attention, seeks to supplement if not supplant the unsettling rush of sensations, the potentially mismatched questions and answers that accompanied Sonnerat’s first impression of the Aye-aye. Geoffroy narrates his own evolving state of mind. His synonymy provides the place to indicate his judgments on the observations and conclusions of other writers. He notes, for example, that Johann Georg Gmelin made the Aye-aye a squirrel, Sciurus madagascariensis, under which name it appeared in the posthumous thirteenth edition of the Systema naturae, edited by the German naturalist. If the fauna of Madagascar did not ultimately give rise to ten revised and augmented editions, its sui generis species were the cause for careful editorial attention. “Yet in truth,” Geoffroy notes, “Gmelin had never seen an Aye-aye.” He relied entirely on Sonnerat’s description. Geoffroy notes that the figure of the Aye-aye published by Sonnerat, which was copied in Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, is inexact at best. The artist did not observe the number nor the form of its teeth. He seems to have made the claws as he saw fit, misdrew the ears, made the fourth finger of the back feet shorter than the third, when the fourth is in fact longer, etc. It is therefore not surprising that Gmelin failed to perceive that the Aye-aye possessed none of the characters of the genus Sciurus. But perhaps this cannot be called a failure of perception when no act of direct perception was possible. Geoffroy writes that having had the occasion to observe this quadruped at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, in the form of the preserved remains brought back by Sonnerat, he recognized that he could not associate it with the genera of squirrels, nor with any order or rodents (this distinction based on its dentation). He also managed to acquire the skull of a maki brought back from Senegal by Adanson, who had observed the animal in its living state. “The blacks who served him during his sojourn in Senegal,” Geoffroy writes, “having remarked that he took notes on all the productions of their country, obtained this animal for him.” The conscientious attention of Geoffroy’s servants to his naturalizing stands in contrast to the startled cry of the Malagache, as recorded by Sonnerat. But the contrast also stands in for the role of sources in providing useful guidance. 56



56 Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, “Extrait d’un Mémoire sur un nouveau genre de quadrupèdes, de l’ordre des Rongeurs (Glires L.), lu à la Société d’Histoire-Naturelle,” La Décade Philosophique 5 (10 Pluviôse An III [1795]): 194 [193–206]. 57 Ibid., 194. 58 “Le Galago du Sénégal,” in Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, Frédéric Cuvier, Histoire Naturelle des Mammifères, vol. 1 (Paris: A. Belin, 1833), 232. Geoffry Saint-Hilaire, “Mémoire sur les rapports naturels des Makis Lemur, L. et Description d’une espèce nouvelle de Mammifère,” Magasin Encyclopédique, ou Journal des Sciences vol. 2, no. 1 (1796): 20–50.


Geoffroy was convinced that to make a new genus for the Ayeaye would make an important contribution to natural history, if for no other reason than that it would “rectify a published error in a widely available book.” It is well to note, this is Geoffroy’s first publication, in which he rather boldly seeks to rearrange the terms of reference for and within a field he had barely entered. Thus he was circumspect not only in his usage, but in identifying all the material conditions and procedure in rendering his diagnosis. Geoffroy thought at first to give the Aye-aye a Greek name, scolecophagus (Scoleco- (worm) + phagus (to eat)), i.e. Vermibus victitans, since it eats worms. Yet Sonnerat, who had provided knowledge of the Ayeaye’s habits, was not sufficiently specific in this regard. He did not indicate whether it ate true worms, or rather insect larva, which are commonly and mistakenly called worms. And it seemed that the Aye-aye did not feed on worms exclusively, since Sonnerat, who kept two of them for some time, had fed them rice. More probative for Geoffroy was their large, strong, incisive teeth, which left him no doubt that they were able to eat animals for animals “pose far greater resistance” to mastication than do worms. Consistent with Cuvier’s magisterial theory of the subordination of characters, Geoffroy offered that “nature always proportioned the organs of animals according to their needs.” To make a place for the Aye-aye in the Systema Naturae, Geoffroy writes, he needed to delineate incisive generic characters, following the principles, the language, and according to the framework “consecrated” by the master and adopted by naturalists throughout Europe. Lacking any positive indications of the Ayeaye’s behavior, Geoffroy decided to do for mammalogy what botanists, entomologists, and conchyliologists had done in naming new species: pay tribute to a famous man. Thus Geoffroy chose the name of his mentor, Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton. Daubentonia madagascariensis Habitat: in occidenta parte insula Madagascar. Geoffroy recalls that the name Aye-aye derived from the “cry of exclamation and astonishment of the inhabitants of Madagascar when they viewed it for the first time.” Sonnerat published his discovery under this name and Geoffroy had no intention of changing it, at least within “French nomenclature,” because it was already widely used and accepted. The name, “signifying nothing in itself,” posed no harm to science, at least until a necessary, and during Buffon’s day long-delayed, reform to French scientific usage was undertaken “following the example of Latin [i.e. Linnaean] nomenclature.” 59


The heavy materials of a Gothic edifice This was the same Daubenton whose contributions to science were commemorated with a memorial column in the Jardin des Plantes. But Commerson was to be commemorated otherwise. In his éloge, Lalande writes that one of the works he had heard Commerson speak of was a dissertation to be entitled, The Martyrology of Botany, in which he would recall all the authors who, 59 60

Geoffroy, “Extrait d’un Mémoire sur un nouveau genre de quadrupèdes,” 196. Ibid., 195–196.

in their “zeal for natural history,” had died from fatigue, sickness, or accidents. Numerous apostles of Linnaeus’s figured among them. Lalande predicted that the “historian of the martyrs” would himself eventually be added to their numbers. In an 1841 report he made to the Académie des Sciences following his voyage in the seas of Africa and Asia, Louis Rousseau began by recalling the real and rhetorical perils and promise of discoveries which Madagascar held in store. “The researches of Commerson and Sonnerat suffice to teach us how different the animals of Madagascar are from those observed elsewhere,” he wrote. Its fauna offers such a remarkable character that one was led, fortunately or otherwise, to consider it a “fragment of some ancient continent, a separate center of creation.” Yet Rousseau was keenly aware that his own adventure followed on that of naturaliste voyageur Armand Etienne Maurice Havet, who died from fever July 1, 1820, barely two weeks after his arrival on Madagascar. His younger brother Nicole Havet, who accompanied him in the capacity of aide-naturaliste, saw to the placement of an inscribed stone where Havet was laid to rest in Tamatave: “He was a victim for his zeal, and will be missed by all who knew him.” The following year Nicole Havet had his brother’s remains brought back to France for a proper burial. Martyrs pay a price for their devotion to witnessing. Commerson made himself available to both the harm and exaltation that provoked the cry: “what admirable country!” But the words that followed are filled with signs of doubt: 61


Somber speculators within their cabinet, poor inventors of systems, how many houses of cards have you made! When will you give up rolling the rock like Sisyphus, always falling back on you? Do you know that you have perhaps not yet determined a single genus? That all your classic and generic characters are precarious? That all the lines of demarcation that it has pleased you to trace will disappear as soon as intermediate genera and species are compared? And you unpityable phrasers, that you have trampled the elegant plant bed of Flora, in collecting the heavy materials of a Gothic edifice.

Mauritius. If it was difficult for even well informed Mauritians to determine Commerson’s actual place of burial, then the obelisk, like the text-critical sign of that name, used to indicate questionable or corrupt words or passages in manuscripts, was a more meaningful marker of his martyrdom than was perhaps originally intended. Even to sketch in the circumstances of Commerson’s death invites the sort of scrutiny that the most modestly scaled but resonant episodes in the lives of naturaliste voyageurs invite, if only because of the constitutively improbable circumstances in which they place themselves. But even such presumably well documented facts as Commerson’s election as correspondant to the Académie des Sciences dissolve into disputed accounts and errors of interpretation. Commerson’s final, if restive, resting place was in that most haunted of houses: the archive. This state of affairs is revealed in one final, unremarked-upon exclamation, made by André Role in his study of the “adventurous life of a savant.” Role takes up the thread of Cuvier’s final analysis of Commerson, the same Cuvier who would have had Commerson honorably buried within the hallowed grounds of the Jardin des Plantes. “Commerson was a man of indefatigable activity,” Cuvier writes. “If he had himself published the harvest of his observations, he would have held one of the most prominent places among naturalists. Unfortunately, he died before having been able to put the finishing touches on his writings, and those to whom his manuscripts and herbaria were entrusted have neglected them in a culpable manner!” The exclamation does not appear in Cuvier’s original text, added by Role to accentuate the accusation, i.e. “J’Accuse . . . !” One last entry from the Bibliographie, no. 1069, indicating the mass of Commerson’s manuscript material deposited in the Bibliothèque of the Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle; see in particular, No. 6. Notes sur quelques Mammifères, des Lemurs, etc.; 7. Dessin In-Fol. de Lémuriens, Fossa, Roussettes, Lézards, etc. The materials would have remained “mute,” like the ground around Flacq where Desjardins sought Commerson’s place of burial. But they spoke from beyond the tomb, appearing and reappearing, as often as not unacknowledged, with troubling and revealing frequency in the works of any number of author who had not been to Madagascar. They had not been to the “admirable island!” But neither then had they failed to return from it. 1 65





Commerson would have his monument. The naturalist who had contemplated his death, his martyrdom to science, was overcome by fever on Île Maurice, 11:45 pm, March 13, 1773, at La Grande Retraite, the estate owned by Sieur Bézac in the quarter of Flacq. The monument, in the form of a modest obelisk surrounded by a wrought iron fence, was erected at the instigation of François Liénard, with support from the Royal Society of Arts & Sciences of 64

61 Louis Rousseau, “Rapport sur les recherches d’Histoire naturelle faites pendant un voyage dans le mers d’Afrique et d’Asie,” Comptes Rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des Science 13 (1841): 528 [528–531]. 62 “Havet (Armand Etienne Maurice),” Annuaire Nécrologique 4 (1824): 177–181. Louis Brunet, La France à Madagascar, 1815-1895 (Paris: Hachette et Cie., 1895), 60. See also no. 6602 in the Bibliothèque de Madagascar. 63 Jérôme de Lalande, “Éloge de M. Commerson,” Observations et Mémoires sur la Physique, sur l’Histoire Naturelle, et sur les Arts 5 (January 1775): 106 [89–120]. 64 “Documents relatifs à la mort de Commerson,” Revue Historique & Littéraire de l’Ile Maurice 5 (1891–1892): 252 [251–252].

65 “Séance du Jeudi, 8 Avril 1880,” Transactions of the Royal Society of Arts & Sciences of Mauritius ser. 2, vol. 11 (1883): 8. 66 Alfred Orian, La Vie et Oeuvre de Philibert Commerson des Humbers (Port Louis: Mauritius Printing Co, 1973), 9. 67 Georges Cuvier, T. Magdeleine de Saint-Agy, Histoire des Sciences Naturelles: Depuis leur Origine jusqu’à nos Jours, vol. 5 (Paris: Fortin, Masson, et Cie, 1845), 95, cited in André Role, “Vie aventureuse d’un savant: Philibert Commerson, martyr de la botanique (1727-1773),” in Étienne Arnaud, ed., Colloque Commerson. Centre Universitaire de la Réunion, St Denis (Saint-Denis: Cazal, 1973), 152 [151–172]. 68 See, Yves Laissus, “Catalogue des manuscrits de Philibert Commerson 17271773) conservés à la Bibliothèque centrale du Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (Paris),” Revue d’histoire des Sciences 31 (1978): 131–162.


Nature by Design Ralph Ghoche


efore organic forces and patterns were sublimated into structural and organizational vectors informing architectural design, they were the subject of intense scrutiny by ornamentalists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Despite the disparaging comments on the excesses of decorative design in L’Art Décoratif d’Aujourd’hui, Le Corbusier drew attention to the modern significance of this type of inquiry. Ornamentalists such as Owen Jones, William Morris, and Eugène Grasset, Le Corbusier remarked, looked directly at nature, “a flower in one hand, and the scalpel of a surgeon” in the other, for they were the first to make visible nature’s essential structures and processes. Le Corbusier uncovered an important motivation on the part of nineteenth-century architects: ornament was not a discrete and detached zone of experimentation; its larger stakes resided in transforming architecture as a whole. As Owen Jones explained in the concluding paragraphs of The Grammar of Ornament, research on new ornamental forms “would be one of the readiest means of arriving at a new style” of architecture. In the works of an important faction of nineteenthcentury architects, ornament was a special locus of organicist and vitalist disclosure, a conduit for a wholly new and potentially disruptive kind of metaphor. While buildings are, of course, made up of inert and largely inorganic constructive members, ornament provided a rupture in that rigid and seamless fabric, a window into an utterly foreign world of fleshy shoots, coiled fronds, and esurient blooms of all kinds. And the more life-capturing and vitalist the ornament, the more it provoked the ire of the orthodox architectural institutions of the day such as the British Royal Academy and the École des Beaux-Arts. Modeling ornament 1

from nature was left to smaller and more artistically radical trade schools, the British Government Schools of Design and the École de Dessin de Paris, which cultivated live botanical specimens for this purpose on their premises. Ornamentalists connected with these institutions delved into the deep structures of plants and produced ornamental motifs that sought to give shape to both the visible geometries of nature and to the invisible principles of growth generating these forms. Even as they drew and modeled the live botanical specimens in front of them, their ornamental compositions did not directly imitate nature but rather aimed to “express” and “conventionalize” it. These transformations of nature were as much a reaction to the classical theories of imitation as they were a response to the reigning positivism of the day and the new means of mechanical reproduction such as Thomas Jordan’s carving machine and the photographic camera. Nor was the design of


1 Le Corbusier, L’Art Décoratif d’Aujourd’hui (1925). Paris: Flammarion, 1996, p. 135. 2 Owen Jones, The Grammar of Ornament. London: Day and son, 1856, p. 155. It might be added here that Jones’ desire to transform architecture by decorative means was best achieved at the Crystal Palace. As official architect for Joseph Paxton’s glass and iron structure, Jones attempted to transform the exhibition hall into a sublime natural spectacle by proposing an interior decor that was as simple as it was effective. Using only three primary colors (derived from his study of color theory) judiciously applied to the iron members, Jones transformed the reading of the building by engineering the atmospherics of what was then the largest enclosed space yet built. The final visual effect looking down the immense glassed-in barrel vault Jones described in floral terms as a “neutralized bloom.”


ornament a completely individual and subjective enterprise. In this sense, the transformation of nature into ornamental motifs was nothing like Adolf Loos’ later characterization of the dandy artist wantonly composing ornament after a night at the concert hall. In fact, books on ornament were among the most philosophical architectural treatises of their time, drawing from the work of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, August Wilhelm Schlegel, and Victor Cousin, among many others. Ornamentalists dealt with a question of profound consequence: how to capture the ver y life pulse of nature; the same animate force that, charges of vivisection notwithstanding, remained elusive even to the anatomist’s scalpel. However divergent from the form of natural specimens, ornamental compositions produced during the nineteenth century were, in a sense, more animate than nature itself. Whatever principles of growth and generation guided the natural world, they remained hidden beyond the incidental deformities and imperfections caused by external forces acting on the individual plant. The ornamentalist interested in disclosing the secrets of plants had to be versed in the botanical and natural sciences in order to discover nature’s inner logic. Perhaps the most compelling figure to bring the disciplines of botany and art together (Art Botany, as it was later called) was Christopher Dresser, a graduate of the Government School of Design and recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Jena in 1860 for his work on Goethe’s morphological theory of plant growth. In a series of early essays published in The Art Journal under the uniform title, “Botany, as Adapted to the Arts and Art-Manufacture,” Dresser expressed the great principle of the organic world as “the centralization of power, or the exertion of a force in a centrifugal manner from a fixed point, which gives marvelous oneness to the structures of the kingdom.” The formulation was crucial to Dresser’s analytic diagrams of plant structures in his subsequent book, Unity and Variety, as Deduced from the Vegetable Kingdom, and to his ornamental compositions such as the sketch illustrating “Power” in Principles of Decorative Design of 1873. In designing the motif, Dresser employed forms from living organisms that best captured the vital life-pulse of nature, such as spring buds, the wing bones of birds, and fins from certain species of fish. Sharp lines of force, some vegetal and others skeletal, radiate from the lower left corner of the image and are accentuated by the unfurling sprigs holding the composition together. It is stunning how the motif seems to at once expand outward and retract back to its natal source, as though acted upon by a force un-rendered. Nature was not imitated or reproduced in these motifs, but summoned and focused in such a way as to elicit in the mind of the viewer the very same vital energies that lay at the heart of the organic world. 3

Figure 1. Owen Jones, Illustration from The Grammar of Ornament. London: Day and son, 1856, p. 46.

3 Christopher Dresser, “Botany, as Adapted to the Arts and Art-Manufacture.” The Art Journal 3, 1857, p. 17.

Figure 2.

Christopher Dresser, Principles of Decorative Design. London : Cassell, Petter, & Galpin, 1873, fig. 12, representing “Power.”

Dresser’s characterization of organic life as a force radiating from a fixed point and unfurling centrifugally outwards was very much in the spirit of Goethe’s discoveries. In the late eighteenth century, Goethe set himself apart from the prevailing classificatory approaches to nature based on external appearances and searched for inner motives underlying vegetal form. In the short booklet The Metamorphosis of the Plant published in 1790, Goethe evoked the image of the Urpflanze, an archetypal plant that represented the essential dichotomy at the heart of organic life: the ability for a unified generative force to manifest itself through infinite variation. The question was essentially a philosophical one, and its consequences extended as much to plant form as to artistic creation. Dresser himself had recognized this aspect of Goethe’s interest in urtypes when he wrote: “The designer’s mind must be like the vital force of a plant, ever developing itself into forms of beauty.” Literary passages and images connecting the growth of a plant with the unfolding of creative thoughts and dreams 71

the neo-Gothic architects Jean-Baptiste Lassus and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (the meaning they ascribed to it would be the basis for its modern usage), was centered around the notion that the empiricism and sensualism of Locke and Condillac could be reconciled with the idealism of Kant. Cousin transformed the philosophy of eclecticism into an aesthetic theory that sought to create an active tension between geometrically ordered unity, and spry and vigorous movement and diversity. In keeping with Cousin’s position, Ruprich-Robert’s architectural work did not “conventionalize” nature into two-dimensional motifs in the manner of the Government Schools of Design in Britain; rather, his ornament unleashed the rounded corpulence of vegetal form in order to reunite the real with the ideal. His interest in Cousin’s method allowed him to combine rigorous inquiry into botanical form with esoteric theories on plant life culled from the work of Arnold Boscowitz on the souls of plants, and perhaps from that of J.J. Grandville on animate flowers . The merging of the scientific and concrete with the spiritualist and transcendental were pivotal elements in Ruprich-Robert’s teachings. This facet of his work informed much of fin-de-siècle design in France, and also in America, where Louis Sullivan, who attended Ruprich-Robert’s courses and redrew images from Flore, would reorder plant forms into seemingly infinite matrices of cosmic resonance. By the end of the century, ornament had nearly consumed architectural form within the contortions of its vitalist pulse. The more tenaciously it transformed the host structure, which, more often than not was composed of the very new, and technologically innovative materials of iron, steel, and plate glass, the more ornament appeared as something of a veil, naturalizing the otherwise alienating products of the newly industrialized world. A half century earlier, Marx and Engels had evoked the German satirical tradition of the verkehrte Welt to highlight the absurd phenomenon by which commodities produce desires that are inversely related to their provenance and use. No doubt Surrealists saw ornament in this way. As Salvador Dali implied in his article, “The Terrifying and Comestible Beauty of Fin-deSiècle Architecture,” Art Nouveau and other late nineteenthcentury adventures in vegetal decor were successful because they broke the wall of Kantian disinterest and promised to fill a psychological void they could never truly satisfy. Dali concluded the article with the simple maxim: “Beauty shall be edible or it shall not be.” And ingest ornament the avant-garde architects did. For in their work so many of the biological discoveries first thematized by ornamentalists in the nineteenth century 5


Figure 3.

Moritz von Schwind, Album fur Raucher und Trinker, 1833.

Figure 4. Victor Ruprich-Robert, Chapiteau, engraving, from Flore Ornementale. Paris: Dunod, 1866, p. 145.

abound in the nineteenth century, such as Austrian painter Moritz von Schwind’s illustration of an opium smoker. The notion of unity in variety promised to hold universal principles for form creation. By the mid-nineteenth century, the English meteorologist and pioneering balloonist James Glaisher published detailed images of snow crystals under a microscope in order to demonstrate that within the sixsided template of the snowflake, infinite variation could arise. Within a few years, these images dotted some of the most important architectural treatises of the day, including Gottfried Semper’s Der Stijl. Architects reinterpreted the history of building along the lines of the urtype, arguing that underwriting architectural form throughout the millennia were universal principles that expressed themselves in unendingly diverse ways. Like the plant whose final form was transformed by the environmental conditions around it, architects sought new forms that, while based in universal motives, responded architectonically to the zeitgeist of their age. The notion was also extended to the constructional logic of buildings. Following on natural scientist George Cuvier’s famous claim that one could reconstruct an entire organism from the fossilized remains of a single bone, architecture too saw itself as a complete system of construction in which the 4

4 On the importance of Goethe’s Urpflanze on artistic creativity in the nineteenth century see Annika Waenerberg, Urpflanze und Ornament: Pflanzenmorphologische Angregungen in der Kunsttheorie und Kunst von Goethe bis zum Jugendstil. Helsinki: Finnish Society of Science and Letters, 1992.


individual variation of its parts contributed to the organic unity of the whole. These ideas were especially influential in France, where ornamentalists transformed discourses that were internal to the disciple, into outward and overt displays of natural form. During the nineteenth century, no work of ornamental theory commanded the interest and attention of architects and decorative artists as did Flore Ornementale. Written by the architect Victor Ruprich-Robert, Flore was the result of three decades of teaching at the École de Dessin de Paris (later the École des Arts Décoratifs), a training school for aspiring decorative artists. Unlike Owen Jones’ ordering of ornament along historical lines, Ruprich sought a grammaire of ornament based on an expansive taxonomy of plant species. In the plates of Flore one finds the celery stalk, the papaya plant, the absinthe flower, and the cannabis leaf, to name but a few of the five hundred species represented. In the introduction to the work, Ruprich-Robert urged his readers to develop a new symbolism of natural form that could confront the pervasive historicism of the era and generate a wholly new architectural expression; what elsewhere he had designated as an art nouveau. Again, ornament was a critical vehicle in the challenge against the orthodox positions of architectural practice and pedagogy. Ruprich-Robert drew from Victor Cousin’s philosophy of éclectisme, which, before the word was disparaged by


5 See: Arnold Boscowitz, L’Âme de la Plante. Paris: P. Ducrocq, 1867, and J.J. Grandville, Taxile Delord, and Alphonse Karr, Les Fleurs Animées. Paris: G. de Gonet, 1847. 6 On the influence of Ruprich-Robert on Sullivan, see David Van Zanten, “Sullivan to 1890,” in Wim de Wit, ed., Louis Sullivan: The Function of Ornament. New York: W. W. Norton, 1986. 7 “La beauté sera comestible ou ne sera pas.” Salvador Dali, “De la Beauté Terrifiant et Comestible de l’Architecture Moderne Style,” Minotaure, no. 1, 1933.

Figure 5.

Detail of Hector Guimard’s Paris Metro with caption: “THE SOFT BASE OF THIS from Salvador Dalí, “De la beauté terrifiant et comestible de l’architecture Moderne Style,” Minotaure, no. 1, 1933.


were internalized into design criteria, constructional logic, or organizational diagrams. In the language of the avantgarde architect, whether Expressionist, Sachlich, De Stijl, or Constructivist, there was a pronounced logic of organicism, intrinsic to the meaning of words such as functionalism, type, and circulation. Le Corbusier was very much representative of this tendency, and in the pages of his publications one finds numerous illustrations of organic structures such as sections through flowers and shells and diagrams of digestive and nervous systems. In one telling description, published in 1928 in Une Maison, un Palais, Le Corbusier juxtaposed an image of the leaves of a linden tree drawn in his youth (“at a time when I piously occupied myself with the study of the wonders of nature,” he writes), with a photograph of 8

8 For a contemporaneous analysis of the organic metaphor in the work of the German avant-garde see Adolf Behne, The Modern Functional Building. Santa Monica, CA., Getty Publications, 1996. More recently, there have been a number of reappraisals of the organic metaphor in the work of modern architects. See especially Detlef Mertins, “Living in a Jungle: Mies, Organic Architecture and the Art of City Building,” in Mies in America. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2001.


Villa Stein taken obliquely as to foreground the departure of a car from its internal car park. “I show you the branch of a linden tree,” Le Corbusier remarked, “You will observe a phenomenon of circulation, an expression of its vital motives. Everything, and also in architecture, is a question of circulation.” The maxim “architecture is circulation,” which he coined two years later in Précisons, pointed to the profound analogy between the movement of the vital and organic life-forces and that of the human form within the architectural and urban fabric. In the work of avant-garde architects, the organic metaphor was just that; a metaphor, an analogical device that served to establish penetrating relationships between the living organism and the living building. Apart from German architect Hermann Finsterlin, only Dada and Surrealist artists truly entertained the possibility of architecture completely dissolving its age-old tectonic and constructive traditions in favor of the forms of fleshy and vegetal organs. Writing in the journal Minotaure, Tristan Tzara called for an “intrauterine” architecture, cavernous and voluptuous dwellings that would unleash pre-natal desires. “Modern architecture, hygienic and stripped of its ornaments,” Tzara warned, “has no chances of survival.” With the conjoining of computational and genetic research of the last few decades, architects today are again mesmerized by the capability of producing so much complexity and variation from compact and simple codes. Like Goethe’s Urpflanze, and the ornamental work that it occasioned, one could argue that architects are attempting once more to capture and display the fleeting sources of life. And without the irony and political motives of Dada and Surrealism, contemporary designers have begun to generate architecture directly out of the forms and patterns of life, with the one key difference that nature today has become as much a product of design as the genetically modified ornaments and patterned organisms that populate their works. 

Of Mixing and Making Ferda Kolatan


Double, double toil and trouble Fire burn and cauldron bubble

The untrained Grenouille then proceeds to create, in a frantic fit, the desired scent by mixing, sniffing, and remixing ingredients, leaving the great master heartbroken and speechless in the process. Baldini’s entire life, devoted to finding the equation of the perfect formula leading to the perfect perfume, is shattered at once by the improvisational talent and ad-hoc mixing mastery of the apprentice. Baldini’s trust in exactitude and proportionality as the foundational elements of perfumery crumbles in light of Grenouille’s

ability to recognize and pick up the essential qualities of an odor and synthesize them into a complete work of art. This witty exchange between the two characters does more than just reflect on the age-old question of how to achieve excellence in a creative field. Can it be identified, locked into a formula, and bottled up? Or is it a fleeting quality, one that depends on circumstance, discovery, and experimentation? The exchange also touches a contemporary nerve in regards to our current understanding of nature and how we position ourselves within it. The complex act of mixing a fragrance – the extraction of aromatic compounds from raw materials and the collection of oils through pressing, squeezing, and compressing – requires the delicate and deliberate blending of synthetic processes with nature’s own properties. In a recent interview, the philosopher Iain Hamilton Grant heralds a cultural shift from a physical paradigm towards a chemical one. To identify the main characteristic of this shift, Grant points to the different modes of dealing with analysis and synthesis in each respective field. Physics relies heavily on analysis in respect to data, mathematical equations, and observation in order to determine the nature of things. Chemistry on the other hand mixes analysis with synthesis not only to determine, but to “recreate nature.” Thus, “knowledge is only complete when production has taken place.” Or in other words, we cannot truly know nature without making it; and by making it, it cannot truly be nature as it has been synthesized. This conundrum suggests not only a complete overhaul of our existing definitions of both knowledge and nature but also points towards a different kind of ecology altogether, one where ideas of production, natural as well as synthetic, nest inseparably within each other. Both the term “recreating nature” as well as the theme of this publication Not Nature invoke a deliberately paradoxical stand against the notion of nature as we know it. Both terms reveal an ambition to shatter longstanding

1 Patrick Süskind, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. Vintage International, 2001, p. 70.

2 Iain Hamilton Grant, The Chemical Paradigm-Collapse, Volume VII. Urbanomic: UK 2011, p. 41. 3 Ibid, p. 41. 4 Ibid, p. 41.

- William Shakespeare Macbeth


Contained within it was the magic formula for everything that could make a scent, a perfume, great: delicacy, power, stability, variety, and terrifying, irresistible beauty. - Patrik Süskind Perfume: The Story of a Murderer



n Patrick Süskind’s acclaimed novel Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, the following dialog takes place in eighteenth century Paris between Grenouille, a young man with an exceptionally keen sense of smell, and Baldini, a celebrated but aging perfumer:

Figure 6. Le Corbusier, Une Maison, un Palais: à la Recherche d’une Unité Architecturale. Paris: G. Cres et Cie, 1928, p. 79. © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / F.L.C. “I show you the branch of a linden tree,” Le Corbusier remarked, “You will observe a phenomenon of circulation, an expression of its vital motives.”

Baldini: A formula is the alpha and omega of every perfume. It contains scrupulously exact instructions for the proportions needed to mix individual ingredients so that the result is the unmistakable scent on desires. That is a formula. It is the recipe – if that is a word you understand better.


Grenouille: Formula, formula, I don’t need a formula. I have the recipe in my nose. Can I mix it for you, maître, can I mix it, can I? 1

9 Le Corbusier, Une Maison, un Palais: à la Recherche d’une Unité Architecturale. Paris: G. Cres et Cie, 1928, p. 78. 10 “The formal type that is the last greatest genial invention of the terrestrial spirit - organic form - lies between the crystalline and the amorphous. My architecture also sprouts at this transition point. Inside the new house one will not only feel as though one is the occupant of a fabulous crystal druse, but like the internal resident of an organism, wandering from organ to organ, a symbiont of giving and receiving within a fossil of a gigantic mother’s body.” from Hermann Finsterlin, Frühlicht, no. 2, p. 36. The quote appears in Adolf Behne, The Modern Functional Building, p. 113. 11 Tristan Tzara, “D’un Certain Automatisme du Gout,” Minotaure, no. 1, 1933, p. 84. One might also mention Salvador Dali’s Crisalida pavilion in the shape of a cocoon commissioned by Wallace Laboratories for the American Medical Association in 1958 in order to visualize the effects of their new tranquilizer drug.





Figure 2. Hannibal Newsom

Figure 1.

Madeline Nero

cultural and perhaps artificial divisions: between concepts of nature and technology and between what we perceive as nature and what we produce into or through it. Of course, this last part is of particular relevance to architects since we seek to shape the world – both in cultural as well as natural terms – through the things we put into it. By doing so we have maintained throughout history a shifting yet consistent attitude towards nature: consistent in its predicament that it reflects or unearths, through means of design, fundamental rules and principles of nature, but shifting in its definitions of what those rules are and how those core principles are ultimately reflected. It may be useful to recapitulate, quickly and in broad strokes, as a kind of selective survey, what some of those nature-design paradigms are. Here is a look at three of them. In antiquity, the key to unlocking the true nature of things was found in numbers and mathematical code. Harmony, proportionality, and various forms of symmetry have ruled supreme in the western architect’s mind for centuries. Through observation and reflection, nature’s principles were determined and subsequently manifested in such things as the spacing of marble columns, plan-to76

section ratios, and other related ideas depicting order out of nature. Geometry became the architect’s most important tool, providing an a priori template through which the range of possible expressions was regulated. Nature here was static perfection, standing tall on an imperishable formula, unyielding to time and men. Design was both the search for and the reinforcement of this perfection with the architectphilosopher as the intermediary. In the seventeenth century a significant shift occurred away from abstract translations of nature through numbers towards concrete absorptions of nature through atmospheres. Nature was now experienced rather than dissected. The exploratory, analytical mind of humanism was succeeded by the counter-reformist spirit, awestruck and affected. Light, movement, and plasticity obfuscated the clear tectonic arrangements of the Renaissance. A new all-embracing spatiality emerged and affected viewers in unprecedented ways. Architecture moved from an elaborate organization of parts and relational systems towards a willful orchestration of the whole. The idea of nature receded back into a realm of mystery. It could never be fully known, understood, or re-created, only experienced. No longer did the architect

decode nature to uncover hidden truths about it; instead, he staged spaces for apperception. The tendency of the Baroque to fuse together building components, as if to make an existing and well understood vocabulary illegible, found its highest expression in Rococo. While smaller in scale and more humble in attitude, it was here where walls, floors, and ceilings completely dissolved in a maze of articulated surfaces, ornaments, and colors. The totalizing effect of this experience knew no boundaries between sculpture, painting, and architecture. Such hierarchies and orders were deliberately broken down to create an apparitional and all-absorbing impact. The mundane and all-pervasive Rocaille, often applied in malleable and inexpensive stucco, deployed literal and figurative bits of nature into extensively layered compositions. This miniaturization of nature reflected an eagerness for intimacy, affinity, and lust typical for the era of Louis XV, and rejected the sweeping effects of awe and grandeur common in Baroque. Nature here was not seen through the lens of abstraction or reverence, but as a direct correlate of our own personal feelings and desires. I chose to highlight these three particular paradigms as they echo many of the sentiments in our recent debates on nature over the last twenty years or so. This time frame, not surprisingly, also coincides with the advent and

maturation of generative computational design. The Greek paradigm, for instance, still lives in many of the designs based on algorithms, complex geometries, and topologies, all of which, outspoken or not, uphold and reinforce ideas of universality, rules, and core principles. Granted, while these aren’t Euclidian or rationalist Cartesian rules, they mirror eerily the very ambition to search for and determine an inevitable idea and systemize it into a global formalorganizational language: computation as a compact naturemachine, matter as code. While this ideology follows the trajectory of the hiddenrules-in-nature model, another divergent ideology has been drawing parallels to the second paradigm. In an effort to shift the focus from an overly “scientific” and process-based interpretation as it relates to digital design, the emphasis here revolves around a re-investigation of concepts of nature based on the atmospheric and the sublime. The novelty of radical computational form and plasticity, its otherness in comparison to conventional form, was examined through its affect. Design techniques and methodologies, while being technically further refined, needed to become invisible and made deliberately mysterious again, in order not to interfere with the natural perception of the observer. If one were to identify these two divergent ideologies broadly as rooted either in the humanist-enlightened 77

tradition or in the counter-reformist and later the Romantic Movement, then the third paradigm, the one of Rococo, provides yet another compelling reading of nature and design. Through a breakdown of scalar and material hierarchies, repetitions with self-similar motives, and whimsical plays on asymmetry, this style engages in an immediate, unfettered manner. Visual and physical excess, boundless variations, and intellectual accessibility reflect a personal, almost affectionate relationship to nature. Gone are the coded references to nature’s hidden rules; gone are the awe-inspiring, grand, and humbling feelings triggered by emotion. Rococo views nature in the most literal fashion. It takes a composite component such as the Rocaille and freely recreates nature from it, through it. In contrast to these older paradigms, the chemical paradigm as suggested by Grant, rejects both the interpretative approach towards nature through any type of sign, number, or value, as well as any concepts based on affect and phenomena. Moving into a different territory altogether Grant breaks down the barrier between “us,” technology, and nature through his paradox of recreating nature. He continues that only chemistry “adds a visceral dimension” to the empirical, stressing a deeply organic relationship between the acts of synthesizing matter and our own constituent molecules – after all they are made of the same stuff. Nature does not distinguish here just as Grenouille cannot in any meaningful way distinguish between the odors he detects and the act of recreating or re-constituting them further into new sensations. To him, all of it is a single, continuous process, moving seamlessly and molecularly from raw material to his sensory system and back into the world in an altered synthetic-natural capacity. 5

Design Finesse – An Experiment

Figure 5.

Achilleas Kakkavas

Inspired by some of these ideas, I asked my students in this semester’s Design Finesse seminar to think about ways of generating images through a set of material experiments. In years past this course would exclusively focus on finessing digital techniques and then proceed to physically model the results. This time around a reverse emphasis was placed on the production of a “physically” generated image first, which then in later steps will be digitized and remodeled. The images on these pages display some of the results of this initial phase. The students began by probing, mixing, and observing the effects of different substances, ranging from cooking ingredients to all kinds of liquids and solutions. Many of them set up individual, small “chemist labs” in order to facilitate their experiments and achieve better results as they were developing their projects. As no specific target requirements were given at the beginning of the seminar, each student had to formulate their agenda during the process itself. In 5


Figure 3.

Michelle Fowler

Ibid., p. 41.


Still, Life Hannibal Newsom

When I heard the learn’d astronomer; When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me; When I was shown the charts and the diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them; When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room, How soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; Till rising and gliding out, I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars. - Walt Whitman Figure 4.

other words the material qualities emerging through the experiments needed to be identified, distilled, and enhanced in order to be transformed into a deliberate design approach. The success of the results depended on a number of factors. Chief among them was the students’ ability to refine the parameters of their experiments. The original choice of substance was of course a main contributor, but it became clear early on in the process that no singular character was necessarily emerging based on the main ingredients. In fact many projects looked alike early on, displaying general qualities of flow or aggregation without distinguishing themselves in any particular way. Only midway through the process, due to the students’ keen sense to pick up on “tendencies,” did the projects begin to develop their authenticity. Another main factor in the project development was the process of synthesis and sequence. How and when to blend components, in what order, in what quantities? This phase relied entirely on trial and error, the continual adjustment of the procedure, and a well worked out methodology, to fully benefit from the feedback of earlier stages of the experiment. Along with this factor came the necessity to improve the “laboratory” setup for the experiments and tweak it to better respond to the problems and obstacles each student individually faced. It quickly became evident that the equipment played a vital, even generative role in each process, not only as a tool but as an active element with 80

Roman Chikerinets

a tremendous impact on the quality of the projects. Finally, the physical treatment of the components carried probably the biggest weight in determining the project outcomes. Heat, cold, and forced movement was used to shake up, whirl, and re-structure particles and molecules within the substances to generate interesting effects. The resulting phase changes in turn caused the occurrences of myriads of miniature storms, eddies, and vortices. Color was often added to trace these formations but also to add to the visual complexity and beauty of the emerging patterns. Color and material engaged each other not in a layered successive fashion but directly, sometimes violently, on a particle scale. The resulting images from this set of material experiments all evoke many of the qualities we have been associating with advanced computation and investigating in our work. Among these are complexity, intricacy, and novel visual and material effects. We also find emergent patterns that display order without the monotony of simple derivative repetitions or singular, definitive clarity. And yet, these images are also very different as they carry along a quality of messiness usually not found in digitally produced imagery. In fact, the final images were ultimately digitally enhanced by many of the students in an attempt to neutralize the all too-overpowering aspects of nature within them.


erhaps the instinct for survival originally pitted humans against nature; made man feel his environment was something alien, or outside of himself. The human built environment, at its most basic level, indeed sprang up out of a need for shelter, security, and safety from a milieu of forces beyond our comprehension or control. This human/ nature dichotomy is evident throughout human history, in our cultures, in our myths and religions, and is especially prevalent in the discourse of architectural history. The development of our synthetic built environment, fueled by the need to separate and protect ourselves from the wild, has in turn led to the view of our built environment as inherently human (read: unnatural), with nature as the inherently wild, untamable other – an enemy which must be brought to heel. This divide, which developed out of weakness, eventually transformed into a desire to subjugate, and in fact domesticate, nature. This question of what Is or is Not Nature is of critical importance to architectural theory, and its answer provides us with a means to position our discipline within the context of human history and our contemporary place in society. Timothy Morton argues that there is no external container, Nature, within which there exists a network of myriad objects connected by various causal relationships. Yet, in the light of an instinct for survival or a desire for physical and psychological comfort the idea of nature as wild and untamable, and our desire to domesticate it, seems entirely rational. This presents Not Nature with a dilemma: on the one hand there is the 1

1 See Timothy Morton, “Architecture Without Nature” p. 20., in the current volume for further reading.

question of our subjective relation to “Nature,” a concept that only makes sense from a human perspective: nature as descriptor, nature as a mechanism for understanding and interacting with a larger phenomenon that is largely beyond our control. On the other hand we have “Not Nature,” the ongoing, independently-existing, system of which everything, ourselves included, is a part – the collective of living and nonliving entities whose varied interactions define existence. In this era of exponential innovation, of iPads and electric cars, cell phones and supercomputers the size of credit cards, we find ourselves further and further enmeshed in a synthetic technological reality. Surrounded by human invention, we naively - or intentionally - disregard the fact that we are organic beings, that the raw material of our most synthesized creations is perfectly organic, that, in fact, all we do and all we create is of, and not distinct from or above, the organic material environment. However, having subjugated and displaced the “natural environment,” and replaced it with one of our own creation, we are loath to admit these disparate environments are in fact one and the same, as if this concession would in some way be a diminution of our power. Instead, we appropriate only the most beautiful and most tamable elements of the wild - trees, bushes, or flowers, though nothing more dangerous than a rose; we breed them for what are considered their most “desirable” characteristics, and place them deliberately within the confines of what would otherwise be strictly human habitation. We lay them in visually pleasing arrangements reminiscent of only the most ordered of their wild cousins; they are domesticated. It is as if they stand as a reminder that this place was once wild, but has long since been conquered. It’s 9:00; do you know where your Hyperobjects are? This domestic/wild dichotomy is evident in the practice of architectural sustainability. It is a consequence of domestication that once something has been removed from the wild and tamed it must then be cared for, and the concept of nature as a force that has been domesticated easily lends itself to the idea that it is the lot of humans to be overseers or caretakers of Nature. This view is so prevalent that within our profession it is 81

accepted that the only logical solution to our current ecological crisis is, ironically, further intervention in the wild. Rather than abstain from intervention, we seem to believe that by altering the means of our interference we might re-establish some ideal condition, what David Ruy critiques as, “the widely held belief that nature would be in equilibrium if not for the malevolent intervention of mankind.” We propose to monitor and track this altered manner of intervention in search of equilibrium through green labeling or rating systems, but this amounts to little more than the sale of environmental indulgences. For just a few (thousand) dollars, an energy-star rating, and a bicycle rack you will receive a big bright plaque, maybe even an article in the paper, that says, “I am a green architect, and this is a green building” - architectural absolution writ large. Yet these systems fail to address how the relative increase in some quantifiable efficiency of a single building, compared to what it might have been, could be significant enough to affect a reality that far exceeds it in scale. I am not arguing against responsible material practices, 2


2 See David Ruy, “Returning to Strange Objects,” p. 39. in the current volume. 3 As of March 22, 2012 there are approximately 137,000 LEED registered projects worldwide (see as compared to the roughly 900,000 buildings in Manhattan alone, according to the Annual Report on the NYC Real Property Tax for the Fiscal Year 2006 (see http://www.

but the mindset behind architectural sustainability. Unfortunately, in practice it has become largely an economic exercise, which is evident in the language of the profession: efficiency, economy, value, etc. With all the myriad agencies and enterprises behind sustainable practice today, one could even argue that sustainability has become an autopoeitic capitalist machine feeding on the insecurity and pridefulness of architecture as a profession, while simultaneously avoiding, if not dismissing, the real issue at its core – the development of a universal standard of acceptable environmental conditions in a (posthumanist) society. Rather than aspire to some perfect non-human equilibrium, this standard should seek measurable balance in an environment that takes into account our “malevolent intervention” (for example the exhaust from our buildings or motor vehicles – despite their relative efficiency). Timothy Morton alludes to this need for a universal standard with his idea of “dark ecology.” If there is no Nature there is certainly no perfect, natural condition void of humans that we can aspire to “recreate” or “return” to, therefore, as Morton points out, “trying to come up with the best kind of world is just inhibiting ecological progress.” “Dark ecology” is precisely the notion of continued coexistence with the world 4


See Timothy Morton, “Architecture Without Nature,” p. 22., in the current volume.

that we have created for ourselves, and is further accentuated by the idea of the Hyperobject:

In design, number has often bridged the divide between the “domestic” and the “wild.” Throughout architectural history, regardless of the specific temporal symbolic meaning, the discourse of nature has had its origins in observed physical phenomena – phenomena that were boiled down into mathematical approximations and articulated through the concurrent architectural theory, design, and construction. In our contemporary discourse complex dynamic natural systems are observed, studied, and distilled down to abstract computational algorithms. These algorithms, in turn, are scripted into the design process. Scripting, and its conceptual comrade in arms, emergence (complex behaviors arising from relatively simple rule sets) have dominated a branch of theoretical discourse for the last fifteen to twenty years. This facet of the discourse has been involved in the domestication of

“wild” natural phenomena, and their subjective application to architectural design; computation in contemporary architecture often resorts to an abstract expression or imitation of nature. But there is no clear explanation as to why this is appropriate or useful, or why flocking, to take one obvious example, should be applied to architectural design. Certainly one could argue that a certain mesmerizing emergent behavior can be found, for example, in the study of the patterns of movement in the thousands of people that travel through Grand Central Station on a daily basis, but computation seems to be more intent on developing formal novelty through the expression of animal bio-mimicry than it is concerned with addressing specific flows of actual human behavior. Simultaneously, this recent period in architectural history has placed great emphasis on the design process over the designed object. This was evident as early as 1983, when Alberto Pérez-Gómez wrote that, “Today, theory in any discipline is generally identified with methodology; it has become a specialized set of prescriptive rules concerned with technological values, that is, with process rather than ultimate objectives.” Arguably this mindset only intensified in architecture in the intervening years, but this processbased viewpoint is now coming into question. The output of computation-based architectural processes may be visually stunning, exhibiting, for example, complex surface conditions or novel structural systems, but if formal aesthetic novelty is the desired result then the focus should be on the quality of the object and not the intricacy of the process. The distillation of the flocking behavior of, say, the Starlings on Ot Moor into an algorithm that can be applied at will to a design problem may produce avant-garde architectural effects, but if that is the primary goal, the origin of the script, or its means of application, should be of secondary concern. Despite the mystifying aesthetic quality of this scripted architecture, with only the most cursory knowledge of scripting processes it becomes obvious how these forms are developed. They become attainable and lose much of their magic. A classic example of the human/nature dichotomy in computation is the vast investment of time, money, and resources that has been spent in the development of the genetic algorithm. The cracking of the human genome and its insertion into a scripting process represents the pinnacle of this branch of the computational discourse: the ultimate domestication, the subjugation of one of the most elusive, complex natural processes known. Yet the genome itself presents a paradox: DNA it is at once part of that wild, untamable other, and is also intrinsically human. It is in the study of DNA where the human/nature dichotomy breaks down. Nevertheless there is the idea of the genetic algorithm in architecture, the aspiration to one day ‘grow’ architecture;

5 6 See the cover of the current volume. 7 Columbia University, under Bernard Tschumi, introduced the Paperless studio at Columbia University in the 1994-1995 academic year.

8 Alberto Pérez-Gómez, Architecture and the Crisis of Modern Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983, p. 5. 9 For a stunning visual display of the Starlings on Ot Moor refer to http://www.

A Hyperobject is an object, any object, that forces us to realise that it is not only strange but forcibly assigned to the age of execution. It will execute itself without us, it will outlive us and possibly outsmart us in the contingent way objects do almost all the time. [To] Quote Morton, they are, “Massively distributed, in Space-Time, an object that radically transforms our ideas of what an object is.”…”They are messages in bottles of the future; they don’t quite exist in a present.” 5

Hyperobjects are not necessarily individual; they are also global or systematic – they can be single pieces of Styrofoam, or the all the Styrofoam on earth referred to as a single entity with its large scale collective impact on the environment. Whether non-biodegradable plastic, floating islands of debris, or the carbon monoxide we exhaust into the atmosphere – all striking examples of Hyperobjects – they exist and continuously alter and affect our organic, built, or technological environments, despite their seeming non-presence. Albatross carcasses bloated with plastic and other synthetic debris are a chilling example of this largely unseen impact. Hyperobjects are a “feral nature”; they are neither wild, nor domestic, but a domesticated nature that has been discarded or forgotten, released into the wild to unleash unknown, untold havoc. They debase green sustainable practice, illustrating that it will take more than cost-effective, energy-saving buildings or responsible construction practices to mitigate our ecological crisis. Their invisible presence and frightening impact reinforce the urgent need for the development of a tenable dark ecology. 6

Aesthetic Sensibility of the Machine


Figure 1.






true cultural relevance. The idea of the genetic algorithm in architecture emerged during a different crisis, not from our current ecological imperative, but in the watershed moment of the computational/parametric era. Our obsession and fetishization with our new digital tools led us to believe that at one point in time – the new technology perfected – we would be able to, in a mirroring of nature, grow architecture! Even if that were realized, architecture, much as a person, is irreducible to its constituent parts and irreducible to its process.

and refined, yet incredibly simple. But there is no point in talking about the process. The process is domestic, it is known, it is controlled; the images themselves are wild. They contain conceptually far more than what originally went into them physically, and in many cases present the level of visual complexity one would normally expect from computational, scripted, or natural processes. Therefore, to define it would give the game away. The comparison Mark Gage made between Fight Club and parametric architecture applies here as well, that is, “The first rule of fight club is you do not talk about fight club!” As with scripting or parametrics, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. With even the meanest knowledge of the underlying process, once it is clear what the images actually are, once the veil of intangibility is removed, the products of these, often simple, processes lose their magic. Once the overtly simple content is exposed and redefines the viewer’s relation to the image, the image itself becomes just as mundane as the elements that comprise it. If I were to explain to you the incredibly simple setup that resulted in these images then any potential power inherent in the images themselves would be overwhelmed by an emphasis on the process instead of the product. However, if we ignore the process altogether, and focus only on the images - familiar and alien at the same time, existing across scales and boundaries, affecting the viewer, hinting at definition, promising clarity, yet never defining content – we maintain the air of mystique that surrounds the series, and stays with the viewer even after the images are no longer physically present. 10

Object as Environment

Figure 2.


a concept which, arguably, could displace the hand of the designer. However, there is more to human development than simply the execution of the algorithm. A parent may pass their genes on to a child, but it is not simply one’s physical attributes that defines one as a unique being. That is to say, individuals are not simply reducible to the process that created them. Personal habits, learned behaviors, and idiosyncrasies that define individuals have as much to do with nurture - the hand of the designer - as they do with nature - the automated process (DNA) that resulted in the physical development of the corporeal body. To apply this analogy to architecture one could say that the learned behaviors represent the sensibilities of a good designer. In any scripting process, as with DNA, there is the required combination of inputs, the process itself, and the raw output. And it is a rare case that the raw output of the script is ever presented as the final product. This is the often obscured point in algorithmic design that the raw output is further developed, massaged, or coerced into its final form. In the cases that raw output is presented as final, the scripted process itself has been edited and re-edited many times by the script writer. Whether refining the script or the object itself, the end result of computational architecture remains the onus of the designer, and is never left solely to the aesthetic sensibility of the machine. It is a fantastical idea that architecture can be completely scripted, but pure process alone lacks the ability to imbue a designed object with deeper meaning necessary for 84

As a young designer about to the enter the field, it occurs to me that these questions concerning materialist or objectoriented ontologies have in fact already been prevalent in my education. These are not concepts that I have had to come to terms with, but rather they are simply the norm. The idea of nature as an emergent property of objects, and not an a priori container for life, already resonates with an approach I have recently taken within my own work. I tend to view design in terms of creating what I call Object as Environment. I use Object as Environment to define designed objects – whether two- or three-dimensional – in terms of their relation to the viewer or subject. Even in the literal case of images, which cannot be physically entered, Object as Environment contains within it an implicit understanding that the object is more than just a thing; it is impossible to step back, to obtain critical distance and simply judge Object as Environment as an object. Object as Environment is wild nature, undomesticated; it exerts its will on its subject – it is entered, it proffers paradoxes and inverted paradigms. It confronts you not with the unexpected, but with the expected, in an unexpected way. I will further clarify the idea of Object as Environment through two of my current projects. The first is an extended series of images developed in Ferda Kolatan’s seminar course (see: “Of Mixing and Making” by Ferda Kolatan p. 75). The second, DigiLog Futures, is a large scale installation and collaboration between several young Brooklyn-based designers. First, in this series of untitled images (Image as Environment), the intent was to develop, through a rigorous, iterative, yet flexible process, a set of intangible but finite images whose representation is precise, yet non-specific, and that express depth without perspective, milieu without figure, and articulation without definition. These images do not fall strictly under the category of trompe-l’oeil; they present more of a conceptual conundrum. The most successful of the set allude to anything and everything except what they actually are. By potentially existing across scales, whether aerial, cartographic, or microbial, for example, they suggest but do not specifically define the viewer through their ambiguous content. It is precisely this elusive intangibility that gives the images their quality of Object as Environment. The creative process behind these images is meticulous

accepted notions of production and value in our society. They are feral Hyperobjects re-domesticated and infused with values normally reserved for pristine objects fresh off the assembly line. The minor system is improvisational; its form expressed through the re-appropriation of the inherent characteristics of the found objects, while the major system is pure orchestration. The way the two elements interact and speak to each other in the space will in turn produce spatial qualities with a fresh dynamic toward the audience. Matters of scale, circulation, and flow, as well as forced coexistence with what are normally viewed as waste or undesirable materials will engage the viewer on both physical and mental levels as Object as Environment. The installation finds new ways of conceiving space that bridge conflicting ideologies and challenge preconceptions. Ultimately, DigiLog Futures is new type of space, a hybrid of digital and analog; a projection of spaces to come. In DigiLog Futures Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects find new meaning, both as elements that define and occupy space – as container and contained. What you throw away we will find, what you don’t need we will use. Though you can no longer see it, it’s still there, still life. We can affect it, but  we cannot control it.

Figure 3. Untitled

DigiLog Futures DigiLog Futures is an independent collaboration between nine Brooklyn-based designers, recent graduates, friends and colleagues, architectural designers from all over the United States – with parallel, yet varied, personal and educational backgrounds. The breakdown of the group ties directly into the idea behind DigiLog Futures. The installation explores the various ways two distinct design methodologies, each with a sensibility particular to certain members of the group, interact. The major system consists of what we are calling a “digital forest,” and was developed using various scripting techniques. This is an intentional reversal of the traditional understanding of forests as organic, but still wild, entities: domesticated natural processes scripted into the domestic imitation of nature. Its branches spread out over the gallery, occasionally reaching down to the ground, and creating precise moments of engagement with our minor system. This secondary system is composed of a collection of industrial waste material that exhibits different characteristics on different scales. At their simplest, the elements of this system often resemble small robotic or artificial life forms; waste creates life, questioning 10

Mark Foster Gage, “Project Mayhem,” Fulcrum 18, Bedford Press, 2011.


HELLO_ECONET Jason Vigneri-Beane


ver time, and in patches, the city has been reconstituted into partnerships among synthetic assemblies, constructed ecologies, soft-infrastructures, and information networks. Drones are now patrolling these environments. It is not that there are no people; in this area alone there are thousands of them working in sectors established for fabrication, upcycling, research, and clean energy production. Thousands more are circulating among designated routes that connect transportation nodes to waterfront structures, research platforms, and varied landscapes ranging from wild zones that have not been entered by humans in decades to zones that appear to be some kind of vegetated instrumentation deployed over acres. The drones, like the people, seem to be in their own constantly changing world of individual and collective behavior, purposeful movement, coordinated stoppages, and finely-tuned connections. They are operating via distributed behaviors, programmed and adapted routines, and intelligent exchanges that involve information, materials (organic and synthetic), bio-fuels, and mutually productive operations that, while inscrutable, seem to involve some relationship between the diversified patches of landscape and the sectors where fabrication, storage, and energy production are taking place. At this moment it is problematic to think of architecture as an autonomous enterprise. Given the interconnectedness of things it may be problematic to think of any enterprise as autonomous. But architecture is a particularly large and slow moving target when it comes to the unintended consequences of autonomy. This is neither a criticism of object-hood nor a mere call for an increase in cross-disciplinary practices. It is, however, a platform to speculate on explicit integrations of architecture into phenomena that are complex, dynamic, and prolific in a way that demonstrates architecture’s increasing obsolescence. Increasing, but not immanent. The question is whether architecture will continue to house events or begin to proactively participate in them; whether it will continue to provide a stable environment in which agents of change will operate or enter into a catalytic loop with those agents and allow for innovations that are on pace with rates of development in other, more nimble, arenas. At the same


time, however, developments can be incremental, integral, phased, and conditioned by logics of evolution as opposed to ideological overhauls from the top down. Take, for example, Bruce Sterling’s passing formulation of the front lawn in Tomorrow Now: You’re just a normal person in a biotech world. You are not some grand chrome-dome master of biotech – no single mind can ever master such a broad field. Biotech is not even your line of work; you just live there. Your lawn is aswarm with living things because of social pressure from your neighbors. A mowed lawn is a scandal; you wouldn’t subject the neighborhood to such a sight anymore than you’d shave your children’s heads to eradicate lice. You don’t go out there and garden it, either. The lawn tools know more about the plants than you do. And they work by themselves. It’s a city lawn, not a wilderness. It’s auto-gardening. The ‘wild’ animals living in it don’t know they are under surveillance. The coexistence of normative and speculative components in this micro-scenario suggests that while some creative destruction has occurred there is no pretense to fantasizing about the near-future, nor a sensational approach to forecasting false radicalism. There are developments suggested at an intersection of design, ecology, and social organization in the nuanced relationship between the lawn that is simultaneously wild and engineered, and the tools that interact with the lawn as well as with each other. But as in most science fiction and future-casting, no matter how sophisticated, the architecture itself seems to be absent, a backdrop of informally accreted media, or a complex of overscaled corporate structures and governmental masses. It would be interesting to know if those machines are somehow part of the house whose lawn they maintain, or if, as in Ghost in the Shell, they are in a feedback relationship with the architecture, urban infrastructure, and information networks that drive the scenario. Or, on the other hand, are they tuned to an integrated relationship with the organisms that they

Fig 2

Figure 1.

perform for, as in the biologically connective weaponry of District 9? This is not so much a criticism of the microscenario suggested in Tomorrow Now as it is the expression of a desire for architecture to be seen as capable of participating in novelty-inducing trajectories of innovative development. It could be, then, that architecture needs to literally participate, to become organocentric, albeit synthetically so. It may well become a complex of dynamically organized materials and routines that are in a constant state of refined interaction with their context. It may need to specialize, to niche-fill, and allow for extreme differentiations that are counter to its historically generic tendencies yet so critical to the diversity of, say, an ecosystem. The closer you get, the harder it is to tell whether or not these drones are small buildings with machinic capabilities or large machines with architectural capabilities.

Mutual Core: Still from Biophilia

Planetary ONE, Super-Docking: Lab_Drones/Cyborg Landscape with Model

They are occupied. They sponsor what was once referred to at various points in architectural history as function, program, performance. That is to say, they appear to have evolved into a teleological condition that momentarily provides a platform, not only for functional occupation, but as importantly, for other capacities, to mobilize and couple with others in the network to execute ecologically augmentative operations. While their architectural identities are consistently positioned somewhere between industrial design and ecological engineering they are morphologically differentiated to their niche-filling activities in a complex adapative system. They are not exactly mobile architectural structures, but rather, architectural equipment with a range of capacities and hundreds of gigabytes of constantly changing specs. They are moving targets, and as entities in a hyper-connected period of techno-social change, dissolving 87

Figure 2.

Planetary ONE, Super-Docking: Delivery_Drone/Earth Cartridges with Model

borders and environmental degradation, they are pressured to either evolve or calcify, like a building. These structures have become proactively participating mediators. Pluggingin. Plugging-out. Harvesting data. Performing routines. Connecting to data-streams. Augmenting the constructedecosystem that they simultaneously inhabit and maintain. These structures are agents of connectivity between ecological systems and information networks. They are relay nodes in an ECONET and, as such, are both individual structures and members of a collective synthetic super-organism. There may be a role for architecture in the designed integration, coordination and mutual augmentation of organic and technological ecologies. Furthermore, there may be a machine-ecology equivalent to the partial cyborg bodies of Ghost in the Shell with architecture-as-syntheticsuper-organism in a critically nodal role. What is particularly interesting (and challenging) about the characters that populate Masamune’s masterpiece of near-future worldbuilding is that the cross-categorical relationships among entities do not stop at the direct integration of human body and robotic prosthesis. The cyborgs are also, of course, integrated into a flow of information that is more than a mere network, but, rather, a lifeform-generating phenomena. Organic life. Synthetic life. Flows of information becoming sentient. In Shaping Things, Bruce Sterling formulated a future of design through the invention of spimes. A number of innovations surround these spimes. They are not mere objects, but rather, instantiations that exist in time as they emerge from, and recede back into, a vast pool of material 88

potential. They are not merely manufactured and consumed, but rather, fabbed on demand through coordinated processes of parametric design, digital fabrication, and global communication. Spimes are not stand-alone objects that exist in passive, yet commercially designed relationships, but rather, operate as an RFID-enabled collective of objects (arphids) – an “internet of things.” As an intelligent object that can communicate with others, a spime is more than just “a momentary congelation of material and energy flows.” This vast population of objects emerging, selforganizing, and dissipating over time, operating both autonomously and collectively, mutually activating each other as computationally enabled entities with degrees of inorganic intelligence suggests the near-future potential for a technoecology. This extremely powerful forecast puts a kind of evolutionary pressure on the industrial design of objects (and we should take it upon ourselves to put architecture under this pressure as well) to become synthetically intelligent and positioned as active agents in a collective. Or, even better, in a collective of collectives whose diversification allows for the calibration of organocentric specificity at the same time as its connectedness necessitates collective intelligence. The behaviors of five or six drones suddenly become more purposefully coordinated. It is different from the kind of coordination exhibited through avoidance routines and collision detection, giving a collective sensibility to this bio-mechanical population of drones that would otherwise be busy as individuals, executing individual routines, performing diagnostics, or harvesting information from this cyborg-landscape which they patrol and maintain. These drones seem to have begun to operate as a pack. Arriving at a mechanized array of ecological test patches, they have assembled around a cartridge filled with a bed of calibrated soil and failing vegetation. There must have been some kind of signal that triggered these distinct behavioral routines. A track-constrained lab drone has locked in position over the failing earth cartridge and focused its gorgon stare on the contaminated soil and withering plant life. A recommendation engine begins iterating potential response routines. A delivery drone in a holding pattern awaits a trigger to swap out the contaminated cartridge for a newly engineered one and return the ailing one to an incubation tower. An energyharvesting drone pumps the delivery drone full of bio-fuel in anticipation of its being route-activated. Suddenly, all the drones step back as the lab drone releases a foaming wash of microbe-enriched nutriment over the cartridge. A small fabrication drone begins printing a biodegradable lattice over the surface of the soil in order to prevent it from compacting

as the foam collapses back into a liquid and is absorbed into the bed. As the pack disbands back into their inscrutable individual routines it becomes even clearer that they are not a nimble kind of fantasy-cyborg with fully functioning A.I., but slow moving drones with limited ranges of motion, finite behaviors, and a lot of replaced parts. They have furnished cavities, functional extremities, a full range of sensors from optics to toxin-detection, wireless networking, and high ingress-protection ratings against particulate matter and fluid immersion. But it is their ability to coordinate with each other that made them suddenly seem awkwardly alive. In light of the temporary nature of spimes we might imagine that the exact forms and technologies of these limitedfunctioning drones are in a constant state of improvement (or decline) and each generation gets increasingly more calibrated to the directions toward which they are evolving. At the same time, it may be incorrect altogether to think of these as entities that come in generations. They do not reproduce in generations like biologicals. Nor are they necessarily rolled-out like products in market-based lines. And they definitely are not bid out to be built for years by contractors and subs. These drones probably evolve in a way that is perhaps more like hardware/software partnerships as opposed to generations of fauna or releases of products. In addition to being somewhat open-sourced, they are constantly being partially upgraded. Different fittings. New hardware. More RAM. The latest service pack release. New plug-ins. Yet another service pack. Then crashes, and clean installs. This engine does not work with that new loweremission bio-diesel. New engine. One more service pack. Perhaps it is time to send this one back into the recycling stream. But all along the parts are being fabbed out of biodegradable materials, and after time, the software is automatically upgrading and the drone is logging the upgrades that can be made and correlating them with those that must be made. And if they can do that for themselves then they are also assisting the ecological systems that surround them in doing the same. In fact, they are now as much a part of the ecosystem as any of the biologicals are. For that matter, the web is too. Things in this part of the city used to be clearly defined. There were buildings, landscapes, sidewalks, streets and areas where the river met the constructed waterfront. But now in this complex there are not buildings so much as there are plug-ins and plug-outs. There are not foundations so much as there are sockets. There are not landscapes so much as there are instruments of ecological diagnosis, augmentation, and stabilization. There is not earth so much as there is smart ground. The infrastructure is soft, resources harvested, and connectivity is explicit. It is tempting to say that the complex is

hack-able but it is unclear exactly why one would hack it other than to say that they have hacked it. In this robotic ecology, there is system of systems that is comprised, in part, by interactions among synthetic autotrophs and heterotrophs, that harvest, deliver, exchange, and consume energy. This complex of synthetic and organic material, mechanical and living populations, patches of constructed-nature and zones of digital fabrication is merely one physical component of a network that includes flows of information, flows of energy, flows of resources, and probably, unrecognized flows that have emerged in uninhabited areas of micro ecology and vastly inhabited virtual environments.

Camazine, Scott, et. al. Self-Organization in Biological Systems. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. Dawkins, Richard. The Blind Watchmaker. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1996. Holland, John. Hidden Order: How Adaptation Builds Complexity. Reading: Perseus, 1995. Goodwin, Brian. How the Leopard Changed Its Spots. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001. Gray, Chris Hables with Heidi J. Figueroa-Sarriera and Steven Mentor, ed. The Cyborg Handbook. New York and London: Routledge, 1995. Sterling, Bruce. Tomorrow Now: Envisioning the Next Fifty Years. New York: Random House, 2002. Sterling, Bruce. Shaping Things. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005. Film References Biroid – Appleseed Ex-Machina Biometal – Vexille Cyborgs – Ghost in the Shell Bioweapons – District 9

Figure 3.

Planetary ONE, Super-Docking: Fab_Drone with Model


Minority Report Kutan Ayata


’d like to file a Minority Report.

Biophilia, a recent live performance by Bjork, was billed as an “intense and intricately crafted spectacle that explores the inherent link between humans and living systems, nature and technology.” The instrumental repertoire, in addition to the usual digital suspects, included the use of such tools as twin musical tesla coils, ten foot pendulum-harps, a midi-controlled pipe organ celeste re-fitted with bronze gamelan bars, and a twenty-four piece Icelandic female choir. The show opens with the following, roughly two minute introduction narrated by David Attenborough: Welcome to Biophilia. The love for nature in all her manifestations; from the tiniest organism, to the greatest red giant floating in the furthest realm of the universe. With Biophilia comes a restless curiosity, an urge to investigate and discover the elusive places where we meet nature, where she plays on our senses with colors and forms, perfumes and smells, the taste and touch of salty wind on the tongue. But much of nature is hidden from us, that we can neither see nor touch like the one phenomenon that can be said to move us more than any other in our daily lives: sound. Sound harnessed by human-beings delivered with generosity and emotion is what we call: music. Just as we use music to express parts of us that would otherwise be hidden, so too can we use technology to make visible much of nature’s invisible world. In Biophilia, you will experience how the three will come together: nature, music, technology. Listen, learn, and create... Travel the cosmos lying at your fingertips, touch the galaxies and move through their three-dimensions. Now, forget the size of the human body, remember that you are a gateway between the universal and the microscopic. The unseen forces that stir the depths of your innermost being and nature who embraces you and all there is. We are on the brink of a revolution that will reunite humans with nature through new technological innovations. Until we get there prepare. Explore Biophilia. 1


One problem with the above introduction is the predetermination of a desired effect which conditions the audience before Björk even takes the stage. It is probably fair to say that the premise is beyond ambitious, the scheme grand, and unfortunately, but predictably, the letdown greater. Björk is a great musician and innovator, someone who through her years has managed to develop unique and evolving angles of creativity and resistance in the world of popular music. She is one of the few artists to develop mainstream success despite a continual avantgarde approach. If we could classify the specificity through which an artist controls performative quality and subsequent affect as technique, it would be fair to say that she has developed a masterful one. Her willingness to harness emerging technology to create new sounds and her ability to command her voice, high and low, to regulate sensory perception is quite unique. The difficulty with Biophilia emerges as the scope broadens toward a cultural education that strives to “reunite humans with nature through technological innovations;” a theatrical performance where one shall “experience how nature, music, and technology will come together.” This kind of rhetoric and didactic tone overloads and overburdens any aesthetic experience, and diminishes the Image from Biophilia “Thunderbolt” App.

Image from Biophilia “Cosmogeny” App.

experience of Björk’s novel sonic and visual sensibility by directing and forcing associations with literal content. Powers of Ten (1968), a ten minute narrated film by Charles and Ray Eames, which was inspired by Dutch educator Kees Boeke’s Cosmic View (1957), addresses cultural education in a far more straight-forward manner. The visualization of movement between the microscopic and the universal is achieved through a linear zoom, in and out, which produces a compelling string of imagery in sync with the narration. The film, by artificially constructing the transformations between specific scales, manages to achieve a rather powerful aesthetic effect of acceleration through a rich visual assembly. The narration focuses on the description of the operations for the scalar shifts, and seldom describes the image in the frame. The rather open-ended message is embedded in the sensory performance of the film, therefore no gimmicks are needed. For a film meant to be educational, it is interesting that there is no clear and direct message, only visual stimuli and representation intended to trigger thought. The Eames’ recognized clearly that there cannot be any specificity to a

subjective perception of such cosmic representation. The larger issue with Björk’s performance is the preconditioning of the audience’s reception of the visual material. The issue is the revelation of literal imagery which undermines the potential for any open-ended sensory response to sound. Take the song Moon, which is paired with a sixteen frame animation of the phases of the moon in a continuous loop; or take the song Mutual Core, which shows a section perspective of the earth with animated core matter rushing up to the crust and pushing the continental plates towards and over each other. Animated conditions of Pangaea confirm a mutual core, a mutual continent, and therefore mutuality. It is not that the imagery is uninteresting, on the contrary, there is a feast of visual material, most of which is extremely provocative in its own right, from an orgy of colorful, vibrating sea stars to digitally animated thunderbolt lines. But the visual performance falls victim to the overly determined package of meanings it is intended to communicate. The concepts of both ‘nature’ and ‘technology’ in the entire performance are oversimplified and reduced to representations

Biophilia. Bjork. Roseland Ballroom, New York City. 02-28-2012.



Image from Biophilia “Moon” App.

of iconic imagery. Biophilia consistently insists on coupling the music with literal imagery, in lieu of trying to reiterate its message, and this is not limited to multi-media representations. Consider the costumes: there is a peculiar juxtaposition between Bjork’s extremely artificial look, a highly extravagant, highly designed, highly sculpted, clear blue plastic outfit, and the fairies of the Icelandic choir, barefoot and dressed in primitive drapery-like costumes. I imagine the point is that she is radically artificial or unnatural, and therefore technological, while the choir, unaltered from its natural state, is therefore natural. It is impossible to experience total immersion, visual or aural, in the context of such simplistic over-determination. The architectural field today suffers from similar symptoms of overextended intentions falling into contrived, sometimes dangerous, oversimplifications. It is not uncommon for architects to speculate on things ranging from agrarian farmland to the global city, international finance systems to border conflicts, biology to computer science, or from social networks to ecological networks, in an attempt to enrich, reinforce, and validate their projects. Projects and practices are increasingly culturally pervasive: the more they can include the better. Architects obsessively make it impossible to clearly define the discipline by setting such broad boundaries of intervention, thus marginalizing themselves from the possibility of cultural interaction and contribution. It is becoming ever more difficult to define a territory for the discipline to engage in, as we seem to be less concerned with developing a specific disciplinary agenda from which to contribute to cultural discourse than with focusing on issues where our knowledge is highly superficial and our skill set far less than sufficient. ‘Nature’ is just one of our recurring victims. Just like with Biophilia, a strain of contemporary architectural thought relies on a predetermined narrative of naïve good will that mobilizes iconic imagery of ‘nature’ as a form of hollow representation: as if a patch of greenery collaged into an abandoned strip mall parking lot makes an architectural 92

proposal sustainable and socially conscious; as if the addition of solar panels and windmills on a building automatically generates ecological responsibility; as if the suggestion of artificially or mechanically duplicated systems of living organisms at architectural scale establishes a more cohesive ecology; as if the application of the structural pattern of a dragonfly wing to the exoskeleton of a building produces environmentally responsive aesthetics; and, most importantly, as if the carefully composed cheerful crowds inhabiting such ‘green’ utopias resolve our frictions with and within our environment. Though the visual representations of any of these strains could be powerful, they all make the common mistake of pitting ‘society’ against ‘nature’ as two opposing, reified entities. Such an opposition deems it impossible to seriously explore a healthier transformation of our ecology (inclusive of us) in the context of our desire to progress culturally, on all fronts. In the aftermath of the financial meltdown and in the presence of environmental crisis, we find ourselves in a situation where expanding, speculating, and experimenting within the strictly disciplinary context of tectonics and aesthetics is seen to be self-absorbed and self-indulgent. There is absolutely nothing humble about the presumption that architects are the saviors that must address every social and environmental issue on the planet in their architectural propositions. Architecture is a very slow and clumsy medium, unable to resolve complex problems of policy or conflict in a world where society changes faster than any modes of architectural representation or realized tectonics. Whatever our convictions, in terms of how to engage and transform our environment, any concept must ultimately be mediated through our sensibility and architectural expertise into specific built form. This should not be misunderstood as a call for architectural autonomy, but an all inclusive mobilization of our sensibilities as designers, which transcend disciplinary boundaries, to drive and influence architectural expertise. The general response of our field to the recent crisis has been to accept that the only ethically responsible reaction is to produce projects with a broader message represented through literal content. However, if we truly want to be effective as a progressive discipline, we need to drop the predetermined message... The lesson from Biophilia is that even at the height of visual and sonic experimentation, sensual experience suffers under the weight of prescriptive content, and no room is left for productive misinterpretations. As for the concert, there was a moment of consolation when I was stuck behind an obstruction which masked all the visual content but allowed me to indulge in the sonic atmospheres produced by a series of illegible hums and unique instrumental textures. For an instant, all was forgiven, all pretext forgotten, all promises irrelevant, as new indeterminate and emergent sensations of exhilaration vibrated through my body. I didn’t dare look back as I walked out with the sound still ringing in my ears. 

On Architecture’s Use and Abuse of [Models of] Life Ed Keller

All living things need an atmosphere around them, a secret circle of darkness… - Nietzsche On the Use and Abuse of History for Life Rorschach’s skin was sixty percent superconducting carbon nanotube. Rorschach’s guts were largely hollow; at least some of those hollows appeared to contain an atmosphere. No earthly form of life would have lasted a second in there, though; intricate topographies of radiation and electromagnetic force seethed around the structure, seethed within it. … Charged particles raced around invisible racetracks at relativistic speeds, erupting from jagged openings, hugging curves of magnetic force strong enough for neutron stars, arcing through open space and plunging back into black mass. Occasional protuberances swelled and burst and released clouds of microparticulates, seeding the radiation belts like spores. Rorschach resembled nothing so much as a nest of half-naked cyclotrons, tangled one with another… - Peter Watts Blindsight


’ll start with an observation that I consider necessarily axiomatic: there is nothing that is not natural. Everything and anything is “nature.” It seems to me that we face two related problems as we wrestle with the implications of this renewed definition of nature. The first, how we define the limits of life, when pursued with rigor, then establishes the framework for the second: how we define the limits [aspirations... capabilities...] of architecture. Indeed, as our models of the boundaries of life change, all other disciplines fall into a cascading realignment. Recognizing as living what we thought previously inanimate adjusts our grasp on the ‘performance’ of design. Thus the limits of life are always haunted by collapsing epistemelogical horizons, the limits of our perception, and our conceptual power: whether layperson or expert, we find ourselves all to some extent absentminded observers, using eyes which look but do not see. Let me offer an example. A morphogen is a chemical gradient which governs the formation and growth of cells. It works as a kind of ‘field 1


Walter Benjamin and Le Corbusier are ghosting around here somewhere.

Figure 1. Active Region in Hα 1. See p. 95 for image credits.

Images Courtesy of: Second Wind Ltd. Apps/One Little Indian and Well Hart


condition’ to activate specific genes as the intensity of the morphogen changes. This gradient then impacts surface tension and local mechanical properties of cells, governing growth as much as DNA. Thus each of these systems has a life, and together they amplify to create another layer of life. Nevertheless, we usually think of life as the highest standing wave, the meta-pattern which hovers halo-like over all the substrate layers of information. Given the right eyes, [millenia deep, perhaps] these fleeting patterns of data become fluid tectonic layers, moving with an intelligence that we can barely sense, given their temporal horizons. Perhaps better than to say ‘natural, as not natural’ when discussing the limits of life, or the limits of architecture, using this turn of language to recognize the inclusive status of all things, which express registers of information flow that simply can’t be classified as either living or not. The ‘as not’ implies both/and. Models like these are often leveraged the shaky, pseudo-scientific parodies of mimesis: this looks like that, or we can make it look so, therefore it must behave like [for example] the gradient morphogen, yes? The question of translation becomes a bit more complex when we step back and remind ourselves, like Wile E. Coyote, that we are implicated in this redefinition of life. Perhaps it would make more sense to find, in a veritably hyper-fictional manner, the ‘turing morphogens’ in political systems, thus unraveling the implications for a collective agency which can or cannot see itself in a broader context. One might recall Cronenberg and Ballard when thinking takes such a turn, as they have so well rehearsed this. Unfortunately within architecture, we seem to keep trying to make the ‘deformations’ [pace Kipnis] rather than the “informations”. Similarly, to properly grasp the issues at stake in contemporary biopolitics, we have to look to the limits of life. Individual or collective? Mammal, bacterial, viral? Crystalline, magnetic? Economic, cultural? Each system has enough feedback loops to be classified as a complex and living super-organism. The biopolitical seems at first to be constituted by the relation between humans as socio-economic beings, via instruments of techno-political agency. But a coruscating quasi-live plays just as much a role in this biopolitical landscape, and have as much to do with the power [potency] any agent has to be an autonomous being. Microbiomes constituted by bacteria and virii in each human [we are walking bioreactors] are modulated by big pharma: cows don’t have a corner on the market for an abuse of antibiotics at the behest of an industrialized flow of morphogens at a global scale. So, in a baroque and indirect manner the field is set for some kind of battle between competing models of life. I’ve 2


2 I refer obliquely here to Agamben’s use of the phrase ‘as not.’ See his The Time That Remains. 3 See Kipnis’ distinction comparing the work of the deformationists [crudely speaking, the Eisenmanians] with the informationists [Tschumi et. al.]


sided against those who would argue for the bio-mimetic, at least when they do so uncritically. I could cut them so much more slack, though, if only they’d evidenced [for example] the insight and criticality we find in Focillon’s The Life of Forms in Art. This could create a launching platform for a claim for the proliferation of the vegetable monstrosity of formregardless of whether it is found in the zebra’s stripes, the twists of ornament in the book of Kells, or in the speculative examples we find in Peter Watts’ novel Blindsight. Let’s say that we found a good balance between the production of form for form’s sake, and the investiture of that form with the je ne sais quoi that makes it sing, taking it BEYOND to become a mode of thought. But, even were we able to find that sweet spot between the raw and the cooked, why then would it be appropriate to leverage these renovated models into a design process? In other words, didn’t we learn anything from Foucault’s investigation of genealogy? ‘Genealogy, consequently, requires patience and a knowledge of details and it depends on a vast accumulation of source material. Its “cyclopean monuments” are constructed from “discreet and apparently insignificant truths and according to a rigorous method;” they cannot be the product of “large and well-meaning errors.” In short, genealogy demands relentless erudition... It opposes itself to the search for “origins.” Why does Nietzsche challenge the pursuit of the origin [Ursprung], at least on this occasion when he is truly a genealogist? First, because it is an attempt to capture the exact essence of things, their purest possibilities, and their carefully protected identities, because this search assumes the existence of immobile forms that precede the external world of accident and succession.’ This idea of the capture is connected directly to a contemporary set of revelations that the massive addressability of IPV6 might enable, both in the postapophenic patterns that datamining renders visible to us [it’s not that everything looks like something else, but ultimately that everything IS everything else], but also in the spectacular losses of individual agency and capacity to grasp the self, which the current social media landscape creates. 4

Emergence is always produced through a particular stage of forces... ‘Effective’ history differs from traditional history in being without constants. Nothing in man – not even his body – is sufficiently stable to serve as the basis for self-recognition or for understanding other men. The traditional devices for constructing a comprehensive view of history and for retracing the past as a patient and continuous

4 Nietzsche, Genealogy, History; M. Foucault, in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univeristy Press, 1977.

development must be systematically dismantled.


From this example, we should draw an explicit idea of a politics: not post-human, because as we’ve been told, we might never have been human, but certainly outside the limits of life as we’ve known it. How can we constitute a politics using architecture based on models of life that are no longer even marginally considered to be truly alive? [Or perhaps, alive, as not alive.] Our hopes for a political framework change when we recognize that we’ve always been somewhere between the living and the non-living. There may be ways of recuperating this: Schrodinger saw aperiodic crystalline structure as a lattice from which the different temporalities of ‘life’ could proceed; the time and agency of quasi-life was always at the root of Ballard’s obsessions, whether via a creeping malaise propagating [perhaps from outer space] in The Crystal World, or the “natural” systemic tendencies of the highway, the flow, the wreck, in Crash. Agency is refigured, over and over, always formally invested, and always across the expansion of the terrain that whatever we insist on calling life after the “crash” might still be moving through. The biopolitical and epistemelogical implications are profound. What is a flat ontology? A crisis of the anthropocentric, yes, but it remains only a shift in point of view until we bring our design faculties to bear upon it? Then, a flat ontology becomes both a toolkit and an essential provocation for curiosity. Keenan and Weizman’s work on forensics [Mengele’s Skull: The Advent of a Forensic Aesthetics8] is a staging of these connections between quasi-living systems, which we can recognize in the apparatus of war and its aftermath, and the jurisdictional and legal mechanisms which we activate, when with the patience and rigor Foucault called for, we conduct our genealogies across all scales and with both empathy for and detachment from our subjects. 6



5. ibid. ‘The analysis of Entstehung must delineate this interaction, the struggle these forces wage against each other or against adverse circumstances, and the attempt to avoid degeneration and regain strength by dividing these forces against themselves. It is in this sense that the emergence of a species [animal or human] and its solidification are secured “in an extended battle against conditions which are essentially and constantly unfavorable.’ 6. In the search for a xenopolitics, there are lessons to be learned from models of orthogonal or oblique life; elsewhere I’ve quoted Markus Schmidt at length, riffing on his idea that XNA could be ‘.. a novel information-storing biopolymer ‘‘invisible’’ to natural biological systems..’ See his Xenobiology: A new form of life as the ultimate as the ultimate biosafety tool. 7. 8. “In 1985, the body of Josef Mengele, one of the last Nazi war criminals still at large, was unearthed in Brazil. The ensuing process of identifying the bones in question opened up what can now be seen as a third narrative in war crime investigations—not that of the document or the witness but rather the birth of a forensic approach to understanding war crimes and crimes against humanity. “ From the Sternberg Press description of the book. php?pageId=3&cat1=100 9. Other bodies of work come to mind: the films of the Quay Brothers, within which all things have a life of their own; Herzog’s ongoing set of documentarian projects such as Lessons of Darkness, which both claims to be a bit of science fiction as well as an archive of footage shot of the first Gulf War; and the hyperfictional grimoire Cyclonopedia by Reza Negarestani, which joyfully conflates rewritings of Apocalypse Now and The Exorcist with Deleuzean thinking and Persian numerology. And H.P. Lovecraft.

Perhaps Guzman’s pellucid film Nostalgia for the Light, a documentary on the Atacama desert in Chile, and its suitability both as a perfect site for telescopes looking at ancient galaxies, but also a site used for the burial of countless bodies of political prisoners, victims of Pinochetperhaps this is one of the better examples of what happens when one flattens all ontologies and claims not that humans are the frame to apprehend all, but that humans somehow can take their place amongst the weirdness of a vast universe, neither reduced to less than nothing nor megalomaniacally expanded. What does it mean to show the women who have searched for the bodies of their lost families across the Atacama desert – and in the same film to show the seemingly unearthly pursuit of astronomers gazing at events billions of years old? It could mean that we are both at-one with the celestial flows, whilst we atone for acts taken on this earth: we are at play in the fields. It is a child’s game, war [or time], a game played with pieces on a vast board. I had wanted to end this meditation by referencing Solaris, by Lem/Tarkovsky/Soderbergh. But I often do that, so this time it seems more fit to end by citing Peter Watts once more. At a certain point in Blindsight, Watts’ characters attempt to figure out what Rorschach [a vast spaceship AND an alien entity?] wants and can do. Is it living? Can a tangled nest of cyclotrons be alive? They realize that life, at least the form they are dealing with, doesn’t need DNA; the alien agents, instead of autonomous beings, are the honeycomb and the larger system surrounding the agent takes on the role of the ‘bee’ [riffing on Darwin as Watts points out in his endnotes], thus inverting the usual casual relationship and shifting the locus of what we usually would recognize as genetic and epigenetic landscapes. One aspiration for architecture might then be to expose the boundaries and points of connection, to diagram these places where the epigenetic becomes the genetic, and vice versa [‘Here, time turns into space...’] and to propose interventions which would become tools for our THINKING in that space between. Not tools to convert linear time into non-linear, but tools to ask the question. 10


Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law... Love is the Law, Love under Will.  12

10 Pace, again, Jeff Kipnis. See his text on Liebeskind’s machines in Restructuring Architectural Theory, ed. Diani and Ingraham. 11 Heraclitus, fragment 52 12 ‘Yoga for Yahoos and Yellowbellies’, A. Crowley NB: This notorious quote appears often, but invariably the second line is left out, thus implying that ‘anything goes, man’. I include the second line here to provoke and delight the reader. annex/8yoga1.htm Image Credits: Active Region in Hα 1 Institute for Solar Physics of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Sweden Observation: Oddbjorn Engvold, Jun Elin Wiik, Luc Roupe van der Voort, Olso Image Process: Luc Roupe van der Voort, Oslo Wavelength: 656.3nm (H-alpha) Date: 22 August, 2003


Constructing Behavioral Environments Notes on a Systemic Ecology Theodore Spyropoulos

Nature knows no pause in progress and development, and environmental stimuli. Environmental stimuli give rise and attaches her curse on all inaction. to structures of elaborate complexity as these systems are - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe continuously adaptive to local and global signaling. The architectures of these structures are not embedded in a I shall consider the physical environment as an evolving blueprint as with most man-made structures, but rather are organism as opposed to a designed artefact. In particular, correlated operations that are governed through emerging I shall consider an evolution aided by a specific class of collective interaction. machines. Warren McCulloch calls them ethical robots; in the context of architecture I shall call them architecture Behaviour relates to idea(s)…An organism is more machines. efficient when it knows its own internal order. - Nicholas Negroponte -Roy Ascott 1


ygory Kepes once proclaimed, “In our new conceptual models of nature, the stable, solid world of substance, which in the past was considered permanent and preordained, is understood as widely dispersed fields of dynamic energies. Matter – the tangible, visible, stable substance in the old image of the physical world – is recast today as an invisible web of nuclear events with orbiting electrons jumping from orbit to orbit.” Approaches to construct frameworks to challenge the fixed and finite tendencies of classical dichotomies that have served to categorize the natural and synthetic worlds have been rendered obsolete. Though they may have been productive and meaningful articulations in the past, today the distinctions between information, matter, and life unfold complexities that see the speculative realities of a much deeper synthesis. Within this synthesis architecture finds itself having to cope with new social and cultural complexities, radically refactoring and challenging its response through parameters that are latent and often unknown. The necessity of addressing these challenges explores a systemic form of interaction that engages behavioral features that are poly-scalar, allowing bio-diverse networks to operate between urban, building, and material agency. Architecture looks towards designing systems that seek higher ordered goals emerging through an intimate correlation of material and computational interaction. This new synthesis constructs a generative time-based behavioral model of living, examining the intimate collective orders that are constructed through the interplay of local agency


In 1964, Telematic Arts pioneer Roy Ascott titled an article The Construction of Change, in which he attempted to outline the terms with which one could engage art as a system through the interrelationship that existed between the artist, the audience, and the environment. Ascott’s idea stemmed from his position that “cybernetics was the science of behaviour and art was essentially behaviourist.” Experience would emerge through the interaction of these constituents. As a product of this interaction one could construct a potential site of critical engagement that could evolve new methods and models of practice. Through a practice that foregrounds participation and play one could construct an environment that could foster interaction through the creation of new forms of knowledge. Ascott further elaborated this in his 1967 manifesto called Behaviourables and Futuribles. In the manifesto Ascott states that “when art is a form of behavior, software predominates over hardware in the creative sphere. Process replaces product in importance, just as system supersedes structure.” In September 1969, a landmark issue of Architectural Design, guest edited by Roy Landau, brought for the first time issues of interaction and digital computation into the mainstream architectural media. Alongside articles by Nicholas Negroponte, Cedric Price, and Warren Brodey, the issue featured an essay by the cybernetician Gordon Pask, which introduced the idea that “architects are first and foremost system designers who have been forced to 1 Roy Ascott, “Creative Cybernetics: The Emergence of an Art Based on Interaction, Process, and System”, p. 11.

Figure 1.

take an increasing interest in the organizational system properties of development, communication, and control.” Architecture, Pask argued, had no theory to cope with the pressing contemporary complexities of the time, and it was only through a cybernetic understanding of systemic processes that its practitioners could help the discipline to evolve. Central to Pask’s argument was an understanding of the world through the pursuit of “communication and control” and the elucidation of what he termed “aesthetically potent environments:” external spaces designed to foster pleasurable interactions. These interactions were to be framed through a commitment to novelty. “Man,” he wrote, “is prone to seek novelty in his environment and, having found a novel situation, to learn how to control it.” As with the work of Cybernetician Gordon Pask and other select artists and scientists during this period, speculative forms of practice employing cybernetic methods gave rise to new means of constructing, understanding, and experiencing. Cybernetics, as Ascott describes, has 2

2 Ascott and Pask worked together as part of the Cybernetics Sub-Committee, a consultancy of inter-disciplinary minds organised by Pask to assist in the development of the seminal proposal of Cedric Price’s Fun Palace.

Minimaforms (Theodore and Stephen Spyropoulos) / Archigram Revisited

transformed our world and is “presenting us with qualities of experience and modes of perception which radically alter our conception of it.” Second Order Cybernetician Ranulph Glanville has argued that cybernetics constructs a new way of thinking about the material world. He states that “The knowledge we previously had from science was all about trying to remove the observer, so we could talk about an artifactual world full of things, but it is very difficult to argue about a world that exists without our sensing it.” Glanville emphasizes the role of the active observer and the distinctions and value to be made between science and design through the cybernetic activity of design itself. He explains that the value of design “accepts that not everything can be defined and computed, or that there are ways of working that do not depend on such definition: and it is not romantic to value criteria and qualities other than the strictly measurable, or to accept that reality is as we make it.” His belief is that design is a cybernetic process at work, a form of conversational 3


3 Roy Ascott. “The Construction of Change”. Cambridge Opinion 41. Modern Art in Britain, 1964. pp. 37-42. 4 Stephanie Bunbury, “It’s time to learn to love your Dalek.” May 10, 2005. Retrieved September 10, 2007 from website: articles/2005/05/09/1115584883777.html


interaction that epitomises second order cybernetic systems. For Glanville, designers “are not observers of the world, but observers in the world.” Designers as part of the system construct lawful correlations (understandings) as possible complex orders manifest through adaptive and circular activity. These correlations are not universal and exist through direct participation and engagement. Design as an activity does not relegate itself to solely descriptive forms but through casual and circular relationships that identify generative potentials to further define and evolve the design system itself. The process is of continual formation rather than a state of fixed form. 5

We can communicate – that is, combine and reinforce our knowledge with that of other men – by stimulating the circulation of ideas and feelings, finding channels of communication that can interconnect our disciplines and enable us to see our world as a connective whole. -György Kepes

Figure 3.

Minimaforms / Brunel Gateway

Figure 4. Architectural Association Design Research Lab / SoProto

beyond the practice of art and design itself.


In the history of art, adaptation has particular, complex, and significant meaning. Adaptation of artistic forms to the environment is a two-way process, for the environment also adapts to manmade forms. The evolutionary history of artistic forms takes place through individual variation without the implication that there is a directing agent or a predetermined goal. There is a complex interaction between the unique contribution of an individual imaginative power and the historic changes in the culture: “While the individual imagination generates change, society, including artists, guides its rate and direction, but only by post facto selectivity; the environment can prompt imaginative solutions by posing challenging problems, but it’s not itself creative.” The implication is that a change for the sake of change is a virtue neither in biological nor in artistic evolution. For the most impressive work of art that has a deep and embracing message will have a survival value beyond time and place of its origin. Old and new, persistence and change interact in vital historical dialogue, only by recognizing the inherent needs of certain historic moments - that is, through adaptation - can change occur. But change also implies constancy, a persistent characteristic fabricating the substance of the future.

From Object to System The rules of object oriented classifications evolved through multiple modes of enquiry. In 1973, art historian Lucy Lippard tried to give form to this period of experimentation in art through a publication called Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972. The publication, a loose collection of chronologically organized events, statements, and articles was focused on “so-called conceptual or information or idea art with mentions of such vaguely designated areas as minimal, anti-form, systems, and earth or process art.” The inability to define clear categories of description highlights the scope and diversity of the questions and practices that had emerged. Art and design became territories for intellectual interrogation, new trajectories and provocations were formed in both the conception and practice. The role of science and technology on the practice of art and architecture would provide some of the most radical and thought provoking scenarios. In 1965, Gygory Kepes stated in his introduction to The Nature and Art of Motion that “to structure our chaotic physical and social environment as well as our knowledge and values, we have to accept the conditions of the new scale and learn to use the tools that have grown from it.” Our contemporary sensibility with regard to communication has evolved new sensibilities and complexity privileging mediated and remote interaction. The research explores the role of space, in particular in regards to the physical and public environment as an agent of communication. As Kepes’ New Bauhaus mentor and 7

5 Ranulph Glanville. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better: The Cybernetics in Design and the Design in Cybernetics”. Kybernetes Vol. 36 No. 9/10, 2007, p. 1199. 6 Gyorgy Kepes. The Nature and Art of Motion, New York : George Braziller, 1965. 7 Lucy Lippard. Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object 1966-1972. New York: Praeger 1973, p. 3.


Figure 2.

Architectural Association Design Research Lab / Flexible Formwork

colleague Laszlo Moholy Nagy once proclaimed, “Design is not a profession but an attitude…Thinking in complex relationships.” Ascott would reinforce this sentiment with an emphasis on the societal and cultural implications; he states “Great art sets up systems of attitudes which can bring about the necessary imbalance and dispersal in society whilst maintaining cultural cohesion. For a culture to survive it needs internal acrimony (irritation), reciprocity (feedbacks), and variety (change). Enter art.” The coupling of art and technology brought about a discourse that was social and optimistic. A sensibility that was shared through the belief that through innovation, new channels of communications would emerge that would interconnect what had become self contained and isolated disciplines in the cultural and scientific fields. Art was thought as a tool to actively collaborate and communicate with disciplines

In evolving the tools and knowledge afforded today it is the belief that for architecture to evolve it has to re-introduce models of participation that engage collective experience through spatial and social interaction. The form of these




László Moholy-Nagy, Vision in Motion. Chicago: P. Theobald, 1947, p. 42.

interactions should not be prescriptive but co-evolve through participation. Beyond style, architecture moves away from the object towards behavioural models stimulated through participation and interaction, engaging material and social interaction. These social orders allow a synthetic interplay to construct a new breed of proto-animalistic architectures that evolve through negotiated interactions. Through a fusion of synthetic and natural systems, architecture can construct machines that are generative, evolving relationships that engage new forms of spatial organization, fabrication and communication. The ability to shift preoccupations from object to system allows our built environment to play an active and participatory role in the construction of adaptive forms through feedback. John Frazer, author of the seminal work An Evolutionary Architecture, reminds us that “perhaps…computing without computers is the most important lesson to be learned by designing these tools. The real benefits are found in having to rethink explicitly and clearly the way in which we habitually do things.” Architecture today can serve as an emergent framework that displays a new nature that combines the biological, social, and computational as an adaptive and evolving organism, exclaiming Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s belief that “architecture is the continuation of nature in her constructive activity.” 


Gyorgy Kepes. The Nature and Art of Motion. New York : George Braziller, 1965. p. 8.


Architecture’s Next Ontological Innovation Patrik Schumacher


ill MacDonald and Erik Ghenoiu asked me to write a “critical assessment, counterpoint, or position statement in light of this issue’s material, showing both the importance of, and problems with, the arguments that have been emerging in architecture’s reception of object-oriented ontology and the new thinking about the natural sciences, and how this material is being applied to ongoing debates in our field.” The reception of new science – under the auspices of the complexity paradigm – is a long, fruitful, ongoing process of learning, inspiration, self-transformation, and empowerment within architecture. In contrast, the reception of object-oriented ontology is a much more recent and narrow event. Accordingly, the fruitfulness (or sterility) of this reception is as yet unclear. The question of which philosophy architecture should consult and be guided by, for instance whether or not it should adopt an objectoriented rather than a relational ontology, cannot be answered in advance of working with such an ontology. The adoption of an “ontology” within a discursive field like architecture is more than the mere adoption of certain basic concepts and propositions. The adoption of a new ontology worthy of this title would have to include the adoption of a new set of primitives and operations within the design process. In this sense we can also infer the implicit ontology of contemporary architecture, and it seems that architecture during the last fifteen years has been working towards an ever more relational ontology, both conceptually and operationally dissolving the idea of architectural design as the aggregation of autonomous elements or objects. Indeed, thinking in terms of forces, correlations, fields, networks, and transformational series, and working via generative scripts and associative models has been the recent path of architecture’s progress, inscribing a “relational ontology” within architectural discourse and practice, both implicitly and explicitly. It is this very widespread and by now pervasive (and as I believe very productive) ontological investment that has prepared the ground for making a contrarian proposition (like object-oriented ontology) appealing. However, there can be no question of a return to the modernist object. Neither is Harman’s object-oriented ontology a simple return to Aristotelian substances; so what we would expect from a revival of the object concept within architecture is something new, something that sublates the insights and gains of relationism. Whatever object-oriented ontology becomes within architecture, it


must be post-relational in the way Derrida, for instance, was poststructural. For now my attitude remains “wait and see,” while my own intellectual investment is following a different path altogether, which I will outline below. No more Master-discourse: How Architecture Intersects with Philosophy The validity and fate of object-oriented ontology within architecture is a matter of architecture’s autopoiesis. It does not depend on the success or failure of this approach within philosophy. If anything, the inverse is true: a philosophical doctrine or system succeeds or fails to the extent to which it is adopted, adapted and operationalized within the specialized, professional discoursepractices (societal function systems) like business, politics, the sciences, medicine, engineering, and architecture, among others. Philosophy does not have its own domain of practical engagement and responsibility. Rather it is both a conceptual agent provocateur and exchange hub relative to all the other function systems. It gathers, compares, abstracts, and distributes the most advanced modes of conceptualization from each field. Philosophy is also to some extent creative and proposes its own conceptual inventions in response to what it observes in the specialized discourses. It has often aspired to construct an overarching conceptual system that somehow tries to cohere and encompass all or most of the specialized discourses. However, philosphy is no master discourse that could settle conceptual questions and instruct all function systems accordingly. No specialized professional discourse can be effectively refuted on the grounds of its philosophically questionable ontology. This is a simple statement of fact from the sociology of knowledge about how our society works. Indeed the philosopher’s themselves have given up their former stance of mastery and accept this reversal of power. For instance, actual scientific practices refute philosophies of science rather than vice versa. This is a simple fact of the autopoiesis of philosophy. The more general and comprehensive a philosophical system tries to be, the more vague it must remain, and the more 1

1 Conceptual invention is philosophy’s unique mission according to Deleuze and Guattari’s 1991 formulation in “What is Philosophy?”. Although this moment of invention cannot be denied I prefer to emphasize the aspect conceptual interchange hub.

degrees of freedom it will have to leave to the various specific domains that might (or might not) appropriate, adapt, and apply it. The appropriation, adaptation, and utilization of a philosophy is always decided upon within the various societal function systems. And this in turn depends upon its local pragmatic viability and fruitfulness. This is ultimately a question of expediency in terms of mnemotechnical economy and operational efficacy (and very difficult to predict). The question of “truth” has long since been dismissed or reinterpreted in such pragmatist terms. Pragmatism is not only the underlying meta-consensus within philosophy - one can observe a “pragmatist convergence” involving both the AngloSaxon and the Continental philosophical tradition - but it is also implicit in all the other discourses of society, although not explicitly stated. The adoption of certain basic conceptual schemata (ontologies and logics) is constraining but not determining for the further evolution of a discourse; there remain considerable degrees of freedom. Similar insights can be captured and articulated and similar operations can be effected on the basis of different ontologies. Different ontologies (or different conceptual elaborations of a given ontology) might thus be equifunctional. (One might compare this to the way different mathematical formalisms or different algorithms might be (more or less) equifunctional with respect to solving certain problems or questions, for instance, in computational geometry.) The “truth” (pragmatic efficacy) of an ontology cannot be universally asserted, but only evaluated discipline by discipline. Further, the question of its fruitfulness within a specific discipline cannot be settled in advance. One simply has to try to work with a certain ontology. So it is prudent to adopt a ”wait and see” attitude, that is philosophical tolerance rather than philosophical fundamentalism. The criteria of success are different in each discipline (function system), based on the respective discipline’s societal function. All justification can only be function-system-specific. This in itself does not preclude that multiple disciplines can benefit from the same philosophical influence and ontological innovation. Conceptual harmonization across disciplines could indeed be advantageous, but there are inherent limits to such a harmonization, due to the ultimate incommensurability of autopoietic function systems. Harmonization must remain a secondary agenda. The societal function, and thus the criteria of success, is different in each autopoietic function system. Terms and conceptual schemas shift meaning as they cross system boundaries. Science, engineering, architecture and design, politics, economy, et cetera, are self-referentially enclosed, autopoietic systems of communication. So we should not expect overarching movements and discourses. The different discourses are in fact conceptually incommensurable. Therefore full conceptual integration is out of the question. However, this does not exclude that irritation or even inspiration operates between autopoietic systems. An irritation or inspiration is not a rigorous conceptual operation. It is a perturbing impact that might be absorbed within the observing (receiving) system on its own terms. Philosophy often acts as an exchange hub or transmission belt for conceptual innovations or irritations

between different disciplines. In this way post-structuralism as well as the new science of complexity (chaos theory) were appropriated and interpreted within architecture, on architecture’s own terms. There is no point in complaining or worrying that architects misunderstand and misappropriate the concepts of philosophy and science; that is to be expected. The different autopoietic subsystems of world society are both evolving internally and co-evolving. We might expect radical transformations in society to be somehow reflected within all subsystems, albeit in rather different ways and somewhat asynchronously. The transformation of the economy from the Fordist to the post-Fordist regimes of reproduction might be cited here as giving an important impetus to the emergence of Parametricism in architecture. Parametricism responds to the increased complexity and dynamism of post-Fordist network society. Both transformations are related to the absorption of the possibilities offered by the micro-electronic revolution. The shift in science towards the study of non-linear dynamics, chaos, self-organization, and the emergence of complex systems is a parallel transformation in the sciences that has indeed inspired Parametricism. However, such observed parallels must not be taken to infer the possibility of an integral master-discourse that unifies the distinct function systems under a single, coherent theoretical system and system of values. Practical attempts at such a unification would reduce and blunt the complexity of a functionally differentiated society, and would imply a form of totalitarianism. There can be no single, overarching master-discourse, nor a single control-center within contemporary society. Architects are thrown back onto their own unique collective discourse and have to selfregulate their collective analyses, values, methods, and criteria of success, rather than hope for instruction from elsewhere. Inspiration is different from instruction. In my estimation architecture (Parametricism) has successfully adapted and operationalized the relational ontology drawn from Post-structuralist and Deleuzian Philosophy, as well as from complexity theory (inclusive of the paradigm of emergence). The elements or primitives of architecture have become parametrically malleable and remain dynamically embedded in networks of dependency, including multiple aspects of the context; all subsystems are internally differentiated and are to be correlated with (all) the other subsystems. More recently architectural organizations are the emergent result of (self-organizing) multi-agent interaction. The conceptual innovations of complexity theory were indeed operationalized. Alisa Andrasek and José Cadilhe’s contribution to this issue (“Synthetic Ecology: Recomputing Nature,” p. 43.) delivers compelling evidence of this. However, the success of the new philosophy or ontology should here be measured not so much in terms of the close adherence to the philosophical sources or models from the natural sciences, but ultimately in terms of architecture’s own, unique criteria of success in line with architecture’s unique societal function. Confusion abounds about architecture’s societal function and core competency. In particular, the demarcation against the engineering disciplines is not always clearly observed. 101

(Evidence of this can also be found in Alisa Andrasek and José Cadilhe’s contribution.) In particular, in the context of the ecological challenge, it is important not to confuse architecture with engineering. The Societal Function of Architecture How then should we define the unique societal function of architecture and design and thus its core competency? If my demarcation thesis is correct, architecture must be defined in terms that cut across any potential confusion with engineering. Before presenting my definition let me gather some of its readily recognizable moments or implications. While engineering is (should be) primarily (exclusively) concerned with issues of technical feasibility, architecture is (should be) primarily (exclusively) concerned with social functionality. While architects are always invested in the formal resolution of the project, and place value in aesthetic concerns, engineers do not claim competency in this respect. This is an indication of the fact that architects are prone to reflect their designs with respect to their impact on users understood as sentient, socialized actors, while engineers consider the safety and comfort of users understood only as physical or biological bodies. This implies that the essential function or contribution of (the discipline of) architecture is no longer the provision of physical shelter; this is now the responsibility of the engineering disciplines. To grasp the unique contribution of architecture we must understand another, less obvious but more profound contribution of the built environment to the evolution of society, indeed a crucial contribution to the very emergence of mankind from the animal kingdom. Society can only evolve with the simultaneous ordering of space. The elaboration of a built environment, however haphazard, precarious, and based on accident rather than purpose and intention, seems to be a necessary condition for the build-up of any stable social order. The gradual build-up of a social system must go hand in hand with the gradual build-up of an artificial spatial order: social order requires spatial order. The social process needs the built environment as a plane of inscription where it can leave traces that then serve to build-up and stabilize social structures that in turn allow the further elaboration of more complex social processes. The evolution of society goes hand in hand with the evolution of its habitat understood as an ordering frame. The spatial order of the human habitat is both an immediate physical organizing apparatus that separates and connects social actors and their activities, and a material substrate for the inscription of an external ”social memory.” These ”inscriptions” might at first be an unintended side effect of the various activities, then given spatial arrangements are functionally adapted and elaborated. They are further marked and underlined by ornaments which make them more conspicuous. The result is the gradual build-up of a spatiomorphological system of signification. Thus emerges a semantically charged built environment that provides a differentiated system of 2

2 What should be exclusively the concern of the respective discipline is until now only a primary (and not yet the exclusive) concern.


settings that help social actorsorient themselves with respect to the different communicative situations that constitute the social life-process of society. The system of social settings as a system of distinctions and relations uses both the positional identification of places (spatial position) and the morphological identification of places (ornamental marking) as props for the social communication process. Indications for this formative nexus between social and spatial structure abound within social anthropology, attesting to the crucial importance of cross-generationally stable spatiomorphological settings for the initial emergence and stabilization of all societies. On the basis of these observations and reflections we can now answer the question concerning architecture’s societal function. The question was posed and answered in Volume One of my book The Autopoiesis of Architecture: the societal function of architecture is to frame communicative interaction. Appropriately designed places regulate social communication by helping to define the situation, reminding the actors about who they are, ordering the actors into their appropriate relative position, for example, the place at the head of the table for the focal communicator of the group. The semiological dimension of the built environment is already coming into play here. As the built environment develops from the state of vernacular tradition to the state where it is advanced by architecture as an academic discipline and sophisticated, theory-led profession, the task of conscious semiological articulation arises. The importance of the spatio-morphological setting as a defining frame for social communication has also been recognized within sociology. Erving Goffman, for instance, was very much aware of the need for frames and ”assemblages of sign-equipment” that structure social communication: 3


First there is the “setting,” involving furniture, decor, physical layout, and other background items which supply the scenery and stage props for the spate of human action played out before, within, or upon it. A setting tends to stay put, geographically speaking, so that those who would use a particular setting as part of their performance cannot begin their act until they have brought themselves to the appropriate place and must terminate their performance when they leave it. 5

This is still true under the condition of contemporary network society. The built environment remains a powerful tool of organization, sorting, and ordering people and their activities or communications. All problems of society are problems of communication. Every society needs to utilize articulated spatial 3 In the analysis of the social structure of primitive societies, the drawing of the village plan often serves as the most succinct summary and point of reference. 4 Patrik Schumacher, The Autopoiesis of Architecture, Volume 1: A New Framework for Architecture. London: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2010. See part 5: The Societal Function of Architecture. 5 Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 1959. London: Penguin Books, 1990, p 33.

relations to frame, order, and stabilize social communication. The built environment plus the more mobile artifacts such as furnishings, tools, clothing, etc., together engage in the staging of social interaction processes. Architectural settings are to be designed as framing communications, as permanent broadcasts that function as constraining or enabling premises for all further communications that are to be expected within the respective space. Architectural settings are communications that help to define and structure social institutions. The life process of society consists of a rich, diversified panoply of institutions and communicative situations. In order to communicate within specificsituations, the relevant participants have to first find each other and gather in particular settings, be brought into particular spatial constellations, and be enveloped by specific atmospheres that prime and prepare the participants with respect to the appropriate moods and modes of communication to be expected. This sorting, ordering, orienting, and framing is achieved by the designed or built environment. To get a grasp of the importance of the ordering capacity of a complex built environment, we might consider the following thought experiment: imagine that the population of a metropolis like London is thrown naked onto an undifferentiated tarmac surface. Nobody would know where to go or what to do. Nobody would even know who they were anymore. What is being erased is all the visible information about society’s order and institutions. The built environment is society’s material memory. It functions as a slowly evolving system of signification. A new ontology for architecture: all architecture is communication My theory of architecture – the theory of architectural autopoiesis – is based on an explicitly contingent theory design decision: to theorize architecture as a system of communications. According to this (Luhmannian) ontology there is only one basic type of entity to be considered: communications. In this sense the proposed ontology is a radically flat ontology. It is, however, also a radically relational ontology. Communications only exist within systems of communications, as relational nodes in endless chains and networks of connected communications. The very existence, individuation, and persistence of a communication depends on its connections and on its position within an ongoing network of cross-references. Communicationprocesses are rule-governed, rule-reproducing, and rule-evolving. That is why we speak of autopoietic (self-referentially enclosed) communication systems. While we might imagine the beginnings of communication as initially isolated instances in order to then think of networks or systems of communications, the analysis of our contemporary social communication leads to the opposite proposition: all communications are always already systemic. Communications are thus as it were “constituted from above,” as moments of a system. There is no communication without referential embedding, without a system reference, and its very individuation, identity, and meaning depends upon the system within which it is defined. That is radical relationism. My claim with respect to architecture is: All architecture (and design) consists of nothing but communications.

This way of theorizing architecture is based on Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory. For Luhmann society consists of communications rather than human beings. Human beings might still be taken as part of nature, as organisms that exist prior to society. Communications are not nature in the sense that they constitute an emergent phenomenon of cultural (rather than natural or biological) evolution, a new and decisive ontological stratum and evolutionary achievement. Luhmann’s cybernetic ontology distinguishes three ontologically separate types of autopoietic systems: living systems, psychic systems, and social systems. All these systems are autopoietic systems in the sense that they are self-referentially enclosed systems that themselves produceall the components and structures their respective metabolisms (life, consciousness, sociality) require. Living systems are self-referentially enclosed metabolic networks. Psychic systems are self-referentially enclosed systems of mental states. Social systems are selfreferentially enclosed systems of communications. All these types of autopoietic systems are self-stabilizing within an unstable, irritating environment. Social systems are systems of communications within a complex, layered environment that comprises social, psychic, organismic, and physical strata or aspects. Luhmann’s social systems theory focuses exclusively on social systems of communications. My theory of architecture embeds itself within this social systems theory. Therefore the ontology I propose for architecture is exclusively an ontology of communications. The category of communication comprises both actions or activities and designed artefacts (including architectural spaces). Accordingly Autopoiesis re-theorizes architectural functions in terms of (dense) action-artifact networks. Luhmann proposes to conceptualize the life process of society as a communication process rather than as a material reproduction process. This is – of course – a radical abstraction. However, I think this is a rather pertinent and powerful abstraction. All problems of society are problems of communication. Both the problems and the solutions of mankind have to do with society’s self-generated complexity. Even on an individual level, all our problems are problems of communication. Even those problems where the materiality of our life seems to assert itself transform right away into communication problems. For instance, when you fall sick you need to communicate with passersby or friends to call a doctor; then you need to communicate with the doctor and worry about your health insurance, etc. When you want to travel to Australia the physical distance to be overcome is no longer your problem; your problem is 6


6 The ontological question debated in the context of ecological theory, i.e. whether a broader, all encompassing, and evolutionary open-ended concept of nature should replace the traditional opposition of nature and culture, is not relevant here. The question of which conceptual set up is expedient for society’s ecological self-regulation on “space-ship earth” exceeds architecture’s unique societal responsibility and core competency. This question is thus not a question of architectural theory. Rather, the ecological challenge is merely an important constraint placed on architecture’s pursuit of genuinely architectural qualities/values. Its status should be conceptualized in parallel with other constraints, like engineering constraints, economic constraints, legal constraints etc. Ecology cannot be the primary driver of architectural innovation. For a full elaboration of this argument see: Patrik Schumacher, The Parametric City, in: Zaha Hadid – Recent Projects, A.D.A. Edita, Tokyo 2010; alsoat: 7 chapter 6.1.7 Functional Reasoning via Action-artefact Networks, in: Patrik Schumacher, The Autopoiesis of Architecture, Volume 2: A New Agenda for Architecture. London: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2012.


whether you can apply for and get a visa; whether you can afford to buy a ticket; whether the congestion and security controls are well managed; and whether you know how to navigate the congestion and security controls, etc. The same applies to architecture. The critical issue for an ambitious architecture that wants to contribute to the next stage of our civilization is not the technical-material problem of how to create an envelope that protects against the elements and beasts, buthow a designed territory operates as sophisticated framing communication that gathers and orders relevant (socialized) participants for specific communicative interactions. So I believe that communication-theory provides a parsimonious, productive framework for architecture’s reflective self-description. However, as I elaborate in the Epilogue of Volume Two of Autopoiesis, this theoretical perspective is coherent with an ultimately materialist underpinning. After all, communications are also material processes based on the material media of communication and the material media of information processing. What is important to note here is the fact that, although the proposal to posit communications as the ontological grounding of architecture is radically new, it has been theoretically elaborated in great detail in the 1,200 pages of Autopoiesis. I have also initiated attempts to operationalize and apply this new ontology in my design research at the AADRL and elsewhere. The validity of this proposed new architectural ontology depends upon its consequent elaborations and conclusions – first theoretical and then practical – rather than on its initial appeal when stated and proclaimed as program. It must convince via its results. It is certainly not a question of “philosophical truth.” Upgrading architecture’s social efficacy All problems of society are problems of communication; the focus on communication upgrades architecture’s social efficacy. Especially within post-Fordist network society, total social productivity increases with the density of communication. The life process of society is a communication process that is structured by a rich, diversified panoply of institutions and communicative situations. It is the built environment that stabilizes this matrix in institutions andmakes this matrix navigable. The built environment is society’s physical memory; it functions as a system of signification that we all intuitively navigate to find relevant communication partners or situations. Post-Fordist network society demands that we continuously browse and scan as much of the social world as possible to remain continuously connected and informed. We cannot afford to withdraw and beaver away in isolation when innovation accelerates all around. We must continuously recalibrate what we are doing in line with what everybody else is doing. We must remain networked all the time to continuously ascertain the relevancy of our own efforts. We must be reaching out and get entangled all the time, everywhere. Telecommunication via mobile devices helps but does not suffice. Rapid and effective face-to-face communication remains a crucial component of our daily productivity. The whole built environment must become an interface of multi-modal communication, and the ability to navigate dense and complex urban environments is an important aspect of 104

our overall productivity today. Everything must resonate with everything else. This should result in an overall intensification of relations that gives the urban field a performative density, informational richness, and cognitive coherence that makes for quick navigation and effective participation in a complex social arena. Our increasing ability to scan an ever-increasing simultaneity of events, and to move through a rapid succession of communicative encounters, constitutes the essential, contemporary form of cultural advancement. The further advancement of this vital capacity requires a new built environment with an unprecedented level of complexity, a complexity that is organized and articulated into a complex, variegated order of the kind we admire in natural, self-organized systems. The city is a complex text and a permanent broadcast. All its spaces and territories are communications. Entering a territory implies the acceptance of a framing communication. All further encounters and communications are premised by this framing communication. Our ambition must be to unfold more choices in dense, perceptually palpable, and legible arrangements. The more free and the more complex a society, the more will it have to spatially order and orient its participants via perceived thresholds and semiotic clues rather than via physical barriers and channels. The territories and settings that architecture offers are themselves communications. They communicate about the types and modes of interaction that are to be expected within the respective spaces or settings. These spatial communications are premises for all further communications that take place within the respective space. Everything communicates with everything. This is not a metaphysical assertion about the world, but a heuristic principle for parametric design under the auspices of parametricism. In terms of urban environments this implies that we should be able to perceive and participate in as many events as possible, always remaining exposed to many further choices to select our next move. This is facilitated best, if the visual field presents a rich, ordered scene of manifold offerings and also provides clues and anticipations about what lies behind the currently visible layers. This is made possible by the smooth parametric differentiation of all urban and architectural subsystems, and by infusing further order via the employment of associative logics that correlate the different subsystems in ways that make them representations of each other, facilitating inferences from the visible to the invisible or not yet visible. The urban dweller should be able to read and navigate the built environment just like the natives of the Amazon read and navigate their jungle. Instead of the garbage spill model of development that allows the random agglomeration and collage of pure difference, I am calling for a spatially complex, variegated order comparable to natural ecosystems like the jungle. That’s the model of the parametricist city. The speed and confidence with which one can make new experiences and meaningful connections is decisive. The designed urban environments that facilitate such hyper-connectivity must be deep, layered, and porous in all directions. The space allows us to follow different transformational logics and trajectories in different

directions. This is the space of the ”parametric jungle,” giving the sense of being suspended within a structured, fully threedimensional field of urban riches. The maturing style of Parametricism is geared up – in terms of its computational techniques and attendant formal-spatial repertoire – to build and order unprecedented levels of spatio-morphological complexity. Parametricism has the versatility, rich formal repertoire, and associative tools to build up the complex, variegated order that is called for in contemporary society. It has developed the capacity to intricately structure very complex urban scenes that nevertheless remain legible and navigable. The metropolitan condition that Georg Simmel first described one hundred years agoas numbing sensory overload becomes productive and transmutes into intense information processing,a place where we feel alive and productive. Its urban vitality is based on the high density of diverse communicative offerings that allows us to be both randomly freewheeling and to become highly selective within a split second. This is only possible in a build environment that presents and orders myriad communicative opportunities. The Refoundation of Architectural Semiology It is generally accepted that all architecture and urbanism has an inevitable semantic dimension. However, so far nobody seems to have succeeded in making architecture’s semantic dimension an arena of an explicit, strategic design effort. Earlier attempts to develop an architectural semiology (under the auspices of Postmodernism and Deconstructivism) failed to convince and were rejected in the early 90s when “operativity” was counter-posed to “representation.” This opposition was the expression of a necessary retreat from an unproductive engagement with architectural symbolism. However, this opposition is ultimately a false opposition. Architecture operates and functions via its semantic associations as much as it functions via physical separation or connection. The built environment functions through its visual appearance, its legibility, and its related capacity to frame and prime communication. The built environment is not just channelling bodies; it is orienting sentient, socialized beings who must actively comprehend and navigate ever more complex urban scenes. A designed space is itself a communication, a framingor premise for all communications that take place within its territory. The theory of architectural autopoiesis posits the spatiomorphological framing of communicative interaction as the unique societal function of the design disciplines including architecture and urbanism. My attempt at formulating the axioms and heuristics of a viable architectural semiology is elaborated in the second volume of Autopoiesis. There I propose a definition of architectural order that poses organisation, phenomenological articulation and semiological articulation (signification) as three moments of an architectural or urban design project. The three dimensions that together procure architectural order are conceptually derived via 8


8 Patrik Schumacher, The Autopoiesis of Architecture, Volume 1. 9 Section 6.8 The Semiological Dimension of Architectural Articulation; section 6.9 Prolegomenon to Architecture’s Semiological Project, in: Patrik Schumacher, The Autopoiesis of Architecture, Volume 2.

two binary distinctions as follows: architectural order





Organization is based upon the constitution or distribution of positions for spatial elements and their pattern of linkages. Articulation is based upon the constitution or distribution of morphological identities, similitudes, and differences across the architectural elements to be organized. Organization is instituted via the physical means of distancing, barring, and connecting via vistas and/or circulatory channelling. These physical mechanisms can (in theory) operate independently of all nuanced perception and comprehension, and can thus, in principle, succeed without the efforts of articulation. However, the restriction to mere organization without articulation, without facilitating the participants’ active navigation, severely constrains the level of complexity possible in the pattern of social communication thus framed. Articulation presupposes cognition. It enlists the participant’s perception and comprehension and thus facilitates the participants’ active orientation. The distinction of organization versus articulation is thus based on the difference between handling passive bodies versus enlisting active, cognitive agents. The two registers relate as follows: articulation builds upon and reveals organization. It makes the organization of functions apparent. In so doing it elevates organization into order. The dimension of articulation includes two distinct sub-tasks: phenomenological articulation and semiological articulation. The distinction is between the enlistment of behavioral responses from cognitive agents and the communicative engagement of socialized actors. The phenomenological project enlists the users as cognitive agents, perceiving and decomposing their environment along the lines of the cognitive principles of pattern-recognition or Gestaltperception. It is all about making organizational arrangements perceptually legible by making important points conspicuous, avoiding the visual overcrowding of the scene, and so on. This is a necessary precondition for all semiological codings that can only attach to the visually discernable features of the environment. Users can only read, interpret, or comprehend what they can discern. However, the comprehension of a social situation involves more than the distinction of conspicuous features. It is an act of interpretation, an act of reading a communication: namely the reading of the communication that the space itself constitutes as framing communication, and premise for all communicative interactions to be expected within its ambit. (These situated communications are attributed to the institutions that host the respective communicative events, i.e. they are attributed to the clients rather than to the architects or designers.) Communication presupposes language, that is, a system of signification. The built environment spontaneously evolves into such a (more or less vague and unreliable) system of signification. The task of architectural semiology as design agenda is to go beyond this spontaneous semiosis (that every talented designer navigates intuitively) and to 105

build up a more complex and more precise system of signification. To summarize, we can thus distinguish the contributions that the three dimensions of architecture’s task make to architecture’s societal function: task dimension

framing contribution

engagement of users

solicited response

organizational project

as physical frame

as physical bodies

passive movement

phenomenological project

as perceptual frame

as cognitive beings

active behavior

semiological project

as communicative frame

as socialized actors

communicative action

As urban complexity and density increase, effective semiological articulation becomes ever more important, and the other two aspects of architectural order are reduced to mere preconditions of spatio-morphological signification. To the extent that this is becoming prevalent, architecture’s ontology can be tightened to comprise only communications. Every talented or successful designer adapts to and intervenes intuitively within the spontaneous and historically evolving semiological system of the built environment. My aim is to move from an intuitive participation within an evolving semiosis to an explicit design agenda that understands the design of a large scale architectural complex as an opportunity to design a new, coherent system of signification: a new artificial architectural language (without relying on the familiar codes found in the existing built environments). In Volume Two of Autopoiesis I set out an axiomatic framework for the elaboration of architectural systems of signification. For instance, I circumscribe the domain of architecture’s signified, i.e. the types of informational content an architectural communication might convey, as comprising the societal panoply of types of interaction (institutions, communication situations), here termed function type; the panoply of social status groups, here termed social type; and finally the location type, implying that architectural systems of signification might systematically reveal positional information about what to expect when beyond the immediate field of vision. Another axiom stipulates architectural territory to be the minimal unit of communication. The sign-concept was imported from Sassure’s semiology into the theory of architectural autopoiesis as coextensive equivalent to its central concept of communication. The more specific concept of architectural sign, synonomous with built architectural communication, is concretized by being identified with the concept of (designed and designated) territory as the minimal self-sufficient communicative unit within the domain of architecture; equivalent to the unit of the sentence as the minimal self-sufficient communicative unit of speech acts utilizing a verbal language. Architectural signs, as much as the sentences of a language, are composite entities. This composite character is not only observed in the case of larger territories like buildings or urban ensembles that can be analysed as aggregations of elemental territorial units, but most importantly, concerns the constitution of the elemental 106

territorial sign-units from components that by themselves do not constitute autonomous communications. These components are not complete signs. They might be referred to as sign-radicals. They require each other to complete a sign. Architectural territories (architectural signs or communications) function as constraining or enabling premises for all further communications that are to be expected within the respective space. Every communication is dialogical. Every communication offers itself to the binary choice of being accepted or rejected. A verbal communication, for example, in the form of a declarative sentence or assertion, is either accepted as true or rejected as false. It makes no sense to accept or reject single words unless they represent a compressed sentence. A command is either obeyed or resisted, etc. The acceptance of a communication allows it to become a premise and point of reference for further connecting communications. In the same way a territory or spatial frame can be rejected or accepted as a premise for further communications: the territory can be entered – which implies acceptance and engagement with the signified and anticipated type of social interaction expected within the entered territory – or the territory can be exited, or altogether avoided. This spells rejection and implies the refusal to participate in the signified social interaction. The acceptance of a communication allows for the connection of further communications that build upon each other. The territorial unit functions as a communication that can be accepted or rejected. Any smaller architectural unit, below the level of the territorial unit, for example, a column, is not subject to acceptance versus rejection. The column’s muteness in this respect implies that it is not to be counted as communication. By itself the column means little, unless it is either establishing its own place or territory - perhaps for an intimate rendevouz. In all other (usual) cases it has only a subsidiary meaning as it contributes to the characterization of a territory. The definition and analysis of the general semiological base category of the sign is thus instituted by the architectural territory as follows: the framing territory is the sign, with the unity of its bounding and characterizing physical devices, together constituting the signifier, and the framed (expected) type of social interaction constituting the signified. 10

Operationalizing the ontology of communication It has now become both possible and necessary to enhance architecture’s capacity to organize and articulate the increasing complexity of (the most advanced centers of) post-Fordist network society through the refoundation of architectural semiology under the auspices of Parametricism. Correlation has become the new fundamental base concept of architectural design. We must take care to distinguish three types of correlation: formal correlations, functional correlations, and form-function correlations. So far the discourse on Parametricism has primarily focussed on formal

10 The term alludes to the concept of (free) radicals in chemistry. Sign-radicals (in analogy to their chemical name-sakes) have a certain connective force, and combinatory potential.

correlation, the correlation of formal-spatial subsystems. However, it is pertinent to expand the concept of correlation to include formfunction relations, i.e. including the correlation of the patterned built environment with the patterns of social communications that unfold within it. This is meaningful because the same computational techniques that operationalize the concept of formal correlation can now be applied to form-function correlations. How is this possible? The functional heuristics of Parametricism propose to conceive of the functions of spaces in terms of dynamic patterns of social communications, i.e. as parametrically variable, dynamic event scenarios rather thanstatic schedules of accommodation that list functional stereotypes. It has now become possible – for the first time in the history of architecture – to model the functional layer of the city and thus incorporate it into the design process. This is made possible by computational crowd modelling techniques via agent-based models. Such models reproduce or predict collective patterns of movement including the emergence of formations such as stop-and-go waves and the spontaneous separation of opposite flows of pedestrians in bidirectional traffic. Based on this societal function of architecture I have formulated the task of architectural design to proceed along three dimensions: organization, articulation, and signification. Accordingly, in the second volume of Autopoiesis I am proposing to upgrade the intelligence and capacity of the discipline along these three dimensions, and suggest that the design project can be divided into three projects: the organizational project, the phenomenological project, and the semiological project. These are general proposals that are initially independent of any investment into a particular style. However, I believe that Parametricism is best placed to take on these agendas. I have started to work with students on the idea of a parametric semiology where a complex design is built up as a complex system of signification, using agent-based crowd modelling (functional crowds) to set up systematic correlations between architectural features and behavioral responses. Tools like “MiArmy” or “AI.implant” (available as plugins for Maya), or “Massive” now make behavioral modeling within designed environments accessible to architects. Agent modeling should not be limited to crowd circulation flows, but should encompass all patterns of occupation and social interaction in space. In fact scientists are already engaged in the underlying research. Such research takes place for example at the Center for Human Modeling and Simulation at the University of Pennsylvania, and at the Department of Computer Science at George Mason University. Jan M. Allbeck (from George Mason University) emphasizes this new departure away from mere crowd flow engineering to the programming of functional crowds: 11


11 Correlation is the 3rd principle of Parametricism’s formal heuristics. See: Patrik Schumacher, Parametricism - A New Global Style for Architecture and Urban Design, Published in: AD Architectural Design - Digital Cities, Vol 79, No 4, July/August 2009, guest editor: Neil Leach, general editor: Helen Castle. As example of formal-spatial correlation might serve the correlation between the subsystems of a tower: skeleton, floors and envelope. 12 chapter 11.2.2 Operational Definition of Parametricism: Defining the Heuristics of Parametricism, in: Patrik Schumacher, The Autopoiesis of Architecture, Volume 2.

Most crowd simulation research either focuses on navigating characters through an environment while avoiding collisions or on simulating very large crowds. Our work focuses on creating populations that inhabit a space as opposed to passing through it. Characters exhibit behaviors that are typical for their setting. We term these populations functional crowds. … We use roles and groups to help specify behaviors, we use a parameterized representation to add the semantics of actions and objects, and we implemented four types of actions (i.e. scheduled, reactive, opportunistic, and aleatoric) to ensure rich, emergent behaviors. 13

This research seems primarily to be intended for application within the game industry. However, architects should start appropriating this research, both in terms of the tools and the analytic intelligence it provides. The idea of functional crowds can be taken further: The agents’ behavior might be scripted so as to be correlated with the configurational and morphological features of the designed environment, i.e. programmed agents respond to environmental clues. Such clues or triggers might include furniture configurations as well as other artifacts. The idea is to build up dynamic actionartifact networks. Colors, textures, and stylistic features, that together with ambient parameters (lighting conditions) constitute and characterize a certain territory might influence the bevavioral mode (mood) of the agent. Since the ‘meaning’ of an architectural space is the (nuanced) type of event or social interaction to be expected within its territory, the new tools allow for the refoundation of architectural semiology as parametric semiology. This implies that the meaning of the architectural language can enter the design medium (digital model). The semiological project implies that the design project systematizes all form-function correlations into a coherent system of signification. A system of signification is a system of mappings (correlations) that map distinctions or manifolds defined within the domain of the signified (here the domain of patterns of social interaction) onto distinctions or manifolds defined within the domain of the signifier (here the domain of spatial positions and morphological features defining and characterizing a given territory) and vice versa. The system of signification works if the programmed social agents consistently respond to the relevantly coded positional and morphological clues so that expected behaviourscan be read off the articulated environmental configuration. The meaning of architecture, the prospective life processes it frames and sustains, is modelled and assessed within the design process, thus becoming a direct object of creative speculation and cumulative design elaboration. Architecture’s new prospective ontology of communication can thus be operationalized within the design model.  13 Allbeck, J.M., Functional Crowds. In Workshop on Crowd Simulation co-located with the 23rd Annual Conference on Computer Animation and Social Agents. Saint Malo, France, 2010. See also: Allbeck, J.M. and Kress-Gazit, H. Constraints-Based Complex Behavior in Rich Environments. In: Proceedings of the 10th International Conference on Intelligent Virtual Agents, Springer, 2010, pages 1-14.


Cooking, Yo-ing, Thinking Sanford Kwinter


here are a variety of intellectual enterprises that have re-emerged in recent years that treat the idea of nature as a “thick” and historical term, as a concretion of accumulated forces and “partis pris” subject to intricately (sometimes tortuously) nuanced postmodern analysis, and which cast their meanings and operations as being broadly (if not entirely) dependent on networks of semiotic (or “social-epistemological”) relationships. These are largely critical enterprises whose principal aim is to relativize and culturalize the concept of nature (when not seeking to disqualify it altogether) and hence detach the term ever further from the worldly materials, processes, and especially interactions that, in its straightfor ward (“naïve”) presentation, it seeks to grasp or denote. These enterprises invariably proceed, in arguably circular fashion, to disqualify the concept of nature for belonging to the systems of construction (“representation”) that thought itself (and usually not ver y profound thought) posits from the outset to be its necessar y and circumscribed domain of operation. These are critical enterprises to be sure, and sociological ones, but they are not philosophies. To the philosophy of nature belong a number of long and ancient traditions (including, and notably, non-Western ones), but these are largely absent from today’s intellectual landscape and have been so, with rare exceptions (Nietzsche, Bergson, Whitehead), for a ver y long time. It might even be said that the literar ycritical ersatz-philosophies of the last few years, despite their swollen claims, have as their goal to place the prospects of any real apprehension of the physical world beyond the acceptable scope of contemporar y thought. In this however they have extravagantly failed, not only for their manifest displays of incuriosity, but for the fact that those portions of our world that are governed by laws that are indifferent to us – what I will call “nature” – have in recent years revealed to us both regularities and anomalies of the most provocative and even beautiful kind which have been met without political or aesthetic reception. More central is the fact that both the slow and sudden events that we discern to be developing within 108

our environment in recent years, and which undeniably constitute its own independent and self-directed life, have not only shown a capacity to impinge on us enormously, but are precisely what must be examined in order properly and expansively to grasp the meaning and conduct of our own lives within it. And despite the healthy habits of intellectual vigilance they may inculcate in us, post-Natural ideologies (including related anti-science movements), in their operation and perhaps even in their essence, may well be little more than forms of cr ypto-Creationism. Contemporar y wisdom treats notions such as a geological Anthropocene as a novel concept and persists in entertaining as “radical” the assertions of the artificiality of nature and of the almost endless backdatability of the human modification of the environment; nonetheless, these ideas figure as among the most pallid of clichés within scientific and naturalist circles and have done so since the rise of systematic biological thought (Dar win), and perhaps from as early as the pre-Socratic thinkers (Democritus, Heraclitus). The idea that the human exists in nature, as an actor – subject or object – of the processes that unfold within it, as alternately protagonist and antagonist, rather than as nature (indistinct and indissociable from it), has little correspondence to any concept or notion of life developed within either modern science or the philosophy of nature. The legacy of Cartesian dualism is but one source of this persistent naivety that sees the mind not only as external to natural (and hence deterministic) order, but as metaphysically independent of the forces that bear upon, animate or transform matter. The humanities in recent years have provided the most vacant contributions for thinking freshly and creatively about what is, in sum, the task of the philosophy of nature: to theorize the relationships that hold between the environment (world) as a whole and its myriad parts. In many ways the discipline that has inherited the task abdicated by the humanities, has been the science or discipline of ecology. 1

1 I respectfully note my essential disagreement with several of the contributors to this issue.

Partly because of this abdication, and partly because it represents a set of mental habits not yet standard in the hard sciences, today it is impossible to say exactly where the discipline of ecology begins or ends. Ecological thinking has its roots in the organismal thought of the late eighteenth centur y (in Goethe, Diderot, and Alexander von Humboldt), but it also belongs intimately to the habits of mind of contemporar y scientists who study correlated (and generally dynamic) phenomena-relationships of events or objects to the systems, parts of systems, and the successive states of systems, that comprise them. The study of animals, for example, is routinely partitioned into the animal’s biology –relations and processes that pertain internally to its structure and parts – and its ecology – relations that hold between organisms themselves and between them and their external world or environment. The two domains are typically united through the encompassing discipline of evolutionar y biology that treats all form, including many aspects of behavior, as temporal and integrative and, most importantly, as a continuum. The inexorable drama of the individuation of traits as a response to emerging differentials in the environment is not a fact susceptible to deconstruction or relativization (except perhaps, as I said earlier, by having recourse to creationist positions or to the ‘anti-metaphysical’ postures that, paradoxically, they protect). For the modality of matter-time is the place in which we live. Perhaps this specific type of movement deserves a name other than “nature”, but the rationale to seek one has not, to my mind, been established by either actor-network or object-oriented theor y. Relational philosophies from the time of Lucretius through Spinoza and Deleuze supply more than adequate scaffolding and conceptual virtuosity to protect the continuing integrity of philosophical thought from molestation by postmodern critical and sociological per formance. “Nature,” I would claim (and I would have thought this an unassailable proposition before confronted by the topos of the present issue of Tarp) is the preeminent problem of philosophy today and is likely to remain so for the immediate future. Clearly the persistence of the great phenomenological hangovers of yester year haunts like a cyclical neurosis those who, for some reason, still do not know where to put “Man” (The return of philosophical Liberalism – particularly in France! – is a notable symptom among many). For the most part, this is because the materialism that is the foundation of the thought of Nietzsche, Foucault, and of much of modern biological thought – I invoke here but one of its movements, the power ful and disturbing consistencies of Gaian theor y in climatology and geochemistr y – is still either poorly assimilated or understood. There is no Naturalism that is not a Materialism (Carlyle’s “Natural supernaturalism” is

an interesting, but different, case) and no such thing as a materialist anti-naturalism. It may be argued that my own die was cast on this issue long ago by my avowed commitment to the “Internal Relations” philosophies that led to the many complementar y varieties of twentieth centur y organismal thought (culminating in information and control theor y), to my commitment to a brand of technological vitalism (close to, but corrective of, overly-disparaged technological determinism), to immanentist epistemology, and to what Foucault, in laying out the methodology that would guide his middle and late period of work, referred to as “a materialism of the incorporeal.” It remains my assertion that the revolution and the necessity of our era is to think time – that “Nature” is time and nothing besides. The remainder of my remarks are directed more narrowly to the design milieus where I spend most of my attention and philosophical concern, and whose members are not strangers to the prejudices (commitments) to which I have laid claim above. It is widely known, and entirely comprehensible, that architectural thought has begun to incorporate a variety of concerns about the natural world under the auspices of meeting the challenges of transforming its relationship to energy; in sum, accommodating the demand to rethink its relationship to the biosphere, the atmosphere, and the geosphere. Green speculation has been largely inadequate and uneven at best, and the theor y that might guide or lead it has lagged. But it might be argued that the problem of nature has actually been intensely en cause within architectural and design circles for the last few generations under a different guise, pursued within the context of computational technology. The computer is now a principal means of producing reality, a significant means of perceiving it, and a particularly ambiguous ontological entity within it. Among the significant failures in design culture of recent years has been the inability to sustain an ecological account of this peculiar technical object. To approach this problem, let’s begin with the greatest cliché of all, heard frequently in design circles: “The computer is nothing but a tool (no different from any other).” There are innumerable ways to address the poverty of this formulation. One would be to consider the meaning and function of the tool (or technical object) within human and animal histor y and ecology in the first place. Another would challenge the further—embedded— assumption that the computer belongs in a continuous and 2


2 Hence the problem of ‘the relation of the whole to the parts that make it up’—as I earlier defined the task of the thought with respects to nature, here opens on to its true complexity and to the fuller scope of its demand on the intellectual imagination. A cartography of the interrelationships of objects comprises a provocative but minuscule subset of the natural domain. 3 My thanks to Mark Goulthorpe whose frequent provocations and invitations have provided a principle opportunity to informally discuss and develop many of these thoughts and themes with him and his students at MIT.


uncomplicated way to the series of technical innovations that have marked human interaction with, and master y of, its environment over our long histor y. In the first categor y, the ver y phrase “nothing more than (another tool)” evinces a terrifying innocence about how objects become annexed to larger, systematic biological enterprises in their processes of testing and subduing the indifference and serendipity of the natural world. The so-called “stone tool industr y” of early human civilization is now widely understood to have included a range of broader processes to form its conditions of possibility (I elicit here only economic and social dimensions). Optimal stone types were identified, transported great distances, stockpiled, almost certainly traded, and assigned diverse industrial applications, even within largely band-based and pre-linguistic societies. The skill required to flint and hone was advanced, requiring sustained and ultimately specialized training, and was not equally distributed within a given community, which in turn led to divisions of labor and variegated social relationships. The ver y emergence of a special class of object whose status is not itself directly applicable to the immediacy of the body’s drives, but subordinate to another object that by a series of processes or actions it brings into being, is said to constitute one of the great leaps in the culture of our mental life: the cleaving of the world into self and non-self realms, into a stratified field of subordinate and subordinating causes. There was suddenly a boundar y between subject and object such that “transcendence” – as French philosopher Georges Bataille once famously referred to it – was introduced into the human psychic world. This interruption and separation of a primordial continuity was speculated to inaugurate the bifurcation of the human from its animal existence. But in the last decades elementar y tool use has been discovered in animal societies as well, from chimps to dolphins to English blue tits (who pierce foil milk wrappers and pass the techniques on to their offspring). Early hominins were unequipped and unable to access the proteins in a felled carcass restricting them to a culture of gathering activities and scavenging the ravaged quarr y of others. The hunting economy, society, and lifestyle emerged only after the master y of the techniques of hand tool manufacture. The hunting brain, or “cortex” as some have taken to call it, and the hunting society that resulted are not the same as the ones that preceded them. Among other things they together transformed the asocial frugivore ape into a social carnivore. Indeed, even the marketing engineers at Nokia seized upon this bias to formulate their mantra in the 1990s: “all killer apps” they instructed, “are ‘social apps.’” To seek to cast any significant technology outside of its larger ecology of operations – namely social, existential, and neurocognitive – is to miss just about 110

ever ything significant about it. Second, the computer indisputably represents a power ful technological impetus in our world, but is it really “just another” technology among others? Do we legitimately place it in a lineage with radio, television, and telephone, or perhaps in a lineage that can be traced from the clock through the steam engine to the electrical dynamo, the celebrated successions that so effectively rationalized our cities and economic life? Or do we, like the dutifully dull historians we train, establish its “essential lineage” in automation machiner y, like the loom, the player piano, or the early Boolean calculation machines? Unlike almost anything that came before it, the computer – with the power ful complicity of media both visual and aural, and with the temporal matrices of traditional arts, such as music and perhaps more importantly theater – represents a direct “protosubjective” engagement – and harnessing – of the modalities and affordances of our nervous system, a fact that can no longer remain separate or hidden in computer culture. In (J.J.) Gibsonian terms, computers possess environmental and ecological status, not only because they ‘do’ things in the manner of natural or living objects, but because they furnish – indeed prescribe – the environment and the environmental boundaries and conditions within which said “doing” takes place. This latter construct is not only hidden from our habitual attention, but is also, as contemporar y neurobiology has shown, effectively impervious and undetectable by the perceptual schemas of the human brain. Only philosophical postures, or voluntar y (self-imposed) exile from computation’s extended social operations, or a cultivation of alternate perceptual disciplines can provide us access to the computer’s essential and constitutive procedures and processes. Few of these latter attitudes are typically discernable within our contemporar y design milieus, and this deficit is arguably a prime cause of the new “conventionalism” that has characterized so much recent digitally oriented work in design. Similarly, there is also a wide variety of ways one appears to be construing the principle of the digital today: digital as “numeric” and hence opposed to “analog”; digital as “automatic” process; digital as having to do with “information” rather than say, with energy or matter. Digital has also simultaneously taken on a worr yingly Neanderthal attitude that seems to connote “modern,” “enlightened,” or “renewed.” But most centrally from today’s perspective, digital seems to denote connected and integrated. We speak more often today of parametric than we do of ‘digital’ even though we mostly mean the latter. What many of the discourses and controversies invoked by the interpretations of digital listed above

have in common is the peculiar way in which the digital has allowed a conflict between two sets of – perhaps irreconcilable – understandings of what is the nature of Nature itself, and what is the nature of the systems of engagement and understanding with which we make contact with and represent this Natural world. It is a new type of epistemological problem because knowing and doing (changing, manipulating, etc.) are no longer held separate. Typically today we no longer distinguish between the two and we are no longer concerned by the loss of this distinction. No longer certain is whether one is speaking of Nature or of a new form of artificial ratiocination – of a machinic function extended beyond machine objects. The fundamental intellectual connection to the “information” revolution has been largely lost (or at least lost sight of): that of living systems or biology. Take Building Information Technology (BIM) as a simple example: although it may well represent the most significant development in the architectural world since reinforced concrete, its considerable promise and destiny remains largely stillborn so long as we fail to connect its integrative potential and ethos to the functions, concepts, and models of living systems and the life sciences that study them. If the last years of aimless digital work has shown us anything, contemporar y digital aptitudes lead nowhere if not wedded to biological aptitude. Biology or (writ large as) Nature is the destiny of computation. Digital aptitude has arisen in – or migrated to – other areas of cultural activity that are in no way derivative of architectural or industrial design practices, have often preceded them, and now frequently serve as inspirational or instructive models for them. In many cases they deploy the style or aptitude, but not the paraphernalia, equipment, infrastructural dependancies, or the procedural clichés. One example is the arena of molecular gastronomy, where research into the manifold variables to which soft organic matter is amenable and responsive across an almost unlimited array of specific effects and properties, is carried out today with astounding spontaneity, inventiveness, and bizarre but reproducible results. Molecular gastronomy in the last fifteen years was made possible by the “scientific” rigor through which new variables were explored along a wide array of parameters to determine which produce chemistries of unprecedented, unknown, or undiscovered kinds. Once known monolithically and inclusively as the “Maillard reaction”, which produces aromatic and flavor compounds in the presence of dr y heat (as well as sugars and amino acids) that we characterize as ‘delicious’ (such as the “fresh baked bread” or “toast” effect), it is now understood to comprise thousands if not hundreds of thousands of diverse compounds, specific to each given

situation or “environment”. The world/self or food/ sensation inter face has henceforth become an open arena for experimental modification, invention, and production of entirely new forms of experience. In fact, the kitchen has emerged as a full-blown site of the production of knowledge itself – and not only chemical – with its own techniques of practical rigorous inquir y. As a result, unprecedented focus by chefs has come to be placed on the human perceptual apparatus and how it determines, and across histor y has determined, the ultimate sensor y and experiential outcome or effect. Pacing, sequencing, partitioning, and ever y manner of controlled orchestration of inputs that extend well beyond olfactor y and taste modalities (to memor y for example) , has become the new arena of the gastronomical impresario. Taste has become an affair of the entire spectrum of human nervous response, and any part of the knowledge and natural world that can be made to bear on it. The best way to understand this as a neuro-aesthetic and “ecological” practice is to consider some of the main impetuses of post-war musical research—especially those issuing from the synthetic methods and compositional programs of the “avant-garde” or electro-acoustic movements. Among the great discoveries that drove postwar sonic and acoustic innovation was the cultivation of a similar ethos of making “micro-“ structure and microsound research into a viable platform for the manipulation of the sound continuum, and hence to invest all sound with an infinite modifiability. Extending the foundational insights of the atonal movement from a few decades earlier (Schonberg, Webern, Berg), post-war composition deployed technological processes (sampling, looping) and equipment (magnetic tape) to discover new parameters to var y and modulate – that is, to compose and design – that could not be accessed previously. Given the astounding plasticity and responsiveness of the human aural-psychic register, affective bodily states previously unknown and unimagined became attainable (individual notes and tone rows could be engineered without dependence on naturally resonating [wood and brass] objects) through the subtle manipulation of sound shapes and combinations, even at the sub- and super- audible ranges. Can the same range of discipline and master y of perceptual forms, and their integration and controlled effect on human nervous (aesthetic) response – and on the transformation and modulation of human ‘body states’ – be claimed for the forms and assemblies produced today with modeling software? Is there an experimental avantgarde – as existed for music’s encounter with technological manipulations, and as exists today in culinar y research – that ‘hacks’ the medium rather than simply to incorporate

4 Although molecular gastronomy has broad currency and following in design milieus, the only serious treatment I know of is David Ruy’s excellent “Lessons from Molecular Gastronomy,” LOG 17, Anyone Corporation, New York, Fall 2009.

5 6




See Heston Blumenthal, Heston’s Fantastical Feasts, Bloomsbury, London, 2010. See Curtis Roads, Microsound, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2002.


and deploy it within the same framework in which it is presented? For this writer there exists considerable concern that there is not. Decades after the first generation of hacker activistpractitioners in the telephone and computer science world, the hacking ethos has taken on an ever-thicker and enriched meaning as it becomes applicable to different functional realms. In addition to its application in gastronomy, where the substrate material is partially released from its agricultural and dietar y contexts and conceived as a physical-chemical continuum susceptible of infinite recombination and variation through applied (controlled) processes, and in music, where in similar manner sound is restructured in depth by manipulating the shape and structure of sine waves themselves to transform experience, the chemistr y and behavioral moduli of the brain and body are today becoming targets of some of the most creative research and experiment around. Developments in neuroscience are permitting the first glimpses of the algorithms and hardwired protocols that determine human perception, allowing for the study of human-world inter faces and how these may be altered or engaged in decisive new ways. Empirical practices – such as that of magicians – have for long discovered ways to hack the human nervous system but new models of human perceptual organization and modalities are allowing for astonishing new styles in creating environments and art works that target, cue, or circumvent specific neural circuitr y. Similarly, neuroscience has begun to study traditional practices – like art and magic – for organized and stored forms of knowledge and practice. Recent works by neuroscientists Stephen Macknick and Susana Martinez-Conde , and by Harvard historian Daniel Lord Smail are but two notable recent works that tap the long and, as they argue, constitutive histor y of how culture has evolved practices and forms to hack the human nervous system with a view to producing novel and/or radical forms of experience and altered “body states.” A related tendency may be found in the rise of a “body hacking” movement (that has not yet been fully identified as the movement it is). I take my example here from the New York Times trash bestseller list – The Four Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss, which serves simultaneously as a manual for hacking the body’s material makeup (purporting to be able to “recompose it” radically and in 7




7 Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde (with Sandra Blakeslee), Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about our Everyday Deceptions, Henry Holt, New York, 2010. On the subject of neurobiology, ‘neuro-aesthetics’ and neuropolitics with respects to problems in architectural thought there is no better place to begin than Deborah Hauptmann and Warren Neidich, Cognitive Architecture: From Biopolitics to Noopolitics, 010 Publishers, Rotterdam, 2010. 8 Daniel Lord Smail, On Deep History and the Brain, Univ. of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 2008. 9 “Counting every moment,” The Economist Technology Quarterly, March 3, 2012, pp. 18-20. 10 Timothy Ferriss, The Four Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman, Crown, New York, 2010.


depth within only a few hours of action spread over 3-6 weeks) and its capacity to affect and be affected (to use a Spinozist formulation) mentally, sexually, spiritually, and neurologically, as well as an autobiography of selfdirected study and experiment (through tracking and quantification, in much the same way as drugs, music, and eroticism were used in more empirical ways in the 1960s). The principle applied across the board is that of “Occam’s Razor” or the “minimum effective dose”, according to which, if the proper intervention is timed and targeted to the right place and moment, catastrophically (in the good sense) large transformations in the system’s makeup are claimed to be possible. Broad study of the various “programs” that articulate the body’s lifeworld – such as hormonal cascades that can be triggered by only two minutes of lower body exertion ever y four or five days or by the simple act of inducing regular shivering – are shown to set into motion complex metabolic responses that result in inordinate removal of fat from the body and produce uncommon amounts of muscle mass, etc. Dietar y singularities are explored and experimented with, and the results documented through photos, charts, and anecdotes. Much like the famed “cold-fusion” claims of three decades ago, there is undoubtedly much that is bogus in the claims of this book, and yet, like the anomalous results of the earlier famed and defamed experiments, there is also almost certainly something going on that merits attention. (Cold fusion itself was never fully discredited and funded research on the topic continues.) The hacking ethos must not be understood as an episodic practice only. With respect to computation as an experiential-epistemological practice that conditions much of our posture vis-à-vis the natural world today, I will invoke a phrase I have called upon often before and which I find of particular poignancy not only for its bold and clear pronouncement but for the way its generality also permits its apparent meaning to change as the years and decades wear on. The phrase is one from British musician and composer Brian Eno: “The problem with computers,” he says, “is that there is not enough Africa in them.” I have typically interpreted this statement within the context of a close analysis of the products of African musical and spatio-temporal organization (ie. in the presence of highly elaborated processes of improvisation, social organization, and choreography, polymetric and polytonal structure, syncopation across structural levels, and elastic or roving templates that anchor the design or form-making process). Today I suggest that the statement might serve ver y simply to represent the loss of the wild and the relative, of the social per formance that underlies all form-production in the African universe, of 11

11 Sanford Kwinter, “Beat Wissenschaft,” Lebendige Zeit, Max Planck Institute/Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin, 2005.

the teeming coming-to-be that characterizes the natural universe in which the human is pegged ineluctably and inescapably by the materiality of its body, the temporality of its histor y, and its poly valent social nature, but which it nonetheless succeeds ceaselessly and partially to escape. Much of this type of culture – perhaps all of culture – consists in experimental transformations of the world and the clearing of ways for the instauration of different orders. Knowing the world, or thinking it, is a critical part of the ludic and transformative behavior which produces ‘interest’ by combining beauty with spontaneity so as to evoke the promise or possibility of one or another form of ecstasy. The hacking attitude connects the nature in us to that unknowable one outside us, and it is arguably a model of what design could be today. As a final example, consider the centur y-old practice of modern yoing, in particular its technological and stylistic reconceptualization in the 1990s, particularly in Japan. One YouTube clip of Haruyuki Suzuki (or virtually any clip of Shinji Saito) amply displays the virtuosities that the “technological Renaissance” in yoing in the 1990s (innovations in bearings, transaxles, brake pads, clutches and a variety of other materials and devices) have made possible. At least five distinct styles of play are in force (Suzuki is ‘1a’ [string trick] and Saito a ‘2a’ [looping trick] World Champion). These styles develop rich, sometimes astounding, revisions of classical physics problems and narratives, exploiting as always the particular “charm” and autonomously self-generating movement-characters of the rotating yoyo body, but the gyroscopic effects are placed here at the service of other geometries, movements, and live forms. It is essentially stored and released energy, and polar tensions of all kinds, that are exploited and developed to create the live drawings and movements. There is throughout a highly conscious display of rigor and discipline applied to continuums where ‘old’ intensities are revisited and newly “hacked” in a way that restages, and restyles, engagement with the physical world. The self-propulsive nature of the “motor” that is moved through space and which carries its multivalent “potential” with it, which simultaneously “produces” and “consumes,” offers a foundational challenge to static theories of motion, energy, and the cosmological concepts that are founded on them. The tendency is nearly always toward asymmetr y, meta-stability, and transitional 12

dynamics (as in catastrophe theor y and dynamical topology). Although these are the same values one notes in many contemporar y sports and in recent computer aided designs, these may be distinguished not only for their musicality and kineticism, but for their depth of engagement with received ideas of rotation, linearity, interdependence, simultaneity, improvisation, agency, attack and decay, energy, information, symmetr y and geometr y, rhythm, transfer, and momentum and how each and all are alterable and re-combinable into new displays of form and relationship. What is perhaps most interesting of all is to note – as one can only do in retrospect – how a formal tradition can have persisted for so long despite its extraordinarily uncreative and complacent development, and how the possibilities that lay dormant and unimagined within it had to wait until conditions in the world (and not only technical ones) could change the ver y ethos of how the medium – as a form of natural knowledge –  might be engaged. 16




12 13 Among the remaining three principle yoing styles are ‘4a’ (‘offstring’) in which the yoyo is no longer attached to its string and ‘5a’ (‘counterweight’) in which the yoyo is no longer anchored to a finger, its end able to move freely through space as a polar unit. 14 For a veritable manual on formlessness and perpetual dynamism, see Bruce Lee, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Black Belt Communications, Valencia, CA, 1975. 15 See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s analysis of the fallacies of capitalist or State physics (the interrelationship between mass, weight, and the “parallel postulate”) at several places in “1227: Treatise on Nomadology—The War Machine”, passim, in A Thousand Plateaus, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1987. Consider the yoyo in its “new” incarnation and its relation to the space of the saber.

16 The space in which these geometries develop is arguably associated with fraughtness and orientedness of “shi,” the Chinese concept of configuration and tendency (field and/with movement). See Francois Jullien, The Propensity of Things, Zone Books, New York, 1995.


What is Not Nature?


Catherine Ingraham


his essay is short and it will not do justice to the terms it seeks to examine. These are also only a few of the ”technical terms” re-emerging in contemporary discussions about architecture but, of course, their technical dimensions quickly expand.

Since Foucault, we have been speaking about apparatuses and the formation of subjects. The panoptical apparatus, for example, made of its user an “institutional subject” who assisted in his/her own institutionalization. Giorgio Agamben later radically splits apparatuses from living beings which means that, by definition, apparatuses must create their own subjects: the cellphone user, the prisoner, the citizen. His view is that our electronic apparatuses leave no room open for us, their subject, to desubjectify ourselves; no confessional booth, so to speak. We are also familiar with Jacques Lacan’s dissipated or dispersed subject and the illusory character of any appeal to a singular, unique, identity – ourselves. In a more

contemporary vein, Edgar Morin and others have theorized the nature of immunological identity, neuroscience increasingly claims the mind and its self-conscious identity as a function of the evolutionary brain, and there is now a discipline called neurophenomenology. It is clear, in most cases, that Immanuel Kant’s influence over the concept of subjectivity has either ended or is coming to an end. I recently asked several of my students to rephrase their natural history, data-driven, account of the Portia-Schultzi spider in “subject analysis” terms. This spider is extremely clever. It seems to be a lot smarter than other jumping spiders. It can “unlearn,” which is a property of complex thought. It uses trial and error, mental mapping, mimicry of other spiders’ characteristics when advantageous, and seems to have a sophisticated memory. It perches on small platforms that it builds in other animals’ nests, awaiting its moment. We are used to thinking of animals as wholly biological (genetic, instinctual) so the spider would normally not be in the “subject” game. It has no self to lose, it has no state to be loyal to, it has no institutional or electronic apparatuses to be subjectified by. Gregory Bateson wrote that most communication between preverbal mammals is about the rules and contingencies of relationships. “What was extraordinary – the great new thing – in human language was not the discovery of abstraction or generalization, but the discovery of how to be specific about something other than the relationship.” Most human communication, Bateson argued, is about things that are metaphors for relationships. Discussions of “subjectivity” are, in some way, about rendering relationships as things. A spider is not a mammal, but it is clearly running circles around what we might call “normative” spider communication. Is the Portia spider inventing the rudiments of a subjectivity system? If so, would we call it a terrorist, a genius, or an Immanuel Kant?

1 This is the Nature that Timothy Morton vilifies as the concept partially responsible for our current ecological emergency. I totally agree with everything Morton says about this concept and its substitutes (environment, lifeworld), and also agree with what he says about sustainability, but I am not so ready to agree to the new phenomenology and “object-oriented ontology” of speculative realism. It’s strange how we bounce back and forth in philosophy, ad infinitum, between the privileging of objects and the privileging of subjects. 2 Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus? Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.

3 Jacques Lacan, “The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I,” in Ecrits. New York: W.W. Norton, 1977; Edgar Morin, “On the Notion of the Subject,” from On Complexity. New Jersey: Hampton Press, 2008; Evan Thompson, “Life and Mind: From Autopoieses to Neurophenomenology” in Emergence and Embodiement. Durhem, North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2009; Emmanual Kant, Critique of Judgment. Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett Press, 1987. 4 Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972, pp. 367-368.



I would not be too quick to throw nature out with Nature – the first, a concept that is never satisfied, and the second, a concept that is all too readily satisfied. “Not nature” keeps both nature and not nature, Nature, in play. This is a good thing and not just word play; ultimately, it is a profound thing. No set of tension wires has produced more artistic, intellectual, and technological energy than those that have been strung – throughout human history and the history of the world – between nature and not nature. We should remain as attentive as we can afford to everything that is meant by these words. 1





Modernism proclaimed the autonomy of architecture and its freedom from historical styles. Modernist architects, canonically, placed their buildings on platforms and plinths in order to compose architecture as a self-referential language with respect to both nature and culture. And now? The opposite, in some sense. Now we want to produce surfaces that do not fear intensified and expansive frameworks. Our claims for the intensification and extensibility of these surfaces and skins are outrageously ambitious – they concern complex mathematics and the management of large scale ecosystems – and yet they are also still immersed in modernism’s notion of autonomy as freedom. I don’t believe in systems theory as the final mode of description that will deliver the “new and specific form of communication with nature,” so movingly promised by Ilya Prigogine in the late twentieth-century. Systems may exist in nature or they may not. But the process of systematizing (a process as old as calculation) yields structures and maps that take us to certain junctures. “Autonomy,” for example, in a living system, does not mean freedom. It means the system must “construct and reconstruct” an autonomy over and over again because it cannot be wholly closed. This is what the biologists Maturana and Varela universalized and named, in 1987, as an “autopoietic system,” a selforganizing system that reproduces itself. Such a system must be bounded in order to operate as a system, yet remain open in order to capture energy and nutrients from its medium: its huge surrounding and indifferent environment. A system’s autonomy, in systems theory terms, is, thus, organizationally closed but energetically open. The closure of the system, in other words, requires exteriority. If we were to embrace second-order systems theory in architecture (which some people are advocating, not for the first time) the first problem is that architecture, like other disciplines and practices, is not seen as a living system. The living beings within it need energy from the environment, but the “discipline and practice” itself is understood to be an abstract social collective. The Russian sociologist Niklas Luhmann, also in the 1980s, famously theorized social and disciplinary systems as autopoietic systems, after Maturana and Varela’s work in biology. Whereas biological systems require energy in order to reproduce themselves “… systems that operate on the basis of…communication (social systems) require meaning for their reproduction.” So the argument partially shifts to negotiating contested theories of communication, the nature of learning and knowing, and critiques of subjectivity. The ancient division between living and non-living is a systemic division (Nature/Culture). Even in cultures that believe in continuums between people, animals, sky, and land, there are symbolic ways of passing, enacting 5

5 Niklas Luhmann, Social Systems, trs. John Bednarz. Jr., Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995. See especially the “Foreword” to this edition by Eva M. Knodt.

“phase-shifts,” between these entities. Architecture, in this context, was partly invented not in order to provide shelter (which doesn’t need architecture) but to interrupt a spatial continuum with a symbolic order. It sequesters humans, and sometimes animals, inside inanimate forms and argues for some kind of conjunction between the logics of animate and inanimate. A trickier condition of autonomy is thus emerging in architecture. Actor-Network theorists, who are not systems theorists, try to have it all ways by describing culture as the concurrent operation of animate and inanimate social, technological, and biological agents. Bruno Latour’s phrase “we were never modern” is meant to say that humans, in the world, do not have the privilege they thought they had. Modernism accorded diversity to the human world but characterized nature as one unified entity – Nature. Latour argues that history is no longer the history only of people, but also of natural things. Generally, I think second-order systems theories have been immensely productive in physics (the mathematics of complexity) and revolutionary for the biological sciences (emergence, self-organization, neuroscience), but I am not convinced of its insights into the production of social systems, or of its application to architecture. The social sciences are often conflicted about their provenance (continually wondering if sociology should model its methods of inquiry after anthropology or philosophy or physics or biology) and they have, therefore a “notorious theory deficit,” as Eva Knodt calls it in her foreword to Luhmann’s Social Systems. My skepticism may be also due, in part, to the example set by Buckminster Fuller’s codification of first-order systems theory in the architectural figure of the dome. Does it matter that parametric design, in its various practices, has not shaken off the influence of architectural modernism in quite the way it imagines? Does it matter if we are modern, or never modern, autonomous or not? What is at stake here? I think, as always, that the embrace of any theory is massively consequential. We are an historical discipline and a projective practice, which also means we indulge in manifesto proclamations and take stabs at futurist projections all the time. Parametric design delivers, on a regular basis, extremely provocative forms and patterns that are unlike anything we have seen before. The question now might be “what are these new forms worth?” Patrick Schumacher claims these forms as worthy of an architectural movement. In doing so, he explicitly adopts Luhmann’s autopoietic, social, theory of autonomy, and then uses this theory to require architects to follow specific aesthetic and technical protocols – rule6


6 Bruno Latour, We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993. 7 Graham Harmon, Prince of Networks. Melbourne: Open Access publication by Graham Harmon, 2009, pp. 65-66.


sets for a rule-based architectural design. Such a move closes the system to those who, for whatever reason, do not practice parametric architecture in the “right way.” Norman Foster, to use Schumacher’s example, designs with parametric tools but his architecture is not in the “right spirit” of parametrics. The right spirit, apparently, requires the “amplification of differences,” according to Schumacher, because differentiation is more “responsive” to the person or people or entities who will inhabit the space. I cannot here take on the theory of human life, or the logics of Nature/nature, advanced in Schumacher’s manifesto in any detail. Offhand, forms of life in parametric architecture appear as both vague outlines of sentient “forces” and overly-sharp photoshop images that lurk in the atmospherics of our productions. Differentiation itself is a huge topic and a throwback to certain cybernetic assumptions, Gregory Bateson, and linguist theory that are too-quickly dismissed under the headings of “postmodernism,” or “deconstruction.” What I want to say, only, is that when Schumacher’s theory of architectural autonomy confronts modernism’s theory of architectural autonomy it looks like the same thing, even if the forms of the architecture are different. Both fail to grasp the implications of an operationally closed but energetically open system. Both, in other words, fail to grasp nature and keep to the technocracies of Nature. 8

Computation The big news in neuroscience is that the computer – which is so powerful that it can slaughter master chess players, so precise it can assist in performing a surgical operation, and so mathematically and statistically talented that it can compute the human genome – is nothing like the brain. In order for a computer to function, it must eliminate “noise.” A brain lives on noise. Computers use linear and localization sequences whereas the brain’s neural circuits are not only loops, but loops within loops. “Reentry” of information in a neural network is a return of communication back on itself in such a way as to compose a world. The brain has a mind of its own and it maps its own activities by bootstrapping between memory and perception. The central nervous system, upon which the computer was originally modeled, depends on a far greater number of interactions than any computer can compute. For this reason the computer can be fooled, fairly easily, by a joke or a double-entendre. It is true that the architectural work we are computing often lacks the poignancy that art is capable of calling out in us. There have been powerful instances of poignancy in architectural work throughout history: the awkwardness in Lewerentz and Koolhaas’ work, for example, degrees of attenuation in Nervi’s bridges, saturation of ornamentation in Sullivan, or the relaxed intensity of Greg Lynn’s unstranded 8 Patrick Schumacher, “Parameticism and the Autopoiesis of Architecture,” in Log Number 21, Winter 2011.


Sears Tower. Hernan Alonso Diaz’s architecture has sentient aspects that he would disavow, no doubt, but that still intrigue and disturb us. The computer is our (mostly) humorless partner now and this is an asset and a liability. Let’s just say that if you have trouble taking a joke your ability to grasp the concept of poignancy is substantially lessened. Experience I have known for a long time that the idea of “experience” in architecture is a way of simplifying the extremely complex idea of “perception,” which happens behind the eyes in an optical processing lab that lies next to the Offices of Neurology. What is meant by “experience” in architectural terms is, almost always, visual experience. Jacques Derrida said, famously, that he didn’t believe that anything like perception exists. He meant that there are no direct, unmediated experiences. Derrida did not mean that things do not exist or that everything in the world exists only in our (human) heads. But he would never have shifted ontology from beings to things, partly because the very structure of ontological arguments gains its traction from the long history of beings, however false such a history might be. I mention this here because it is Derrida’s heart into which Bruno Latour and the speculative realist Graham Harmon wish to put a knife. Objects and things exist, as many philosophers (not just speculative realists) might say, because when we detach from them, as when we are bored perhaps, they don’t disappear. One can see immediately how such arguments grapple with biological, neurological, and subjectivist conceptions of the infamous “subject/object” dyad, the “life/mind” conundrum. The concept of “experience,” as is obvious, is implicated in all of this. I will only follow one line of thought a little further here, that of Gilles Deleuze, who believed that the “the abstract doesn’t explain, but must itself be explained.” Deleuze was perhaps the first to spell out an empiricism of multiplicities (assemblages of things and beings) and, thus, the first to impale Nature and its, essentially, capitalist coordinates. He makes only distinctions of degree, not kind, between beings and things. Deleuze was led by his empiricism to a “new conception of sense,” as John Rajchman wrote, and, thus, to a new conception of experience. Studying the work of the painter Francis Bacon, Deleuze examines how Bacon battles with the history of the “figure” in figurative painting, particularly that of the nineteenth century, in which figures are always recognizable, even if not familiar, and usually induce a narrative. Much has happened since then to the idea of the body as an object, identity, and self: Freud and Lacan happened (the mind layered, the body dispersed), genetics happened (dismantling of 9


John Rajchman, Pure Immanence. New York: Urzone, 2001, “Introduction,” p. 7.

homo sapiens), postmodernism happened (fracturing of narrative), and posthumanism happened (hybridization of animal and machine). In order to paint a figure in the late twentieth-century Bacon could not act as if nothing had happened to the figural painting. A whole human figure is no longer available to the contemporary painter, or the photographer, for that matter. Cindy Sherman knows this and the power of her work comes from our inability to find the recognizable person (Sherman) behind the disguises of clichéd photographic narratives. She is a cyborg of sorts. Architecture, on occasion, has also known this. One might point to those modernist case study houses that pinwheel back on themselves. Bacon, Deleuze argues, uses the diagram to do battle with nineteenth-century figuration. His interest is not in the outline but in “making visible” the invisible forces that drive life – internal and external forces of sensation. His figures must thus bend and contort and they are frequently flayed or contorted beyond any human recognition. Deleuze writes that the “painter’s diagram undoes the optical organization of the [Kantian] synthesis of perception, but also functions as the ‘genetic’ element of the pictorial order to come…’ The [d]iagram is indeed a chaos…but it is also a germ of order or rhythm.” The establishment of rhythm in chaos is not unlike the establishment of a system in a medium/environment. Both belong to nature but, like a system, rhythm establishes an organization that is specifically generative of whatever is yet to come. Deleuze says of Bacon’s paintings that they show “a point of stability, a circle of property, and an opening to the outside” and that the painting “is the coexistence” of a figure, a contour, and a field. Experience, then, is not a passage of a unified figure through a homogeneous, pre-existing, space that can then be recounted as a linear narrative of passage. It involves multiple things and beings, property and contours (delimitation and digressions), sensations, contradictory thoughts, and a shifting figurality that, in Bacon’s terms, is constantly scrubbed and blurred by forces from within and without. Spatial arguments were projected in the twentieth -century – in architecture and in painting – through the diagram. Whatever needed to be wrestled down was wrestled down in the diagram. Le Corbusier wrestled with the Beaux Arts through the plan that, in turn, generated the “new order” of modernism. Eisenman wrestled with modernism through the axonometric that, in turn, brought forth the “new order” of postmodernism. The diagrams we use now are different – data maps and statistical profiling –both of which are composite portraits. These diagrams give architecture a picture of the forces that drive our parametric designs. These forces, like DNA molecules, can predict developments, but have no developmental powers

themselves. They are passive and we do not contest them: they give us little to no traction. Data is, by definition, given. Its agency, if indeed it has agency, is only activated when it is brought into a meaningful conjunction with living systems. This aspect, upon which the force of our contemporary diagrams to influence parametric design rests, is missing. 


10 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sensation. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2003, p. 28.


Contributors Alisa Andrasek is directing BIOTHING, operating at the intersection of architecture, design and computer science. She teaches at the UCL Bartlett, and has taught at the AA DRL, GSAPP Columbia, Pratt, RMIT and UPenn. She received Europe 40 under 40, Metropolis Next Generation and FEIDAD Awards. Biothing’s work was exhibited and is part of the permanent collections at the Centre Pompidou Paris, FRAC Orleans, New Museum NY and TB-A21 Vienna amongst others. Andrasek curated several exhibitions for the Beijing Biennale 2006, 2008 and 2010. and PROTO/E/CO/LOCICS: Speculative Materialism Symposium in Rovinj Croatia 2011. Kutan Ayata is an architect and a design critic practicing in New York City. He is the co-director of the architectural design studio Young & Ayata which explores novel formal and organizational trajectories in architecture and urbanism. Currently, Kutan is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at Pratt Institute in GAUD and at Columbia University in GSAPP. Previously he worked at the offices of Reiser + Umemoto and Friedrich St. Florian. Kutan was a fellow at Princeton University School of Architecture and earned his Masters of Architecture degree in 2004 as a recipient of the Suzanne Kolarik Underwood Thesis Prize. José Cadilhe graduated as an architect from the Escola Superior Artística do Porto, Portugal in 2005. His final thesis was awarded the Second Prize for Total Concept at The Stoneguard Phoenix Awards Design Competition, London in 2005. He also holds an M. Arch from the Architectural Association. In 2009 he founded dIONISO LAB. His work has been awarded with national and international prizes and published worldwide. He has participated in the Lisbon Architecture Triennale: Metropolitan Areas – XXIst Century, in Lisbon 2007, 1st International Exhibit of Architectural College. Projects include Urban Renovation in Metropolitan Cities, Aragón, México in 2006 and Um Lugar Para Além do Sítio and Exhibition of Young Architects Awardees in Competitions in Porto, 2006. Edward Eigen is a scholar and historian whose recent writings include: “Not Necessarily Written in Stone: On the Alpine, Epigraphic Misadventures of Edm. Blanc, Th. Mommsen, and the Inscription of Cn. Domitius Ahenobarbus,” Future Anterior (Summer 2012); “Madame de Pompadour and Le Havre-de-Grâce: An Unnatural History,” Rethinking History 16 (2012); the geologico-biblio-historical study, “Where Time Never Stands Still: On the Losses of Mont-Saint-Michel,” Thresholds 39 (Fall 2011); “Instruire/Déruire: Mary Stuart, Catholic Modernism, and the Breton Cult of Monuments,” Perspecta 43 (Fall 2010). His (mock) epic “Newton’s Apple Tree: A Non-Standard Version,” will appear in A Second Modernism: MIT and Architecture in the Postwar (MIT Press). He is currently preparing to publish An Anomalous Plan, a study of marine laboratories in nineteenth-century France. Peter Galison is the Joseph Pellegrino University Professor at Harvard University. He was named a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellow in 1997, and was awarded the Max Planck Prize in 1999. His work focuses on the complex subcultures of modern physics--experimentation, instrumentation, and theory. Galison’s most recent book is Objectivity (2007), and his films include Ultimate Weapon: The H-Bomb Dilemma (2000), Secrecy (Sundance Festival, 2008), and “Nuclear Underground” (in production). He is currently collaborating with artist William Kentridge on a project entitled “The Refusal of Time” for documenta 13.

Technology and Design Culture, Requiem: For the City at the End of the Milennium, and a Harvard University-wide exhibition of contemporary spatial practice entitled “The Divine Comedy” (with Olafur Eliasson, Ai Weiwei and Tomas Saraceno). Timothy Morton is Professor of English (Literature and the Environment) at the University of California, Davis. He is the author of Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality (forthcoming from Open Humanities Press), The Ecological Thought (Harvard UP, 2010), Ecology without Nature (Harvard UP, 2007), seven other books and over seventy essays on philosophy, ecology, literature, food and music. He blogs regularly at Annette Miller A tarp: Architecture Manual editor, is in her second year of studies at Pratt Institute’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Architectural Studies from the University of Illinois, where she had the opportunity to study at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Versailles. She hopes to engage issues of sustainable design and urban intervention after earning her degree. Hannibal Newsom is the Senior Editor of tarp: Architecture Manual and an M. Arch Candidate in Graduate Architecture and Urban Design at Pratt Institute. He received a B.S. in Architectural Studies from the University of Illinois in 2005, and also studied at the École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Versailles, and the École Nationale Superieure D’Architecture de Paris-Belleville. His work includes an award-winning terrazzo installation in a Chicago public school. He also works as a designer in Brooklyn, and his first independent art installation, the collaborative project DigiLog Futures, opens May 5, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. Antoine Picon is the G. Ware Travelstead Professor of the History of Architecture and Technology and Co-Director of Doctoral Programs at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. Trained as an engineer, architect, and historian, Picon works on the history of architectural and urban technologies from the eighteenth century to the present. Picon has received the Médaille de la Ville de Paris and the 2008 George Sarton Medal, awarded by the University of Ghent, Belgium, for his work in the history of science and architecture. His latest book is entitled Digital Culture: An Introduction for the Design Professions (2010). Sarah Ruel Bergeron is the Editor in Chief of tarp: Architecture Manual, and is in her last semester of the Master of Architecture program at Pratt Institute’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design. She has lived in Latin America for over 10 years and intends to continue her work and research there after graduation. David Ruy an architect, theorist, and co-director of Ruy Klein. David received his MArch degree from Columbia University and his BA degree from St. John’s College where he studied philosophy and mathematics. David is currently an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design at the Pratt Institute, where he is also the director of The Network for Emerging Architectural Research (NEAR). The work of Ruy Klein has been widely published and has been the recipient of numerous awards. Ruy Klein has recently received the Emerging Voices Award for 2011 by The Architectural League of New York, recognizing the firm as one of the leading experimental practices in architecture today.

Erik Ghenoiu is Adjunct Associate Professor of architectural history and theory at Pratt Institute, where he oversees the production of Tarp: Architecture Manual. He writes about visual urbanism and design theory in Europe and the United States from before the First World War and after the Second. He has also taught or been a fellow at City College, the University of Queensland, Parsons, Queens University-Belfast, Harvard, Freie-Universitaet Berlin, Technische-Universitaet Berlin, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Patrik Schumacher is partner at Zaha Hadid Architects and founding director at the AA Design Research Lab. He joined Zaha Hadid in 1988 and has since been the co-author of many key projects, a.o. MAXXI – the National Italian Museum for Art and Architecture of the 21st century in Rome. Patrik Schumacher studied philosophy, mathematics, and architecture in Bonn, London and Stuttgart, where he received his Diploma in architecture in 1990. In 1999 he completed his PHD at the Institute for Cultural Science, Klagenfurt University. In 1996 he founded the “Design Research Laboratory” with Brett Steele, at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, and continues to serve as one of its course-masters. Since 2004 Patrik Schumacher is also tenured Professor at the Institute for Experimental Architecture, Innsbruck University. Currently he is a guest professor at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. His extensive theoretical writings are available on

Ralph Ghoche has taught history and theory in the Undergraduate Architecture program at Pratt since 2007. He is currently concluding a PhD at Columbia University on ornament and organicism in nineteenth-century France. Elsewhere, he has written on ornament in relation to theories of aesthetics from Immanuel Kant to Jules Bourgoin, and on the politicization of the decorative arts in Émile Zola’s ideal city in the novel Travail. He is currently preparing a comprehensive article on ornament in the nineteenth century to be published in the Blackwell compendium to nineteenth-century architecture in the fall of 2012.

Sierra Sharron is a second year Graduate in the Master of Architecture program at Pratt Institute’s School of Architecture and Urban Design. She received a B.S. in Architecture, with a concentration in Urban Studies, from Northeastern University in 2009. As the social coordinator for tarp: Architecture Manual, she is responsible for raising awareness of the journal through media outreach and distribution. Professionally, Sierra is most interested in tackling the social challenges and opportunities of cities through interdisciplinary design.

David Gissen is an historian and theorist of architecture and urbanism. He is an associate professor of architecture and visual studies at the California College of the Arts. David is the author of the book Subnature: Architecture’s Other Environment (Princeton Architectural Press) and editor of the issue of AD Magazine “Territory”.

Theodore Spyropolous is an architect and educator. He is Director of the Architectural Association’s Design Research Lab [DRL] (London). He has been a visiting Research Fellow at M.I.T.’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies working with the Interrogative Design Group and co-founded the New Media Research Initiative at the Architectural Association. He has taught in the graduate school of the University of Pennsylvania and the Royal College of Art, Innovation Design Engineering Department. Theodore directs the experimental architecture and design studio Minimaforms with his brother Stephen Spyropoulos. Previously he has worked as a project architect for the offices of Peter Eisenman and Zaha Hadid Architects.

Dillon Hanratty, a tarp: Architecture Manual editor, is in his first year of studies at Pratt Institute’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Massachusetts and Technische Universität Berlin. He continues to focus on the craft of socially progressive architecture. Graham Harman is Professor of Philosophy and Associate Provost for Research Administration at the American University in Cairo. Among his best-known books are Tool-Being (2002), Guerrilla Metaphysics (2005), Prince of Networks (2009), The Quadruple Object (2011) and Quentin Meillassoux: Philosophy in the Making (2011). Catherine Ingraham is a Professor of Architecture at Pratt Institute and the author of numerous books and essays on contemporary history and theory in architecture. Dr. Ingraham’s current book project, And the Pursuit of Property, explores relationships between architecture and property. Other books include Architecture, Animal, Human: The Asymmetrical Condition (2006), Architecture and the Burdens of Linearity (1998), and Restructuring Architectural Theory (1989). Dr. Ingraham was Chair of the Graduate Architecture department at Pratt Institute from 1998-2006 and has lectured widely at national and international schools of architecture. She has taught as a visiting professor at Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia University.

suckerPUNCH Abigail and Nathan Hume are co-creators and editors of the Web site suckerPUNCH. They are graduates of the Yale School of Architecture and have an architectural design firm, Hume Coover Studio, located in Brooklyn, NY. They are currently Visiting Assistant Professors at PRATT Institute. They are joined by Paul Ruppert, a graduate of California Polytechnic State University SLO, as their assistant editor at suckerPUNCH.

Jeian Jeong is in his first year of studies at Pratt Institute’s Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design. After receiving his undergraduate degree in Philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley, he lived and worked in Seoul, Bangkok, and Tokyo, engaged in municipal fieldwork and design activism. He wishes to further pursue his interest in alternative urban development models in the future.

Meredith TenHoor’s research examines how architecture and urbanism participate in the distribution of resources. Her doctoral dissertation at Princeton University, “The Architecture of the Market: Food, Media and Biopolitics from Les Halles to Rungis” traces how the displacement of Paris’ central food markets to the suburbs generated new forms of architecture, urbanism and political economy in postwar France. Other recent projects include Street Value: Shopping, Planning and Politics on Fulton Mall, (co-written with Rosten Woo, Princeton Architectural Press/Inventory Books, 2010) and a related exhibition and lecture series, Brooklyn Exchanges (2009) at the Metropolitan Exchange in Downtown Brooklyn; “The Architect’s Farm”, in Above the Pavement, the Farm (Princeton Architectural Press/Inventory Books, 2010); and a new book written with the Aggregate architectural history collaborative, Governing by Design: Architecture, Economy, and Politics in the Twentieth Century (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012). Meredith teaches in the Graduate Architecture and Urban Design Program at Pratt Institute.

Ed Keller Ed Keller is a transdisciplinary designer, writer, and musician. He is Associate Dean & Associate Professor at Parsons The New School for Design. With Carla Leitao, Ed co-founded AUM Studio [2003-present], an architecture and new media firm whose work has been exhibited and published internationally. Ed has been an avid rockclimber for over 30 years.

David Theodore, Trudeau Scholar and SSHRC Fellow, is a doctoral candidate in the History of Architecture, Medicine, and Science at Harvard University. He recently taught in Montreal in the School of Architecture, McGill University, and in the Department of Design, Concordia University. An active design journalist and critic, he is a regional correspondent for Canadian Architect, a contributing editor at Azure, and a contributor to The Phaidon Atlas of 21st-Century World Architecture.

Ferda Kolatan is a founding partner of su11 architecture+design in New York City. He is also a Senior Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and a Visiting Adjunct Professor at Pratt Institute. su11’s projects have been exhibited nationally and internationally at such venues as MoMA, Walker Art Museum, Vitra Design Museum, Archilab, Art Basel, Documenta X, and Artists Space NY. Publications of su11’s work include the New York Times, LA Times, Washington Post, Le Monde, Archilab’s Futurehouse, Space, Monitor, L’Arca, Arch+, AD Magazine, and Dwell. In 2010 Ferda also co-authored the book “Meander: Variegating Architecture” with Jenny Sabin.

Jason Vigneri-Beane is a founding partner of Planetary ONE and the founding principal of Split Studio. In addition, he is Coordinator of Pratt Institute’s MS ARCH program where he teaches the post-professional thesis sequence, design studios and media courses. His work currently explores the design-research potential of near-future scenario planning, techno-social change, and speculative relationships among architecture, ecology and industrial design. He has taught and lectured in Europe, Asia, and North America.

Sanford Kwinter is Professor of Architectural Theory and Criticism at Harvard University Graduate School of Design where he co-directs the transdisciplinary Master in Design Studies program. He writes on topics in science, technology and aesthetics. His works include Architectures of Time, Far From Equilibrium: Essays on



Special Thanks to: Dean Tom Hanrahan Graduate Chair William Mac Donald Assistant Graduate Chair Philip Parker Assistants to the Dean Kurt Everhart & Pamela Gill Graduate Assistants Erin Murphy & Erika Schroeder Donors Nicholas Agneta Armando Araiza Rick and Sunny Banvard Alexandra Barker Gilles Bergeron and Marie Ruel Simon Chawky Roman Chikerinets Robert Lee Brackett III Kerim Eken Leslie Forehand Achilleas Kakkavas Ed Keller Jerry M. Keller Zachary Kenton Carisima Koenig Simon Kristak Carla Leitão Sarah Le Clerc Andrea Lusso Purnima Menon Cathy and Rick Morrison Ryan and Julie Morrison Jeff Muti Tyler O’Rielley David O. Pratt John Putre Quintela Sandoval Family Céline Ruel Paul Ruppert Ellery and Dashiell Ruy Peter Sikora Stefanie Sobelle Mitchell Streichhirsch suckerPUNCH Jason Vigneri-Beane Albert Yen



School of Architecture for their continued support.

tarp Not Nature

Alisa Andrasek Kutan Ayata Jose Cadilhe Ed Eigen Peter Galison Erik Ghenoiu Ralph Ghoche David Gissen Dillon Hanratty Graham Harman Catherine Ingraham Jeian Jeong Ed Keller Ferda Kolatan Sanford Kwinter Annette Miller Timothy Morton Hannibal Newsom Antoine Picon Sarah Ruel-Bergeron Sierra Sharron Theodore Spyropoulos Meredith Tenhoor David Theodore Jason Vigneri-Beane

Spring 2012

School of Architecture 61 St. James Place Brooklyn, NY 11238

Profile for Tarp: Architecture Manual

Tarp: Not Nature  

“Not Nature” is interested in exploring historical and contemporary architectural positions in regard to natural systems- aesthetic, synthet...

Tarp: Not Nature  

“Not Nature” is interested in exploring historical and contemporary architectural positions in regard to natural systems- aesthetic, synthet...

Profile for tarp