Interested in how you design
"I think the only thing I saw yesterday and a lot of the things I heard today were fetishizations of their own design processes. There is a very strange arrogance in assuming that anybody would be interested in how you design."
member of the audience, Anyhow Conference, June 1997
Ever since the fall from grace of the deconstructivist avant garde and the exposure of its inability to provide the sought after 'newness'1, contemporary architects have begun to become obsessed with process. However, rather than a knee-jerk reaction to deconstruction's failings (some believing it was never more than a game of semantics) that resulted in a complete change of direction, the last few years of experimentation and discussion since around the time of the 1997 Anyhow conference can still be traced to the key players of the battle with binary oppositions.
The recurring trait that allows us to trace the family tree is found when one examines the relationship between author and creation. As it attempted to destroy accepted hierarchies through the collision of previously exclusive programs or texts, deconstruction was simultaneously eroding the location of the source of the creative act. As each arbitrary 'superimposition' occurred, the subject's control of the object becomes increasingly tenuous. Simultaneously, the hierarchy between the creator and the subject, or architect/building, begins to be levelled out. With this levelling we start to see some of the first examples of the quest for authorial objectivity. The search for the new questions the prejudices inherent in subjective will, and so erases it, in the hope that loss of self will provide a new unpredictable event.
If it is creative autonomy that contemporary practices inherit from their predecessors gene pool, then what is to fill the vacuum created by the death of the architect as divine creator?
The discourse is, at this point, split into two alternative approaches to the question of production. Each remains conscious of the need to work 'within' or 'between' the space bounded by creation and product, but the programmatic source adopted by the two camps is diametrically opposed. However, when you examine the way different architects approach their work, it becomes clear that the common denominator is the adoption of computer technology.
By discussing the battle between the forces of form and program in architectural representation, this node is part of a series (along with Greg Lynn and UN Studio) that will record the ideas of a few key players as they attempt to escape from the shadows of their peers and strive to make the future their own.
Lars Spuybroek: uninterested in form
To more clearly understand the concept of being 'uninterested in form' we must realise that what is being questioned is any type of prioritising of visual appearance over the program or event. Lars Spuybroek - principle architect of NOX - expressed this position at a recent RIBA debate I was lucky enough to attend. Speaking of the photographs of an installation he had completed in an art gallery, he said,
"Photographing this work is very difficult because there were no aesthetics in advance, the image doesn't play a role." 2
The most important aspect of the program or event is, for Spuybroek, the emphasis on physical experience.
"The most important sense ... is that of proprioception, the body's sense of disposition and movement." 3
In buildings such as the H2O eXPO in the Netherlands, the visitor is allowed to interact with the fabric and multimedia systems that define the spaces, such that, the physical experience is the building. Thus surpassing the usually dominant form of merely visual critique. In an essay prepared for the DEAF96 exhibition, Spuybroek outlines the extent to which he believes physical events should shape architecture,
"Imagine that architecture is swallowed up by technology so that it becomes completely capable of absorbing and enhancing the body's rhythm. That means that the body's rhythm will affect the form. And conversely it means that the form's rhythmicality will in turn activate the body. This can never be captured in a series of rules. In fact, the program, such as we know it, is purely a mechanistic interpretation of the body and its activities." 4
Whilst, on the surface, the discussion of form has parallels with Lynn, the fundamental difference is that the qualities of the resultant form are never put forward as the measure of success or failure. The focus remains on the event. Elsewhere in the quoted essay Spuybroek also discusses vectors, flock behaviour and, the subject of this node, the split in discourse over form and program. Bart Lootsma, author of 'Superdutch' explains the importance of the computer to the NOX office,
"Lars Spuybroek sees the computer primarily as an instrument that will effect a revolution comparable to the discovery of perspective in the Renaissance, an instrument that enables us to visualize the real world in a different way, including aspects of that world that are imperceptible to the naked eye." 5
The way the computer is employed by NOX takes on the qualities already discussed in the nodes about Peter Eisenman and Greg Lynn. The creation of the H20 eXPO building used the computer throughout the design process and also the construction. It's complex shape being made possible by the exporting of information from the CAD model. Another project, entitled 'A Straight Line is Just a Badly Informed Curve' presented at the RIBA conference began by using animation techniques to generate and distort a diagram using predefined parameters. This was then frozen at various stages and turned into a paper diagram which was worked on by hand. Finally this was returned to the computer to allow the construction elements to be produced using computer controlled milling, or as Spuybroek described it, '...stupid plywood meets high information...'
Spuybroek's perception of what a computer represents is reminiscent of the Universal Turing Machine. On the subject of authorial control (again at the RIBA conference), Spuybroek has said that the prospect of moving towards a position of mechanistic production is in fact more frightening than the creative individual. What interests him most is the idea that we could produce machines that can make things that are 'fuzzy', or in other words unpredictable and emergent.
"Derrida's failure to offer a project of the new in fact became a kind of sour refrain mouthed especially by Jeffrey Kipnis during much of the conference." - Michael Speaks describing the Anywise conference of 1992. Architectural Design Profile no.133, 'It's Out There' p.28. Academy Group. 1998
2. Lars Spuybroek speaking at the RIBA 'SuperDutch' conference, Oct 31 2000
3. SuperDutch: New Architecture in the Netherlands, Bart Lootsma (discussing NOX), 2000. Thames & Hudson.
5. see note 2