Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Responsive and Computational Architecture in the Space of Flows

Recently, although not as recently as it may at first appear, architecture, like most fields has been subsumed into the calculated world which Nigel Thrift speaks of in Movement-Space under the term parametricism and has built itself upon the longstanding idea that architecture ought to be responsive to its environment. In many ways the architectural profession's reckoning with the introduction of computational tools and the problems, many now seen as opportunities, that they have given rise to mirrors the description that Thrift provides of paratexts, the way in which the tool defines the resulting outcome (the way numbers number), and the affective and deterritorializing properties of the quaculated sensorium.

Of particular interest, and for lack of a better term, crisis for architecture is the repeatability, mundanity and inescapability of the "second second nature" of calculation despite its generative qualities. The ability to test or manipulate forms against a series of parameters, and furthermore, to do so recursively, places computational architecture, just like the tools it is predicated on "outside the realm of meanings" and analysed only "in their performance" and gives rise to the fetishization and "importance that is consequently attached to the persuasiveness of form." One need only look at the process many architects employ when working with computational tools. Either working in serial, creating matrices of possibilities from which to choose (an authorial problem in its own right) or through repeated loops between physical and digital manipulation, to the point of simultaneity in tools such as Arduino and Firefly.

The limiting factor of computational architecture are the limits of calculations themselves. Even with the ubiquity and power of computing that Thrift is so enamored with, we are still unable to understand the complexity and interrelatedness of the "scapes" proposed by Appadurai. If we are searching for an architecture that is responsive then it is definitively local in both physical and informational terms because it is, as yet, not possible to embue a computational tool with awareness outside of the numerical and absolute structural environment on which it is constructed. We still say "what will it respond to?" It is this central disjuncture, precisely the failure of computation to become truly all encompassing, to write a second version of the world out of 1's and 0's, its necessity of a frame that is the at the same time the greatest strength and greatest weakness of computation. The deterritorializaiton and removal of meaning that results from the making horizontal of distinctions through calculation in its surreptitiousness is what is able to give rise to the spatial exploration of affect and flows, making authorship unclear, or conversely in its obviousness, revealing the author as the great and powerful Oz in all his banality.

In short, the quaculative realm has given rise to architectural expression which might fulfill Jameson's criteria for an emancipating form or it could be another and further inaccessible form of structural subjugation. It is the recursion of the critique of previous technological advances, the same structural response given a temporally local variation. The promise of repetition is a blessing and a curse.

No comments: