Forms of Life

July 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

It’s Time to Change. At least a bit.

And at least, again.

As readers of this blog, you may already know that I easily exhibit my preferences to the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein, as well as that of Gilles Deleuze. The former is known as a philosopher of language. The latter is not yet known as a philosopher of biology, especially of evolution. Both did not explain their subject. They worked with it. Of course, both of them did lots of other things as well. Anyway.

We started this blog as an investigation of some aspects of the future of machines. Hopefully, we came close(r) to what could be called philosophy. At least with regard to the two guys mentioned above I feel that I worked on their foundations. A gnome on the shoulders of giants, perhaps. Anyway.

Philosophy without reference to life and its forms remains irrelevant. “What is philosophy?” Deleuze and Guattari asked towards the end of the last century. What “is” it, indeed? A technique? A cure? A style? Touching the wall and stepping across the border? Sustainably practiced consciousness while talking to someone else? Maybe. We can feel clearly that the simplicity of this question is somewhat deceiving.

In the future, we will refer to the concepts we discussed (discovered? (re-)invented?) in the previous essays, using them to comment on things I come across. Contingently.

One of these areas is architecture, or to be more precise, urbanism. To me it seems, that there is only very little, and if, quite limited theory in this field. I mean, there are tons of models around, but almost no theory. Even in the Koolhaas’ writings, e.g. in Singapore Songlines. AMO/OMA does a lot of empiric research, into many directions, but where he refers to concepts like semiotics, he falls behind. Architects or so-called theoreticians in architecture often import certain patterns such as semiotics, grammar from linguistics, sociological stuff like feminism or the “inevitable” critique of capitalism. But these imports do not represent theory in architecture, as theory not only provides a frame for modeling, it provides a deep milieu with its own dimensionality (see this for more details), which would include the awareness about the style that shows up in ones own modeling. The pretended theories are merely templates for the interpretation of endless lists of phenomena. Some even try to turn architecture into a science. Or into some kind of machine. Or into some kind of psychoanalysis. All of this can’t provide theories, as little as historical accounts can do. We will hence deal (again) with the question about theory (in architecture).

Architecture is at the crossroads. Has been sitting on the crossing of roads now for quite some time. Probably since Versailles, or S,M,L,XL. Probably since Pruitt-Igoe and its blast. Or Venturi’s visit in Las Vegas. Who knows. Architecture always behaved as a crystallization site, a catalysatory seed of growth and differentiation for Forms of Life into which it was embedded and to which it has been contributing (Of course, that story is mutual one.). The visible part of all those sediments, strata, and layers that we call history of culture.

Yet, things started to change, I think. Architecture and its products do neither provide something (as functions) nor represent anything anymore. Hence, it is probably misplaced to ask about the any in architecture (see the “any conferences”). The stuff got active. Or will, or is currently becoming active. That stuff came to life. And this issue we can’t leave uncommented! Wittgenstein and Deleuze will contribute through my assimilations.

There is more than one aspect that these developments in the domains of architecture or urbanism share with our original topic of machine-based episteme or machines with mental capabilities. If you are a programmer, you probably know about the concept of “design patterns”. That concept has been introduced into architecture by Christopher Alexander, who originally has been trained as a mathematician. Remarkably, he also referred to behavioral sciences. Besides that there was of course also the notion of the “city as a machine”, or, some time ago, the “city as organism”. Both metaphors have probably been taken too serious at their time. Yet, Koolhaas, in the already mentioned Singapore Songline stated:

I have tried to decipher its reverse alchemy, understand its genealogy, do an architectural genome project, re-create its architectural songlines.” [p.1017, his emphasis]

My impression is that Koolhaas tried to find some structural analogue which would allow him to impose some reasonable order onto his empirical findings. Yet, he did not express it in this way. Maybe due to a missing theory. The problem with the genome is, well, it’s not really a “problem”, at least not for a biologist, that a genome needs an apparatus for translation, an egg, a mother. Which is the kind of relations between the female and the machine, here?

Honestly, Koolhaas also brings in the conceptual pattern of the songline. Did he refer to popular music of our times? Or that of Mozart and the particular relations between the libretto and the music? In any way, the songline is in utter need of the music. Unfortunately, Koolhaas does never ask about the music of the city, the music that the city is playing. Otherwise we would have met the composer Johannes Sistermanns, or he would have discovered the power of associativity (as an abstract concept).

Such, the first piece(s) will be a reconsideration of Koolhaas quite influential writings “Generic City“, “JunkSpace” and “Singapore Songlines”.

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