Urban Reason II: Scopes & Scapes

September 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Architecture is strongly based on models.

Everybody knows that architecture could not be practiced without models. This particularly strong relation between model and practice led to the use of the concept of “architecture” in areas quite different from building houses, for instance regarding software systems, the design of processes or organizational design. Since the advent of urbanism in the mid of the 20th century, this relation between architecture and the model became more and more problematic, the main reason being that the categories of the “observer” and the “observed” lost their mere possibility. In case of urban culture they can’t be separated without implying considerable costs.

This opened the question how to position urbanism, and there is still no (acceptable) answer to this question so far. Positioning urbanism includes any possibility to relate ourselves to what we call city, or urban arrangement, our expectations, hopes and fears about it, personally or politically, from a design perspective or the inhabitance perspective (again as far as those could be separated). For sure, scientism doesn’t provide the full answer, if any at all. The further question is why science must fail here despite it is an important ingredient to deal with the city. Else, the use of models when dealing with the city is inevitable, just as it is for any other relation to the world. Yet, which kind of models are appropriate, and even more important, how do we structure and organize our talking about it? Which kind of theoretical stance would be appropriate?

Among others, Koolhaas and his OMA/AMO setup has been working for a long time now to find new approaches. The other question is whether any answer to the former issue of positioning urbanism can be found within architecture or urbanism itself. Koolhaas’ guess is not quite positive, as he displayed it in his Junkspace. As an an-architect, Koolhaas has other means at his disposal than architecture itself, such like writing or movie making, to investigate the problematic field of the urban as a quality.

The general idea I am going to propose here is fundamentally different to common approaches in urbanism. Roughly spoken, it follows the grand cultural perspective, considering the Form of Life (as conceived by Wittgenstein) as an ineluctable “fact”. From this perspective, we radicalize Koolhaas’ rhetoric question “What ever happened to Urbanism?” (in S,M,X,XL), proposing to deny the reasonability of an “-ism” regarding the city and the Urban, simply because “The City” does not exist anymore.

The “architecture” of the argument uses philosophical techniques to organize conceptual elements which in turn refer to the contributions from the sciences. The outcome should allow to keep everything about the city in a single perspective, without totalizing or dominating any particular stance or attitude. In other words, we will not provide a recipe for achieving a solution in any particular case. In contrast, in the end we will provide a conceptual basis for deriving such solutions, a conceptual tool box, a techné. In still other words, it is, as always, I suppose, a matter to organize the use of language.

This Essay

This essay will collect some arguments in favor of the reasonability of the program that we call “Urban Reason”. We begin with a (very brief) discussion of the status of the model and of theory in architecture and urbanism. We conclude the first part by guessing that there is no theory about the Urban. The second part “Departure…” explores the site of departure towards an Urban Reason. This site is being illuminated by the observation of the inseparability of language and the form of life. Both affect the way of thinking and even what we can think at all. Now, if the form of life is Urban, what and how could we think? Finally, the third part “Approaching…” introduces the notion of the critique. Only the critique of the concept of “reason” allows to take an appropriate stance to it. The final section provides a glimpsy outlook to the effects of the turn towards the Urban Reason,

One of the consequences of that perspectival turn towards Urban Reason is a detachment of the Urban (see this footnote) as a quality from certain kinds of built environment (that we call city). In other words, our approach is heading towards a non-representational conceptualization of the city and the Urban. I am deeply convinced—as Deleuze also always was, we will return to this issue—that this dismissal of the representational attitude is mandatory for any attempt what is going on in our urban culture. Koolhaas demonstrated it some years ago in his trial called “The Generic City”. Generally spoken, I don’t see any other possibility for going non-representational with regard to the Urban than by means of the proposed turn. Without it, any approach to the city will got stuck in naivity, always constrained by the illusion of the particularity of the phenomenon, even if the pretending urbanist would start to engage in empirical counting activities. On the other hand, addressing the quality of the Urban just by philosophical means establishes what we will call the “binding problem”: The Urban requires a particular construction to enable philosophy to get a grip on it.

The Scope of Current Approaches to Theory

Actually, the problematic field as established by the model as a practice and as a concept has been part of architecture since Vitruv, as Werner Oechslin demonstrates [1]. Thus, in architectural writing we can find traces of a discussion that spans, with some gaps, more than 2000 years. Some sciences did not even detect that field up today. We may even say that architecture becomes architecture only through this problematic field. For only the model opens the process of building into the divergence of the question of form on the one hand and the status of architecture as a theoretical concern on the other. Hence, in the same move as the model, regardless its actualization, brings us to the form it also enforces us to think about theory. How do we come to build that model and this form? As we have argued in an earlier essay, Oechslin as well emphasizes that theory is not antipodic to practice. Instead, now in my words, theory is linked to the irreversibility of the act through the model. In turn, any practice implies a theory, and of course, also models. Oechslin writes:.

The model is definitely located in such an intermediate area made from abstract conceptions and contingent realities. ([1], p.131).1

This lets us guess that, regarding architecture, there is definitely something more about the model than just the physical model, the act of representation designed to convince the sponsor of the project. As the master of the history of architecture Oechslin refers to Vitruv directly and as well to authors from the Renaissance in his “ldea materialis” [1], where he writes as a closing remark:

In the Vitruvian precincts and in the succession to Alberti the model has been discussed particularly regarding the (anticipating) sensory perception, therefore often called also visation. […] the model, which often seems to be reduced to an image of itself, .lost its power that it contributed to the ‘process of becoming’. ([1], p.155).2

Werner Oechslin, an amicable person stuffed with incredible energy, runs a likewise incredible library and foundation about the history and theory of architecture. Hundreds of books from all times can be found there. It is indeed a sacred place, somehow, as far as we may consider culture and its book-like stuff as one of the most important parts of the conditio humana.

So, how is Oechslin conceiving “Architectural Theory”? On the website of the library foundation the following can be found [2]:

This project systematically collects and evaluates the literature of architectural theory, pursuing comprehensive coverage of the discipline and a catalogue (census) of all printed sources. The project is the basis for specific individual investigations regarding particular aspects and questions of the formation of architectural theory (such as drawings, models, relations between image and text, the genesis of concepts, strategies of design, etc.). The census is based on research done since 1989 at the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at the ETH Zurich. [my emphasis]

In earlier essays we argued that probably the only reasonable way to conceive of theories is as orthoregulation of modeling. According to this perspective theories are not related to empiric issues, but just to the practice of modeling. Theories do not contain hypotheses at all, since hypotheses are always about something experienceable. Oechslin’s almost perfectly represents that. We have to be perfectly clear about this status of theory! Many proclaimed theories are in fact just models, e.g. Newton’s “theory” of gravitation. In fact, up today we do not have such a theory of gravitation at our disposal. What is missing in Oechslin’s explication is the embedding in language as a life form. The issue is only implicitly invoked.

In a more elaborated notion about theory in architecture that serves as the introduction to the Vitruv Colloquium, Oechslin still does not bring in language. Yet, he cites Aristotle’s formula “Habitus faciendi cum ratione“. (Nicomachean Ethics). Oechslin leaves this untranslated, and wisely so, since facere could mean {produce, erect, build, exert, act, make, do} and ratio {cause, modality, calculation, reason, clarification, explanation, invoice, principle ,theory, proportion}. Note that the Latin ratio is already a translation from the Greek logos, or logike, which adds further dimensions. Anyway, the implication is clear.

An appropriate concept about theory denies the separation of theory and practice. We may regard theory as almost the same as practice. What could not be subsumed to theory is performance, which is an answer to the “resistance of the existential”. The existential, however, could neither be a part of any theory nor of any kind of model. We can’t even speak about it, nor could we point to it or demonstrate it. Realism, deconstructivism and phenomenology—which are closely related to each other—all fail in their attempt to take an appropriate stance towards the existential. To be clear, this is not a matter of attitude, it is a matter of methodology.

Above we already introduced the question “How do we come to build that model and this form?” as the hallmark of a theory of architecture. This question about the “How do we come to …” asks about the conditions of doing so. An eminently important part of these conditions is language and languagability. How do we speak about this how to? About this practice? How if not by philosophical means should we address that question? Architectural theory is not possible without references to philosophy. This, of course, holds for biology or physics in the same manner.

For 2000 years architectural theory has been a theoretical engagement targeting architectural questions, that is questions about the form of an individual building and its close surround. This tradition led to Junkspace. The medium that created Junkspace was swarm architecture. Quite obviously, we have to adapt the scope of our theoretical concerns. The scope of architectural theory—which dedicatedly includes a corresponding and inseparable practice, as we have seen above—can’t be any longer that of individual buildings. And this scope is the city and the quality of the Urban..

A theory about the city, and even more about the Urban.3, poses a serious challenge, though. For large parts of culture relates to it, or is even already a major constituent of it. A theory about culture, however, would have to be a self-referential theory. In our piece called “A Deleuzean Move” we tried to develop such a structure, which is not related specifically to any kind of theory about the urban any more.

David Shane, in his “Recombinant Urbanism”[3] devises considerable efforts to clarify his concept of theory. It is not the only feature that makes his book is so outstanding. Despite he does not completely arrive at a general or generally applicable concept about “theory”, his efforts come close to what we described earlier (“Theory (of Theory)”, and in the further course of his synthetic investigations he tightly follows his theoretical outline. Yet, he calls his theory a “theory about the city”, not a theory about the Urban. According to which we said in the preceding paragraph, he is totally correct about that. Throughout his book he demonstrates how to build models about the city. Probably Shane’s contribution may be conceived even as the only theory of the city we currently have available.

Yet, here we are not interested in a theory of the city, that is a theory about modeling and investigating urban arrangement, thereby doubling the great work of Shane. Our goal is a quite different one. In a preliminary fashion we could say that we are interested in the foundations of urbanism. A “City Theory” like that of Shane is certainly an important part of urbanism. Yet, it can’t be considered as the only part. First, urbanism is not only about the almost “physical” mechanisms of urban agglomerations. A collection of buildings is as less a city as a collection of trees is already a forest. .The important things about a particular city and as well about the Urban are far beyond traffic control or the legislative regulations about erecting buildings4, albeit such rules and controls­­­—though again not as particulars—are necessary ingredients to allow for the emergence of the Urban. Of course, the same holds for the practice of erecting buildings itself, stripped from relational concerns. This was clearly recognized by Fumihiko Maki as early as in 1964 [6]:

There is nothing less urbane, nothing less productive of cosmopolitan mixture than raw renewal, which displaces, destroys, and replaces, in that mechanistic order;’

Secondly, for addressing the Urban it is not sufficient to think about the way of how to speak about the models about the city. Such would represent the more scientific and reductionist attitude that takes the city and the urban processes as an observable. Yet, such a separation is not a sound alternative, because the scientific description is—by its own definition—only about the sayable. One could easily misunderstand this as a rejection of science as a whole. Of course, I don’t opt for that. Science may well practice analyticity and reductionism within a defined framework and an established community that adhere to scientific methodology. But science should not attempt to export its standards as the structure of choice for any other area. Outside science, science is just an element (in the sense we discussed it here). Nevertheless, science excludes any aspect of performance and the demonstrable apriori. Reducing cities to the scientifically observable aspects could be regarded even as a methodological fault if it comes (i) to the qualitative aspects of urban life and, more important, (ii) to the conditions of the Urban and the way of speaking that we could employ regarding any putative theory of the Urban.

The foundations of urbanism comprise the topic of the conditions for the possibility of creating models about the change of urban environments, and here we deliberately include the social, political and cultural aspects at large. Hence, without those foundations we can’t hope to get any reasonable grip to what is going on in the cities, putting emphasis here is on reasonable. The difference is the same as we have discussed previously (“Koolhaas the story-teller”) with regard to story-telling. It makes a huge difference to be part of a story or likewise to provide an arbitrary something that is then assimilated by the story, or to deal consciously with the Urban.

In the remainder of this writing I will present a brief outline about a potential argumentation that would support our conviction that the concept of Urban Reason is a reasonable program.

Departure to Urban Reason

As one of the more salient starting points for such arguments, though there are certainly others, one could take the inseparability of language and the life form in the Wittgensteinian sense. Since the times of ancient Rome humans have experienced the particular conditions of urban life. These conditions regard anything, from the supply of food, water and energy, up to the social aspects of life and questions of organization and power. It is certainly not an exaggeration to say that everything that could be conceived as human culture today is specifically related to the form of the city. Today, and certainly for a long time, the Urban stains the rural, the country-side of the Urban is everything that is not the city, let it even be the Sahara or the Amazonas jungle. The rural is the surround, a dislocated source for a diversity of fundamental streams: Water, energy (be it electricity, be it food), for some parts also space or a particular quality of time, for which there is no replenishment achievable within most urban agglomerations.

The. city and its surround represent entangled forms of life, yet, the cultural dynamics, particularly as a semiosis (generation of signs5) or as mediagenesis (the generation of media and mediality6) is clearly dominated by the Urban. Think of books, theater, the arts, the press, the construct of the news, etc. All of that and—most significant regarding our interests here—all the related thinking and living belongs to the quality of the Urban, it contributes to it and it derives from it. Note that it would be missing the point to say that these qualities could be “found only in the city”, since the book and its companions are just constitutive of the urban itself. Separating the whole of the Urban from its drivers results in a tautology. The locational, or better: the territorial speaking is modernist, analytic, not having left behind the 19th century, at most.

We may express it in a condensed manner: In the city we experience thinking, it is within the practice of the abstract Urban, where thinking happens, and where densified thinking takes place, there we may experience or attribute the Urban. Some of the conditioning requirements for those bursts upon densification are the abstract associativity, the networks, the streams, the concepts that are kept flying around, the vortices and clinamen appearing on those streams, etc.

Such determines and deeply affects thinking, language and the life form and hence also the kind of rationality and reason that could arise and emerge from it. The relationship between thinking and life form is not limited to urban life, of course, it is a quite general principle. The novelty here is that it happens as a particular urban issue on a global scale, instead of its previously regional instantiation within a particular rural.

So, if we for now accept the idea that there is a specific instance of thinking in the cultural environment of the city, constituting an Urban Reason, and including the way to deal with the “resistance of the existential”, then we can start to ask particular questions that are not possible without that move. This move towards the Urban Reason would allow to develop urbanity along a completely different storyline. We may even say that it constitutes the possibility for such a storyline at all. Koolhaas notion of “The Generic City”, provided as an imaginary script for a movie, now appears as a very early pre-cursor of that.

A quite interesting topic is presented by the concept and the practice of trust. Trust builds a bridge between the animal-corporeal and the medial-cultural. Along with the development of the city since the 12th century, trust became more and more probabilized. We may even turn the perspective that allows to conceive of the city as an organizational form to probabilize trust. In some agglomerations this endeavor fails, and it is difficult, if not impossible to regard such agglomerations as urban or as city at all. All shades and grades between the two poles can be observed, of course. The successful probabilization of trust may be the most important difference between the urban and the non-urban.

The changed concept of trust also changes the concept of politics, or governmentality, as Foucault has been identifying it. The late Foucault has been increasingly interested in governmentality and its relation to the exertion of power. A long time before once he was starting his journey towards the bio-power with investigations about thing, order and violence, continuing after a more broad assimilation of Wittgensteinian philosophy with his particular concept of historicity. Bio-power refers to a certain attitude and assignment of importance to the concept of the body, namely the biological aspect of the body. His fears and projections did not fully develop (so far), yet, the importance of the question about the body and its status remained intact. We just have to ask about the body, and of course the model of the body (e.g. [7])

So far, there is no discussion at all in urbanism about the relation between the form and government, the exertion of power and the organization of probabilized trust. Neither monarchies nor elite-constrained oligarchies as their modernized form—think of the E.U.—, in short no kind of strongly centralized government could be considered as an adequate form for Urban societies. Just think of the difference between Tokyo (in fact 24 autonomous cities operating under the same label) and Moscow, or, vice versa, the resemblance between Tokyo and the political organization of Switzerland and its 25 cantons (despite all differences…).

Approaching the Critique of Urban Reason

Given the concept’s reasonability we may ask, how then could we go about for Urban Reason?

Of course, Immanuel Kant’s investigation of reason and rationality immediately pops in with his distinction into pure reason, practical reason, ethics and aesthetics, if it is allowed to talk in such a coarse manner about his work. Yet, I don’t think that the Kantian way is not suitable any longer, for at least three reasons.

First, Kant has been strongly influenced by physics and kind of a first-level scientism, seriously affected (and limited) by thinking in cause-and-effect schemata. Kant did not have at his disposal the concept of probabilization as we can use it today. Neither was the population established as a life form—it just had been invented as the French Revolution when Kant was writing the concluding parts—, nor could he have been consequently aware about the realm of information. Physics served Kant as an ideal, yet, physics is still not able to say anything about complexity and emergence. Today we even could reason, as we did above, that science itself doesn’t represent a generalizable image of thought at all. At best, it provides an acceptable contribution.

Secondly, the Kantian distinction is vulnerable against idealism and all its detrimental consequences. For starting with the “pureness” always relies on the identity as the ruling transcendental principle. Identity thinking is methodologically faulty and politically disastrous. We had to wait until Deleuze who successfully demonstrated how philosophy, thinking and acting could be re-oriented towards the principle of transcendental difference [8]. Accordingly, Kant did not recognize the working of abstraction through the differential. Thus, Kant always had serious difficulties to link the idea, the abstract, the concept to the dimension of practice and performance.

Thirdly, and this is related to the second point, Kant was quite too early to be able to recognize the role of language. Without incorporating the linguistic turn (in its non-analytical form, of course) it may prove to be quite difficult (if not hopeless) to find a suitable link between mental life (whether internal or external), practice and performance (down to logistics, politics and the so-called “public space”) and the philosophical “habit”. The combination of these three missing issues in Kantian philosophy—probabilization, transcendental difference, linguistic turn—causes a fourth one, which is the blindness against mediality.

Saying this I feel obliged to emphasize the great achievement of the Kantian philosophy. Firstly, there is the concept of transcendence, or more precisely, the working of transcendence and its continuous presence in any thought. Secondly, and that’s a methodological trick, Kant didn’t engage in explaining or describing reason, instead he introduced philosophy as a technique, as a critique. After specifying it, we should check it’s conditions and consequences, we should “criticize” it.

The concept of Urban Reason thus is probably less a concept as a particular image of culture. Deleuze once proposed a new image of thought that he based on the notion of the transcendental difference. This image he directed against the “dogmatic image of thought” and the closely related syndrome of representationalist thinking. Yet, even if we refer to the image of thought as a “framework” or a habit, or even as a philosophical stance (whatever this could mean), we could compare it to other such arrangements. We already proposed a proto-philosophical structure that guarantees a conceptual consistency for all its derivates and applications. We developed it in a Deleuzean perspective and called it the “choreostemic space”. We argued that this space allows to map and to compare not only any style of thinking, but rather any stance towards the world, without falling prey to a methodological petitio principii. Such, we will also have to investigate the attractors of the Urban Reason as a framework as well as the particular instance of Urban Reason as it arises in a particular (class of) urban arrangements. I would expect even before the started the development of Urban Reason (as a framework) that such an abstract cartography will yield important insights into the long-term dynamics of cities.

Even as we dismiss the Kantian distinction, we nevertheless may distinguish different stages in the instantiation of Urban Reason until we arrive at a practical or political guideline, or even as a utilization in an empiric research program. A general and exemplary outline of those steps will be given in the next essay.

Conclusion and Outlook

For now we have to ask about the questions that could be uniquely addressed on the basis of Urban Reason. Of course, we can just provide some examples as the full list is possibly quite large, or even practically infinite.

First of all, and not to the least importance, the perspective of Urban Reason allows to address the relation between abstract categories about the Urban (“Urban Theory”) and the practical concerns that appear in a city for any kind of stake holder. Today, the lack of such a suitable bridge between category and operation may constitute one of the major problems of urbanism. The missing of an appropriate binding between those also contributes to the tendency of urbanism to take a largely reductionist attitude.

Such, the practical affairs in Urban Reason in terms of ”actions taken” are largely influenced by a varying mixture of four attitudes, which supposedly are: (i) make-up of values mostly due to historical constraints, as in its most extreme form in the case of Singapore, (ii) just as a unreflected alignment to arbitrary contingencies, determined by the structure of local political processes (e.g. Munich, Berlin, Tokyo or also Zurich), or finally (iv) due to ideological considerations (most salient examples: Paris, Los Angeles, Chicago, Hanoi, Shanghai, Stone Town Zanzibar).

Any of these four motivational centers do not address the city as a life form in its own right. No wonder can we observe any degree and any kind of violence in the urban processes on any of the time scales, illegitimate as well as legitimate ones, indeed so much that nowadays violence and the Urban often appear as close relatives. It may well be expected that the “binding problem” of urbanism provides an improved capability to navigate through the evo-devo of the city.

Solving the binding problem of urbanism also means that urbanism could integrate concepts from other disciplines more readily. Here I not only refer to concepts from the hard sciences, but rather to holistic conceptualizations or areas like literature science or even philosophy (taken here as a technique for asking about the conditionability of issues). A relatively significant topic is that of differentiation. Currently, urbanism does not have means even to talk appropriately about it, mainly due to the fact that physics prevails as the ideal (still). Yet, physical differentiation refers just to the level of the existential, to be or not be. Physics is a deeply non-relational science and thus totally unsuitable to guide any research program in urbanism. Differentiation includes growth (of different kinds), partial deletion, transformation, but also the issues of individuation, associativity, emergence or fluidity, among others. .While there are already practical adoptions of the topic of differentiation, mainly triggered by the state of market affairs in architecture7, an appropriate theory is not available. On the other hand, differentiation could not be conceived as a purely political topic either, for this would neglect the autonomy, meta-stability and persistence of the city as a complex system. Once, in his short piece “What ever happened to Urbanism?” (part of S,M,X,XL) Koolhaas pointed in a somewhat desperate manner to this fact:

Together, all attempts to make a new beginning have only discredited the idea of a new beginning. A collective shame in the wake of this fiasco has left a massive crater in our understanding of modernity and modernization.

What makes this experience disconcerting and (for architects) humiliating is the city’s defiant persistence and apparent vigor, in spite of the collective failure of all agencies that act on it or try to influence it-creatively, logistically, politically.

The professionals of the city are like chess players who lose to computers. A perverse automatic pilot constantly outwits all attempts at capturing the city, exhausts all ambitions of its definition, ridicules the most passionate assertions of its present failure and future impossibility, steers it implacably further on its flight forward. Each disaster foretold is somehow absorbed under the infinite blanketing of the urban.

At this point I again would like to emphasize that Urban Reason and its critique is not an analytical endeavor. It should not be misunderstood as a kind of logic, or a set of fixed rules, nor as a kind of rationality at all. Story-telling in ancient Bagdad at night is a kind of reason as contemporary mathematics is. Thus, instead of drawing on logic, it may be much more appropriate to conceive of “Urban Reason” in terms of Foucault’s concept of the field of proposals and propositions, where arrangements of proposals, in short: stories, are made from proper elements. This will allow us to find a proper organization for the layout of the genealogy of our critique… which we will start with in one of the next pieces, at least as soon as possible.

..

Notes

1.. German orig.: “Das Modell liegt durchaus in einem solchen Zwischenbereich von abstrakten Vorstellungen und kontingenten Wirklichkeiten.”

2.. German orig.: “Das Modell wurde im vitruvianischen Umfeld und in der Nachfolge Albertis insbesondere im Hinblick auf die Hilfestellung für die (antizipierende) Sinneswahrnehmung diskutiert und deshalb auch häufig Visierung genannt. […] dem Modell, das oftmals auch nur auf ein Bild seiner selbst reduziert erscheint, ist die spekulative Potenz im ‚Prozess des Werdens‘ abhanden gekommen.” ([1] p.155)

3.. We use the capital “U” if we refer to the urban as a particular quality and as a concept, in order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective.

4.. for a collection of such rules cf. Axel Lehnerer [4].

5.. Here we refer, as always, to the conception of the sign as it has been developed by Charles S. Peirce. The differences to de Saussures concept of the signs are tremendous. The Peircean sign is open, dynamic, volatile and refers only to other signs, never directly to an object, as the phenomenological structure of de Saussures sign does. Such, the Peircean sign is largely synonymic with the interpretation situation and the respective processes itself.

6.. Vera Bühlmann argued for an intimate relationship between mediality as a transcendental and practical entity and architecture, coining the label of “inhabiting media”. [5]

7.. There is a growing awareness in architectural research and education, particularly in Europe, that architecture might be more and more engaged in transformation processes upon existing buildings or arrangements of building instead of building anew. Cf. the master courses titled “Planning and Building within Assets” at the University of Siegen (Germany) (orig. “Planen und Bauen im Bestand”).

References

  • [1] Werner Oechslin, Architekturmodell »ldea materialis«, in: Wolfgang Sonne (ed.), Die Medien und die Architektur. Deutscher Kunstverlag, Berlin 2011, S. 131-155.
  • [2] Website of the Werner Oechslin Library Foundation. last accessed 29th Sep, 2012.
  • [3] David Shane, Recombinant Urbanism. 2005.
  • [4] Axel Lehnerer 2010. Thesis, ETH Zürich.
  • [5] Vera Bühlmann, inhabiting media. Thesis, University of Basel (CH) 2009.
  • [6] Fumihiko Maki, Investigations in Collective Form. 1964. cited after: Rem Koolhaas, Singapore Songlines [9].
  • [7] Klaus Wassermann. The Body as Form – or: Desiring the Modeling Body. in: Vera Bühlmann, Martin Wiedmer (eds.), pre-specifics: Some comparatistic investigations on research in design and art. JRP Ringier, Zürich 2008. pp.351-360. available online.
  • [8] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition.
  • [9] Rem Koolhaas, Singapore Songlines. in Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau, S,M,X,XL. 1995. p.1009-1089.

۞

Urban Reason I

September 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Rem Koolhaas is not an architect. Neither could he be regarded.

as an urbanist. Well, in some way it is undeniable that he is engaged in architecture or the design and arrangement of urban environments. So it seems that he sometimes behaves as architects or urbanists do. Yet, there is something more about his way.

Koolhaas is a story-teller. As a good story-teller he also is a great listener. Koolhaas is treating builts and buildings in a very special way. Not as built matter, but rather as a story. Story-telling always means, and so also in the case of Koolhaas, to weave a particular fabric. The specialty of the fabric established through the story is the densification of potentiality that appears in the course of telling a story and listening to it. As the fabric, the story starts with a series, a thin thread, recurring to almost the same place after it has been departing to almost the same distant.

A story differs in precise way from a “normal” text. Alike, story-telling is not presenting. By means of the story one does not try to say something particular. One does not try to say.  Quite in contrast, stories play with the potentiality to do some magic with the particulars. Particulars are much like the facts after we have fixed them, after we have stopped talking about and playing with them (The same holds for universals.) The story makes them vanish at some point and re-appear at another point. Even the point here is a deliberate, that is a designed illusion. Magic is best if words and acts amalgamate, denying such the importance they pretend. Think of Shakespeare and his plays.

Stories are not bound to particular media. We can create it as a novel, as a play in the theater, as a “tele novela”, as a movie, but also as the unfolding of possible events in a building or the arrangement of potentiality in urban builts. As a play with potentiality, the story is not even bound to a particular form. We could tell the same story in very different ways, yet, it is impossible to tell the same story as an exact copy a second time. Story-telling results in a deep alignment between the story-teller and the story-listeners. And between the listeners. And between the stories. Stories never come as a single one, as a particular. These alignments remain established only as long as it is not spoken about. If there is any methodology Koolhaas follows at all we may say that he aligns stories and aligns through stories.

Stories don’t actualize a particular function as well, of course. Telling a story means to play with them as magicians do. Letting them appear and vanish, not only at will, but also for one’s delight. It is in this secondary plane of the stories’ immanence where the notion of an object or materiality becomes meaningful at all. Just by the power of the story to let them appear, to make them created, to make them vanish. The story is a transfer of power while there is neither a clear origin nor an identifiable goal of this transfer.

The story tells something that neither can be spoken about nor what could be demonstrated. Story-telling is not explication, but implication. It is not just unfolding. It transcends unfolding by wrapping it into the fabric it creates. The format of the story is the only adequate response to entities that are autonomous. Behaving entities, in other words. We discussed the issue of behavior with regard to text and the urban last time.

Koolhaas the story-teller. Only as a story-teller you can invent. Skyscraper that do not scrape the (physical) skies, for instance, but rather the way of story-telling (CCTV). The skyscraper as a loop. Taken as a particular, that’s just pure craziness, a collapse of categories. Taken as a story, e.g. about the fact that the alignment by a story always comes as loop, it easily appears as a reasonable consequence.

Figure 1: Closing the Loop as story-telling by building a building that is used to produce story-telling (TV).

Figure 2: Approaching the Loop. Rendering for the Science Center Hamburg. The building as metaphor: Science is the story of telling a story about doing it over and over again. Though the loop is not a smooth one.

Without stories there is only habit, and here I mean a blind collective habit, swarms, the fashion of the neurons. Only as a story-teller you can transcend matter, the built, the particular, the structure and the grammar. Only by means of stories new materiality is created, usually first in the realm of the symbolic, as or by new symbols. In the beginning there is the story. Without stories, the world is full of necessities and givens, the world would be even almost synonymical to those. Without them there would be reality only (which fortunately is not possible), but no potential. Stories and necessities are mutually exclusive. I prefer the story. It is the story, and only the story, that opens the future, creates potential relationality that establishes culture as the Conditional II, III, IV …

Koolhaas the cross-medialist, who happens to tell stories by building and buildings. Humans can’t be without stories, of course. Even if not explicitly told, any social alignment brings it to the surface, at least implicitly. Even if there is no story at first place, it will invade the dead claim of the given, like the plants, the animals, small and large, the relations, close and distant, like the succession of an ecosystem on a blanked piece of rock. Stories are invasive. Koolhaas is invasive, patiently.

Of course there are rules, particular structural elements, weights and preferences. Such like the box, the ramp, the script, the surprise, the opening and the closing (e.g. of perspectives and views), the pattern in the fabric, the randolation. These rules are completely irrelevant as particular, despite they are necessary. Stories play also with the rules. Koolhaas developed his use of boxes, boxes in the box, vanishing of the boxed boxes, the block as the ultra-box, the entity of the antithetic box (the ramp), the box as module and as figure, the dematerialization of the box (the script), the re-materialization of the box as behavior, into his way of story-telling and building, just to put all this something into the box again (The Dutch embassy), yet without refraining to demonstrate that the box is a box only if there is something other, the non-box. In one word, story-telling.

Figure 3a: The story about the evolution of the Box: The Box and its Surround. Note that the wall-like surround is a building of the embassy, too, containing flats for the personnel of the embassy. It is an essential pat of the whole arrangement, providing the space for cube to be perceived as a cube. Metaphorically, and such extending the story-telling, Koolhaas refers here to the ex-territorial nature of embassies.

Figure 3b: The Box that denies to be a Box. What you see here is the main functional element of the embassy, the room for diplomatic meetings. Providing a function as the purpose of the building that is outside of it and its boxedness. Of course, this not architecture, but rather story-telling.

Figure 3c: The Box and its incorporated anti-thesis (the ramp). Some years before turning fully into an architectural embryologist (Porto, see figure 4 below), Koolhaas employed the principle of creating space by melting for the first time. At that time, the ramp was already a well-established element in Koolhaas’ toolbox (see the Seattle Public Library for its mastering). The result is a simple external shape and a rich and dynamic interior structure, much like in an animal organism, but quite different from plants or even crystals (see this for different models of growth).

Figure 3d: The script as the Ariadne thread of Architecture. Where others talk about the “program” to be fulfilled by the building and try to optimize it by means of computers (e.g. Kees Christianse in Zurich near the main station), leading almost necessarily, i.e. grammatically to logically “structured” ugliness, Koolhaas refers to scripts and stories, such creating a multi-leveled and above all open coherence and consistency. Which way do you prefer?

Story-telling is weaving of potentiality and weaving with potentiality. Story-telling is aterritorial, non-geological. Nothing could be more different from story-telling than geology. (Just think of Libeskind’s or Eisenman’s titanic geomorphisms, thrown rocks [Aronoff Center, Victoria and Albert Museum], canyons made from concrete [Jewish Museum in Berlin].) As story-telling materializes particular relations it also implies the randolation. Koolhaas the String theorist. He plays a special kind of music on strings without ends. He even manages to organize whole populations of those strings and their tones, sometimes at least. As a musician-urbanist, Koolhaas belongs to the rare species of builders that are completely aware of time. He not only doesn’t try to expel it from the city, to make the city timeless, as all the modernists are trying. As a story-teller he plays with time, he creates Eigen-times, sheafs of times, planes of time, he uses choreographing deriving as a kind of applied embryology (Casa da Musica, Porto), when he melts the space out of the block, as it happens with organisms before their nativity. By that, Koolhaas is aware of time as a tool for building, not just a parameter of a formula addressing change. He also employs a concept of morphological differentiation and growth far ahead of any of his colleagues. Koolhaas, the accoucheur. Or the breeder. The pander. In “Mars attacks” the journalist asked: Do they have two sexes?”

Figure 4: Traces of Time. Koolhaas at the final demonstration of his concept for the Casa da Musica (Porto). You can see his showing of the removal of inner space, reminding strongly to the embryological principle of establishing form and space through melting tissue generating implicitly structured space, rather than by enclosing space through explicit enclosure. This way time is established as the historicity of constraints during development, quite in contrast to the time-inert procedure of enclosing.

Koolhaas is pretty conscious about what he is doing. That’s certainly not true for many other architects. They could not be regarded as story-tellers. They are commas. Like a rule itself. Even if there is pretentious wording around. Else, story-telling is never deconstructivist. Derrida tried to tell a story without telling a story, by denying it. Not quite reasonable, I guess, except if you are addicted to the ancient Egyptian underworld of shadows (as Derrida was). Stories are purely positive, yet without being positivist. Denying story-telling and by the same time pretending to do it causes a downward spiral. It leads you to the point zero on the scale of human affairs, geology, physics, and titans. Consequently, Eisenman and Libeskind, and even Gehry, arrived just there, in praising the titanic geosphere. (With that mind set, they should design oil drilling platforms instead)

Thus, either all those architects are not architects at all (which is a view difficult to hold), or Koolhaas is not an architect. Here we could say, q.e.d., but that’s a different story.

Well, probably that came a bit too strong now. For it is not possible for human activities to separate story from non-story. We are language-beings, down to the last quantum. First, we all take part in the unfolding of culture, which establishes kind of a (big) story and consists of many, many smaller and tiny stories. Second, we can’t step out into a zone free of language. Third, language always triggers what can be conceived as the differential locutionarity that comes with the use of language. The concept of locutionarity has been introduced by Austin with regard to the different perspectives and scopes that we can observe and employ in language. The distinction he made is straightforward: We say something as an almost physical performance, we say what we think is and what we want, we say something for strategic reasons. These three dimensions have been described by Austin in his Speech Act Theory as locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary. .Yet, concerning story telling there is a further level. Perhaps we could call it the delocutionary aspect and this aspect is the playing with the other indeed serious levels, playfully challenging their seriousness. It is here, and only here, where culture becomes pleasant.

A similar distinction could be made for architecture. It is quite obvious that any architecture below the delocutionary aspect can easily be reduced to cause and effect, to necessities, amenable to analytic reasoning. Fortunately the world is not like that, neither in language, nor in architecture. Or should I say: hopefully? I can’t follow this trail of the possibility of “architectural acts” further here. Yet, the point should have become a bit more clear.

Koolhaas mingles texting and building, text and built. Like a chef de cuisine Koolhaas knows the procedures for creating a runaway mediatization, a self-sustaining, if not self-accelerating explosion of interpretations. A good story defies the single interpretation, the function, the strategy, the territory. It sweeps away the claim of the apriori necessary. It not only carries you to unknown shores, it even creates new currents in every moment. To be more precise here, it is not the story that causes this. It is more appropriate to say that the story is created anew in each and any moment, in statu nascendi, if the “well-formed” series (requires an author!) and networks of symbols and references invades your mind as an listener and interpreter. Many things happen through such encounters. Even a short list would distrack us here. The point is: Some pieces (stories) evoke more, taking the step into sustained imagination, others less, being kept in a static factualism that could not count as a story, perhaps as a report, at most, and some close to nil, stumbling babbling. Yet, the example of Singapore demonstrates that things are more complicated than it might appear, for the whole culture could be devoted to plans and development instead of imagination and evolution.

Koolhaas created a trilogy of texts that form their own story: The Generic City (the script), Junkspace (the play), and Singapore Songlines (the music). It is often said that The Generic City is about the city. Nothing could be more wrong than that. It would be as if one would say that the movie by Godard is about the movement of the actors, or even of the celluloid. In an interview Godard once said that he is not making movies. He pretended not to be interested in movies as such. His interest is the shaping of time. The Generic City is a story that performatively explores the story that unfolds if we conceive a movie script that could be thought to create a city. Of course, there is something generic about it, yet there is nothing about the generics of cityness, isn’t it? I suppose it is due to the gap established by the different mediality that prevents to take The Generic City as a piece about architecture, at least no more so than Blade Runner is, or Playtime (J.Tati).

It is often said the Junkspace is a (desperate) critique of the outcome of the work of swarm architects. Well, this perspective is not completely out of the world. Though it is probably more reasonable to take it (the written piece) as a staged play. Remember, there are no sentences, no paragraphs, no enumerations, no structure, no analytics. There are just waves of words. Where these waves densify, the junk becomes a medium. In Junkspace, Koolhaas explores—and struggles with—the mediality of concertant activity. Of words, of swarm architects.

Koolhaas is not an architect. And architecture is not about form. To say so, would be much like to conflate literature science as literature. Or to take Shakespeare as a person capable of writing. Or Umberto Eco as funky professor of semiotics. (The trace of semiotics we didn’t explore here, despite we could have done so.)

Of course, there is structure, of course form is important, of course there is a grammatology. But all this is not about what architecture and the urban is about. The question then is, what is the about of the city? One part of the aboutness of the city is clearly performance, and by this I do not refer to the durability of materials, as architects usually are going to interpret this term. Performance is about situating one’s own body, one could add, as part of a delicately urban story.

Figure 4a: Performance as a response to the question of the “Situated Body”, or how to situated the body in the city. Heinrich Lueber near the Paradeplatz, Bahnhofstrasse Zurich, Switzerland (2005?). Space is where bodies can relate. Relations are inevitable, even if bodies get fixed. The categorical borders to buildings blur.

Figure 4b: Yves Klein, Leap into the Void (1960). Space is where nothingness is. Despite being avantgarde, and in contrast to Lueber, Klein remains modernist as he just transposes the claim of modernism for metaphysical independence.

Performance challenges what we have called before the existential resistance of things and (situative) arrangements. Of course, the body and its image, our model about the body are rather significant for the outcome of this challenge. The other part concerns talking about that performance. Understanding this talking about implies to think about the coming along, or a bit more clearly, to think about the conditions of this talking about. This will be the subject of the second part about Urban Reason (and the story behind it).

In his more recent works Koolhaas undeniably is approaching the field of differentiation. Unlike other architects, he employs a strictly non-analytical way of creating structure, one that strongly reminds to the differentiation processes in embryos. The resulting emphasis of rich internal structure, where each of the contained sites and locations is unique, results in a much more animal-like characteristics than it is the case for any other  architectural designer. This introduces behavior as an important immaterial component of buildings, and explicitly so. it is of a major significance that this creates the context for Koolhaas’ story telling. In, or by, a crystalline building, from Seagram to Eastern Berlin, even in a fractal one, you can’t tell any story, simply because the immaterial make-up does not allow to do so in these cases. As a matter of fact, Koolhaas has been fascinated by internal differentiation and the resulting structures even before he’d built any building at all, as everyone can read in his Delirious New York.

Recently, this tendency to explore the issue of differentiation strengthened again when he published his “Project Japan” [2] together with Hans-Ulrich Obrist. This book is a collection of interviews with all the still alive propagators of the Metabolism movement. Metabolism deliberately turned away from the machine perspective, stressing the adaptivity of buildings (and partially also of cities), which should be achieved through an imitation of animal life cycles, i.e. through adaptation of the principles of birth and growth. Here, we just want to note that Metabolism took a rather simple stance towards the issue of differentiation. It does not satisfy any advanced theoretical intentions. Nevertheless it represents an important starting point. And as we just mentioned, it is highly significant, and supportive for our perspective here, that Koolhaas brought these ideas to the fore, and with it the topic of differentiation.

Koolhaas certainly and confidently departed from those positions he explored (and criticized so much) in his trilogy of the mid-1990ies (Generic City, Junkspace, Singapore Songlines). In some way he practically demonstrated the future directions of theory in architecture (and urbanism, if you still want to separate those). Yet, it would be a mistake to conceive his answer to the above mentioned theoretical explorations, particularly given by Casa da Musica and the Dutch Embassy, as inconsistent or contradictory. Those texts remain fully valid, quite in contrast to the suggestions of Jacques Herzog in his “How Do Cities Differ?” [1] Herzog eagerly writes:

The Ideal City abdicated ages ago, as have Aldo Rossi’s Rational City, Rem Koolhaas’s Generic City and Venturi’s Strip. Not to mention Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse. All of these attempts to describe the city, to comprehend and reinvent it, were both necessary and useful. But today they leave us cold. Like water under the bridge, they no longer concern us. We cannot relate to them because they refer to a world that is no longer ours. The time has come to relinquish our longing for labels, to abandon manifestos and theories. They don’ t hit the mark; they simply brand the author for life. There are no theories of cities; there are only cities.

In this text, Herzog and his partner deMeuron stress the point that cities have a body, a corporeality. Cities can be, after, all vulnerated, injured or even destroyed. HdM do not follow the infamous (ridiculous?) approach of so-called emergency design. Yet, HdM are nevertheless wrong in several aspects, particularly in his overt dismissal of theory. Theory is inevitable, even for amoebas. In a previous essay we spent some space on the role of theory. Astonishingly, shortly after this dismissal the office run by Herzog and deMeuron published a space atlas for Switzerland, depicting their suggestions for a better planning in the whole country. How would one do that without theory? In the same way as in Singapore? Not so astonishingly thus is the almost dictatorial attitude they employ in this atlas.

Both, Koolhaas and Herzog & deMeuron discover the importance of corporeality, the individual materiality of the city, bundling, comprising and compressing all the historical contingency and continuity. The answers, however, that they gave could not be more different. HdM got deeply stuck in a pseudo-paradoxon:

Urban development today does not begin with Barthes’ punctum and it does not seek the most worthwhile targets; it occurs wherever a plot of land happens to be or become available. Yet the Twin Towers affect every city and their destruction affects urban dwellers everywhere. Terrorists see in them the destruction of a symbol; urban dwellers see in them a massive attack on their neighborhoods and their homes. The specific, the unique, that which distinguishes us from others, the indestructible: all these have become vulnerable, and so we have to protect ourselves. Time and again. But how? The best protection would be to aspire to “indistinguishability,” the “Indistinguishable City.” And that is the greatest illusion of all.

I just would like to remember that the “indistinguishability” may be conceived as the holy grail of modernists. Without theory, one inevitably gets drowned in factuality, one get totally disabled to see any immaterial effect of design, the associativity of material arrangements, where we find upstream and downstream effects. No wonder he denies the importance of Barthes and his semiotics. Herzog even moves the symbolic from everyday life to the side of the aggressor, which is almost a scandalous denunciation. The poor guy seems to think that neighborhoods and homes are without symbols, without symbolicity. Indeed a poor guy. A complaining modernist. Condemned to blind actions, sticking to the arbitrariness of the physical (“…wherever a plot of land happens become available.”). Obviously, HdM do not know about Immanuel Kant’s insight: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind” [3]

Well, as we mentioned before, the contrast to the animate building(s) of Koolhaas could not be greater. With his theoretical and practical explorations of the topos of differentiation Koolhaas left them far behind. We will return to this topos of differentiation in the next pieces, since it is by no means a trivial one. Above all, it is a crucial yet so far completely neglected element for any concept of sustainability of urban environments. Honestly, how could sustainability be thought of at all without a proper concept of differentiation? Hence, Koolhaas’ contribution to this problematic area is drastically undervalued as well.

References

  • [1] Jacques Herzog, How do Cities differ? Introductory text to the course of study on the cities of Naples – Paris – The Canary Islands – Nairobi at the ETH Studio Basel – Contemporary City Institute. In: Gerhard Mack (Ed.). Herzog & de Meuron 1997-2001. The Complete Works. Volume 4. Basel / Boston / Berlin, Birkhäuser, 2008. Vol. No. 4. pp. 241-244.First published in: Jacques Herzog: Terror sin Teoría. Ante la ‘Ciudad indiferente’. In: Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.). Arquitectura Viva. Herzog & de Meuron, del Natural. Vol. No. 91, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva, 07.2003. p. 128. available online.
  • [2] Rem Koolhaas & Hans Ulrich Obrist. Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. Taschen, Berlin 2011.
  • [3] Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (KrV B75, A51)

۞

Behavior

September 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Animals behave. Of course, one could say.

Yet, why do we feel a certain naturalness here, in this relation between the cat as an observed and classified animal on the one side and the language game “behavior” on the other? Why don’t we say, for instance, that the animal happens? Or, likewise, that it is moved by its atoms? To which conditions does the language game “behavior” respond?

As strange as this might look like, it is actually astonishing that physicists easily attribute the quality of “behavior” to their dog or their cat, albeit they rarely will attribute them ideas (for journeys or the like). For physicists usually claim that the whole world can be explained in terms of the physical laws that govern the movement of atoms (e.g. [1]). Even physicists, it seems, exhibit some dualism in their concepts when it comes to animals. Yet, physicists claimed for a long period of time, actually into the mid of the 1980ies, that behavioral sciences actually could not count as a “science” at all, despite the fact that Lorenz and Tinbergen won the Nobel prize for medical sciences in 1973.

The difficulties physicists obviously suffer from are induced by a single entity: complexity. Here we refer to the notion of complexity that we developed earlier, which essentially is built from the following 5 elements.

  • – Flux of entropy, responsible for dissipation;
  • – Antagonistic forces, leading to emergent patterns;
  • – Standardization, mandatory for temporal persistence on the level of basic mechanisms as well as for selection processes;
  • – Compartmentalization, together with left-overs leading to spatio-temporal persistence as selection;
  • – Self-referential hypercycles, leading to sustained 2nd order complexity with regard to the relation of the whole to its parts.

Any setup for which we can identify this set of elements leads to probabilistic patterns that are organized on several levels. In other words, these conditioning elements are necessary and sufficient to “explain” complexity. In behavior, the sequence of patterns and the sequence of more simple elements within patterns are by far not randomly arranged, yet, it is more and more difficult to predict a particular pattern the higher its position in the stack of nested patterns, that is, its level of integration. Almost the same could be said about the observable changes in complex systems.

Dealing with behavior is thus a non-trivial task. There are no “laws” that would be mapped somehow into the animal such that an apriori defined mathematical form would suffice for a description of the pattern, or the animal as a whole. In behavioral sciences, one first has to fix a catalog of behavioral elements, and only by reference to this catalog we can start to observe in a way that will allow for comparisons with other observations. I deliberately avoid the concept of “reproducibility” here. How to know about that catalog, often called behavioral taxonomy? The answer is we can’t know in the beginning. To reduce observation completely to the physical level is not a viable alternative either. Observing a particular species, and often even a particular social group or individual improves over time, yet we can’t speak about that improvement. There is a certain notion of “individual” culture here that develops between the “human” observer and the behaving system, the animal. The written part of this culture precipitates in the said catalog, but there remains a large part of habit of observing that can’t be described without performing it. Observations on animals are never reproducible in the same sense as it is possible with physical entities. The ultimate reason being that the latter are devoid of individuality.

A behavioral scientist may work on quite different levels. She could investigate some characteristics of behavior in relation to the level of energy consumption, or to differential reproductive success. On this level, one would hardly go into the details of the form of behavior. Quite differently to this case are those investigations that are addressing the level of the form of the behavior. The form becomes an important target of the investigation if the scientist is interested in the differential social dynamics of animals belonging to different groups, populations or species. In physics, there is no form other than the mathematical. Electrons are (treated in) the same (way) by physicists all over the world, even across the whole universe. Try this with cats… You will loose the cat-ness.

It is quite clear that the social dynamics can’t be addressed by means of mere frequencies of certain simple behavioral elements, such like scratching, running or even sniffing at other animals. There might be differences, but we won’t understand too much of the animal, of course, particularly not with regard to the flow of information in which the animal engages.

The big question that arose during the 1970ies and the 1980ies was, how to address behavior, its structure, its patterning, and thereby to avoid a physicalist reduction?

Some intriguing answers has been given in the respective discourse since the beginning of the 1950ies, though only a few people recognized the importance of the form. For instance, to understand wolves Moran and Fentress [2] used the concept of choreography to get a descriptional grip on the quite complicated patterns. Colmenares, in his work about baboons, most interestingly introduced the notion of the play to describe the behavior in a group of baboons. He distinguished more than 80 types of social games as an arrangement of “moves” that span across space and time in a complicated way; this behavioral wealth rendered it somewhat impossible to analyze the data at that time. The notion of the social game is so interesting because it is quite close to the concept of language game.

Doing science means to translate observations into numbers. Unfortunately, in behavioral sciences this translation is rather difficult and in itself only little standardized (so far) despite many attempts, precisely for the reason that behavior is the observable output of a deeply integrated complex system, for instance the animal. Whenever we are going to investigate behavior we carefully have to instantiate the selection of the appropriate level we are going to investigate. Yet, in order to understand the animal, we even could not reduce the animal onto a certain level of integration. We should map the fact of integration itself.

There is a dominant methodological aspect in the description of behavior that differs from those in sciences more close to physics. In behavioral sciences one can invent new methods by inventing new purposes, something that is not possible in classic physics or engineering, at least if matter is not taken as something that behaves. Anyway, any method for creating formal descriptions invokes mathematics.

Here it becomes difficult, because mathematics does not provide us any means to deal with emergence. We can’t, of course, blame mathematics for that. It is not possible in principle to map emergence onto an apriori defined set of symbols and operations.

The only way to approximate an appropriate approach is by a probabilistic methodology that also provides the means to distinguish various levels of integration. The first half of this program is easy to accomplish, the second less so. For the fact of emergence is a creative process, it induces the necessity for interpretation as a constructive principle. Precisely this has been digested by behavioral science into the practice of the behavioral catalog.

1. This Essay

Well, here in this essay I am not interested mainly in the behavior of animals or the sciences dealing with the behavior of animals. Our intention was just to give an illustration of the problematic field that is provoked by the “fact” of the animals and their “behavior”.  The most salient issue in this problematic field is the irreducibility, in turn caused by the complexity and the patterning resulting from it. The second important part on this field is given by the methodological answers to these concerns, namely the structured probabilistic approach, which responds appropriately to the serial characteristics of the patterns, that is, to the transitional consistency of the observed entity as well as the observational recordings.

The first of these issues—irreducibility—we need not to discuss in detail here. We did this before, in a previous essay and in several locations. We just have to remember that empiricist reduction means to attempt for a sufficient description through dissecting the entity into its parts, thereby neglecting the circumstances, the dependency on the context and the embedding into the fabric of relations that is established by other instances. In physics, there is no such fabric, there are just anonymous fields, in physics, there is no dependency on the context, hence form is not a topic in physics. As soon as form becomes an issue, we leave physics, entering either chemistry or biology. As said, we won’t go into further details about that. Here, we will deal mainly with the second part, yet, with regard to two quite different use cases.

We will approach these cases, the empirical treatment of “observations” in computational linguistics and in urbanism, first from the methodological perspective, as both share certain conditions with the “analysis” of animal behavior. In chapter 8 we will give more pronounced reasons about this alignment, which at first sight may seem to be, well, a bit adventurous. The comparative approach, through its methodological arguments, will lead us to the emphasis of what we call “behavioral turn”. The text and the city are regarded as behaving entities, rather than the humans dealing with them.

The chapters in this essay are the following:

Table of Content (active links)

2. The Inversion

Given the two main conceptual landmarks mentioned above—irreducibility and the structured probabilistic approach—that establish the problematic field of behavior, we now can do something exciting. We take the concept and its conditions, detach it from its biological origins and apply it to other entities where we meet the same or rather similar conditions. In other words, we practice a differential as Deleuze understood it [3]. So, we have to spend a few moments for dealing with these conditions.

Slightly re-arranged and a bit more abstract than it is the case in behavioral sciences, these conditions are:

  • – There are patterns that appear in various forms, despite they are made from the same elements.
  • – The elements that contribute to the patterns are structurally different.
  • – The elements are not all plainly visible; some, most or even the most important are only implied.
  • – Patterns are arranged in patterns, implying that patterns are also elements, despite the fact that there is no fixed form for them.
  • – The arrangement of elements and patterns into other patterns is dependent on the context, which in turn can be described only in probabilistic terms.
  • – Patterns can be classified into types or families; the classification however, is itself non-trivial, that is, it is not supported.
  • – The context is given by variable internal and external influences, which imply a certain persistence of the embedding of the observed entity into its spatial, temporal and relational neighborhood.
  • – There is a significant symbolic “dimension” in the observation, meaning that the patterns we observe occur in sequence space upon an alphabet of primitives, not just in the numerical space. This symbolistic account is invoked by the complexity of the entity itself. Actually, the difference between symbolic and numerical sequences and patterns are much less than categorical, as we will see. Yet, it makes a large difference either to include or to exclude the methodological possibility for symbolic elements in the observation.

Whenever we meet these conditions, we can infer the presence of the above mentioned problematic field, that is mainly given by irreducibility and­­­—as its match in the methodological domain—the practice of a structured probabilistic approach. This list provides us an extensional circumscription of abstract behavior.

A slightly different route into this problematic field draws on the concept of complexity. Complexity, as we understand it by means of the 5 elements provided above (for details see the full essay on this subject), can itself be inferred by checking for the presence of the constitutive elements. Once we see antagonisms, compartments, standardization we can expect emergence and sustained complexity, which in turn means that the entity is not reducible and in turn, that a particular methodological approach must be chosen.

We also can clearly state what should not be regarded as a member of this field. The most salient one is the neglect of individuality. The second one, now in the methodological domain, is the destruction of the relationality as it is most easy accomplished by referring to raw frequency statistics. It should be obvious that destroying the serial context in an early step of the methodological mapping from observation to number also destroys any possibility to understand the particularity of the observed entity. The resulting picture will not only be coarse, most probably it also will be utterly wrong, and even worse, there is no chance to recognize this departure into the area that is free from any sense.

3. The Targets

At the time of writing this essay, there are currently three domains that suffer most from the reductionist approach. Well, two and a half, maybe, as the third, genetics, is on the way to overcome the naïve physicalism of former days.

This does not hold for the other two areas, urbanism and computational linguistics, at least as far as it is relevant for text mining  and information retrieval1. The dynamics in the respective communities are of course quite complicated, actually too complicated to achieve a well-balanced point of view here in this short essay. Hence, I am asking to excuse the inevitable coarseness regarding the treatment of those domains as if they would be homogenous. Yet, I think, that in both areas the mainstream is seriously suffering from a mis-understood scientism. In some way, people there strangely enough behave more positivist than researchers in natural sciences.

In other words, we follow the question how to improve the methodology in those two fields of urbanism and computerized treatment of textual data. It is clear that the question about methodology implies a particular theoretical shift. This shift we would like to call the “behavioral turn”. Among other changes, the “behavioral turn” as we construct it allows for overcoming the positivist separation between observer and the observed without sacrificing the possibility for reasonable empiric modeling.2

Before we argue in a more elaborate manner about this proposed turn in relation to textual data and urbanism, we first would like two accomplish two things. First, we briefly introduce two methodological concepts that deliberately try to cover the context of events, where those events are conceived as part of a series that always also develops into kind of a network of relations. Thus, we avoid to conceive of events as a series of separated points.

Secondly, we will discuss current mainstream methodology in the two fields that we are going to focus here. I think that the investigation of the assumptions of these approaches, often remaining hidden, sheds some light onto the arguments that support the reasonability of the “behavioral turn”.

4. Methodology

The big question remaining to deal with is thus: how to deal with the observations that we can make in and about our targets, the text or the city?

There is a clear starting point for the selection of any method as a method that could be considered as appropriate. The method should inherently respond to the seriality of the basic signal. A well-known method of choice for symbolic sequences are Markov chains, another important one are random contexts and random graphs. In the domain of numerical sequences wavelets are the most powerful way to represent various aspects of a signal at once.

Markov Processes

A Markov chain is the outcome of applying the theory of Markov processes onto a symbolic sequence. A Markov process is a neat description of the transitional order in a sequence. We also may say that it describes the conditional probabilities for the transitions between any subset of elements. Well, in this generality it is difficult to apply. Let us thus start with the most simple form, the Markov process of 1st order.

A 1st order Markov process describes just and only all pairwise transitions that are possible for given “alphabet” of discrete entries (symbols). These transitions can be arranged in a so-called transition matrix if we obey to the standard to use the preceding part of the transitional pair as row header and the succeeding part of the transitional pair as a column header. If a certain transition occurs, we enter a tick into the respective cell, given by the address row x column, which derives from the pair prec -> succ. That’s all. At least for the moment.

Such a table captures in some sense the transitional structure of the observed sequence. Of course, it captures only a simple aspect, since the next pair does not know anything about the previous pair. A 1st order Markov process is thus said to have no memory. Yet, it would be a drastic misunderstanding to generalize the absence of memory to any kind of Markov process. Actually, Markov processes can precisely be used to investigate the “memories” in a sequence, as we will see in a moment.

Anyway, on any kind of such a transition table we can do smart statistics, for instance to identify transitions that are salient for the “exceptional” high or low frequency. Such a reasoning takes into account the marginal frequencies of such a table and is akin to correspondence analysis. Van Hooff developed this “adjusted residual method” and  has been applying it with great success in the analysis of observational data on Chimpanzees [4][5].

These residuals are residuals against a null-model, which in this case is the plain distribution. In other words, the reasoning is simply the same as always in statistics, aiming at establishing a suitable ratio of observed/expected, and then to determine the reliability of a certain selection that is based on that ratio. In the case of transition matrices the null-model states that all transitions occur with the same frequency. This is of course, simplifying, but it is also simple to calculate. There are of course some assumptions in that whole procedure that are worthwhile to be mentioned.

The most important assumption of the null-model is that all elements that are being used to set up the transitional matrix are independent from each other, except their 1st order dependency, of course. This also means that the null-model assumes equal weights for the elements of the sequence. It is quite obvious that we should assume so only in the beginning of the analysis. The third important assumption is that the process is stationary, meaning the kind and the strength of the 1st order dependencies do not change for the entire observed sequence.

Yet, nothing enforces us to stick to just the 1st order Markov processes, or to apply it globally. A 2nd order Markov process could be formulated which would map all transitions x(i)->x(i+2). We may also formulate a dense process for all orders >1, just by overlaying all orders from 1 to n into a single transitional matrix.

Proceeding this way, we end up with an ensemble of transitional models. Such an ensemble is suitable for the comparatist probabilistic investigation of the memory structure of a symbolic sequence that is being produced by a complex system. Matrices can be compared (“differenced”) regarding their density structure, revealing even spurious ties between elements across several steps in the sequence. Provided the observed sequence is long enough, single transition matrices as well as ensembles thereof can be resampled on parts of sequences in order to partition the global sequence, that is, to identify locally stable parts of the overall process.

Here you may well think that this sounds like a complicated “work-around” for a Hidden Markov Model (HMM). Yet, despite a HMM is more general than the transition matrix perspective in some respect, it is also less wealthy. In HMM, the multiplicity is—well—hidden. It reduces the potential complexity of sequential data into a single model, again with the claim of global validity. Thus, HMM are somehow more suitable the closer we are to physics, e.g. in speech recognition. But even there their limitation is quite obvious.

From the domain of ecology we can import another trick for dealing with the transitional structure. In ecosystems we can observe the so-called succession. Certain arrangements of species and their abundance follow rather regularly, yet probabilistic to each other, often heading towards some stable final “state”. Given a limited observation about such transitions, how can we know about the final state? Using the transitional matrix the answer can be found simply by a two-fold operation of multiplying the matrix with itself and intermittent filtering by renormalization. This procedure acts as a frequency-independent filter. It helps to avoid type-II errors when applying the adjusted residuals method, that is, transitions with a weak probability will be less likely dismissed as irrelevant ones.

Contexts

The method of Markov processes is powerful, but is suffers from a serious problem. This problem is introduced by the necessity to symbolize certain qualities of the signal in advance to its usage in modeling.

We can’t use Markov processes directly on the raw textual data. Doing so instead would trap us in the symbolistic fallacy. We would either ascribe the symbol itself a meaning—which would result in a violation of the primacy of interpretation—or it would conflate the appearance of a symbol with its relevance, which would constitute a methodological mistake.

The way out of this situation is provided by a consequent probabilization. Generally we may well say that probabilisation takes the same role for quantitative sciences as the linguistic turn did for philosophy. Yet, it is still an attitude that is largely being neglected as a dedicated technique almost everywhere in any science. (for an example application of probabilisation with regard to evolutionary theory see this)

Instead of taking symbols as they are pretended to be found “out there”, we treat them as outcome of an abstract experiment, that is, as a random variable. Random variables establish them not as dual concepts, as 1 or 0, to be or not to be, they establish themselves as a probability distribution. Such a distribution contains potentially an infinite number of discretizations. Hence, probabilistic methods are always more general than those which rely on “given” symbols.

Kohonen et al. proposed a simple way to establish a random context [6]. The step from symbolic crispness to a numerical representation is not trivial, though. We need a double-articulated entity that is “at home” in both domains. This entity is a high-dimensional random fingerprint. Such a fingerprint consists simply of a large number, well above 100, of random values from the interval [0..1]. According to the Lemma of Hecht-Nielsen [7]  any two of such vectors are approximately orthogonal to each other. In other words, it is a name expressed by numbers.

After a recoding of all symbols in a text into their random fingerprints it is easy to establish  probabilistic distributions of the neighborhood of any word. The result is a random context, also called a random graph. The basic trick to accomplish such a distribution is to select a certain, fixed size for the neighborhood—say five or seven positions in total—and then arrange the word of interest always to a certain position, for instance into the middle position.

This procedure we do for all words in a text, or any symbolic series. Doing so, we get a collection of random contexts, that overlap. The final step then is a clustering of the vectors according to their similarity.

It is quite obvious that this procedure as it has been proposed by Kohonen sticks to strong assumptions, despite its turn to probabilization. The problem is the fixed order, that is, the order is independent from context in his implementation. Thus his approach is still limited in the same way as the n-gram approach (see chp.5.3 below). Yet, sometimes we meet strong inversions and extensions of relevant dependencies between words. Linguistics speak of injected islands with regard to wh*-phrases. Anaphors are another example. Chomsky critized the approach of fixed–size contexts very early.

Yet, there is no necessity to limit the methodology to fixed-size contexts, or to symmetrical instances of probabilistic contexts. Yes, of course this will result in a situation, where we corrupt the tabularity of the data representation. Many rows are different in their length and there is (absolutely) no justification to enforce a proper table by filling “missing values” into the “missing” cells of the table

Fortunately, there is another (probabilistic) technique that could be used to arrive at a proper table, without distorting the content by adding missing values. This technique is random projection, first identified by Johnson & Lindenstrauss (1984), which in the case of free-sized contexts has to be applied in an adaptive manner (see [8] or [9] for a more recent overview). Usually, a source (n*p) matrix (n=rows, p=columns=dimensions) is multiplied with a (p*k) random matrix, where the random numbers follow a Gaussian distribution), resulting in a target matrix of only k dimensions and n rows. This way a matrix of 10000+ columns can be projected into one made only from 100 columns without loosing much information. Yet, using the lemma of Hecht-Nielsen we can compress any of the rows of a matrix individually. Since the random vectors are approximately orthogonal to each other we won’t introduce any information across all the data vectors that are going to be fed into the SOM. This stepwise operation becomes quite important for large amounts of documents, since in this case we have to adopt incremental learning.

Such, we approach slowly but steadily the generalized probabilistic context that we described earlier. The proposal is simply that in dealing with texts by means of computers we have to apply precisely the most general notion of context, which is devoid from structural pre-occupations as we can meet them e.g. in the case of n-grams or Markov processes.

5. Computers Dealing with Text

Currently, so-called “text mining” is a hot topic. More and more of human communication is supported by digitally based media and technologies, hence more and more texts are accessible to computers without much efforts. People try to use textual data from digital environments for instance to do sentiment analysis about companies, stocks, or persons, mainly in the context of marketing. The craziness there is that they pretend to classify a text’s sentiment without understanding it, more or less on the frequency of scattered symbols.

The label “text mining” reminds to “data mining”; yet, the structure of the endeavors are drastically different. In data mining one is always interested in the relevant variables n order to build a sparse model that even could be understood by human clients. The model then in turn is used to optimize some kind of process from which the data for modeling has been extracted.

In the following we will describe some techniques, methods and attitudes that are highly unsuitable for the treatment of textual “data”, despite the fact that they are widely used.

Fault 1 : Objectivation

The most important difference between the two flavor of “digital mining” concerns however, the status of the “data”. In data mining, one deals with measurements that are arranged in a table. This tabular form is only possible on the basis of a preceding symbolization, which additionally is strictly standardized also in advance to the measurement.

In text mining this is not possible. There are no “explanatory” variables that could be weighted. Text mining thus just means to find a reasonable selection of text in response to a “query”. For textual data it is not possible to give any criterion how to look at a text, how to select a suitable reference corpus for determining any property of the text, or simply to compare it to other texts before its interpretation. There are no symbols, no criteria that could be filled into a table. And most significant, there is no target that could be found “in the data”.

It is devoid of any sense to try to optimize a selection procedure by means of a precision/recall ratio. This would mean that the meaning of text could be determined objectively before any interpretation, or, likewise, that the interpretation of a text is standardisable up to a formula. Both attempts are not possible, claiming otherwise is ridiculous.

People responded to these facts with a fierce endeavor, which ironically is called “ontology”, or even “semantic web”. Yet, neither will the web ever become “semantic” nor is database-based “ontology” a reasonable strategy (except for extremely standardized tasks). The idea in both cases is to determine the meaning of an entity before its actual interpretation. This of course is utter nonsense, and the fact that it is nonsense is also the reason why the so-called “semantic web” never started to work. They guys should really do more philosophy.

Fault 2 : Thinking in Frequencies

A popular measure for describing the difference of texts are variants of the so-called tf-idf measure. “tf” means “term frequency” and describes the normalized frequency of a term within a document. “idf” means “inverse document frequency”, which, actually, refers to the frequency of a word across all documents in a corpus.

The frequency of a term, even its howsoever differentialized frequency, can hardly be taken as the relevance of that term given a particular query. To cite the example from the respective entry in Wikipedia, what is “relevant” to select a document by means of the query “the brown cow”? Sticking to terms makes sense only if and only if we accept an apriori contract about the strict limitation to the level of the terms. Yet, this has nothing to do with meaning. Absolutely nothing. It is comparing pure graphemes, not even symbols.

Even if it would be related to meaning it would be the wrong method. Simply think about a text that contains three chapters: chapter one about brown dogs, chapter two about the relation of (lilac) cows and chocolate, chapter three about black & white cows. There is no phrase about a brown cow in the whole document, yet, it would certainly be selected as highly significant by the search engine.

This example nicely highlights another issue. The above mentioned hypothetical text could nevertheless be highly relevant, yet only in the moment the user would see it, triggering some idea that before not even was on the radar. Quite obviously, despite the search would have been different, probably, the fact remains that the meaning is neither in the ontology nor in the frequency and also not in text as such—before the actual interpretation by the user. The issue becomes more serious if we’d consider slightly different colors that still could count as “brown”, yet with a completely different spelling. And even more, if we take into account anaphoric arrangement.

The above mentioned method of Markov processes helps a bit, but not completely of course.

Astonishingly, even the inventors of the WebSom [6], probably the best model for dealing with textual data so far, commit the frequency fallacy. As input for the second level SOM they propose a frequency histogram. Completely unnecessary, I have to add, since the text “within” the primary SOM can be mapped easily to a Markov process, or to probabilistic contexts, of course. Interestingly, any such processing that brings us from the first to the second layer reminds somewhat more to image analysis than to text analysis. We mentioned that already earlier in the essay “Waves, Words and Images”.

Fault 3 : The Symbolistic Fallacy (n-grams & co.)

Another really popular methodology to deal with texts is n-grams. N-grams are related to Markov processes, as they also take the sequential order into account. Take for instance (again the example from Wiki) the sequence “to be or not to be”. The transformation into a 2-gram (or bi-gram) looks such “to be, be or, or not, not to, to be,” (items are between commas), while the 3-gram transformation produces “to be or, be or not, or not to, not to be”. In this way, the n-gram can be conceived as a small extract from a transition table of order (n-1). N-grams share a particular weakness with simple Markov models, which is the failure to capture long-range dependencies in language. These can be addressed only by means of deep grammatical structures. We will return to this point later in the discussion of the next fault No.4 (Structure as Meaning).

The strange thing is that people drop the tabular representation, thus destroying the possibility of calculating things like adjusted residuals. Actually, n-grams are mostly just counted, which is committing the first fault of thinking in frequencies, as described above.

N-gram help to build queries against databases that are robust against extensions of words, that is prefixes, suffixes, or forms of verbs due to flexing. All this has, however, nothing to do with meaning. It is a basic and primitive means to make symbolic queries upon symbolic storages more robust. Nothing more.

The real problem is the starting point: taking the term as such. N-grams start with individual words that are taken blindly as symbols. Within the software doing n-grams, they are even replaced by some arbitrary hash code, i.e. the software does not see a “word”, it deals just with a chunk of bits.

This way, using n-grams for text search commits the symbolistic fallacy, similar to ontologies, but even on a more basic level. In turn this means that the symbols are taken as “meaningful” for themselves. This results in a hefty collision with the private-language-argument put forward by Wittgenstein a long time ago.

N-grams are certainly more advanced than the nonsense based on tf-idf. Their underlying intention is to reflect contexts. Nevertheless, they fail as well. The ultimate reason for the failure is the symbolistic starting point. N-grams are only a first, though far too trivial and simplistic step into probabilization.

There is already a generalisation of n-grams available as described in published papers by Kohonen & Kaski: random graphs, based on random contexts, as we described it above. Random graphs overcome the symbolistic fallacy, especially if used together with SOM. Well, honestly I have to say that random graphs imply the necessity of a classification device like the SOM. This should not be considered as being a drawback, since n-grams are anyway often used together with Bayesian inference. Bayesian methods are, however, not able to distil types from observations as SOM are able to do. That now is indeed a drawback since in language learning the probabilistic approach necessarily must be accompanied with the concept of (linguistic) types.

Fault 4 : Structure as Meaning

The deep grammatical structure is an indispensable part of human languages. It is present from the sub-word level up to the level of rhetoric. And it’s gonna get really complicated. There is a wealth of rules, most of them to be followed rather strict, but some of them are applied only in a loose manner. Yet, all of them are rules, not laws.

Two issues are coming up here that are related to each other. The first one concerns the learning of a language. How do we learn a language? Wittgenstein proposed, simply by getting shown how to use it.

The second issue concerns the status of the models about language. Wittgenstein repeatedly mentioned that there is no possibility for a meta-language, and after all we know that Carnap’s program of a scientific language failed (completely). Thus we should be careful when applying a formalism to language, whether it is some kind of grammar, or any of the advanced linguistic “rules” that we know of today (see the lexicon of linguistics for that). We have to be aware that these symbolistic models are only projective lists of observations, arranged according to some standard of a community of experts.

Linguistic models are drastically different from models in physics or any other natural science, because in linguistics there is no outer reference. (Computational) Linguistics is mostly on the stage of a Babylonian list science [10], doing more tokenizing than providing useful models, comparable to biology in the 18th century.

Language is a practice. Language is a practice of human beings, equipped with a brain and embedded in a culture. In turn language itself is contributing to cultural structures and is embedded into it. There are many spatial, temporal and relational layers and compartments to distinguish. Within such arrangements, meaning happens in the course of an ongoing interpretation, which in turn is always a social situation. See Robert Brandom’s Making it Explicit as an example for an investigation of this aspect.

What we definitely have to be aware of is that projecting language onto a formalism, or subordinating language to an apriori defined or standardized symbolism (like in formal semantics) looses essentially everything language is made from and referring to. Any kind of model of a language is implicitly also claiming that language can be detached from its practice and from its embedding without loosing its main “characteristics”, its potential and its power. In short, it is the claim that structure conveys meaning.

This brings us to the question about the role of structure in language. It is a fact that humans not only understand sentences full of grammatical “mistakes”, and quite well so, in spoken language we almost always produce sentences that are full of grammatical mistakes. In fact, “mistakes” are so abundant that it becomes questionable to take them as mistakes at all. Methodologically, linguistics is thus falling back into a control science, forgetting about the role and the nature of symbolic rules such as it is established by grammar. The nature is an externalization, the role is to provide a standardization, a common basis, for performing interpretation of sentences and utterances in a reasonable time (almost immediately) and in a more or less stable manner. The empirical “given” of a sentence alone, even a whole text alone, can not provide enough evidence for starting with interpretation, nor even to finish it. (Note that a sentence is never a “given”.)

Texts as well as spoken language are nothing that could be controlled. There is no outside of language that would justify that perspective. And finally, a model should allow for suitable prediction, that is, it should enable us to perform a decision. Here we meet Chomsky’s call for competence. In case of language, a linguistic models should be able to produce language as a proof of concept. Yet, any attempt so far failed drastically, which actually is not really a surprise. Latest here it should become clear that the formal models of linguistics, and of course all the statistical approaches to “language processing” (another crap term from computational linguistics) are flawed in a fundamental way.

From the perspective of our interests here on the “Putnam Program” we conceive of formal properties as Putnam did in his “Meaning of “Meaning””. Formal properties are just that: properties among other properties. In our modeling essay we proposed to replace the concept of properties by the concept of the assignate, in order to emphasize the active role of the modeling instance in constructing and selecting the factors. Sometimes we use formal properties of terms and phrases, sometimes not, dependent on context, purpose or capability. There is neither a strict tie of formal assignates to the entity “word” or “sentence” nor could we detach them as part of formal approach.

Fault 5 : Grouping, Modeling and Selection

Analytic formal models are a strange thing, because such a model essentially claims that there is no necessity for a decision any more. Once the formula is there, it claims a global validity. The formula denies the necessity for taking the context as a structural element into account. It claims a perfect separation between observer and the observed. The global validity also means that the weights of the input factors are constant, or even that there are no such weights. Note that the weights translates directly into the implied costs of a choice, hence formulas also claim that the costs are globally constant, or at least, arranged in a smooth differentiable space. This is of course far from any reality for almost any interesting context, and of course for the contexts of language and urbanism, both deeply related to the category of the “social”.

This basic characteristic hence limits the formal symbolic approach to physical, if not just to celestial and atomic contexts. Trivial contexts, so to speak. Everywhere else something rather different is necessary. This different thing is classification as we introduced it first in our essay about modeling.

Searching for a text and considering a particular one as a “match” to the interests expressed by the search is a selection, much like any other “decision”. It introduces a notion of irreversibility. Searching itself is a difficult operation, even so difficult that is questionable whether we should follow this pattern at all. As soon as we start to search we enter the grammatological domain of “searching”. This means that we claim the expressibility of our interests in the search statement.

This difficulty is nicely illustrated by an episode with Gary Kasparov in the context of his first battle against “Deep Blue”. Given the billions of operations the super computer performed, a journalist came up with the question “How do find the correct move so fast?” Obviously, the journalist was not aware about the mechanics of that comparison. Kasparov answered: “ I do not search, I just find it.” His answer is not perfectly correct, though, as he should have said “I just do it”. In a conversation we mostly “just do language”. We practice it, but we very rarely search for a word, an expression, or the like. Usually, our concerns are on the strategic level, or in terms of speech act theory, on the illocutionary level.

Such we arrive now at the intermediary result that we have some kind of non-analytical models on the one hand, and the performance of their application on the other. Our suggestion is that most of these models are situated on an abstract, orthoregulative level, and almost never on the representational level of the “arrangement” of words.

A model has a purpose, even if it is an abstract one. There are no models without purpose. The purpose is synonymic to the selection. Often, we do not explicitly formulate a purpose, we just perform selections in a consistent manner. It is this consistency in the selections that imply a purpose. The really important thing to understand is also that the abstract notion of purpose is also synonymic to what we call “perspective”, or point of view.

One could mention here the analytical “models”, but those “models” are not models because they are devoid of a purpose. Given any interesting empirical situation, everybody knows that things may look quite different, just dependent on the “perspective” we take. Or in our words, which abstract purpose we impose to the situation. The analytic approach denies such a “perspectivism”.

The strange thing now is that many people mistake the mere clustering of observation on the basis of all contributing or distinguished factors as a kind of model. Of course, that grouping will radically change if we withdraw some of the factors, keeping only a subset of all available ones. Not only the grouping changes, but also the achievable typology and any further generalization will be also very different. In fact, any purpose, and even the tuning of the attitude towards the risk (costs) of unsuitable decisions changes the set of suitable factors. Nothing could highlight more the nonsense to call naïve take-it-all-clustering a “unsupervised modeling”. First, it is not a model. Second, any clustering algorithm or grouping procedure follows some optimality criterion, that is it supervises it despite claiming the opposite. “Unsupervised modeling” claims implicitly that it is possible to build a suitable model by pure analytic means, without any reference to the outside at all. This is, f course, not possible. It is this claim that is introducing a contradiction to the practice itself, because clustering usually means classification, which is not an analytic move at all. Due to this self-contradiction the term “unsupervised modeling” is utter nonsense. It is not only nonsense, it is even deceiving, as people get vexed by the term itself: they indeed believe that they are modeling in a suitable manner.

Now back to the treatment of texts. One of the most advanced procedures—it is a non-analytical one—is the WebSom. We described it in more detail in previous essays (here and here). Yet, as the second step Kohonen proposes clustering as a suitable means to decide about the similarity of texts. He is committing exactly the same mistake as described before. The trick, of course, is to introduce (targeted) modeling to the comparison of texts, despite the fact that there are no possible criteria apriori. What seems to be irresolvable disappears, however, as a problem if we take into account the self-referential relations of discourses, which necessarily engrave into the interpreter as self-modifying structural learning and historical individuality.

6. The Statistics of Urban Environments

The Importance of Conceptual Backgrounds

There is no investigation without implied purpose, simply because any investigation has to perform more often many selections rather than just some. One of the more influential selections that has to be performed considers the scope of the investigation. We already met this issue above when we discussed the affairs as we can meet it in behavioral sciences.

Considering investigations about social entities like urban environments, architecture or language. “scope” largely refers to the status of the individual, and in turn, to the status of time that we instantiate in our investigation. Both together establish the dimension of form as an element of the space of expressibility that we choose for the investigation.

Is the individual visible at all? I mean, in the question, in the method and after applying a methodology? For instance, as soon as we ask about matters of energy, individuals disappear. They also disappear if we apply statistics to raw observations, even if at first hand we would indeed observe individuals as individuals. To retain the visibility of individuals as individuals in a set of relations we have to apply proper means first. It is clear, that any cumulative measure like those from socio-economics also cause the disappearance of the context and the individual.

If we keep the individuals alive in our method, the next question we have to ask concerns the relations between the individuals. Do we keep them or do we drop them? Finally, regarding the unfolding of the processes that result from the temporal dynamics of those relations, we have to select whether we want to keep aspects of form or not. If you think that the way a text unfolds or the way things are happening in the urban environment is at least as important as their presence,  well in this case you would have to care about patterns.

It is rather crucial to understand that these basic selections determine the outcome of an investigation as well as of any modeling or even theory building as grammatological constraints. Once we took a decision on the scope, the problematics of that choice becomes invisible, completely transparent. This is the actual reason for the fact that choosing a reductionist approach as the first step is so questionable.

In our earlier essay about the belief system in modernism we emphasized the inevitability of the selection of a particular metaphysical stance, ways before we even think about the scope of an investigation in a particular domain. In case of modernistic thinking, from positivism to existentialism, including any shape of materialism, the core of the belief system is metaphysical independence, shaping all the way down towards politics methods, tools, attitudes and strategies. If you wonder whether there is an alternative to modernistic thinking, take a look to our article where we introduce the concept of the choreostemic space.

Space Syntax

In the case of “Space Syntax” the name is program. The approach is situated in urbanism; it has been developed and is still being advocated by Bill Hillier. Originally, Hillier was a geo-scientist, which is somewhat important to follow his methodology.

Put into a nutshell, the concept of space syntax claims that the description of the arrangement of free space in a built environment is necessary and sufficient for describing the quality of a city. The method of choice to describe that arrangement is statistics, either through the concept of probabilistic density of people or through the concept of regression, relating physical characteristics of free space with the density of people. Density in turn is used to capture the effect of collective velocity vectors. If people start to slow down, walking around in different directions, density increases. Density of course also increases as a consequence of narrow passages. Yet, in this case the vectors are strongly aligned.

The spatial behavior of individuals is a result and a means of social behavior in many animal species. Yet it makes a difference whether we consider the spatial behavior of individuals or the arrangement of free space in a city as a constraint of the individual spatial behavior. Hillier’s claim of “The Space is the Machine” is mistaking the one for the other.

In his writings, Hillier over and over again commits the figure of the petitio principii. He starts with the strong belief in analytics and upon that he tries to justify the use of analytical techniques. His claim of “The need for an analytic theory of architecture” ([11], p.40) is just one example. He writes

The answer proposed in this chapter is that once we accept that the object of architectural theory is the non-discursive — that is, the configurational — content of space and form in buildings and built environments, then theories can only be developed by learning to study buildings and built environments as non-discursive objects.

Excluding the discourse as a constitutional element only the analytic remains. He drops any relational account, focusing just the physical matter and postulating meaning of physical things, i.e. meaning as an apriori in the physical things. His problem is just his inability to distinguish different horizons of time, of temporal development. Dismissing time means to dismiss memory, and of course also culture. For a physicalist or ultra-modernist like him this blindness is constitutive. He never will understand the structure of his failure.

His dismissal of social issues as part of a theory serves eo ipso as his justification of the whole methodology. This is only possible due to another, albeit consistent, mistake, the conflation of theory and models. Hillier is showing us over and over again only models, yet not any small contribution to an architectural theory. Applying statistics shows us a particular theoretical stance, but is not to be taken as such! Statistics instantiates those models, that is his architectural theory is following largely the statistical theory. We repeatedly pointed to the problems that appear if we apply statistics to raw observations.

The high self-esteem Hillier expresses in his nevertheless quite limited writings is topped by treating space as syntax, in other words as a trivial machine. Undeniably, human beings have a material body, and buildings take space as material arrangements. Undeniably matter arranges space and constitutes space. There is a considerably discussion in philosophy about how we could approach the problematic field of space. We won’t go into details here, but Hillier simply drops the whole stuff.

Matter arranges in space. This becomes quickly a non-trivial insight, if we change perspective from abstract matter and the correlated claim of the possibility of reductionism to spatio-temporal processes, where the relations are kept taken as a starting point. We directly enter the domain of self-organization.

By means of “Space Syntax” Hillier claimed to provide a tool for planning districts of a city, or certain urban environments. If he would restrict his proposals to certain aspects of the anonymized flow of people and vehicles, it would be acceptable as a method. But it is certainly not a proper tool to describe the quality of urban environments, or even to plan them.

Recently, he delivered a keynote speech [12] where he apparently departed from his former Space Syntax approach, that reaches back to 1984. There he starts with the following remark.

On the face of it, cities as complex systems are made of (at least) two sub-systems: a physical sub-system, made up of buildings linked by streets, roads and infrastructure; and a human sub-system made up of movement, interaction and activity. As such, cities can be thought of as socio-technical systems. Any reasonable theory of urban complexity would need to link the social and technical sub-systems to each other.

This clearly is much less reductionist, at first sight at least, than “Space Syntax”. Yet, Hillier remains aligned to hard-core positivism. Firstly, in the whole speech he fails to provide a useful operationalization of complexity. Secondly, his Space Syntax simply appears wrapped in new paper. Agency for him is still just spatial agency. The relevant urban networks for him is just the network of streets. Thirdly, it is bare nonsense to separate a physical and a human subsystem, and then to claim the lumping together of those as a socio-technical system. He obviously is unaware of more advance and much more appropriate ways of thinking about culture, such as ANT, the Actor-Network-Theory (Bruno Latour), which precisely drops the categorical separation of physical and human. This separation has been first critized by Merlau-Ponty in the 1940ies!

Hillier served us just as an example, but you may have got the point. Occasionally, one can meet attempts that at least try to integrate a more appropriate concept of culture and human being in urban environments. Think about Koolhaas and his AMO/OMA, for instance, despite the fact that Koolhaas himself also struggles with the modernist mindset (see our introductions into “JunkSpace” or “The Generic City”). Yet, he at least recognized that something is fundamentally problematic with that.

7. The Toolbox Perspective

Most of the interesting and relevant systems are complex. It is simply a methodological fault to use frequencies of observational elements to describe these systems, whether we are dealing with animals, texts, urban environments or people (dogs, cats) moving around in urban environments.

Tools provide filters, they respond to certain issues, both of the signal and of the embedding. Tools are artifacts for transformation. As such they establish the relationality between actors, things and processes. Tools produce and establish Heidegger’s “Gestell” as well as they constitute the world as a fabric of relations as facts and acts, as Wittgenstein emphasized so often and already in the beginning of the Tractatus.

What we like to propose here is a more playful attitude towards the usage of tools, including formal methods. By “playful” we refer to Wittgenstein’s rule following, but also to a certain kind of experimentation, not induced by theory, but rather triggered by the know-how of some techniques that are going to be arranged. Tools as techniques, or techniques as tools are used to distil symbols from the available signals. Their relevancy is determined only by the subsequent step of classification, which in turn is (ortho-)regulated by strategic goal or cultural habits. Never, however, should we take a particular method as a representative for the means to access meaning from a process, let it a text or an urban environment.

8. Behavior

In this concluding chapter we are going to try to provide more details about our move to apply the concept of behavior to urbanism and computational linguistics.

Text

Since Friedrich Schleiermacher in 1830ies, hermeneutics is emphasizing a certain kind of autonomy of the text. Of course, the text itself is not a living thing as we consider it for animals. Before it “awakes” it has to be entered into mind matter, or more generally, it has to be interpreted. Nevertheless, an autonomy of the text remains, largely due to the fact that there is no Private Language. The language is not owned by the interpreting mind. Vilem Flusser proposed to radically turn the perspective and to conceive the interpreter as medium for texts and other “information”, rather than the other way round.

Additionally, the working of the brain is complex, least to say. Our relation to our own brain and our own mind is more that of an observer than that of a user or even controller. We experience them. Both together, the externality of language and the (partial) autonomy of the brain-mind lead to an arrangement where the text becomes autonomous. It inherits complimentary parts of independence from both parts of the world, from the internal and the external.

Furthermore, human languages are unlimited in their productivity. It is not only unlimited, it also is extensible. This pairs with its already mentioned deep structure, not only concerning the grammatical structure. Using language, or better, mastering language means to play with the inevitable inner contradictions that appear across the various layers, levels, aspects and processes of applied language. Within practiced language, there are many time horizons, instantiated by structural and semantic pointers. These aspects render the original series of symbols into an associative network of active components, which contributes further to the autonomy of texts. Roland Barthes notes (in [17]) that

The Plural of the Text depends … not on the ambiguity of its contents but on what might be called the sterographic plurality of its weave of signifiers (etymologically, the text is a tissue, a woven fabric). The reader of the Text may be compared to someone at a loose end.

Barthes implicitly emphasizes that the text does not convey a meaning, the meaning is not in the text, it can’t be conceived as something externalizable. In this essay he also holds that a text can’t be taken as just a single object. It is a text only in the context of other texts, and so the meaning that it develops upon interpretation is also dependent on the corpus into which it is embedded.

Methodologically, this (again) highlights the problematics that Alan Hajek called the reference class problem [13]. It is impossible for an interpreter to develop the meaning of a text outside of a previously chosen corpus. This dependency is inherited by any phrase, any sentence and any word within the text. Even a label like “IBM” that seems to be bijectively unique regarding the mapping of the graphem to its implied meaning is dependent on that. Of course, it will always refer somehow to the company. Yet, without the larger context it is not clear in any sense to which aspect of that company and its history the label refers to in a particular case. In literary theory this is called intertextuality. Further more, it is almost palpable here in this example that signs refer only to signs (the cornerstone of Peircean semiotics), and that concepts are nothing that could be defined (as we argued earlier in more detail).

We may settle here that a text as well as any part of it is established even through the selection of the embedding corpus, or likewise, a social practice, a life-form. Without such an embedding the text simply does not exist as a text. We just would find a series of graphemes. It is a hopeless exaggeration , if not self-deception, if people call the statistical treatment of texts “text mining”. reading it in another way, it may be considered even as a cynical term.

It is this dependence on local and global contexts, synchronically and diachronically, that renders the interpretation of a text similar to the interpretation of animal behavior.

Taken together, conceiving of texts as behaving systems is probably less a metaphor than it appears at first sight. Considering the way we make sense of a text, approaching a text is in many ways comparable with approaching an animal of a familiar species. We won’t know exactly what is going to happen, the course of events and action depends significantly on ourselves. The categories and ascribed properties necessary to establish an interaction are quite undefined in the beginning, also available only as types of rules, not as readily parameterized rules itself. And like in animals, the next approach will never be a simple repetition of the former one, even one knows the text quite good.

From the methodological perspective the significance of such a “behavioral turn”3 can’t be underestimated. For instance, nobody would interpret an animal by a rather short series of photographs, and keep the conclusion thereof once and for all. Interacting with a text as if it would behave demands for a completely different set of procedures. After all, one would deal with an open interaction. Such openness must be responded to with an appropriate attitude of the willingness for open structural learning.  This holds not only for human interpreters, but rather also for any interpreter, even if it would be software. In other words, the software dealing with text must itself be active in a non-analytical manner in order to constitute what we call a “text”. Any kind of algorithm (in the definition of Knuth) does not deal with text, but just and blindly with a series of dead graphemes.

The Urban

For completely different material reasons cities can be considered also as autonomous entities. Their patterns of growth and differentiation looks much more like that of ensembles of biological entities than that of minerals. Of course, this doesn’t justify the more or less naïve assignment of the “city as organism”. Urban arrangements are complex in the sense we’ve defined it, they are semiogenic and associative. There is a continuous contest between structure as regulation and automation on the one side and liquification as participation and symbolization on the other, albeit symbols may play for both parties.

Despite this autonomy, it remains a fact that without human activity cities are as little alive as texts are. This raises the particular question of the relationships between a city and its inhabitants, between the people as citizens of the city that they constitute. This topic has been subject of innumerable essay, novels, and investigations. Recently, a fresh perspective onto that has been opened by Vera Bühlmann’s notion of the “Quantum City”.[14]

We can neither detach the citizens from their city, not vice versa. Nevertheless, the standardized and externalized collective contribution across space and time creates an arrangement that produces dissipative flows and shows a strong meta-stability that transcends the activities of the individuals. This stability should not be mistaken as a “state”, though. Like for any other complex system, including texts, we should avoid to try to assign a “state” to a particular city, or even a part of it. Everything is a process within a complex system, even if it appears to be rather stable. yet, this stability depends on the perspective of the observer. In turn, the seeming stability does not mean that a city-process could not be destroyed by human activity, let it be by individuals (Nero), by a collective, or by socio-economic processes. Yet, again as in case of complex systems, the question of causality would be the wrong starting point for addressing the issue of change as it would be a statistical description.

Cities and urban environments are fabrics of relations between a wide range of heterogenic and heterotopic (See Foucault or David Shane [15]) entities and processes across a likewise large range of temporal scales, meeting any shade between the material and the immaterial. There is the activity of single individuals, of collectives of individuals, of legislative and other norms, the materiality of the buildings and their changing usage and roles, different kinds of flows and streams as well as stores and memories.

Elsewhere we argued that this fabric may be conceived as a dynamic ensemble of associative networks [16]. Those should be clearly distinguished from logistic networks, whose purpose is given by organizing any kind of physical transfer. Associative networks re-arrange, sort, classify and learn. Such, they are also the abstract location of the transposition of the material into the immaterial. Quite naturally, issues of form and their temporal structure arise, in other words, behavior.

Our suggestion thus is to conceive of a city as en entity that behaves. This proposal has (almost) nothing to do with the metaphor of the “city as organism”, a transfer that is by far too naïve. Changes in urban environments are best conceived as “outcomes” of probabilistic processes that are organized as overlapping series, both contingent and consistent. The method of choice to describe those changes is based on the notion of the generalized context.

Urban Text, Text and Urbanity, Textuality and Performance

Urban environments establish or even produce a particular kind of mediality. We need not invoke the recent surge of large screens in many cities for that. Any arrangement of facades encodes a rich semantics that is best described employing a semiotic perspective, just as Venturi proposed it. Recently, we investigated the relationship between facades, whether made from stone or from screens, and the space that they constitute [17].

There is yet another important dimension between the text and the city. For many hundred years now, if not even millenia, cities are not imaginable without text in one or the other form. Latest since the early 19th century, text and city became deeply linked to one another with the surge of newspapers and publishing houses, but also through the intricate linkage between the city and the theater. Urban culture is text culture, far more than it could be conceived as an image culture. This tendency is only intensified through the web, albeit urbanity now gets significantly transformed by and into the web-based aspects of culture. At least we may propose that there is a strong co-evolution between the urban (as entity and as concept) and mediality, whether it expresses itself as text, as movie or as webbing.

The relationship between the urban and the text has been explored many times. It started probably with Walter Benjamin’s “flâneur” (for an overview see [18]). Nowadays, urbanists often refer to the concept of the “readability” of a city layout, a methodological habit originated by Kevin Lynch. Yet, if we consider the relation between the urban and the textual, we certainly have to take an abstract concept of text, we definitely have to avoid the idea that there are items like characters or words out there in the city. I think, we should at least follow something like the abstract notion of textuality, as it has been devised by Roland Barthes in his “From Work to Text” [19] as a “methodological field”. Yet, this probably is still not abstract enough, as urban geographers like Henri Lefebvre mistook the concept of textuality as one of intelligibility [20]. Lefebvre obviously didn’t understand the working of a text. How should he, one might say, as a modernist (and marxist) geographer. All the criticism that was directed against the junction between the urban and textuality conceived­—as far as we know—text as something object-like, something that is out there as such, awaiting passively to be read and still being passive as it is being read, finally maybe even as an objective representation beyond the need (and the freedom for) interpretation. This, of course, represents a rather limited view on textuality.

Above we introduced the concept of “behaving texts”, that is, texts as active entities. These entities become active as soon as they are mediatized with interpreters. Again: not the text is conceived as the media or in a media-format, but rather the interpreter, whether it is a human brain-mind or a a suitable software tat indeed is capable for interpreting, not just for pre-programmed and blind re-coding. This “behavioral turn” renders “reading” a text, but also “writing” it, into a performance. Performances, on the other hand, comprise always and inevitable a considerable openness, precisely because they let collide the immaterial and the material from the side of the immaterial. Such, performances are the counterpart of abstract associativity, yet also settling at the surface that sheds matter from ideas.

In the introduction to their nicely edited book ”Performance and the City” Kim Solga, D.Hopkins and Shelley Orr [18] write, citing the urban geographer Nigel Thrift:

Although de Certeau conceives of ‘walking in the city’ not just as a textual experience but as a ‘series’ of embodied, creative’ practices’ (Lavery: 152), a ‘spatial acting-out of place’ (de Certeau: 98, our emphasis), Thrift argues that de Certeau: “never really leaves behind the operations of reading and speech and the sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit claim that these operations can be extended to other practices. In turn, this claim [ … ] sets up another obvious tension, between a practice-based model of often illicit ‘behaviour’ founded on enunciative speech-acts and a text-based model of ‘representation’ which fuels functional social systems.” (Thrift 2004: 43)

Quite obviously, Thrift didn’t manage to get the right grip to Certeau’s proposal that textual experience may be conceived—I just repeat it— as a series of embodied, creative practices. It is his own particular blindness that lets Thrift denunciate texts as being mostly representational.

Solsa and colleagues indeed emphasize the importance of performance, not just in their introduction, but also through their editing of the book. Yet, they explicitly link textuality and performance as codependent cultural practices. They write:

While we challenge the notion that the city is a ‘text’ to be read and (re)written, we also argue that textuality and performativity must be understood as linked cultural practices that work together to shape the body of phenomenal, intellectual, psychic, and social encounters that frame a subject’s experience of the city. We suggest that the conflict, collision, and contestation between texts and acts provoke embodied struggles that lead to change and renewal over time. (p.6)

Such, we find a justification for our “behavioral turn” and its application to texts as well as to the urban from a rather different corner. Even more significant, Solsa et al. seem to agree that performativity and textuality could not be detached from the urban at all. Apparently, the urban as a particular quality of human culture more and more develops into the main representative of human culture.

Yet, neither text nor performance, nor their combination count for a full account of the mediality of the urban. As we already indicated above, the movie as kind of a cross-media from text, image, and performance is equally important.

The relations between film and the urban, between architecture and the film, are also quite wide-spread. The cinema, somehow the successor of the theatre, could be situated only within the city. From the opposite direction, many would consider a city without cinemas as being somehow incomplete. The co-evolutionary story between both is still being under vivid development, I think.

There is particularly one architect/urbanist who is able to blend the film and the building into each other. You may know him quite well, I refer to Rem Koolhaas. Everybody knows that he has been an experimental moviemaker in his youth. It is much less known that he deliberately organized at least one of his buildings as kind of a movie: The Embassy of the Netherlands in Berlin (cf. [21]).

Here, Koolhaas arranged the rooms along a dedicated script. Some of the views out of the window he even trademarked to protect them!

Figure 1: Rem Koolhaas, Dutch Embassy, Berlin. The figure shows the script of pathways as a collage (taken from [21]).

9. The Behavioral Turn

So far we have shown how the behavioral turn could be supported and which are some of the first methodological consequences, if we embrace it. Yet, the picture developed so far is not complete, of course.

If we accept the almost trivial concept that autonomous entities are best conceived as behaving entities—remember that autonomy implies complexity—, then we further can ask about the structure of the relationship between the behaving subject and its counterpart, whether this is also a behaving subject or whether it is conceived more like passive object. For Bruno Latour, for instance, both together form a network, thereby blurring the categorical distinction between both.

Most descriptions of the process of getting into touch with something nowadays is dominated by the algorithmic perspective of computer software. Even Designer started to speak about interfaces. The German term for the same thing—“Schnittstelle”—is even more pronounced and clearly depicts the modernist prejudice in dealing with interaction. “Schnittstelle” implies that something, here the relation, is cut into two parts. A complete separation between interacting entities is assumed apriori. Such a separation is deeply inappropriate, since it would work only in strictly standardized environments, up to being programmed algorithmically. Precisely this was told us over and over again by designers of software “user interfaces”. Perhaps here we can find the reason for so many bad designs, not only concerning software. Fortunately, though just through a slow evolutionary process, things improve more and more. So-called “user-centric” design, or “experience-oriented” design became more abundant in recent years, but their conceptual foundation is still rather weak, or a wild mixture of fashionable habits and strange adaptations of cognitive science.

Yet, if we take the primacy of interpretation serious, and combine it with the “behavioral turn” we can see a much more detailed structure than just two parts cut apart.

The consequence of such a combination is that we would drop the idea of a clear-cut surface even for passive objects. Rather, we could conceive objects as being stuffed with a surrounding field that becomes stronger the closer we approach the object. By means of that field we distinguish the “pure” physicality from the semiotically and behaviorally active aspects.

This field is a simple one for stone-like matter, but even there it is still present. The field becomes much more rich, deep and vibrant if the entity is not a more or less passive object, but rather an active and autonomous subject. Such as an animal, a text, or a city. The reason being that there are no apriori and globally definable representative criteria that we could use to approach such autonomous entities. We only can know about more or less suitable procedures about how to derive such criteria in the particular case, approaching a particular individual {text, city}. The missing of such criteria is a direct correlate for their semantic productivity, or, likewise, for their unboundedness.

Approaching a semantically productive entity—such entities are also always able to induce new signs, they are semiosic entities—is reminds to approaching a gravitational field. Yet it is also very different from a gravitational field, since our semio-behavioral field shows increasing structural richness the closer the entities approach to each other. It is quite obvious that only by means of such a semio-behavioral field we can close the gap between the subject and the world that has been opened, or at least deepened by the modernist contributions from the times of Descartes until late computer science. Only upon a concept like the semio-behavioral field, which in turn is a consequence of the behavioral turn, we can overcome the existential fallacy as it has been purported and renewed over and over again by the dual pair of material and immaterial. The language game that separates the material and immaterial inevitably leads into the nonsensical abyss of existentialism. Dual concepts always come with tremendous costs, as they prevent any differentiated way of speaking about the matter. For instance, it prevents to recognize the materiality of symbols, or more precisely, the double-articulation of symbols between the more material and the more immaterial aspects of the world.

The following series of images may be taken as a metaphorical illustration of that semio-behavioral field. We call it the zona extima of the behavioral coating of entities.

Figure 2a: The semio-behavioral field around an entity.

Figure 2b: The situation as another entity approaches perceptively.

Figure 2c: Mutual penetration of semio-behavioral fields.

Taken together we may say, that whenever {sb,sth} gets into contact with {sb, sth}, we do so through the behavioral coating. This zone is of contact is not intimate (as Peter Sloterdijk describes it), it is rather extimate, though there is a smooth and graded change of quality from extimacy to intimacy as the distance decreases. The zona extima is a borderless (topological) field, driven by purposes (due to modelling), it is medial, behaviorally  choreographed as negotiation, exposure, call & request.

The concept of extimation, or also the process of extimating, is much more suitable than “interaction” to describe what‘s going on when we act, behave, engage, actively perceive, encounter with or towards the other. The interesting thing with the web-based media is that some aspects of zona extima can be transferred.

10. Conclusion

In this essay we try to argument in favor of a behavioral turn as a general attitude when it comes to conceive the interaction of any kind of two entities. The behavioral turn is a consequence of three major and interrelated assumptions:

  • – primacy of interpretation in the relation to the world;s;
  • – primacy of process and relation against matter and point;
  • – complexity and associativity in strongly mediatized environments.

All three assumptions are strictly outside of anything that phenomenological, positivist or modernist approaches can talk about or even practice.

It particularly allows to overcome the traditional and strict separation between the material and the immaterial, as well as the separation between the active and the passive. These shifts can’t be underestimated; they have far-reaching consequences upon the way we practice and conceive our world.

The behavioral turn is the consequence of a particular attitude that respects the bi-valency of world as a dynamic system of populations of relations. It is less the divide between the material and the immaterial, which anyway is somewhat an illusion deriving from the metaphysical claim of the possibility of essences. For instance, the jump that occurs between the realms of the informational and the causal establishes as a pair of two complimentary but strictly and mutually exclusive modes of speaking about the orderliness in the world. In some way, it is also the orderliness in the behavior of the observer—as repetition—that creates the informational that the observer than may perceive. The separation is thus a highly artificial one, in either direction. It is simply silly to discuss the issue of causality without referring to the informational aspects (for a full discussion of the issue see this essay). In any real-world case we always find both aspects together, and we find it as behavior.

Actually, the bi-valent aspect that I mentioned before refers to something quite different, in fact so different that we even can’t speak properly about it. It refers to these aspects that are apriori to modeling or any other comprehension, that are even outside to the performance of the individual itself. What I mean is the resistance of existential arrangements, inclusive the body that the comprehending entity is partially built from. This existential resistance introduces something like outer space for the cultural sphere. Needless to say that we can exist only within this cultural sphere. Yet, any action upon the world enforces us to take a short trip into the vacuum, and if we are lucky the re-entrance is even productive. We may well expect an intensification of the aspect of the virtual, as we argued here. Far from being suitable to serve as a primacy (as existentialism misunderstood the issue), the existential resistance, the absolute outside, enforces us to bark on the concept of behavior. Only “behavior” as a perceptional and performative attitude allows to extract coherence from the world without neglecting the fact of that resistance or contumacy.

The behavioral turn triggers a change in the methodology for empiric investigations as well. The standard set of methods for empiric descriptions changes, using the relation and the coherent series always as the starting point, best in its probabilized form, that is, as generalized probabilistic context. This also prevents the application of statistical methods directly to raw data. There should always be some kind of grouping or selection preceding the statistical reasoning. Otherwise we would try to follow the route that Wittgenstein blocked as a “wrong usage of symbols” (in his rejection of the reasonability of Russel/Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica). The concept of abstract behavior inclusive the advanced methodology that avoids to start with representational symbolification is clearly a sound way out of this deep problem from which any positivist empiric investigation suffers.

Interaction, including any action upon some other entity, when understood within the paradigm of behavior, becomes a recurrent, though not repetitive, self-adjusting process. During this process means and symbols may change and be replaced all the way down until a successful handshake. There is no objectivity in this process other than the mutual possibility for anticipation. Despite the existential resistance and contumacy that is attached to any re-shaping of the world, and even more so if we accomplish it by means of tools, this anticipation is, of course, greatly improved upon the alignment to cultural standards, contributing to the life-world as a shared space of immanence.

This provides us finally a sufficiently abstract, but also a sufficiently rich or manifold perspective on the issue of the roles of symbols regarding the text, the urban and the anime, the animal-like. None of those could be comprehended without first creating a catalog or a system of symbols. These symbols, both material and immaterial and thus kind of a hinge, a double-articulation, are rooted both in the embedding culture (as a de-empirifying selective force) and the individual, which constitutes another double-articulation. The concept of abstract behavior, given as a set of particular conditions and attitudes, allows to respond appropriately to the symbolic.

The really big question concerning our choreostemic capabilities—and those of the alleged machinic—therefore is: How to achieve the fluency in dealing with the symbolic without presuming it as a primary entity? Probably by exercising observing. I hope that the suggestions expressed so far in these essay provide some robust starting points. …we will see.

Notes

1. Here we simply cite the term of “information retrieval”, we certainly do not agree that the term is a reasonable one, since it is deeply infected by positivist prejudices. “Information” can’t be retrieved, because it is not “out there”. Downloading a digitally encoded text is neither a hunting nor a gathering for information, because information can’t be considered to be an object. Information is only present during the act of interpretation (more details about the status of information you can find here). Actually, what we are doing is simply “informationing”.

2. The notion of a “behavioral turn” is known from geography since the late 1960ies [22][23], and also from economics. In both fields, however, the behavioral aspect is related to the individual human being. In both areas, any level of abstraction with regard to the concept of behavior is missing. Quite in contrast to those movements, we do not focus on the neglect of the behavioral domain when it comes to human society, but rather the transfer of the abstract notion of behavior to non-living entities.

Another reference to “behavioral sciences” can be found in social sciences. Yet, in social sciences “behavioral” is often reduced to “behaviorist”, which of course is nonsense. A similar misunderstanding is abundant in political sciences.

3. Note that the proposed „behavioral turn“ should not be mistaken as a “behavioristic” move, as sort of a behaviorism. We strictly reject the stimulus-response scheme of the behaviorism. Actually, behaviorism as it has been developed by Watson and Pavlov has only little to do with behavior at all. It is nothing else than an overt reductionist program, rendering any living being into a trivial machine. Unfortunately, the primitive scheme of behaviorism is experiencing kind of a come-back in so-called “Behavioral Design”, where people talk about “triggers” much in the same way as Pavlov did (c.f. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model).

References

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۞

Modernism, revisited (and chunked)

July 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

There can be no doubt that nowadays “modernism”,

due to a series of intensive waves of adoption and criticism, returning as echoes from unexpected grounds, is used as a label, as a symbol. It allows to induce, to claim or to disapprove conformity in previously unprecedented ways, it helps to create subjects, targets and borders. Nevertheless, it is still an unusual symbol, as it points to a complex history, in other words to a putative “bag” of culture(s). As a symbol, or label, “modernity” does not point to a distinct object, process or action. It invokes a concept that emerged through history and is still doing so. Even as a concept, it is a chimaera. Still unfolding from practice, it did not yet move completely into the realm of the transcendental, to join other concepts in the fields most distant from any objecthood.

This Essay

Here, we continue the investigation of the issues raised by Koolhaas’ “Junkspace”. Our suggestion upon the first encounter has been that Koolhaas struggles himself with his attitude to modernism, despite he openly blames it for creating Junkspace. (Software as it is currently practiced is definitely part of it.) His writing bearing the same title thus gives just a proper list of effects and historical coincidences—nothing less, but also nothing more. Particularly, he provides no suggestions about how to find or construct a different entry point into the problematic field of “building urban environments”.

In this essay we will try to outline how a possible—and constructive—archaeology of modernism could look like, with a particular application to urbanism and/or architecture. The decisions about where to dig and what to build have been, of course, subjective. Of course, our equipment is, as almost always in archaeology, rather small, suitable for details, not for surface mining or the like. That is, our attempts are not directed towards any kind of completeness.

We will start by applying a structural perspective, which will yield the basic set of presuppositions that characterizes modernism. This will be followed by a discussion of four significant aspects, for which we will hopefully be able to demonstrate the way of modernist thinking. These four areas concern patterns and coherence, meaning, empiricism and machines. The third major section will deal with some aspects of contemporary “urbanism” and how Koolhaas relates to that, particularly with respect to his “Junkspace”. Note, however, that we will not perform a literary study of Koolhaas’ piece, as most of his subjects there can be easily deciphered on the basis of the arguments as we will show them in the first two sections.

The final section then comprises a (very) brief note about a possible future of urbanism, which actually, perhaps, already has been lifting off. We will provide just some very brief suggestions in order to not appear as (too) presumptuous.

Table of Content (active links)

1. A structural Perspective

According to its heterogeneity, the usage of that symbol “modernity” is fuzzy as well. While the journal Modernism/modernity, published by John Hopkins University Press, concentrates „on the period extending roughly from 1860 to the mid-twentieth century,“ while galleries for “Modern Art” around the world consider the historical period since post-Renaissance (conceived as the period between 1400 to roughly 1900) up today, usually not distinguishing modernism from post-modernism.

In order to understand modernism we have to take the risk of proposing a structure behind the mere symbolical. Additionally, and accordingly, we should resist the abundant attempt to define a particular origin of it. Foucault called those historians who were addicted to the calendar and the idea of the origin, the originator, or more abstract the “cause”, “historians in short trousers” (meaning a particular intellectual infantilism, probably a certain disability to think abstractly enough) [1]. History does not realize a final goal either, and similarly it is bare nonsense to claim that history came to an end. As in any other evolutionary process historical novelty builds on the leftover of preceding times.

After all, the usage of symbols and labels is a language game. It is precisely a modernist misunderstanding to dissect history into phases. Historical phases are not out there, or haven’t been  there. It is by far more appropriate to conceive it as waves, yet not of objects or ideas, but of probabilities. So, the question is what happened in the 19th century that it became possible to objectify a particular wave? Is it possible to give any reasonable answer here?

Following Foucault, we may try to reconstruct the sediments that fell out from these waves like the cripples of sand in the shallow water on the beach. Foucault’s main invention put forward then in his “Archaeology” [1] is the concept of the “field of proposals”. This field is not 2-dimensional, it is high-dimensional, yet not of a stable dimensionality. In many respects, we could conceive it as a historian’s extension of the Form of Life as Wittgenstein used to call it. Later, Foucault would include the structure of power, its exertion and objectifications, the governmentality into this concept.

Starting with the question of power, we can see an assemblage that is typical for the 19th century and the latest phase of the 18th. The invention of popular rights, even the invention of the population as a conscious and a practiced idea, itself an outcome of the French revolution, is certainly key for any development since then. We may even say that its shockwaves and the only little less shocking echoes of these waves haunted us till the end of the 20th century. Underneath the French Revolution we find the claim of independence that traces back to the Renaissance, formed into philosophical arguments by Leibniz and Descartes. First, however, it brought the Bourgeois, a strange configuration of tradition and the claim of independence, bringing forth the idea of societal control as a transfer from the then emerging intensification of the idea of the machine. Still exhibiting class-consciousness, it was at the roots of the modernists rejection of tradition. Yet, even the Bourgeois builds on the French Revolution (of course) and the assignment of a strictly positive value to the concept of densification.

Without the political idea of the population, the positive value of densification, the counter-intuitive and prevailing co-existence of the ideas of independence and control neither the direction nor the success of the sciences and their utilization in the field of engineering could have been emerging as it actually did. Consequently, right to the end of the hot phase of French Revolution, it was argued by Foucroy in 1794 that it would be necessary to found a „Ecole Polytechnique“1. Densification, liberalism and engineering brought another novelty of this amazing century: the first spread of mass media, newspapers in that case, which have been theorized only approx. 100 years later.

The rejection of tradition as part of the answer to the question “What’s next?” is perhaps one of the strongest feelings for the modernist in the 19th century. It even led to considerable divergence of attitudes across domains within modernism. For instance, while the arts rejected realism as a style building on “true representation,” technoscience embraced it. Yet, despite the rejection of immediate visual representations in the arts, the strong emphasis on objecthood and apriori objectivity remained fully in charge. Think of Kandinsky’s “Punkt und Linie zu Fläche“ (1926), or the strong emphasis of pure color (Malevich), even of the idea of purity itself, then somewhat paradoxically called abstractness, or the ideas of the Bauhaus movement about the possibility and necessity to objectify rules of design based on dot, line, area, form, color, contrast etc.. The proponents of Bauhaus, even their contemporary successors in Weimar (and elsewhere) never understood that the claim for objectivity particularly in design is impossible to be satisfied, it is a categorical fault. Just to avoid a misunderstanding that itself would be a fault of the same category: I personally find Kandinsky’s work mostly quite appealing, as well as some of the work by the Bauhaus guys, yet for completely different reasons that he (they) might have been dreaming of.

Large parts of the arts rejected linearity, while technoscience took it as their core. Yet, such divergences are clearly the minority. In all domains, the rejection of tradition was based on an esteem of the idea of independence and resulted predominantly in the emphasis of finding new technical methods to produce unseen results. While the emphasis of the method definitely enhances the practice of engineering, it is not innocent either. Deleuze sharply rejects the saliency of methods [10]:

Method is the means of that knowledge which regulates the collaboration of all the faculties. It is therefore the manifestation of a common sense or the realisation of a Cogitatio natura, […] (p.165)

Here, Deleuze does not condemn methods as such. Undeniably, it is helpful to explicate them, to erect a methodology, to symbolize them. Yet, culture should not be subordinated to methods, not even sub-cultures.

The leading technoscience of these days had been physics, closely followed by chemistry, if it is at all reasonable to separate the two. It brought the combustion engine (from Carnot to Daimler), electricity (from Faraday to Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla), the control of temperature (Kelvin, Boltzmann), the elevator, and consequently the first high-rise buildings along with a food industry. In the second half of 19th century it was fashionable for newspapers to maintain a section showing up the greatest advances and success of technoscience of the last week.

In my opinion it is eminently important to understand the linkage between the abstract ideas, growing from a social practice as their soil-like precursory condition, and the success of a particular kind of science. Independence, control, population on the one side, the molecule and its systematics, the steam and the combustion engine, electricity and the fridge on the other side. It was not energy (in the form of wood and coals) that could be distributed, electricity meant an open potential for an any  of potential [2]. Together they established a new Form of Life which nowadays could be called “modern,” despite the fact that its borders blur, if we could assume their existence at all. Together, combined into a cultural “brown bag,” these ingredients led to an acceleration, not to the least also due to the mere physical densification, an increase of the mere size of the population, produced (literally so) by advances in the physical and biomedical sciences.

At this point we should remind ourselves that factual success does neither legitimize to expect sustainable success nor to reason about any kind of universal legitimacy of the whole setup. The first figure would represent simply naivety, the second the natural fallacy, which seduces us to conclude from the actual (“what is”) to the deontical and the normative (“what should be”).

As a practice, the modern condition is itself dependent on a set of beliefs. These can neither be questioned nor discussed at all from within the “modern attitude,” of course. Precisely this circumstance makes it so difficult to talk with modernists about their beliefs. They are not only structurally invisible, something like a belief is almost categorically excluded qua their set of conditioning beliefs. Once accepted, these conditions can’t be accessed anymore, they are transcendental to any further argument put forward within the area claimed by these conditions. For philosophers, this figure of thought, the transcendental condition, takes the role of a basic technique. Other people like urbanists and architects might well be much less familiar with it, which could explain their struggling with theory.

What are these beliefs to which a proper modernist adheres to? My list would look like as that given below. The list itself is, of course, neither a valuation nor an evaluation.

  • – independence, ultimately taken as a metaphysical principle;
  • – belief in the primacy of identity against the difference, leading to the primacy of objects against the relation;
  • – linearity, additivity and reduction as the method of choice;
  • – analyticity and “lawfulness” for descriptions of the external world;
  • – belief in positively definable universals, hence, the rejection of belief as a sustaining mental figure;
  • – the belief in the possibility of a finally undeniable justification;
  • – belief that the structure of the world follows a bi-valent logic2, represented by the principle of objective causality, hence also a “logification” and “physicalization” of the concept of information as well as meaning; consequently, meaning is conceived as being attached to objects;
  • – the claim of a primacy of ontology and existential claims—as highlighted by the question “What is …?”—over instances of pragmatics that respect Forms of Life—characterized by the question “How to use …?”;
  • – logical “flatness” and the denial of creativity of material arrangements; representation
  • – belief in the universal arbitrariness of evolution;
  • – belief in the divine creator or some replacement, like the independent existence of ideas (here the circle closes).

It now becomes even more clear that is not quite reasonable to assign a birth date to modernism. Some of those ideas and beliefs haven been around for centuries before their assembly into the 19th century habit. Such, modernism is nothing more, yet also nothing less than a name for the evolutionary history of a particular arrangement of attitudes, believes and arguments.

From this perspective it also becomes clear why it is somewhat difficult to separate so-called post-modernism from modernism. Post-modernism takes a yet undecided position to the issue of abstract metaphysical independence. Independence and the awareness for the relations did not amalgamate yet, both are still, well, independent in post-modernism. It makes a huge, if not to say cosmogonic difference to set the relation as the primary metaphysical element. Of course, Foucault was completely right in rejecting the label of being a post-modernist. Foucault dropped the central element of modernism—independence—completely, and very early in his career as author, thinking about the human world as horizontal (actual) and vertical (differential) embeddings. The same is obviously true for Deleuze, or Serres. Less for Lyotard and Latour, and definitely not for Derrida, who practices a schizo-modernism, undulating between independence and relation. Deleuze and Foucault never have been modern, in order to paraphrase Latour, and it would be a serious misunderstanding to attach the label of post-modernism to their oeuvre.

As a historical fact we may summarize modernism by two main achievements: first, the professionalization of engineering and its rhizomatically pervasive implementation, and second the mediatization of society, first through the utilization of mass media, then by means of the world wide web. Another issue is that many people confess to follow it as if they would follow a program, turning it into a movement. And it is here where difficulties start.

2. Problems with Modernism

We are now going to deal with some of the problems that are necessarily associated to the belief set that is so typical for modernism. In some way or another, any basic belief is burdened by its own specific difficulties. There is no universal or absolute way out of that. Yet, modernism is not just an attitude, up to now it also has turned into a large-scale societal experiment. Hence, there are not only some empirical facts, we also meet impacts onto the life of human beings (before any considerations of moral aspects). Actually, Koolhaas provided precisely a description of them in his “Junkspace” [3]. Perhaps, modernism is also more prone to the strong polarity of positive and negative outcomes, as its underlying set of believes is also particularly strong. But this is, of course, only a quite weak suggestion.

In this section we will investigate four significant aspects. Together they hopefully provide kind of a fingerprint of “typical” modernist thinking—and its failure. These four areas concern patterns and coherence, empiricism, meaning and machines.

Before we start with that I would like to visit briefly the issue raised by the role of objects in modernism. The metaphysics of objects in modernism is closely related to the metaphysical belief of independence as a general principle. If you start to think “independence” you necessarily end up with separated objects. “Things” as negotiated entities do barely exist in modernism, and if so, then only as kind of a error-prone social and preliminary approximation to the physical setup. It is else not possible, to balance objects and relations as concepts. One of them must take the primary role.

Setting objects as primary against the relation has a range of problematic consequences. In my opinion, these consequences are inevitable. It is important that neither the underlying beliefs nor their consequences can’t be separated from each other. For a modernist, it is impossible, to drop one of these and to keep the other ones without stepping into the tomb of internal inconsistency!

The idea of independence, whether in its implicit or its explicit version, can be traced back at least to scholastics, probably even to the classic where it appeared as Platonic idealism (albeit this would be an oversimplification). To its full extent it unfolded through the first golden age of the dogma of the machine in the early 17th century, e.g. in the work of Harvey or the philosophy of Descartes. Leibniz recognized its difficulties. For him perception is an activity. If objects would be conceived as purely passive, they would not be able to perceive and not to build any relation at all. Thus, the world can’t be made of objects, since there is a world external to the human mind. He remained, however, being caught by theism, which brought him to the concept of monads as well as to the concept of the infinitesimal numbers. The concept of the monads should not be underestimated, though. Ultimately, they serve the purpose of immaterial elements that bear the ability to perceive and to transfer them to actual bodies, whether stuffed with a mind or not.

The following centuries brought just a tremendous technical refinement of Cartesian philosophy, despite there have been phases where people resisted its ideas, as for instance many people in the Baroque.

Setting objects as primary against the relation is at the core of phenomenology as well, and also, though in a more abstract version, of idealism. Husserl came up with the idea of the “phenomenon”, that impresses us, notably directly, or intuitively, without any interpretation. Similarly, the Kantian “Erhabenheit”, then tapered by Romanticism, is out there as an independent instance, before any reason or perception may start to work.

So, what is the significance of setting objects as primary constituents of the world? Where do we have to expect which effects?

2.1. Dust, Coherence, Patterns

When interpreted as a natural principle, or as a principle of nature, the idea of independence provokes and supports physical sciences. Independence matches perfectly with physics, yet it is also an almost perfect mismatch for biological sciences as far as they are not reducible to physics. The same is true for social sciences. Far from being able to recognize their own conditionability, most sociologist just practice methods taken more or less directly from physics. Just recall their strange addiction to statistics, which is nothing else than methodology of independence. Instead of asking for the abstract and factual genealogy of the difference between independence and coherence, between the molecule and harmony, they dropped any primacy of the relation, even its mere possibility.

The effects in architecture are well-known. On the one hand, modernism led to an industrialization, which is reaching its final heights in the parametrism of Schumacher and Hadid, among others. Yet, by no means there is any necessity that industrialization leads to parametrism! On the other hand, if in the realm of concepts there is no such thing as a primacy of relation, only dust, then there is also no form, only function, or at least a maximized reduction of any form, as it has been presented first by Mies von der Rohe. The modularity in this ideology of the absence of form is not that of living organisms, it is that of crystals. Not only the Seagram building is looking exactly like the structural model of sodium chloride. Of course, it represents a certain radicality. Note that it doesn’t matter whether the elementary cells of the crystal follows straight lines, or whether there is some curvature in their arrangements. Strange enough, for a modernist there is never a particular intention in producing such stuff. Intentions are not needed at all, if the objects bear the meaning. The modernists expectation is that everything the human mind can accomplish under such conditions is just uncovering the truth. Crystals just happen to be there, whether in modernist architecture or in the physico-chemistry of minerals.

Strictly spoken, it is deeply non-modern, perhaps ex-modern, to investigate the question why even modernists feel something like the following structures or processes mysteriously (not: mystical!) beautiful, or at least interesting. Well, I do not know, of course, whether they indeed felt like that, or whether they just pretended to do so. At least they said so… Here are the artefacts3:

Figure 1: a (left): Michael Hansmeyer column [4] ,b (right): Turing-McCabe-pattern (for details see this);

.

These structures are neither natural nor geometrical. Their common structural trait is the local instantiation of a mechanism, that is, a strong dependence on the temporal and spatial local context: Subdivision in case (a), and a probabilistically instantiated set of “chemical” reactions in the case of (b). For the modernist mindset they are simply annoying. They are there, but there is no analytical tool available to describe them as “object” or to describe their genesis. Yet, both examples do not show “objects” with perceivable properties that would be well-defined for the whole entity. Rather, they represent a particular temporal cut in the history of a process. Without considering their history—which includes the contingent unfolding of their deep structure—they remain completely incomprehensible, despite the fact that on the microscopical level they are well-defined, even deterministic.

From the perspective of primary objects they are separated from comprehensibility by the chasm of idealism, or should we say hyper-idealistic conditioning? Yet, for both there exists a set of precise mathematical rules. The difference to machines is just that these rules describe mechanisms, but not anything like the shape or on the level of the entirety. The effect of these mechanism on the level of the collective, however, can’t be described by those rules for the mechanism. They can’t be described at all by any kind of analytical approach, as it possible for instance in many areas in physics and, consequently in engineering, which so far is by definition always engaged in building and maintaining fully determinate machines. This notion of the mechanism, including the fact that only the concept of mechanism allows for a thinking that is capable to comprehend emergence and complexity—and philosophically potential—, is maybe one of the strongest differences between modernist thinking and “organicist” thinking (which has absolutely nothing to do with bubble architecture), as we may call it in a preliminarily.

Here it is probably appropriate to cite the largely undervalued work of Charles Jencks, who proposed as one of the first in the domain of architecture/urbanism the turn to complexity. Yet, since he had not a well-explicated formulation (based on an appropriate elementarization) at his disposal, we had neither been able to bring his theory “down to earth” nor to connect it to more abstract concepts. People like Jencks, Venturi, “parts of” Koolhaas (and me:)—or Deleuze or Foucault in philosophy—never have been modernist. Except the historical fact that they live(d) in a period that followed the blossoming of modernism, there is not any other justification to call them or their thinking “post-modern”. It is not the use of clear arguments that those reject, it is the underlying set of beliefs.

In modernism, that is, in the practice of the belief set as shown above, collective effects are excluded apriori, metaphysically as well as methodologically, as we will see. Statistics is by definition not able to detect “patterns”. It is an analytic technique, of which people believe that its application excludes any construction. This is of course a misbelief, the constructive steps are just shifted into the side-conditions of the formulas, resulting in a deep methodological subjectivity concerning the choice of a particular technique, or formula respectively.

This affects the perspective onto society as well as individual perception and thought. Slightly metaphorically spoken, everything is believed to be (conceptual) dust, and to remain dust. The belief in independence, fired perhaps by a latent skepticism since Descartes, has invaded the methods and the practices. At most, such the belief, one could find different kinds of dust, or different sizes of the hives of dust, governed by a time-inert, universal law. In turn, wherever laws are imposed to “nature”, the subject matter turns into conceptual dust.

Something like a Language Game, let it even be in combination with transcendental conditionability, must almost be incomprehensible for a modernist. I think they even do not see there possibility. While analytic philosophy is largely the philosophy that developed within modernism (one might say that it is thus not philosophy at all), the philosophical stances of Wittgenstein, Heidegger or Deleuze are outside of it. The instances of misunderstanding Wittgenstein as a positivist are countless! Closely related to the neglect of collective effects is the dismissal of the inherent value of the comparative approach. Again, that’s not an accusation. Its just the description of an effect that emerges as soon as the above belief set turns into a practice.

The problem with modernism is indeed tricky. On the one hand it blossomed engineering. Engineering, as it has been conceived since then, is a strictly modernist endeavor. With regard to the physical aspects of the world it works quite well, of course. In any other area, it is doomed to fail, for the very same reasons, unfortunately. Engineering of informational aspects is thus impossible as it is the engineering of architecture or the engineering of machine-based episteme, not to mention the attempt to enable machines to deal with language. Or to deal with the challenges emerging in the urban culture. Just to avoid misunderstandings: Engineering is helpful to find technical realizations for putative solutions, but it never can deliver any kind of solution itself, except the effect that people assimilate and re-shape the produces of urban engineering through their usage, turning them into something different than intended.

2.2. Meaning

The most problematic effects of the idea  of “primary objects” are probably the following:

  • – the rejection of creational power of unconscious or even purely material entities;
  • – the idea that meaning can be attached to objects;
  • – the idea that objects can be represented and must be represented by ideas.

These strong consequences do not concern just epistemological issues. In modernism, “objectivity” has nothing to do with the realm of the social. It can be justified universally and on purely formal grounds. We already mentioned that this may work in large parts of physics—it is challenged in quantum physics—but certainly not in most biological or social domains.

In his investigation of thought, Deleuze identifies representationalism ([9], p.167) as one of the eight major presuppositions of large parts of philosophy, especially idealism in the line from Platon, Hegel, and Frege up to Carnap.

(1) the postulate of the principle, or the Cogitatio natura universalis (good will of the thinker and good nature of thought); (2) the postulate of the ideal, or common sense (common sense as the concordia facultatum and good sense as the distribution which guarantees this concord); (3) the postulate of the model, or of recognition (recognition inviting all the faculties to exercise themselves upon an object supposedly the same, and the consequent possibility of error in the distribution when one faculty confuses one of its objects with a different object of another faculty); (4) the postulate of the element, or of representation (when difference is subordinated to the complementary dimensions of the Same and the Similar, the Analogous and the Opposed); (5) the postulate of the negative, or of error (in which error expresses everything which can go wrong in thought, but only as the product of external mechanisms); (6) the postulate of logical function, or the proposition (designation is taken to be the locus of truth, sense being no more than the neutralised double or the infinite doubling of the proposition); (7) the postulate of modality, or solutions (problems being materially traced from propositions or, indeed, formally defined by the possibility of their being solved); (8) the postulate of the end, or result, the postulate of knowledge (the subordination of learning to knowledge, and of culture to method). Together they form the dogmatic image of thought.

Deleuze by no means attacks the utility of these elements in principle. His point is just that these elements work together and should not be taken as primary principles. The effect of these presuppositions are disastrous.

They crush thought under an image which is that of the Same and the Similar in representation, but profoundly betrays what it means to think and alienates the two powers of difference and repetition, of philosophical commencement and recommence­ment. The thought which is born in thought, the act of thinking which is neither given by innateness nor presupposed by reminiscence but engendered in its genitality, is a thought without image.

As engineer, you may probably have been noticing issue (5). Elsewhere in our essay we already dealt with the fundamental misconception to start from an expected norm, instead from an open scale without imposed values. Only the latter attitude will allow for inherent adaptivity. Adaptive systems never will fail, because failure is conceptually impossible. Instead, they will cease to exist.

The rejection of the negative, which includes the rejection of the opposite as well as dialectics, the norm, or the exception, is particularly important if we think about foundations of whatsoever (think about Hegel, Marx, attac, etc.) or about political implications. We already discussed the case of Agamben.

Deleuze finally will arrive at this “new imageless image of thought” by understanding difference as a transcendental category. The great advantage of this move is that it does not imply a necessity of symbols and operators as primary, as it is the case if we would take identity as primary. The primary identical is either empty (a=a), that is, without any significance for the relation between entities, or it needs symbolification and at least one operator. In practice, however, a whole battery of models, classifications and the assumptions underlying them is required to support the claim of identity. As these assumptions are not justifiable within the claim of identity itself, they must be set, which results in the attempt to define the world. Obviously, attempting so would be quite problematic. It is even self-contradicting if contrasted with the modernists claim of objectivity. Setting the difference as primary, Deleuze not only avoids the trap of identity and pre-established harmony in the hive of objects, but also subordinates the object to the relation. Here he meets with Wittgenstein and Heidegger.

Together, the presupposition of identity and objecthood is necessarily and in a bidirectional manner accompanied with another quite abundant misunderstanding, according to which logic should be directly applicable to the world. World here is of course “everything” except logic, that is (claimed) objects, their relations, measurement, ideas, concepts and so on. Analytic philosophy, positivism, external realism and the larger movement of modernism all apply the concept of bi-valent logic to empirical entities. It is not really a surprise that this leads to serious problems and paradoxa, which however are pseudo-paradoxa. For instance, universal justification requires knowledge. Without logical truity in knowledge universal justification can’t be achieved. The attempt to define knowledge as consisting of positive content failed, though. Next, the formula of “knowledge as justified belief” was proposed. In order not to fall prey to the Gettier-problem, belief itself would have to be objectified. Precisely this happened in analytic philosophy, when Alchourron et al. (1985) published their dramatically (and overly) reduced operationalization of “belief”. Logic is a condition, it is transcendental to its usage. Hence, it is inevitable to instantiate it. By means of instantiation, however, semantics invades equally inevitable.

Ultimately due to the presupposed primacy of identity, modernists are faced with a particular difficulty in dealing with relations. Objects and their role should not be dependent on their interpretation. As a necessary consequence, meaning—and information—must be attached to objects as quasi-physical properties. There is but one single consequence: tyranny. Again, it is not surprising that at the heights of modernism the bureaucratic tyranny was established several times.

Some modernists would probably allow for interpretation. Yet, only as a means, not as a condition, not as a primacy. Concerning their implications, the difference between the stances is a huge one. If you take it simply as a means, keeping the belief into the primacy of objects, you still would adhere to the idea of “absolute truth” within the physical world. Ultimately, interpretation would be degraded into an error-prone “method”, which ideally should have no influence onto the recognition of truth, of course. The world, at least the world that goes beyond the mere physical aspects, appears as a completely different one if relations, and thus interpretation is set as primary. Obviously, this implies also a categorical difference regarding the way one approaches that world, e.g. in science, or the way one conceives of the possible role of design. Is a nothing else than myth that a designer, architect, or urbanist designs objects. The practitioners in these professions design potentials, namely that for the construction of meaning by the future users and inhabitants (cf. [5]). There is nothing a designer can do to prevent a particular interpretation or usage. Koolhaas concludes that regarding Junkspace this may lead to a trap, or kind of a betrayal [3]:

Narrative reflexes that have enabled us from the beginning of time to connect dots, fill in blanks, are now turned against us: we cannot stop noticing—no sequence is too absurd, trivial, meaningless, insulting… Through our ancient evolutionary equipment, our irrepressible attention span, we helplessly register, provide insight, squeeze meaning, read intention; we cannot stop making sense out of the utterly senseless… (p.188)

I think that on the one hand Koolhaas here accepts the role of interpretation, yet, and somewhat contradictory, he is not able to recognize that it is precisely the primacy of interpretation that enables for an transformation through assimilation, hence the way out of Junkspace. Here he remains modernist to the full extent.

The deep reason being that for the object-based attitude there is no possibility at all to recognize non-representational coherence. (Thus, a certain type of illiteracy regarding complex texts is prevailing among “true” modernists…)

2.3. Shades of Empiricism

Science, as we understand it today—yet at least partially also as we practice it—is based on the so-called hypothetico-deductive approach of empiricism (cf. [6]). Science is still taken as a synonym for physics by many, even in philosophy of science, with only very few exceptions. There, the practice and the theory of Life sciences are not only severely underrepresented, quite frequently biology is still reduced to physics. Physicists, and their philosophical co-workers, often claim that the whole world can be reduced to a description in terms of quantum mechanics (among many others cf. [7]). A closely related reduction, only slightly less problematic, is given by the materialist’s claim that mental phenomena should be explained completely in biological terms, that is, using only biological concepts.

The belief in empiricism is implemented into the methodological framework that is called “statistics”. The vast majority of the statistical tests rest on the assumption that observations and variables are independent from each other. Some tests are devised to test for independence, or dependence, but this alone does not help much. Usually, if dependency is detected, then the subsequent tests are rearranged as to fit again the independence assumption. In other words, any possibly actual coherence is first assumed to be nonexistent. By means of the method itself, the coherence is indeed destroyed. Yet, once it is destroyed, you never will get it back. It is quite simple: The criteria for any such construction are just missing.

From this perspective, statistics is not scientific according to science’s own measures; due to its declared non-critical and  non-experimental stance it actually looks more like ideology. For a scientific method would perform an experiment for testing whether something could be assumed or not. As Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz said: I never needed statistics to do my work. What would be needed instead is indeed a method that is structurally independent of any independence assumption regarding the observed data. Such a method would propose patterns if there are sufficiently dense hints, and not , otherwise. Without proposing one or the other apriori. From that perspective, it is more the representationalism in modernism that brings the problem.

This framework of statistics is far from being homogeneous, though. Several “interpretations” are fiercely discussed: frequentism, bayesianism, uncertainty, or propensity. Yet, any of them faces serious internal inconsistencies, as Alan Hajek convincingly demonstrated [8]. To make a long story short (the long version you can find over here), it is not possible to build a model without symbols, without concepts that require interpretation and further models, and outside a social practice, or without an embedding into such. Modernists usually reject such basics and eagerly claim even universal objectivity for their data (hives of dust). More than 50 years ago, Quine proofed that believing otherwise should be taken just as nothing else than a dogma [9]. This dogma can be conceived as a consequence of the belief that objects that are the primary constituents of the world.

Of course, the social embedding is especially important in the case of social affairs such like urbanism. The claim that any measurement of data then treated by statistical modeling (they call it wrongly “analysis”) could convey any insight per se is nothing but pretentious.

Dealing with data always results in some kind of construction, base don some methods. Methods, however, respond differentially to data, they filter. In other words, even applying “analytical” methods involves interpretation, often even a strong one. Unfortunately for the modernist, he excluded the possibility of the primacy of interpretation at all, because there are only objects out there. This hurdle is quickly solved, of course, by the belief that the meaning is outside of interpretation. As result, they believe, that there is a necessary progress towards the truth. For modernists: Here you may jump back to subsection 3.2. …

2.4. Machines

For le Corbusier a house is much like a “machine for living in”. According to him, a building has clear functions, that could be ascribed apriori, governed by universal relations, or even laws. Recently, people engaged in the building economy recognized that it may turn problematic to assign a function apriori, as it simply limits the sales arguments. As a result, any function from the building as well as from the architecture itself tends to be stripped away. The “solution” is a more general one. Yet, in contrast to an algebraic equation that will be instantiated before used, the building actually exists after building it. It is there. And up today, not in a reconfigurable form.

Actually, the problem is created not by the tendency for more general, or even pre-specific solutions. It turns critical if it generality amalgamates with the modernist attitude. The category of machines, which is synonymic to ascribing or assigning a function (understood as usage) apriori, doesn’t accept any reference to luxury. A machine that would contain properties or elements that don’t bear any function, at least temporarily, other than pleasure (which does not exist in a world that consists only of objects) would be badly built. Minimalism is not just a duty, it even belongs to the grammar of modernism. Minimalism is the actualization and representation of mathematical rigidity, which is also a necessity as it is the only way to use signs without interpretation. At least, that is the belief of modernists.

The problem with minimalism is that it effectively excludes evolution. Either the produce fits perfectly or not at all. Perfectness of the match can be expected only, if the user behaves exactly as expected, which represents nothing else than dogmatism, if not worse. Minimalism in form excludes alternative interpretations and usages, deliberately so, it even has  to exclude the possibility for the alternative. How else to get rid of alternatives? Koolhaas rightly got it: by nothingness (minimalism), or by chaos.

3. Urbanism, and Koolhaas.

First, we have of course to make clear that we will be able to provide only a glimpse to the field invoked by this header. Else, our attempts here should not be understood as a proposal to separate architecture from urbanism. Both, regarding theory and implementation they more and more overlap. When Koolhaas explains the special situation of the Casa do Musica in Porto, he refers to processes like continuation of certain properties and impressions from the surround to be continued inside of the building. Inversely, any building, even any persistent object in a city shifts the qualities of its urban surround.

Rem Koolhaas, once journalist, then architect, now for more than a decade additionally someone doing comparative studies on cities has performatively demonstrated—by means of his writings such as “S,M,L,XL”, “Generic City” or “Junkspace”—that a serious engagement about the city can’t be practiced as a disciplinary endeavor. Human culture moved irrevocably into a phase where culture largely means urban culture. Urbanists may be seen as a vanishing species that became impossible due to the generality of the field. “Culturalist” is neither a proper domain nor a suitable label. Or perhaps they moult into organizers of research in urban contexts, similarly as architects are largely organizers for creating buildings. Yet, there is an important difference: Architects may still believe that they externalize something. Such a belief is impossible for urbanists, because they are part of the culture. It is thus questionable, if a project like the “Future Cities Laboratory” should indeed be called such. It is perhaps only possible to do so in Singapore, but that’s the subject of one of the next essays.

Rem Koolhaas wrote “Delirious New York” before turning to architecture and urbanism as a practitioner. There, he praised its diversity and manifoldness that, in or by means of his dreams, added up to the deliriousness of Manhattan, and probably also of his own.

Without any doubt, the particular quality of Manhattan is its empowering density, which is not actualizing as the identical, but rather as heterotopia, as divergence. In some way, Manhattan may be conceived as the urban precursor of the internet [11], built first in steel, glass and concrete. Vera Bühlmann writes:

Manhattan space is, if not yet everywhere, so at least in the internet potentially everywhere, and additionally not limited to three, probably even spatial dimensions.4

Urbanism is in urgent demand of an advanced theory that refers to the power of networks. It was perhaps this “network process” that brought Koolhaas to explore the anti-thesis of the wall and the plane, the absolute horizontal and vertical separation. I say anti-thesis, because Delirious New York itself behaves quite ambiguously, half-way between the Hegelian, (post-)structuralist dialectics and utopia on the one side and an affirmation of heterotopias on the other hand as a more advanced level of conceptualization alienating processes, which always are also processes of selection and individuation into both directions, the medium and the “individual”. Earlier scholars like Aldo Rossi have been too early to go into that direction as networks weren’t recognizable as part of the Form of Life. Even Shane is only implicitly referring to their associative power (he does not refer to complexity as well). And Koolhaas was not either, and probably is still not aware of this problematics.

Recently, I have been proposing one of the possible approaches to build such a theory, the according concepts, terms and practices (for more details see [12]). It is rather important, to distinguish two very basic forms of networks, logistic and associative networks. Logistic networks are used everywhere in modernist reasoning about cities and culture. Yet, they exclusively refer to the network as a machine, suitable to optimize the transport of anything. Associative networks are completely different. They do not transfer anything, they swallow, assimilate, rearrange, associate and, above all, they learn. Any associative network can learn anything. The challenge is, particularly for modernist attitudes, that it can’t be controlled what exactly an associative network is going to learn. The interesting thing about it is that the concept of associative networks provides a bridge to the area of advanced “machine”-learning and to the Actor-Network-Theory (ANTH) of Bruno Latour. The main contribution of ANTH is its emphasis of agency, even of those mostly mineral material arrangements that are usually believed to have no mental capacity.

It is clear, that an associative network may not be perceived at all under the strictly practiced presupposition of independence, as it is typical for modernism. Upon its implementation, the  belief set of modernism tends to destroy the associativity, hence also the almost inevitable associations between the more or less mentally equipped actors in urban environments.

When applied to cities, it breaks up relations, deliberately. Any interaction of high-rise buildings, so typical for Manhattan, is precluded intentionally. Any transfer is optimized just along one single parameter: time, and secondarily, space as a resource. Note that optimization always requires the apriori definition of a single function. As soon as would allow for multiple goals, you would be faced with the necessity of weighting and assigning subjective expectations, which are subjective precisely due to the necessity of interpretation. In order to exclude even the possibility for it, modernists agree hastily to optimize time (as a resource under the assignment of scarcity and physicality), once being understood as a transcendental condition.

As Aldo Rossi remarked already in the 1960ies [13], the modernist tries to evacuate any presence of time from the city. It is not just that history is cut off and buried, largely under false premises and wrong conclusions, reducing history just to institutional traditions (remember, there is no interpretation for a modernist!). In some way, it would have been even easy to predict Koolhaas’ Junkspace already in the end of the 19th century. Well, the Futurologists did it, semi-paradoxically, though. Quite stringent, Futurism was only a short phase within modernism. This neglect of time in modernism is by no means a “value” or an intention. It is a direct logical consequence of the presupposed belief set, particularly independence, logification and the implied neglect of context.

Dis-assembling the associative networks of a city results inevitably in the modernist urban conceptual dust, ruled by the paradigm of scarce time and the blindness against interpretation, patterns and non-representational coherence. This is in a nutshell, what I would like to propose as the deep grammar of the Junkspace, as it has been described by Koolhaas. Modernism did nothing else than to build and to actualize it conceptual dust. We may call it tertiary chaos, which has been—in its primary form—equal to the initial state of indiscernability concerning the cosmos as a whole. Yet, this time it has been dictated by modernists. Tertiary chaos thus can be set equal to the attempt to make any condition for the possibility of discernability vanishing.

Modernists may not be aware that there is not only already a theory of discernability, which equals to the Peircean theory of the sign, there is also an adaptation and application to urbanism and architecture. Urbanists probably may know about the name “Venturi”, but I seriously doubt that semiotics is on their radar. If modernists talk about semiotics at all, they usually refer to the structuralist caricature of it, as it has been put forward by de Saussure, establishing a closed version of the sign as a “triangle”. Peircean signs—and these have been used by Venturi—establish as an interpretive situation. They do not refer to objects, but just to other signs. Their reference to the world is provided through instances of abstract models and a process of symbolification, which includes learning as an ability that precedes knowledge. (more detail here in this earlier essay) Unfortunately, Venturi’s concept have scarcely been updated, except perhaps in the context of media facades [14]. Yet, media facades are mostly and often vastly misunderstood as the possibility to display adverts. There are good arguments supporting the view that there is more about them [15].

Modernists, including Koolhaas employ a strange image of evolution. For him (them), evolution is pure arbitrariness, both regarding the observable entities and processes as well as regarding the future development. He supposes to detect “zero loyalty-and zero tolerance-toward configuration“ ([3] p.182). In the same passage he simultaneously and contradictory misses the „”original” condition“ and blames history for its corruptive influence: „History corrupts, absolute history corrupts absolutely.“ All of that is put into the context of a supposedly “”permanent evolution.”“ (his quot. marks). Most remarkably, even biologists as S.J. Gould, pretending to be evolutionary biologist, claims that evolution is absolutely arbitrary. Well, the only way out of the contrasting fact that there is life in the form we know about it is to assume some active divine involvement. Precisely this was the stance of Gould. People like Gould(and perhaps Koolhaas) commit the representationalist fault, which excludes them from recognizing (i) the structural tendency of any evolution towards more general solutions, and (ii) the there is an evolution of evolutionarity. The modernist attitude towards evolution can again be traced back to the belief into metaphysical independence of objects, but our interest here is different.

Understanding evolution as a concept has only little to do with biology and the biological model that is called “natural evolution”. Natural evolution is just an instance of evolution into physico-chemical and then biological matter. Bergson has been the first who addressed evolution as a concept [16], notably in the context of abstract memory. In a previous essay we formalized that approach and related it to biology and machine-learning. At its basics, it requires a strict non-representational approach. Species and organisms are expressed in terms of probability. Our conclusion was that in a physical world evolution inevitably takes place if there at least two different kinds or scales of memory. Only on that abstract level we can adopt the concept of evolution into urbanism, that is, into any cultural context.

Memory can’t be equated to tradition, institutions or even the concrete left-overs of history, of course. They are just instances of memory. It is of utmost importance here, not to contaminate the concept of memory again with representationalism. This memory is constructive. Memory that is not constructive, is not memory, but a stock, a warehouse (although these are also kinds of storage and contribute as such to memory). Memory is inherently active and associative. Such memory is the basic, non-representative element of a generally applicable evolutionary theory.

Memory can not be “deposited” into almost geological layers of sediments, quite in contrast to the suggestions of Eisenman, whom Rajchman follows closely in his “Constructions”.

The claim of “storable memory” is even more disastrous than the the claim that information could be stored. These are not objects and items that are independent of an interpretation, they are the processes of constructive of guided interpretation. Both “storages” would only become equal to the respective immaterial processes under the condition of a strictly deterministic set of commands. Even the concept of the “rule” is already too open to serve the modernist claim of storable memory.

It is immediately clear that the dynamic concept of memory is highly relevant for any theory about urban conditions. It provides a general language to derive particular models and instances of association, stocks and flows, that are not reducible to storage or transfers. We may even expect that whenever we meet kind of material storage in an urban context, we also should expect association. The only condition for that just being that there are no modernists around… Yet, storage without memory, that is, without activity remains dead, much like but even less than a crystal. Cripples in the sand. The real relevance of stocks and flows is visible only in the realm of the non-representational, the non-material, if we conceive it as waves in abstract density, that is as media, conveying the potential for activity as a differential. Physicalists and modernists like Christianse or Hillier will never understand that. Just think of the naïve empirics, calling it cartography, they are performing around the world.

This includes deconstructivism as well. Derrida’s deconstructivism can be read as a defense war against the symbolification of the new, the emerging, the complex, the paradox of sense. His main weapon is the “trail”, of which he explicitly states that it could not be interpreted at all. Such, Derrida as master of logical flatness and modernist dust is the real enemy of progress. Peter Sloterdijk, the prominent contemporary German “philosopher”5, once called Derrida the “Old Egyptian”. Nothing would fit better to Derrida, who lives in the realm of shadows and for whom life is just a short transitory phase, hopefully “survived” without too much injuries. The only metaphor being possible on that basis is titanic geology. Think of some of Eisenman’s or Libeskind’s works.

Figure 2: Geologic-titanic shifts induced by the logical flatness of deconstructivism

a: Peter Eisenman, Aronoff Center for Design and Art in Cincinnati (Ohio) (taken from [11]); the parts of building are treated blocks, whose dislocation reminds to that of geological sediments (or the work of titans).

b: Daniel Libeskind, Victoria and Albert Museum Boilerhouse Extension. Secondary chaos, inducing Junkspace through its isolationist “originality”, conveying “defunct myths” (Koolhaas in [3], p.189).

Here we finish our exploration of generic aspects of the structure of modernist thinking. Hopefully, the sections so far are sufficiently suited to provide some insights about modernism in general, and the struggles Koolhaas is fighting with in “Junkspace”.

4. Redesigning Urbanism

Redesigning urbanism, that is to unlock it from modernist phantasms is probably much more simple than it may look at first sight. Well, not exactly simple, at least for modernists. Everything is about the presuppositions. Dropping the metaphysical believe of independence without getting trapped by esotericism or mysticism might well be the cure.Of course, metaphysical independence need to be removed from any level and any aspect in urbanism, starting from the necessary empirical work, which of course is already an important part of the construction work. We already mentioned that the notion of “empirical analysis” pretends neutrality, objectivity (as independence from the author) and validity. Yet, this is pure illusion. Independence should be abandoned also in its form of searching for originality or uniqueness, trying to set an unconditional mark in the cityscape. By that we don’t refer to morphing software, of course.

The antidote against isolationism, analyticity and logic is already well-known. To provide coherence you have to defy splintering and abjure the believe in (conceptual) dust. The candidate tool for it is story-telling, albeit in a non-representational manner, respecting the difference and heterotopias from the beginning. In turn this also means to abandon utopias and a-topias, but to embrace complexity and a deep concept of prevailing differentiation (in a subsequent essay we will deal with that). As citizens, we are not interested in non-places and deserts of spasmodic uniqueness (anymore) or the mere “solution of problems” either (see Deleuze about the dogmatic image of thought as cited above). Changing the perspective from the primacy of analysis to the primacy story-telling immediately reveals the full complexity of the respective Form of Life, to which we refer here as a respectful philosophical concept.

It is probably pretentious to speak such about urbanism as a totality. There are of course, and always have been, people who engaged in the urban condition based on a completely different set of believes, righteous non-modern. Those people start with the pattern and never tear them apart. Those people are able to distinguish structure, genesis and appearance. In biology, this distinction has been instantiated into the perspectives of the genotype, the phenotype, and, in bio-slang, evo-devo, the compound made from development, growth and evolution. These are tied together (necessarily) by complexity. In philosophy, the respective concepts are immanence, the differential, and the virtual.

For urbanism, take for instance the work of David Shane (“Recombinant Urbanism“). Shane’s work, which draws much on Kelly’s, is a (very) good starting point not only for any further theoretical work, but also for practical work.

As a practitioner, one has to defy the seduction for the totality of a master plan, as the renowned parametricists actualize in Istanbul, Christianse and his office did recently in Zürich at the main station. Both are producing pure awfulness, castles of functional uniformity, because they express the totality of the approach even visually. Even in Singapore’s URA (Urban Development Authority), the master plan has been relativised in favor of a (slightly) more open conceptualization. Designer’s have to learn that not less is more, but rather that partial nothingness is more. Deliberately non-planning, as Koolhaas has repeatedly emphasized. This should not be taken representationally, of course. It does not make any sense to grow “raw nature”, jungles within the city, neither for the city, nor for the “jungle”. Before a crystal can provide soil for real life, it must decay, precisely because it is a closed system (see next figure 3). Adaptive systems replace parts, melt holes to build structures, without decaying at all. We will return to this aspect of differentiation in a later article.

Figure 3: Pruitt-Igoe (St.Louis), getting blasted in 1972. Charles Jencks called this event “one of the deaths of modernism”. This had not been the only tear-down there. Laclede, a neighborhood nearby Pruitt-Igoe, made from small, single-flat houses failed as well, the main reasons being an unfortunate structure of the financial model and political issues, namely separation of “classes” and apartheid. (see this article).

The main question for finding a practicable process therefore is: How to ask, which questions should we address in order to build an analytics under the umbrella of story-telling, that avoids the shortfalls of modernism?

We might again take a look to biology (as a science). As urbanism, biology is also confronted with a totality. We call it life. How to address reasonable, that is fruitful questions to that totality? Biology already found a set of answer, which nevertheless are not respected by the modernist version of this science, mainly expressed as genetics. The first insight was, that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”[17] Which would be the respective question for urbanism? I can’t give an answer here, but it is certainly not independence. This we can know through the lesson told by “Junkspace”. Another, almost ridiculous anti-candidate is sustainability, as far as it is conceived in terms of scarcity of mainly physical resources instead of social complexity. Perhaps we should remember the history of the city beyond its “functionality”. Yet, that would mean to first develop an understanding of (abstract) evolution, to instantiate that, and then to derive a practicable model for urban societies. What does it mean to be social, what does it mean to think, both taken as practice in a context of freedom? Biology then developed a small set of basic contexts along to which any research should be aligned to, without loosing the awareness (hopefully) that there are indeed four of such contexts. These have been clearly stated by Nobel laureate Tinbergen [18]. According to him research in biology is suitably structured by four major per­spectives: phylogeny, ontogeny, physiology and behavior. Are there similarly salient dimensions for structuring thought in urbanism, particularly in a putative non-modernist (neither modernist, not post-modernist) version? Particularly interesting are, imho, especially the intersections of such sub-domains.

Perhaps differentiation (as a concept) is indeed a (the) proper candidate for the grand perspective. We will discuss some aspects of this in the next essay: it includes growth and its modes, removal, replacement, deterioration, the problem of the generic, the difference between development and evolution, and a usable concept of complexity. to name but a few. In the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, particularly the Thousand Plateaus, Difference and Repetition and the Fold, we already can find a good deal of theoretical work about he conceptual issues around differentiation. Differentiation includes learning, individually and collectively (I do NOT refer to swarm ideology here, nor to collectivist mysticism either!!!), which in turn would bring in the (abstract) mental into any consideration of urbanism. Yet, wasn’t mankind differentiating and learning all the time? The challenge will be to find a non-materialist interpretation of those in these materialist times.

Notes

1. Cited after [11]

2. Its core principles are the principle of excluded middle (PEM) and the  principle of non-contradictivity (PNC). Both principles are equivalent to the concept of macroscopic objects, albeit only in a realist perspective, i.e. under the presupposition that objects are primary against relations. This is, of course, quite problematic, as it excludes an appropriate conceptualisation of information.

Both, the PEM and PNC allow for the construction of paradoxes like the Taylor Paradox. Such paradoxes may be conceived as “Language Game Colliders”, that is as conceptual devices which commit a mistake concerning the application of the grammar of language games. Usually, the bring countability and the sign for non-countability into conflict. First, it is a fault to compare a claim with a sign, second, it is stupid to claim contradicting proposals. Note, that here we are allowed to speak of “contradiction”, because we are following the PNC as it is suggested by the PNC claim. The Taylor-Paradox is of course, like any other paradox, a pseudo-problem. It appears only due to an inappropriate choice or handling of the conceptual embedding, or due to the dismissal of the concept of the “Language Game”, which mostly results in the implicit claim of the existence of a “Private Language”.

3. Vera Bühlmann, “Articulating quantities, if things depend on whatever can be the case“, lecture held at The Art of Concept, 3rd Conference: CONJUNCTURE — A Series of Symposia on 21st Century Philosophy, Politics, and Aesthetics, organized by Nathan Brown and Petar Milat, Multimedia Institute MAMA in Zagreb, Kroatia, June 15-17 2012.

4. German orig.: “Manhattan Space ist, wenn schon nicht überall, so doch im Internet potentiell überall, und zudem nicht mehr auf drei vielleicht gar noch räumliche Dimensionen beschränkt.”

5. Peter Sloterdjik does not like to be called a philosopher

References

  • [1] Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge. Routledge 2002 [1969].
  • [2] Vera Bühlmann, Printed Physics, de Gruyter, forthcoming.
  • [3] Rem Koolhaas (2002). Junkspace. October, Vol. 100, “Obsolescence”, pp. 175-190. MIT Press
  • [4] Michael Hansmeyer, his website about these columns.
  • [5] “Pseudopodia. Prolegomena to a Discourse of Design”. In: Vera Bühlmann and Martin Wiedmer . pre-specifics. Some Comparatistic Investigations on Research in Art and Design. JRP| Ringier Press, Zurich 2008. p. 21-80 (English edition). available online;
  • [6] Wesley C. Salmon, Causality and Explanation. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1998.
  • [7] Michael Epperson (2009). Quantum Mechanics and Relational Realism: Logical Causality and Wave Function Collapse. Process Studies, 38(2): 339-366.
  • [8] Alan Hájek (2007). The Reference Class Problem is Your Problem Too. Synthese 156 (3):563-585.
  • [9] W.v.O. Quine (1951), Two Dogmas of Empiricism. The Philosophical Review 60: 20-43.
  • [10] Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. Columbia University Press, New York 1994 [1968].
  • [11] Vera Bühlmann, inhabiting media. Thesis, University of Basel (CH), 2009.
  • [12] Klaus Wassermann (2010). SOMcity: Networks, Probability, the City, and its Context. eCAADe 2010, Zürich. September 15-18, 2010. (pdf)
  • [13] Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City. MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1982 [1966].
  • [14] Christoph Kronhagel (ed.), Mediatecture, Springer, Wien 2010. pp.334-345.
  • [15] Klaus Wassermann, Vera Bühlmann, Streaming Spaces – A short expedition into the space of media-active façades. in: Christoph Kronhagel (ed.), Mediatecture, Springer, Wien 2010. pp.334-345. available here. available here
  • [16] Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory. (Matière et Mémoire 1896) transl. N.M. Paul & W.S. Palmer. Zone Books 1990.
  • [17] Theodore Dobzhansky, Genetics and the Origin of Species, Columbia University Press, New York 1951 (3rd ed.) [1937].
  • [18] Niko Tinbergen (1963). On Aims and Methods in Ethology, Z. Tierpsych., (20): 410–433.

۞

Junkspace, extracted.

July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Some years after “The Generic City” Koolhaas published

a further essay on the problematic field of identity: “Junkspace” (JS).[1] I think it is a good idea to introduce both of them and to relate them before discussing the issues of this field by ourselves.

Unlike “The Generic City” (TGC), which was constructed as kind of a report about a film script, JS is more like a “documentary manifesto,” certainly provocative (for thought?), but also not a theory. “Junkspace” throws a concept in/out, according to its message, one could say. As in TGC, Koolhaas tries to densify and to enhance contrasts in order to render the invisible visible. Its language thus should not be misunderstood as “apocalyptic” or the like, or as a reference to actual “facts”. We else must consider that even documentations are inevitably equipped with theories and models, intentions and expectations. The biggest difference between the two essays is probably the fact that in JS Koolhaas does not try to keep distance through the formal construction of the writing. Hence, it may be legitimate to read his essay indeed as kind of a seriously taken diagnosis.

In many ways, JS reads as a critique of modernism and of post-modernism, not just as attitudes in architecture, but rather concerning the whole culture, ending in a state where the “cosmetic is the new cosmic.” Albeit critique is not made (too) explicit, trying to avoid bringing in explicit value statements, the tone of JS appears negative. Yet, it does so only upon the reader’s interpretation. “Junkspace is a low-grade purgatory.” In Christian mythology, everybody had to pass it, the good ones and the evil ones, except the bravest saints, perhaps. Failure is expressed, but by referring to a certain otherworldliness: “We do not leave pyramids.”

The style of JS is ambiguous itself, presumably intentionally so. On the one hand, it reminds to mathematical, formal series of sentences. Sections often start with existential proposals: “Junkspace is …”. Together, as a series, or a hive, these imply  unspoken axioms. On the other hand it seems as if Koolhaas hesitates to use the figure of logic, or accordingly of cause and effect, with regard to the Junkspace itself. Such, Koolhaas exhibits performatively a clear-cut non-modern, or should we say “meta-modern”, attitude. By no means this should be taken as kind of some irrationality, though. We just find lines of historical developments, often even only historizing contrasts. This formal structure is anything but a self-righteous rhetoric game, it’s more like a necessary means to maintain some distance to modernism. The style of JS could be considered as (empty) rhetoric only from within  a modernist attitude.

Before we deal further with modernism (below, and more extensively here), I first want to list my selection of core passages. The sections in Koolhaas’ text are neither enumerated nor divided by headlines (no hierarchies! many “…”! a Junkspace…), so I provide the page numbers in order to facilitate reference. Additionally, I enumerated the pieces for referencing them from within our own writing.

Here is the extract from Junkspace; it is of  course hard to do such a selection—even if we allow for a total of 59 passages—, as JS is rather densely written. Koolhaas begins with some definitions before turning to its properties, readings and implications:

Précis of “Junkspace”

(p.175)

1. “Identity” is the new junk food for the dispossessed, globalization’s fodder for the disenfranchised … […] Junk-Space is the residue mankind leaves on the planet. The built […] product of modernization is not modern architecture but Junkspace. Junkspace is what remains after modernization has run its course, or, more precisely, what coagulates while modernization is in progress, its fallout. Modernization had a rational program: to share the blessings of science, universally. Junkspace is its apotheosis, or meltdown.

2. Junkspace is the sum total of our current achievement;

3. It was a mistake to invent modern architecture for the twentieth century. Architecture disappeared in the twentieth century; we have been reading a footnote under a microscope hoping it would turn into a novel;

4. […] our concern for the masses has blinded us to People’s Architecture. Junkspace seems an aberration, but it is the essence, the main thing. the product of an encounter between escalator and air-conditioning.

5. Continuity is the essence of Junkspace.

(p.176)

6. Junkspace is sealed, held together not by structure but by skin, like a bubble.

7. Junkspace is a Bermuda Triangle of concepts, an abandoned petri dish: it cancels distinctions, undermines resolve, confuses intention with realization. It replaces hierarchy with accumulation, composition with addition. […] A fuzzy empire of blur, it […] offer[s] a seamless patchwork of the permanently disjointed. […] Junkspace is additive, layered, and lightweight, not articulated in different parts but subdivided, […].

8. Junkspace’s iconography is 13 percent Roman, 8 percent Bauhaus and 7 percent Disney (neck and neck), 3 percent Art Nouveau, followed closely by Mayan.

(p.177)

9. Junkspace is beyond measure, beyond code … Because it cannot be grasped, Junks pace cannot be remembered. It is flamboyant yet unmemorable, like a screen saver;

10. Junkspace’s modules are dimensioned to carry brands;

11. Junkspace performs the same role as black holes in the universe: they are essences through which meaning disappears.

12. Junkspace is best enjoyed in a state of post-revolutionary gawking. Polarities have merged.

13. Modern architecture […] exposes what previous generations kept under wraps: structures emerge like springs from a mattress.

14. Junkspace thrives on design, but design dies in Junkspace […] Regurgitation is the new  creativity.

15. Superstrings of graphics, […] LEDs, and video describe an authorless world beyond anyone’s claim, always unique, utterly unpredictable, yet intensely familiar.

(p.178)

16. Junkspace sheds architectures like a reptile sheds skins, is reborn every Monday morning.

17. Architects thought of Junkspace first and named it Megastructure, the final solution to transcend their huge impasse.

18. In Junkspace, the tables are turned: it is subsystem only, without superstructure, orphaned particles in search of a framework or pattern.

19. Each element performs its task in negotiated isolation.

20. Instead of development, it offers entropy.

21. Change has been divorced from the idea of improvement. There is no progress; like a crab on LSD, culture staggers endlessly sideways …

22. Everywhere in Junkspace there are seating arrangements, ranges of modular chairs, even couches, as if the experience Junkspace offers its consumers is significantly more exhausting than any previous spatial sensation;

(p.179)

23. Junkspace is fanatically maintained, the night shift undoing the damage of the day shift in an endless Sisyphean replay. As you recover from Junkspace, Junkspace recovers from you.

24. Traditionally, typology implies demarcation, the definition of a singular model that excludes other arrangements. Junkspace represents a reverse typology of cumulative, approximative identity, less about kind than about quantity. But formlessness is still form, the formless also a typology.

25. Junkspace can either be absolutely chaotic or frighteningly aseptic-like a best-seller-overdetermined and indeterminate at the same time.

26. Junkspace is often described as a space of flows, but that is a misnomer; flows depend on disciplined movement, bodies that cohere. Junkspace is a web without a spider; […] It is a space of collision, a container of atoms, busy, not dense …

(p.180)

27. Junkspace features the tyranny of the oblivious: sometimes an entire Junkspace comes unstuck through the nonconformity of one of its members; a single citizen of an another culture-a refugee, a mother-can destabilize an entire Junkspace, […]

28. Flows in Junkspace lead to disaster: department stores at the beginning of sales; the stampedes triggered by warring compartments of soccer fans;

29. Traffic is Junkspace, from airspace to the subway; the entire highway system is Junkspace […]

30. Aging in Junkspace is nonexistent or catastrophic; sometimes an entire Junkspace—a department store, a nightclub, a bachelor pad-turns into a slum overnight without warning.

(p.181)

31. Corridors no longer simply link A to B, but have become “destinations.” Their tenant life tends to be short: the most stagnant windows, the most perfunctory dresses, the most implausible flowers. All perspective is gone, as in a rainforest (itself disappearing, they keep saying … ).

32. Trajectories are launched as ramp, turn horizontal without any warning, intersect, fold down, suddenly emerge on a vertiginous balcony above a large void. Fascism minus dictator.

(p.182)

33. There is zero loyalty—and zero tolerance—toward configuration, no “original” condition; architecture has turned into a time-lapse sequence to reveal a “permanent evolution.” … The only certainty is conversion-continuous-followed, in rare cases, by “restoration,” the process that claims ever new sections of history as extensions of Junkspace.

34. History corrupts, absolute history corrupts absolutely. Color and matter are eliminated from these bloodless grafts.

35. Sometimes not overload but its opposite, an absolute absence of detail, generates Junkspace. A voided condition of frightening sparseness, shocking proof that so much can be organized by so little.

36. The curse of public space: latent fascism safely smothered in signage, stools, sympathy … Junkspace is postexistential; it makes you uncertain where you are, obscures where you go, undoes where you were. Who do you think you are? Who do you want to be? (Note to architects: You thought that you could ignore Junkspace, visit it surreptitiously, treat it with condescending contempt or enjoy it vicariously … because you could not understand it, you’ve thrown away the keys … But now your own architecture is infected, has become equally smooth, all-inclusive, continuous, warped, busy, atrium-ridden …)

(p.183)

37. Restore, rearrange, reassemble, revamp, renovate, revise, recover, redesign, return-the Parthenon marbles-redo, respect, rent: verbs that start with re-produce Junkspace …

38. Junkspace will be our tomb.

39. Junkspace is political: It depends on the central removal of the critical faculty in the name of comfort and pleasure.

40. Not exactly “anything goes”; in fact, the secret of Junkspace is that it is both promiscuous and repressive: as the formless proliferates, the formal withers, and with it all rules, regulations, recourse …

41. Junkspace […] is the interior of Big Brother’s belly. It preempts people’s sensations. […] it blatantly proclaims how it wants to be read. Junkspace pretends to unite, but it actually splinters. It creates communities not out of shared interest or free association, but out of identical statistics and unavoidable demographics, an opportunistic weave of vested interests.

(p.184)

42. God is dead, the author is dead, history is dead, only the architect is left standing … an insulting evolutionary joke … A shortage of masters has not stopped a proliferation of masterpieces. “Masterpiece” has become a definitive sanction, a semantic space that saves the object from criticism, leaves its qualities unproven, its performance untested, its motives unquestioned.

43. Junkspace reduces what is urban to urbanity. Instead of public life, Public SpaceTM: what remains of the city once the unpredictable has been removed …

44. Inevitably, the death of God (and the author) has spawned orphaned space; Junkspace is authorless, yet surprisingly authoritarian … At the moment of its greatest emancipation, humankind is subjected to the most dictatorial scripts.: […] The chosen theater of megalomania—the dictatorial—is no longer politics, but entertainment.

45. Why can’t we tolerate stronger sensations? Dissonance? Awkwardness? Genius? Anarchy? … Junkspace heals, or at least that is the assumption of many hospitals.

(p.185)

46. Often heroic in size, planned with the last adrenaline of modernism’s grand inspiration, we have made them (too) human;

47. Junkspace is space as vacation;

(p.186)

48. Junkspace features the office as the urban home, a meeting-boudoir. […] Espace becomes E-space.

49. Globalization turns language into Junkspace. […] Through the retrofitting of language, there are too few plausible words left; our most creative hypotheses will never be formulated, discoveries will remain unmade, concepts unlaunched, philosophies muffled, nuances miscarried … We inhabit sumptuous Potemkin suburbs of weasel terminologies. Aberrant linguistic ecologies sustain virtual subjects in their claim to legitimacy, help them survive … Language is no longer used to explore, define, express, or to confront but to fudge, blur, obfuscate, apologize, and comfort … it stakes claims, assigns victimhood, preempts debate, admits guilt, fosters consensus. […] a Satanic orchestration of the meaningless …

50. Intended for the interior, Junkspace can easily engulf a whole city.

(p.187)

51. Seemingly at the opposite end of Junkspace, the golf course is, in fact, its conceptual double: empty, serene, free of commercial debris. The relative evacuation of the golf course is achieved by the further charging of Junkspace. The methods of their design and realization are similar: erasure, tabula rasa, reconfiguration. Junkspace turns into biojunk; ecology turns into ecospace. Ecology and economy have bonded in Junkspace as ecolomy.

52. Junkspace can be airborne, bring malaria to Sussex;

(p.188)

53. Deprivation can be caused by overdose or shortage; both conditions happen in Junkspace (often at the same time). Minimum is the ultimate ornament, a self-righteous crime, the contemporary Baroque.

54. It does not signify beauty, but guilt.

55. Outside, in the real world, the “art planner” spreads Junkspace’s fundamental incoherence by assigning defunct mythologies to residual surfaces and plotting three-dimensional works in leftover emptiness. Scouting for authenticity, his or her touch seals the fate of what was real, taps it for incorporation in Junkspace.

56. The only legitimate discourse is loss; art replenishes Junkspace in direct proportion to its own morbidity.

(p.189)

57. […] maybe the origins of Junkspace go back to the kindergarten …

58. Will Junkspace invade the body? Through the vibes of the cell phone? Has it already? Through Botox injections? […] Is each of us a mini-construction site? […]

(p.190)

59. Is it [m: mankind] a repertoire of reconfiguration that facilitates the intromission of a new species into its self-made Junksphere? The cosmetic is the new cosmic… ◊

Modernism

JS is about the consequences of modernism for architecture and for urbanism. Koolhaas does not hesitate to explicate it: Modernization, modernism ends in a “meltdown”. As an alternative he offers the “apotheosis”, a particular quality as a Golden Calf of modernization. Within the context of urban life and architectural activities, this outcome shows up as “Junkspace”. The essence of it is emptiness, isolation, splintering, arbitrariness. Its “victory” is named by its offer, entropy, and its essence is continuity. Probably it is meant as kind of a tertiary chaos, vanishing any condition for the possibility of discernability, unfortunately as the final point attractor. We will see.

Koolhaas describes Junkspace as an unintended outcome of a global collective activity. Obviously, Koolhaas is struggling with that, or with the unintendedness of the effect, in other words with emergence and self-organization. Emergence and self-organization can be understood exclusively in the wider context of complexity as we have outlined it previously (see this piece). The concept of complexity as we have constructed it is by no means anti-scientific in a fundamental sense. Yet, it is a severe challenge to scientism as it is practiced today, as our concept explicitly refers to a reflected conceptual embedding, something that is still excluded from natural science today. Anyway, complexity as an explicated concept must be considered as a necessary part of architectural theory, if we take Koolhaas and his writings such as “Junkspace” serious. Without it, we could not make sense of the difference between standardization and homogenization, between uniqueness and singularity, between history and identity, between development and evolution, or between randomness and heterotopia.

Modernism and its effects is the not so hidden agenda of JS. We have to be clear about this concept—at least concerning its foundations, albeit we will not find space enough here for discussing or even just listing its branches that reach not only till Marcuse’s office in Frankfurt—if we want to understand neo-leftist interpretations of JS as that by Jameson (“Future City” [2]), and the not so hidden irony expressed by the resonating label “Future Cities Lab” that denotes the urbanism project of the Department of Architecture (one of the biggest in Europe) of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ). It is also the name of a joint venture between National University of Singapore (NUS) and ETHZ. Yes, they indeed call it Lab(oratory), a place usually producing hives of “petri dishes,” either abandoned (see 7. above) or “containing” the city itself (see section 8.1. of “The Generic City”), and at the same time still, and partially contradictory to its practices, an oratory of modernism. Perhaps. (more about that later).

Latest here we have to address the question:
What is the problem with modernism?

This will be the topic of the next post.

References
  • [1] Rem Koolhaas (2002). Junkspace. October, Vol. 100, “Obsolescence”, pp. 175-190. MIT Press. available here
  • [2] Fredric Jameson, Future City, New Left Review NLR 21, May-June 2003, pp. 65-79. available here

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The Generic City — a Précis

July 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Before we are going to discuss “The Generic City”

we want to provide a selection of its most salient sentences, (almost) without any further comment.

“The Generic City” (TGC) is organized into 17 sections, each comprising one further level of enumerated subsections, consisting often just of a single sentence. This structure and the diction of the piece reminds a bit to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, albeit this resemblance is not substantial to any regards. The status of the writing qua its style is problematic, as we will see later in the dedicated essay. It is probably appropriate to read it just as kind of a dramatization, without much explicit theoretical attitude (despite many perceive it as theoretical  work). For instance, a film or a story may have an end, if we consider them as an event, but a theory certainly does not.

Here I provide all headings and a selection of proposals that can be found in TGC, because I think that it has to be taken as an entirety. This may even be intended by the formal structure. Usually, only single proposals are cited from TGC. I consider this practice as quite problematic. Nobody would cite a single scene from a film of Godard in an attempt to describe Godard’s work. Quite to the contrast, any scene in any film created by Godard may be interpreted only by taking into account all, or at least many, of his films. Such is the quality of the oeuvre of a filmmaker. Extracting a single scene leads almost inevitably to serious misunderstanding. Approaching Koolhaas we have (to try) to respect (t)his particular pragmatics.

This précis should be helpful in our discussion of it in one of the next essays.

The headings of the 17 main sections are:
1. Introduction 2. Statistics 3. General 4. Airport 5. Population  6. Urbanism 7. Politics 8. Sociology 9. Quarters 10. Program 11. Architecture 12. Geography 13. Identity 14. History 15. Infrastructure 16. Culture 17. End.

The selection of my proposals is the following.

1.1. Is the contemporary city like the contemporary airport—”all the same”? Is it possible to theorize this convergence? And if so, to what ultimate configuration is it aspiring? Convergence is possible only at the price of shedding identity. That is usually seen as a loss. But at the scale at which it occurs, it must mean something. What are the disadvantages of identity, and conversely, what are the advantages of blankness? What if this seemingly accidental—and usually regretted—homogenization were an intentional process, a conscious movement away from difference toward similarity? What if we are witnessing a global liberation movement: “down with character!” What is left after identity is stripped? The Generic?
1.6. The Generic City is the city liberated from the captivity of the center, from the straitjacket of  identity.
3.1. The Generic City is what is left after large section of urban life crossed over to cyberspace. […] This pervasive lack of urgency and insistence acts like a potent drug: it induces a hallicunation of the normal.
3.2. The serenity of the Generic City is achieved by the evacuation  of the public realm, as in an emergency fire drill. […] The urban plane now only accommodates necessary movement, fundamentally the car. […] What is new about this locomotive public realm is that it cannot be measured in dimensions.
3.3. The Generic City is fractal, an endless repetition of the same simple structural module.
3.4. Golf courses are all that is left of otherness.
3.6. Its main attraction is its anomic.
4.4. Airports come in two sizes: too big and too small. Yet their size has no influence on their performance.
5.1. The Generic City is seriously multiracial, on average …
5.2. The Generic City is always founded by people on the move, poised to move on. This explains the insubstantiality of their foundations.
6.1. The great originality of the Generic City is simply to abandon what does not work. […] In that sense, the Generic City accommodates both the primordial and the futuristic – in fact, only  these two.
6.2. The Generic City is held together […] by the residual. Supremely inorganic, the organic is the Generic City’s strongest myth.
6.3. The street is dead. […] Public art is everywhere—as if two deaths make a life.
6.4. The Generic city is on its way from horizontality to verticality.[…] All Generic Cities issue from tabula rasa; if there was nothing, now they are there.
6.5. The Generic City is the apotheosis of the multiple-choice concept: all boxes crossed, an anthology of all  the options. […] an arbitrary gene pool that sometimes produces amazing results.
6.9. The writing of the city may be indecipherable, flawed, but that does not mean that there is no  writing; it may simply be that we  developed a new illiteracy, a new blindness.
6.10. The best definition of the aesthetic of the Generic City is “free style”.
6.11. The roads are only for cars.
6.15. The Generic City presents the final death of planning. […] its most dangerous and  most exhilarating discovery is that planning makes no difference whatsoever. […] In this apotheosis of multiple choice it will never be possible again to reconstruct cause and effect. They work—that is all .
7.1. The Generic City has a (sometimes distant) relationship with a more or less authoritarian regime – local or national.
8.1. The Generic City is  sociology, happening. Each Generic City is a petri dish.
9.2. The Generic City had a past, once.
9.3. The In spite of its absence, history is the major preoccupation, even industry, of the Generic City.
9.4. Instead of specific memories, the associations the Generic City mobilizes are general memories, memories of memories: […] a déjà vu that never ends […]
9.8. Each Generic City has a waterfront, not necessarily with water—it can also be with desert, for instance—but at least an edge where it meets another condition […]
10.2. The only activity is shopping.
10.3. Hotels are becoming the generic accommodation of the Generic City, its most common building block. […] they are closest we have to urban existence.
10.4. The hotel now implies imprisonment.
11.2. The architecture of the Generic City is by definition beautiful.
11.4. Like everything else in the Generic City, its architecture is […] an epidemic of yielding no longer through the application of principle but through the systematic application of the unprincipled.
11.5. The Generic City elevates mediocrity to a higher level.
11.10. The style of choice is postmodern, and will always remain so. Postmodernism is the only movement that has succeeded in connecting the practice of architecture with the practice of panic. Postmodernism is not a doctrine […] but a method […]. […] it creates unconsciousness.
11.12. Is there a connection between the predominance of mirror in the Generic City […] and the “gifts” that […] were supposed to be the most efficient prsent for savages?
11.13. the infinite variety of the Generic City comes close […] to making variety normal [m: if not boring]: banalized, in a reversal of expectation, it is repetition that has become unusual, therefore, potentially, daring, exhilarating.
13.1. There is a calculated (?) redundancy in the iconography that the Generic City adopts.

14.1. Regret about history’s absence is a tiresome reflex. It exposes an unspoken consensus that history’s presence is desirable. […] A city is a plane inhabited in the most efficient way by people and processes, […] the presence of history only drags down its performance.
14.2. History present obstructs the pure exploitation of its theoretical value as absence.
14.3. The Generic City, like a sketch which is never elaborated, is not improved but abandoned. The idea of  layering, intensification, completion are alien to it. it has  no layers.
15.1. Instead of network and organism, the new infrastructure creates enclave and impasse: no longer the grand récit  but the parasitic swerve.
15.2. Infrastructure is no longer a […] response to a […] need but a strategic weapon, a prediction.
16.1. Only the redundant counts.
17.1. Imagine a Hollywood movie about the bible. […] Market scene: […] Now switch off the sound […] and reverse the film. The […] men and women stumble backward; the viewer no longer registers only humans but begins to note spaces between them. The center empties. […] Silence is now reinforced by emptiness. Relief …it’s over. That is the story of the city. The city is no longer. We can leave the theater now. ◊

Well, that’s it. I think it would be a misunderstanding to ask whether Koolhaas praises the advent of the Generic City or lament about it. It is also quite clear that this piece is not a theoretical work, despite the second sentence in the first paragraph (1.1.). It looks more like a script, or even a report about an unexplicated script of a not yet realized film. Actually, it is somehow very surprising that people indeed take this piece literally, whether they praise it or complain about it, as if it would describe obvious empirical “facts”!

If we take it as a script, or the report about such, the “genericity” of the theme spills over to the plot and the performance of the report and creates (dis-)harmonically breaking echoes. A script is generic with respect to the film. The report, however, treats it as a “fact”.

How could the explicated script look like? The first narrative level of that putative film would be some love story or crime story, or both together, like in Godard’s Alphaville, yet presumably in the back-office of a rhizomatic hotel, which spreads unpredictably above and beneath the “surface”. The castle, update version 7.004.
The second narrative level could be imagined as directed towards a hypothetical or phantastic Form of Life (Lebensform) in the near future, not so much different from our own. The third level of the narration would reflect the core concepts of  “The Generic City”, demonstrating their implications to the unfolding of human social and political activities. A potential forth level could demonstrate the emergent result of those activities, as emergence in the spectators minds, triggered by the film: Junkspace.

My point being here, that the genericity as it is implied by TGC requires a lot of work in order to find some actualization by constructing an instantiation. Neglecting or overlooking this necessity is not only an abundant trait in our contemporary society. It is even essential part of the whole program of modernism. We will discuss this in much more detail over here. Some years later, in the essay “Junkspace” (which we introduce in the sequel), Koolhaas critizes the modernist attitude more distinctly and visibly, on a more representational level.

To put it more directly: imho, it amounts to a drastic misunderstanding to regard the description from TGC as a description or even prescription of an actual city. It would be the same as to regard Gotham City, Alphaville or Blade Runner’s Los Angeles as actual cities. This misunderstanding can be comprehended as a response provoked by the typical belief set of modernism. It is funny to see that Koolhaas triggered that response apparently as an intended effect, perhaps fostered by the seemingly representational or even analytic-looking series of headings.

As the cinema film, whether produced in Hollywood or as “independent”, provides the possibility for processes of symbolization, TGC does as well. It exaggerates, densifies, draws in black and white what otherwise would remain fuzzy, unsayable, and unspoken. In some way, Koolhaas is a perhaps close relative of Jaques Tati, and TGC then would be the most recent sibling of “Play Time“. Even the title is already multi-faceted, invoking relations from Wittgenstein to the kindergarten.

The obvious reference to the genre of films opens a further important line of interpretation, a whole problematic field: time. Usually, time is not treated as a topic of its own significance in architecture, it is just a parameter, often even not mentioned at all. In the film, however, and historically at first in the cinema, time is not only shown through kinetics (moving bodies). Instead, cinema invented an image of time itself, as Deleuze has been demonstrating so lucidly [2]. Hence, Koolhaas’ writing “The Generic City” could be interpreted also as an implicit critique of “timeless” architecture or urbanism. Such, he would follow Aldo Rossi in his critique of modernism regarding the role of time [3].

Quite obviously, current conceptions of change in the city, or more general, of urban arrangements, follow the representational image of time, a kinetic image. At best, one would have to add, as urbanism can’t deal appropriately with shrinking cities, and what is called urban waste. It is rather telling that it is not called “urban fallow”, as in agriculture, where the fallow is part of a culture of change and cultivation. To put it directly: urbanism is lacking a theory of change, differenciation and differentiation.

This way, Koolhaas sails as an ex-static ex-modern replicate of Odysseus in the mare praespecificum, where the stars are projected to the sky each night in different constellations, where one could expect only islands of stability, inhabited by deceivingly hospitable syrenes.

This article has been created on July 14th, 2012, and has been republished in an extended form on July 26th, 2012.

References
  • [1] Rem Koolhaas, “The Generic City”. in: O.M.A., Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau (eds.), S, M, L, XL. Monacelli Press, 1995, p.1248-1264. available here
  • [2] Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2 – The Time Image. Athlone Press, London 1989.
  • [3] Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City. MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1982 [1966].

۞

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”.
۞