Descartes, updated.

December 27, 2012 § 1 Comment

Yes, I am a Cartesian. Well, at least abstractly and partially.

Why Descartes? And why updating him? And why here in this series about Urban Reason?

Well, there are roughly three reasons for that. Firstly, because he was the first who concisely expressed the notion of method. And that is certainly of some relevance concerning our collateral target, planning in the context of urban affairs. Second, because the still prevailing modernist thinking is soaked by Descartes’ rationalist ideas. Doing one thing after another, the strategy of divide and conquer, is essentially Cartesian. Such, Descartes is still the secret hero among functionalists and software programmers of our days. And the third reason, finally,  for revisiting Descartes is that regarding the issues risen by planning and method we have to get clear about the problematics of rationalism1, quite beyond the more naturalist approach that we put forward earlier, aligning planning to the embryonic mode of differentiation. We again meet the “binding problem,” for at the one side Descartes’ “Methode” considers epistemic issues,  but on the other neither planning nor method could be considered just as a matter of internal epistemic stances. To put in a more rhetoric manner, could we (i) plan thinking2 and could we (ii) expect to completely think through a plan?

Descartes, living in a transitional time between two great ages, between renaissance and enlightenment, expressed for the first time a strong rational “system”, renewing and updating thereby Platon’s philosophy. When dozing in the Portuguese sun, while ears being filled with some deep house I can imagine that today we are going to experience kind of a reverse passage, a trajectory through Descartes, back from rationalist, logicist, mechanist way of thinking full of abstract ideas that are detached from life like for instance independence towards the classic praise of vortices, broiling, emergence, creativity and dignity of the human practices, that is relating to each other in first place. As one of the first we will meet Leonardo, the timeless genius.

Figure 1. A vortex, in Leonardo’s imaginations.

blobs-1b-det2

In short,  it seems,  in such day dreaming, that we are going to leave the (Roman) module, returning to Athens figures.3 Of course, on this course we carry a backpack, and not a small one, filled with more recent philosophical achievements.4

Here in this essay, I will try to outline a possible update of Cartesian thinking. I tend to propose that modernism, and thus still large parts of contemporary culture, is strongly shaped by his legacy. Obviously, this applies also for the thinking of most of the people and their thinking at least in Western Cultures.

Descartes brought us the awareness about method.  Yet, his initializing version came with tremendous costs. Cartesian thinking implemented the metaphysical believe of independence into the further history of Western societies to come.5 For our investigation, it is the general question about method, mainly with regard to planning, that serves us as a motivational base. We will see whether it is possible to develop the Cartesian concept of method without sticking to his metaphysical believes and the resulting overt rationalism.

Serving still the same purpose as intended by Descartes—to add some update on the notion of method—, in the end this update will turn out to be more like a major release, just to borrow a notion from software production. While the general intention may still resemble Descartes’ layout, the actual mechanisms will be quite different, and probably the whole thing won’t be regarded as Cartesian any more by the respective experts.

But why should one, regarding plans and their implementation, bother with philosophy and other abstract stuff of similar kinds at all, particularly in architecture and urbanism? Isn’t architecture just about pretty forms and optimal functions, optimal fulfillment of a program—whether regarding land-use or the list of rooms in a building—, mingling those with a more or less artful attitude? Isn’t urbanism just about properly building networks of streets and other infrastructure, including immaterial ones such as safety (police, fire, health) and legislative prescriptions for guiding development?

Let us listen to the voice of Vanessa Watson [3], University of Cape Town, South Africa, as she has been writing about it in an article published in 2006 (my emphasis):

The purpose of this article has been to question the appropriateness of much of the thinking in planning that relates to values and judgement. I argue that two main aspects of this thinking are problematic: a focus on process and a neglect of outcomes, together with the assumption that such processes can be guided by a universal set of deontological values, shaped by the liberal tradition. These aspects become particularly problematic in a world which is characterized by deepening social and economic differences and inequalities and by the aggressive promotion of neoliberal values by particular dominant nation-states. (p. 46)

Obviously,  she is asking about the conditions of such implementation. Particularly, she argues that one should be aware about values.

The notion of introducing values into deliberative processes is explored.  (p.31)

In fact, the area of planning6 is a hot spot for all issues about the question what humans would like to “be”, to achieve. Not primarily as an individual (though this could not be neglected), but rather as a “group” in these ages of globalization.7 And many believe not only that human affairs are based on values, but also that this is necessarily so. Watson’s article is just one example for that.

Quite obviously, planning is about the future, and more precisely, about decision-making regarding this future. Equally obvious, it would be ridiculous to confine planning just to that. Yet, stating that ex-post is something very different from ex-ante, as Moroni [4] does in his review of [5], is not only not sufficient, it is struck by several blind spots, e.g. regarding the possibility of predictive modeling. Actually, bringing ex-post and ex-ante perspective to a match is the only way to enable oneself for proper anticipation, as it is well known in financial industries and empiric risk analysis. This is not only admissible in economic contexts. It has been demonstrated as a valuable tool in digital humanities as well. Else, it should be clear that a reduction to either the process or the outcome must be regarded as seriously myopic. What then is planning? (If there is a possible viable definition of it at all.)

Actually, looking to the literature there seem to be as much different definitions for planning as there are people calling themselves planners. In the community of those people there is a fierce discussion about it, even after more than a century of town planning offices. Different schools can be observed, such as rationalists (cf. [5]) or “radical hands-on practitioners,” the former believing in the possibility of pervasive comprehension, the latter denying the feasibility of theory and just insisting on manuals as collections of mystical hands-on recipes [6]. Others, searching for kind of a salvation, are trying to adopt theories from other domains, which poses at least a double-sided problem, if neither the source such as complexity or evolutionary theory is properly understood (cf. [7], [8], [9]) nor the process of adopting them, as Angelique Chettiparamb has been pointing out [10]. As a matter of fact urban or regional planning still fails much too often, particularly corresponding to the size and the scope of the project, and a peculiar structure shows up in this failure: the missing of a common structure across planning projects. One of the reasons at the surface for complicating the subject matter is certainly the extended time horizon affected by the larger plans. Of course, there is also the matter of scale. Small projects often succeed: they are completed within budget, within time, they look like designed and clients are permanently satisfied. Yet, this establishes swarms of independent planning and building, which, according to Koolhaas led to Junkspace. And we should not overlook urban sprawl, which many call the largest failure of planning. Swarms of small projects, even if all of them would be successful, can’t replace large-scale design, it seems.

In other words, the suspicion is that there is a problem with the foundations, with the concepts buried in the idea of planning, the way of speaking, i.e. the performed language games, and probably even with the positioning of the whole area, with the methods, or with all of those issues together. In agreement with Franco Archibugi [5] we may conclude that there are two main challenges: (i) the area of planning is largely devoid of a proper discourse about its foundations and (ii) it is seriously suffering from the binding problem as well.

The question about the foundations is “foundational” for the possibility of a planning science at large. Heidegger in “Sein und Zeit” mentioned ([11]p.9)

Even as the significance of scientific research is always given in this positivity, its actual progress completes not so much through the collection of results and their salvage in “manuals” than in the asking for the basic constitutions of the respective domain, an asking that mostly will be seen as reactively driven out of the increasing technical expertise being fixed in such manuals.

…and a few sentences later :

The level of a science is determined by its capability for a crisis of its foundational concepts.8

Nowadays, we even can understand that this crisis has to be an ongoing crisis. It has to be built into the structure of the respective science itself, such that the “crisis as event” is not possible any more. As an example we will not only throw a glimpse towards biology, we will even assimilate its methodological structure.

I believe that all those methodological (meta-)issues can’t be addressed separately, and also not separately from so-called practical issues. Additionally, I think that in case of an investigation that reaches out into the “social” the question of method can’t be separated from that about the relation between ethics and planning, or from its target, the Urban (cf. [12]). Such a separation would implicitly follow the structure of reductionist rationalism,  which we have, of course, to avoid as a structural predetermination. Therefore I decided to articulate and to braid these issues in a first round all together into one single essay, even to the cost of its considerable length.9

The remainder of this essay revolves around method, plan and their vicinity, arranged to the following sections (active links):

1. Method a la Carte(sian)

Descartes meant to extend the foundations devised long before him by Aristotle. The conviction that some kind of foundations are necessary and possible is called foundationalism. In his essay about Descartes epistemology [13], Newman holds that

The central insight of foundationalism is to organize knowledge in the manner of a well-structured, architectural edifice. Such an edifice owes its structural integrity to two kinds of features: a firm foundation and a superstructure of support beams firmly anchored to the foundation. A system of justified beliefs might be organized by two analogous features: a foundation of unshakable first principles, and a superstructure of further propositions anchored to the foundation via unshakable inference.

In Descartes’ own words:

Throughout my writings I have made it clear that my method imitates that of the architect. When an architect wants to build a house which is stable on ground where there is a sandy topsoil over underlying rock, or clay, or some other firm base, he begins by digging out a set of trenches from which he removes the sand, and anything resting on or mixed in with the sand, so that he can lay his foundations on firm soil. In the same way, I began by taking everything that was doubtful and throwing it out, like sand … (Replies 7, AT 7:537)

Here the reference to architecture is a homage to Aristotle, who also used architecture as kind of a structural template. The big question is whether such a stable ground is possible in the realm of arguments. If not, a re-import of the expected stability won’t be possible, of course. The founder of mechanics, Archimedes, already mentioned that given a stable anchor point he could move the whole world. For him it was clear that such a stable point of reference is to be found only for local contexts.

In his “Discours de la Methode” Descartes distinguished four precepts, or rules, about how to achieve a proper way of thinking.

(1) The first was never to accept anything for true which I did not clearly know to be such; that is to say, carefully to avoid precipitancy and prejudice, and to comprise nothing more in my judgment than what was presented to my mind so clearly and distinctly as to exclude all ground of doubt.

(2) The second, to divide each of the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as might be necessary for its adequate solution.

(3) The third, to conduct my thoughts in such order that, by commencing with objects the simplest and easiest to know, I might ascend by little and little, and, as it were, step by step, to the knowledge of the more complex; assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.

(4) And the last, in every case to make enumerations so complete, and reviews so general, that I might be assured that nothing was omitted.

Put briefly, and employing a modernized shape, he demands to follow these principles:

  • (1) Stability: proceed only from stable grounds, i.e. after excluding all doubts;
  • (2) Additivity: practice the strategy of “divide & conquer”;
  • (3) Duality: not to mistake empirical causality for logical sequence;
  • (4) Transferability: try to generalize your insight, and apply the generalization to as much cases as possible.

Descartes proposes a certain “Image of Thought”, as Deleuze will call it much later in the 1960ies.10 There are some important objections about these precepts, of which Descartes, of course, could not have been aware. It needed at least two radical turns (Copernican by Kant, Linguistic by Wittgenstein) to render those problems visible. In the following we will explicate these problems around Descartes’ four methodological precepts in a yet quite brief manner.

ad (1), Stability

There two important assumptions here. First, that it is possible to exclude all doubts, (2) that it is possible to use language in a way that would not be vulnerable to any kind of doubt. Meanwhile, both assumptions have been destroyed, the first by Gödel and his incompleteness theorem, the second by Wittgenstein with his insisting on the primacy of language. This primacy makes language as a languagability a transcendent (not: transcendental!) entity, such that it is even apriori to any possible metaphysics. There are several implications of that, first regarding the meaning of “meaning” [14]. Surprisingly enough, at least for all rationalists and positivists, it is untenable to think that meaning is a mental entity, as this would lead to the claim that there is something like a private language. This has been excluded by Wittgenstein (see also [14][16]) and all the work of later Putnam is about this issue [17]. Language is fundamentally a “communal thing,” both synchronically and diachronically. Frankly, it is a mistake to think that meaning could be assigned or that meaning would be attached to words. The combined rejections of Descartes’ first precept leads us to the primacy of interpretation. Before interpretation there is nothing. This holds even for what usually is called “pure” matter. A consequence of that is the inseparability of form and matter, or if you like, information and matter. It is impossible to talk about matter without also talking about information and form. For Aristotle, this was a cornerstone. Since Newton, many lost the grip onto that insight.

ad (2), Additivity

This inconspicuous rule is probably the most influential one. In some way it dominates even the first one. This rule was to set out the framing for positivism. The claim is basically that it is generally possible, that is for any kind of subject in thinking, to understand that subject by breaking it up into as many parts as possible. Nothing would be lost by breaking it up.  In the end, we could recombine the “parts of understanding” into a combined version. If this property is assigned to an empirical whole11, this property is usually called “additivity” or “linearity”.

By this rule, Descartes clearly sets himself apart from Aristotle, who would clearly have refused it. For Aristotle, most things could not be split into parts without loosing the quality. The whole is different from the sum of its parts. (Metaphysic VII 17, 1041b) From the other direction this means that putting things together always creates something that haven’t been there before. Today we call this emergence. Yet, we have to distinguish different kinds of emergence, as we have to distinguish different kinds of splitting. When talking about emergence and complexity, we are not interested in emergence by rearrangement (association or by combination (water from hydrogen and oxygen), but rather in strong emergence, which opens a new organizational level.

The additivity of things in thought as well as of things in the world is a direct consequence of the theological metaphysics of Descartes. For him, man had to be independent from God in order to be able to be man able to and for reason.

He [God]… agitated variously and confusedly the different parts of this matter, so that there resulted a chaos as disordered as the poets ever feigned, and after that did nothing more than lend his ordinary concurrence to nature, and allow her to act in accordance with the laws which he had established.

There are general laws effective in the background, as a general condition, but there is no direct action of the divine principle anymore. In other words:  In his actions, man is independent from God. By means of this believe into the metaphysical independence12, Descartes and Leibniz, who thought similarly (see his Theodizee), became the founders and grandfathers of modernism as it still prevails today.

ad (3), Duality

Simply great. The issue has been rediscovered, and of course extended and deepened by Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein understood as the first ever that logic is transcendent. There is neither a direct way from the world into logic, nor from logic into world. It is impossible to claim truth values for worldly entities. Doing so instead results in the implicit claim that the world could be described analytically. This has been the position of idealist rationalists and positivists. Note that it is not a problem to behave rationally, but it is definitely a problem to claim this idealistically as a norm. For this would exclude any kind of creativity or inventiveness.

Descartes did not recognize that his third precept contradicts his second one at least partially. Neither did Aristotle with his conceptualization of the whole and the claim that the truth could be recognized within the world.

ad (4), Transferability

Also a great principle, which is still valid. It rejects what today is known as case-study (the most stupid thing positivism has brought along).

Yet, this also has to be extended. What exactly happens when we are generalizing from observations? What happens, if we apply a generalization to a case? We already discussed this in detail in our contemplation about the comparison.

One of the results that we found there is that even the most simple comparison needs something that is not empirical, something that can not be found by just looking (starring?) at it. It not only implies a concept, it also requires at least one concept that is apriori to the comparison or likewise the observation. The next step is to regard the concept itself as a quasi-material empirical thing. Yet, we will find the same situation again, though this does not establish circularity or a regress!

In order to apply an already established generalization, or a concept, we need some rules. This could be a model of some kind. The important thing then is to understand completely the fact that concepts and generalizations could not be analytical. Hence there are always many ways to apply a generalization. The habit to select a particular style for the instantiation of the concept I called orthoregulation. In Kantian terms we could call it forms of constructions, mirroring his forms of intuition (or schemata).

It is this inevitability of manifold instantiation of abstractions, ideas or generalizations which idealist rationalism does not recognize and thus fails in the most serious way. For its mistake being the claim that there is a single “correct” way to apply a concept.

2. Foundation, now

Descartes clearly expressed that the four parts of the method are suitable to follow first principles, but not sufficient for finding the first principle. For that he devised his method of doubt. Yet, after all, this as well as his whole foundationalist systematics was in need for being anchored in God.

But what if we would try to follow the foundational path without referring to God?13 Setting something else as a first principle is not suitable outside of mathematics or logic. In the case of the former we call it axiom, in the case of the latter tautology. In kind of a vertigo both areas still struggle for a foundation, searching for a holy grail that can’t exist. Outside of mathematics, it is quite obvious that we can’t set an axiom as a first principle. How to justify it?

Now we met the real important question. If we can’t answer it, so it was thought, any knowledge would immediately become subject to the respective circumstances, implying kind of a tertiary chaos, deep relativity and arbitrariness. Yet, the question is important, but somewhat surprisingly the answer is irrelevant. For the question is ill-posed, where its misguidedness represents its importance. There is no absolute justification, thus there is no justification at all, and in turn the question is based on a misbelief.

This does not mean, however, that there is no foundation in the sense that there is nothing beyond (or: behind) this foundation. In our essay “A Deleuzean Move” we presented a possibility for a self-referential conceptualization of the foundation that provides a foundation without being based on a first principle. Of course, there are still requirements. Yet, all required positive-definite items or proposals—such as symbols or logic—become part of the concept itself and are explained and dissolved by it. The remaining conditions are identified as transcendent: modelity, conceptuality, mediality and virtuality. Each of them can be translated or transposed into actual items, and in each “move” all of them are invoked to some, varying degree. These four transcendent and foundational conditions for thought, ideas and language establish a space, whose topology is a hyperbolic, embedding a second-order Deleuzean differential. All together we called it the choreostemic space, because different styles of human activity creates more or less distinct attractors in this space.

Such, the axiomatic nature of Descartes’ foundation which we may conceive as a proposal based on constants is changed into a procedural approach without any fixed point. Instead, the safety in the ocean of possible choreostemic forms derives solely from the habit of thought as it practiced in a community. The second-order differential prevents this space becoming representational, as it needs a double instantiation. It can’t be used to map or project anything into it, including intentions. Nevertheless it records the style of unfolding intentions, wishes, stories, informational activities etc. and renders different styles comparable. These styles can be described as a distinct dynamics in the choreostemic space, between the transcendent entities of concept, model, mediality and virtuality.

This choreostemic space traces the immanence of thought and the relation between immanence (of creation), transcendence (of condition) and the transcendental (of the outside). This outside is beyond the border of language, but for the first time it appears as an imaginary. Note that the divine and the existential are both in this outside, yet into different virtual directions. Neither God nor existence is conceived as something to which we could point to, or about which we could speak by means of actual terms. And at least for the existential it doe not make much sense to doubt it. Here we agree with Descartes as well as with Wittgenstein. Despite we can’t say anything about it, we can traverse it. We always do so when we experience existential resistance, like an astronaut in a Space Shuttle visiting the incompatible interplanetary zone. Only limited trips are possible, we always have to return into an atmosphere.

Saying that the choreostemic space establishes a self-referential foundation implies that it is also critical (Kantian), and even meta-critical (Post-Kantian), yet without being doomed to idealism (Fichte, Frege) or totality (Hegel) and the logicistic functionalism implied by those.

Above we mentioned that the transcendent elements of the choreostemic space, namely model, concept, mediality and virtuality, can be transposed into actual items. This yields a tremendous advantage of the choreostemic space. It does not just dissolve the problem of ultimate justification without scarifying epistemic stability, it also bridges the rather wide gap between transcendence and application. In order to put it into simple terms, the choreostemic space just reflects the necessity of social embedding of modeling, the role of belief and potential in actual moves we take in the world, and finally the importance of concepts, which can be conceived as ideas being detached from the empiric constitution (or parts) of language. In discourses about planning as well as in actual planning projects this 4-fold vector describes nothing less than a proper communicational setup that is part of goal-directed organizational processes.

There are some interesting further topics that can be derived from this choreostemic space, which you can find in the main essay about it. The important message here is that a constant, a metaphysical axiom gets completely dissolved in a procedure that links the informational of the individual with the informational of the communal. 

3. Method, now

3.1. …Taken Abstract

Method is not primarily an epistemological issue, such as models or concepts, or modelity and conceptuality, respectively. It combines rules into a whole of procedures and actions such that this whole can be seen as the operational equivalent of a goal or purpose. As such, it refers to action, strategy, and style, thus aesthetic issues. Hence, also to creativity and its hidden company, formalization. Despite the aspect of reproducibility is usually strongly emphasized, there is also always an element of open experimentation in the “methodological,” allowing to “harvest” the immanent potential, far beyond the encoding and its mechanistic implications. This holds even for thinking itself.

Descartes, of course, and similarly to Kant later, clearly addressed the role of projected concepts as a means of “making sense,” while these projections don’t respond to the object(s) hosting some assumed necessity. As part of the third precept in performing method he writes (see above):

“…   assigning in thought a certain order even to those objects which in their own nature do not stand in a relation of antecedence and sequence.”

Objectively, logically confirmed stable grounds are not part of methodological arrangements any more. There is some kind of stability, of course, yet this comes just as a procedural regularity, which is dependent on the context. In turn, this allows to evade analyticity towards adaptivity.

Any method thus comprises at least two different levels of rules, though usually there are quite a few more. The first will address the factual re-arrangement, while the second—let us call it the upper—level is concerned about the regularization of the application of the rules on the first level, as well as the integration of the rather heterogenic set on the lowest level. Just think about a laboratory, or the design and implementation of a plan in a project to get a feeling for the vey different kinds of subjects that have to be handled by and integrated into a method. The levels are tightly linked to each other, there is still a link to empiric issues on the second level. Thus there are not too much degrees of freedom for the rules on the upper level.

Saying this we already introduced a concept and actively built upon it that has not been available to Descartes: information. Although it could be traced in his 3rd and 4th precept, information as a well-distinguished category was not available before the mid of the 20th century. Itself being dependent on the notions of the (Peircean) sign and probability, information does not only allow for additional levels of abstraction, it also renders some important concept accessible, which otherwise would remain completely hidden. Among those are a clear image about measurement, the reflection about rules, the reflection about abstraction itself—think about the Deleuzean Differential—, the proceduralization, accumulation, transformation and re-distribution of executive knowledge, the associative networks, distributed causes, complexity, and the distinction between reversibility and irreversibility. All those conceptual categories are highly relevant for a theory of planning. None of them could be found explicitly and appropriately assimilated so far in the literature about planning (in the end of 2012).

These categories provide us with a vantage point that opens the possibility for a proper formulation of “method”, where “proper” means that it could be appropriately operationalized and instantiated into practical contexts. We can say that…

Methods are structured collections of more or less strict rules that organize the transformational flow of items.

These items could be documents, data, objects in software, material objects, but also ideas and concepts. In short, and from a different angle, anything that could be symbolized. In the context of planning, any of those particular kinds may be involved, since planning is the task of effectively rearranging matter, stocks and flows embedded into a problematic field spanning from design [19] and project management to logistics and politics. There is little sense to wrangle about the question whether design should be included in planning and planning theory or not [1]. Or whether one should follow a dedicated rationalist route or not [4].

Such questions derive mainly from two blind spots. Firstly, people are obviously caught in a configuration ruled by the duality of “context” and “definition”. It is not that the importance of context is not recognized. Fortunately,  the completely inadequate and almost stupid response of leaning towards case-based-reasoning, case studies or casuistic (cf. [20]) is quite rare.14 Secondly, planning seems to be conceived implicitly as something like an external object. Only Objects can be defined. Yet, objects are created by performing a definition and this “act of defining” in itself is strongly analytical. Conceptual work is outside of the work of the definition. Who, besides orthodox rationalists or logical positivists would claim that planning is something analytical? As a further suspicion we already could add that there are quite strong hints that favor a grand cultural hypothesis for planning.

3.2. … from the Domain Perspective

In order to get clear about this we could look for an example from another domain, where the future—as in planning—is also a major determinant. Hence, let us take the science of biology. Organisms are settling in a richly structured temporal space, always engaging with the future, on any scale. The reason is quite simple: Those who didn’t sufficiently, let it be as a species, or as individual, do not exist any more.

Biology is the science about all aspects of living entities. This definition is pretty simple, isn’t it? Yet, it is not a definition, it is a vague description, because it is by no means clear what “life” should mean. Recent textbooks on biology do not contain a definition of life anymore. So, how is biology structured as a science? Perhaps you know that physicists claimed since Darwin that biology isn’t a “science” at all, because its proclaimed lack of “laws” and respective abstract and formal generalizations. They always get puzzled by the huge amount of particularities, the historicity, the context-specificity, the individuality of the subjects of interest. So, we can clearly recognize that a planning science, whatever it will turn out to be, won’t be a science like physics.

It is not possible to describe all the relevant structural aspects of biology as science and the respective approaches and attitudes here. Yet, there is kind of an initiation of biology as a modern science that is easy to grasp. The breakthrough in biology came with Niko Tinbergen’s distinction of the four central vectors of or perspectives in biological thought:

  • (1) ontogenesis (embryology, growing up, learning),
  • (2) physiology,
  • (3) behavior, and
  • (4) phylogenesis (evolution).

The basic motivation for such a distinction arose from the differences regarding the tools and approaches for observation. There are simply different structures and scales in space-time and concept- space, roughly along the lines Tinbergen carved out. From the perspective of the organism, these four perspectives could be conceived as “functional compartments”. Later, this concept of the functional compartment has been applied with considerable success in cell biology. There, people called them genome, transcriptome, proteome, etc., in order to organize the discourse. Meanwhile it became obvious, however, that this distinction is not an analytic, i.e. “idealistic” one, since in cells and organisms we find any kind of interaction across any number of integrative organizational “levels”.

Any of these areas started with some kind of collecting, followed by taxonomies in order to master the particularity. Since the 1970ies, however, there is an increasing trend towards mathematical modeling. Techniques (sometimes fuzzily also called methods) comprise probabilistic modeling, Markov-models, analytic modeling such as the Marginal-Value-theorem in eco-behavior [21], any kind of statistics, graph-based methods, and data-based, or empirical classification by means of clusterization, and often a combination of them. These techniques are used for deriving concepts.

Interestingly, organisms and their populations are often described (i) in terms of a “currency”, which in biology is time and energy, and (ii) in terms of “strategies,” both on the individual as well as on the collective level. Famous the concept evolutionarily stable strategy (ESS) by Maynard-Smith from 1970 [22].

As a fifth part of biology we nowadays could add the particular  concerns about the integration of the four aspects as introduced by Tinbergen. The formal study of this integration is certainly given by the concept  of complexity.15

Whatever the final agreement about planning and method in Urban16 Affairs will comprise, it is pretty sure that there won’t be a closed definition of planning. Instead, and almost certainly we will also see the agreement on some kind of “Big four/five” perspectives. In the next section we are going to check out the possibility for an extension of it.  Note, that taxonomy is not one of those! And despite there are myriads of highly particular descriptive reports, biology never engaged in case studies.

3.3. The Specialty…

No question, the pragmatic approach of separating basic perspectives without sacrificing the idea of integration has been valuable for the development of biology. There are good chances that the adoption of these perspectives—carried out appropriately, that is not representationalist—will be fruitful for the further development of the domain of planning and planning theory. There is at least kind of a homeomorphism: in both areas we find a strong alignment to the future, which in turn means that adaptivity and persistence (sustainability) also play an important role.

The advantage of such a methodological alignment would be that planning theory would not have to repeat all the discussions regarding the proper concepts of observation. Planning could even learn from the myriads of different strategies of natural systems. For instance, the need for compartmentalization. Or the fact that the immediate results of initial plans (read: genes and transcripts) are in need for heavy post-processing. Or the reliability of probabilistic processes. Or the fact, that evolutionary processes are directed to increased generality, despite their basic blindness.

Yet, there are at least two large differences to the domain of planning. Firstly, planning takes place as a symbolic act in a culture, and secondly, planning involves normative structures and acts, to which we will take a closer look below. Both aspects are fundamentally different from the perspectivism in biology insofar as they don’t allow for a complete conceptual externalization as it is the case with biological subjects. Quite to the contrary, symbols and norms introduce a significant self-referentiality into all methods regarding method and planning in the context of the Urban.

Thus, additionally to the 4+1 structure that we could adopt from biology for dealing with the externalizable aspects, we need two further perspectives that are suitable to deal with the dynamics of symbols and the normative. For the first one, we already have proposed a suitable structure, the choreostemic space. Two notes about that. First, the choreostemic space could be turned into a methodological attitude. Second, the choreostemic explicitly comprises the potential and mediality as major determinants of any “worldly” move, besides models and concepts. The further issue of normativity we will discuss in the next section.

Meanwhile, we finally can formulate what method could mean in the context of the Urban. First, our perspectives for dealing with the subject of “planning,” the subjects of planning, and the respective methods would be the following (read 1 thru 4 in parallel to Tinbergen’s)

  • (1) genesis of the plan and genesis of the planned;
  • (2) mechanisms for implementation, mostly considering particular quasi-material aspects, and mechanisms in the implemented;
  • (3) behavior (of individuals, groups, and the whole) and social dynamics, during planning and in the implemented arrangement;
  • (4) adaptivity, persistence, sustainability and evolution of plans and the planned;
  • (5) Choreostemic of concepts and interaction, in planning and in the planned,;
  • (6) Ethical and moral considerations;
  • (7) Integration of planning and the planned as a complex system (see also below).

Within these perspectives, particular methods and techniques will evolve. Yet, we also could bundle all of it into a single methodological attitude. In any case we could say that…

Methods are collections of more or less strict rules that organize the transformational flow of items, where these collections are structured along basic perspectives.

3.4. …and the (Notorious, Critical) Game

Last, but not least, “method” is a language game—of course, I would like to add. As usual, several implications immediately derive. First, it is embedded into a Form of Life. Methods are by no means restricted to rationalism or the famous “Western perspective”. Any society knows language, rules and norms, and thus also regularity. Of course, the shape of the method may differ considerably. Yet, from the concept as we propose it here, these differences are just parameters. In terms of choreostemic space, methods result in different attractors in a non-representative metaphysical space of immanence.

This brings us to the second implication: the language game “method” is a “strongly singular term”. We can’t do anything without it, not even thinking in the most reduced manner, let even be a combined action-thinking. “Method” is one of these pervasive constructs in the basement of culture. Moreover, as a strongly singular term it introduces self-referentiality, and hence an immanent creativity. Thus the third implication: Whenever we use a method, we have to apply it critically. This basically means that there is no method without a clear indication about its conditions.

Regarding our concept of Generic Differentiation and its trinitary way of actualizing change, we thus have to expect that we will find the “method aspect” everywhere. No matter whether we take the perspective of the planning process or that of the planned. In order to illustrate this aspect using a metaphor, let me refer to the structure of atoms and molecules, particularly to the concept of the electron orbital. Orbital electrons are responsible for the electro-magnetic binding forces between atoms in molecules. It is through these electrons that molecules (and also metals and crystals) can exist at all.

Figure 2: the so-called orbitals of outer electrons of atoms in a molecule of CO2, showing their importance in building molecules from atoms. The cudgels (yellow, blue, green) should not be taken as well-defined 3-dimensional material volumes. They rather indicate fuzzy areas of increased probability for meeting an electron if a measurement would be taken.

co2-hybridization

Similarly, methods, as elements of choreostemic moves, may be conceived the mediators of binding forces between the aspects involved in thinking about differentiation.

Our concept of Generic Differentiation allows to overcome the wrong distinction between theory and practice. While the true dualism consists of theory or practice on the one side and performance on the other, it is still necessary to clarify the relation between theory, model and operation. We already derived that theories may be beneficially conceived as orthoregulating milieus for assembling models. But still, this is only a condition. I think that the relation between theory and structural models on the one side,  and predictive/operational models on the other side concerns a question that points right to the heart of actualization: How to organize interpretation? Again we meet a question that is invisible for rationalists and modernists17 as well, since both are blind against the necessity of forms of construction and the implied freedom, or manifoldness of choice, respectively. This issue of how to organize interpretation concerns, of course, all phases and aspects of planning, from creating the plan until living in the implemented plan.

4. Grand Cultural Perspective

Franco Archibugi is completely right in emphasizing that planning is pervasively relevant [5]. Planning of xyz is not just relevant for the subject xyz, where xyz could be something like land-use, city-layout, street planning, organizational planning, etc.

In other words, it [m: planning] is a system that concerns the entire social life and includes all the possible decision-makers that act within it. It is a holistic system. 18

So far, so good. He is also right in criticizing the positivistic approach to planning, which, according to him, has been prevalent in planning until recently. Yet, despite in his book he describes a lot of reasonable means and potential practices for an improved choreography of planning, comprising institutions down to consulting, it is not really an advance to replace the positivist attitude with a functionalist one, claiming that planning has to follow the paradigm of “programming”.

Among other weaknesses such as a weird concept of theory and theoricity—leading to rather empty distinctions like theory on, of and in planning and the mistake to mix case-studies with story-telling—, Archibugi is almost completely unaware about the ethical dimension and/or its challenges, apparently hoping to cover the aspect of difference and divergence by means of institutions. Since he believes in penetrating comprehensibility, complexity  and self-referentiality didn’t make it into his treatise as well, even if we would consider it in the limited way mainstream is using it.  Despite he wants to separate from positivist approach in his outline of “the first routes of the new discipline,” he proposes an “operational logical framework” which integrates and unifies all types, forms, and procedures of planning.19

Therein, Archibugi surely counts as an arch-rationalist, a close relative to the otherworldly stories published by Luhmann and Habermas. Yet, we certainly can’t apply pervasive rationalism for designing this “system”.  Social life can’t be planned and, more important, it should not be planned, as the inherent externalizing perspective introduced by plans implies to treat human beings as means.20

Our support of the grand cultural attitude is rooted quite differently. In this series of essays about the Urban (with a capital “U”, see footnote 16) we have been trying to find support for the concept of Urban Reason. Basically, this concept claims that human reason is strongly shaped or even determined by the embedding culture, which today, as a matter of fact, is urban culture. In short, human reason is itself a cultural phenomenon. One could indeed argue that this follows quite directly from Wittgenstein’s philosophy and the extensions provided by the late Putnam: Any rule following is deeply anchored in the respective Form of Life; any human thinking, which is largely based on language, hence has the communal as one of its main components. As a consequence of the increasing weight of urban culture, which meanwhile turned into a dominance even against the nation state, human reason is strongly shaped by the Form of Life of urban citizens. This holds for any tiny bit of the surface of planet earth, of course, even if an arbitrary tribal community never would have been in contact with modern forms of human social organization.

The quality of the Urban can’t be separated any more from human reason, thus from human culture at large. Everything we do around the Urban and within the Urban contributes to culture. This we call the Grand Cultural Hypothesis. In Deleuzean terms we could say that the Urban could be conceived as a distributed, process- and population-based, probabilistic plane of immanence. Regarding our extension of this Deleuzean concept, the Choreostemic Space, we could also say that the Urban establishes a particular attractor in it.

We even could extend this Grand Cultural Hypothesis by stating that all the institutions we nowadays rate as cultural emanence always have been urban. Things like writing, numbers, newspapers, books, astronomy, guilds, printing, operas, stadium, open source, bureaucracy, police, power or governmentality could have emerged only in those arrangements we call city. We have been discussing this already elsewhere and won’t repeat it.

The argument here is that the Urban is a particular form of dealing with differentiation. In turn, designing or at least establishing a particular way of dealing with differentiation and of inducing differentiating processes circumscribes what could be labeled a particular culture. Urban differentiation processes rarely engage with physical constraints, for the Urban introduces an emancipation from them, and people being immersed in the Urban invent things like money and insurances. In other words, the Urban provides a stable platform for safe-guarded experimentation with cultural goods, inventing also methods and conditions for experimenting. Thus, even the very notion of method, as opposed to tradition, has been shaped by the Urban.

All this is not really surprising.  It is well-known that cities are breeding grounds for symbolization and sign processes. The Urban creates its own mediality. The Urban puts differentiation onto its stage, it invokes an almost cinematographic mise-en-scene of differentiation21. This result is strongly contradicts the Cartesian and rationalist expectation that it would be possible to plan (aspects of) the city. Planning must be considered as just one of the three modes of differentiation, besides evolution and learning. Believing into the possibility and sufficiency of an apriori determinability just means to mistake the embryo for the fully fledged animal.

Obviously, the weighting of the three forms of actualization of differentiation is an act of will, albeit this could be observed so far only in very rare cases22. This irreducible trinity in differentiation should, however, not be assigned just to the individuals. It is a matter of politics and the collective as well, though this introduces a completely new level of negotiation into politics for most countries (except Switzerland, perhaps). Yet, probably it is the only form of politics that will remain in a truly and stable enlightened society. Each particular configuration of the above mentioned trinity will exert rather specific constraints and even consequences. A first benefit from our extended concept of Generic Differentiation concerns the possibility and the mode of communicating qualitative consequences of implementing certain designs.

The  great advantage of talking at this level of abstraction is that the problematic field can be relieved from the collision of “values” and facts. It is accessible through the Differential23, that is, a vertical speciation (just in contrast to Descartes’ method and also deconstructivism, both of which are applying horizontal differencing only). Values and facts are not disregarded completely by rigorous linguistic hygienic, as Latour suggests. They are just not taken as a starting point. One should acknowledge that values and facts are nothing else than kind of shortcuts in thinking, when thinking becomes a bit lazy.

Another advantage is that there is no possibility any more to clash outcome (by any means) and process (towards an open end). They are now deeply integrated into Generic Differentiation. This does not exclude indicative measures for the quality of a city or its neighborhoods, whether regarding for instance more general issues like adaptivity, or more concrete ones like the development or relative level of the attractiveness as measured by the monetary value of the cells in a district. It should be clear, however, that it is impossible to define short-term outcomes, e.g. as the “result” of the implementation of a plan. We even could say that measuring the city could be done almost in arbitrary ways, as long as there are many measures, the measures are going to address various organizational levels and the measures are stable across a long period of time.

All this allows us to rethink planning. It will have a profound effect on the self-perception of planners and the profession of planning at large. Calls like that forwarded by Vanessa Watson, demanding for “respecting cultural differences” [1] become dispensable, at least. We can see that they even lead to a false emphasis on identity, revitalizing the separation of into process and outcome against its own intentions.

Starting with the primacy of difference, in contrast, allows to bring in evolutionary aspects in a completely self-conscious manner. Difference is nothing that must be respected or created. It must be deeply braided into the method, not into the corporeality of people as a representationalist concept. More exactly, as deep as possible, that is as a transcendent principle. It is more or less canting to acclaim “be different”, or “rescue difference”, as this implies the belief in transcendental identity and logicism.

But now it is urgent to discuss the issue of ethics regarding planning and methods.

5. Values, Ethics, and Plans

No doubt, our attitudes towards our own future(s) are not only shaped by contextual utility and some overarching (idealistic) rationality may play only a partial role as well. From the background, or if you prefer: subliminally,  a rich and blurry structure determines our preferences, hopes and intentions. Usually, this sphere of personal opacity is also thought to comprise what often is called values. Not surprising, values also appear in the literature about planning  (cf. [24]24).

Undeniably, planning is in need for ethics25 and moral standards [25]. Yet, the area is a rather difficult one, to say the least. Rather well-known approaches like that proposed by Rawls (based on the abstract idea of justice), rationalism, or utilitarianism are known to be either defect, not suitable for contemporary challenges, or both. Furthermore, it is difficult to derive moral standards from the known philosophical theories. Fortunately, there is an alternative. Yet, before we start we have to shed some light on the rhetoric implied by the notion of “plan”.

5.1. Language Games

In the context of the concept of Generic Differentiation we already identified the “plan” and the respective notion of “development” as just one of the three modes of differentiation—development, evolution and learning—, which neither can’t be separated from each other nor be reduced to each other. It is just a matter of relative weight.

Such we can ask about the language game of “plan”.  Language games are more or less organized and more or less stable arrangement of rules about the actualization of concepts into speech. I won’t go into details here, you can find the discussion of relevant aspects in earlier essays.26 Yet, some points should be made explicit here as well.

 The first is that the notion of language game, as devised by Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations, implies the “paradox of rule-following”27, which can be resolved only through the reference to the Form of Life, which in simplified terms concerns the entirety of culture. Second, as a practice in language, the language game, e.g. that of talking about “plan”, implies a particular pragmatics, or different kinds of aspect is such a speech act. Austin originally distinguished the locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary aspect. Austin maintains that these aspects are always present, they are not a matter of psychology or consciousness, but rather of language. With Deleuze (in Cinema 2) we can add the aspect of story-telling, which we called the delocutionary aspect of speech acts. Third, any actualization of a “bag of concepts” which let us then invoke the term “plan” is just one out of a manifold, for actualization of concepts require forms of construction, or orthoregulation, as we called it. Usually, we apply rather stable habits in this “way down” from concepts to words and acts, but always keep in mind that there are many different ways for this.

Underneath of all of that is an acknowledgment of the primacy of interpretation, which includes a strong rejection of the claim of analyticity. Note, that we reject analyticity here not as a consequence of some property of our subject, that is the property of “complexity,” in our case the complexity of the city. I think it is much stronger to reject it as a consequence of (human) culture and the fact of language itself.

Such, we can ask about three things regarding the notions of “plan” or “planning”, despite the aspects are certainly overlapping. First, which concepts are going to be invoked? Second, which story is to be told? Third, how is the story to be told?

The dimension of concepts could be covered by the notion of the “image of the city”. The “image of the city” is quite a bit more than just a model or a theory, albeit these make up a large deal of it. A preferential way to deal with images about the city, albeit it is just a starting point, is David Shane’s way of theorizing the city. He manages to combine morphological, historical, political, technological and socio-dynamical aspects in a neat manner. Another, quite different mode of story-telling is provided by Rem Koolhaas, as we have discussed it before.

The two latter questions are, of course, the more important ones. Just think about the idea of “ideal city,” the “garden city,” the “city of mobility,” or the “complex city”. Or the different stances such as rationalism, neo-liberalism, or utilitarianism. Or the issue of participation versus automation. Or who is going to tell the story? Let us start by returning to said “values”.

5.2. Values

Values are constants, singularities, quite literally so. As such, they destroy any possibility of comparison or mediatedness. Just as numbers as mere values don’t have an meaning. To build a mathematics you need a systematicity about operations as well. The complete story is always made from procedures and variables, where the former always dominates the latter. A value itself is like a statue showing a passer-by. Yet, values are fixed, devoid of any possibility to move around, “pure” territorialization.

Thus, a secondary symbolization, mediatization and distribution of values (cf.[26]) does not really help in mitigating these difficulties. Claiming and insisting on values means just to claim “I am not interested in exchange at all”. Values are existential terms: either they are, or they are not. They are strictly dichotomous. Thus they are also logical terms. Not really surprising we find utilitarist folks to make abundant use of positively formulated values.

Yet, values fail even with regard to their pretension of existentiality. Heidegger [11] writes (p.100) that

[…] the recourse towards “valueish” configurations [can not] bring into sight the Being as readiness-to-hand, let alone becoming it an ontological issue.
( […] die Zuflucht zu »wertlichen« Beschaffenheiten [kann] das Sein als Zuhandenheit auch nur in den Blick bringen, geschweige denn ontologisch zum Thema werden lassen.)

Consequently it is nothing but a formal mistake to think that values could be even near the foundation for decision-making. Their existential incommensurability is the reason for a truly disastrous effect: Values are the cause of wars, small ones and large ones. (And there is hardly another reason for it.) Values implement a particular mechanic of costs, which only could be measured in existential terms, too. What would be needed instead is a scale, not necessarily smooth, but at least useful for establishing some more advanced space of expressibility. Only such a double-articulating space, which is abstract and practical at the same time, allows for the possibility of translation, at first, followed by mutual transformation.

This triple move of enabling expression, translation and transformation has nothing to do with tolerance. Tolerance, similar to values, is a language game that indicates that there is no willingness for translation, not even for transformation of ones own “position”. In order to establish a true multiplicity, the contributing instances have to interpenetrate each other; otherwise, one just ends up with modernist piles of dust, “social dust particles” in this case, without any structure.

In this context it is interesting to take a look to Bergson’s conceptualization of temporality. For Bergson, free will, the basic human tendency for empathy and temporality are closely linked through the notion of multiplicity. In his contribution to the Stanford Encyclopedia Lawlor writes [27]:

The genius of Bergson’s description is that there is a heterogeneity of feelings here, and yet no one would be able to juxtapose them or say that one negates the other. There is no negation in the duration. […] In any case, the feelings are continuous with one another; they interpenetrate one another, and there is even an opposition between inferior needs and superior needs. A qualitative multiplicity is therefore heterogeneous (or singularized), continuous (or interpenetrating), oppositional (or dualistic) at the extremes, and progressive (or temporal, an irreversible flow, which is not given all at once).

Bergson’s qualitative multiplicity that he devises as a foundation for the possibility of empathy is, now in our terms, nothing else than the temporal unfolding of a particular and abstract space of expressibility. The concept of values make this space vanish into a caricature of isolated points. There is a remarkable consistency now that we can conclude with Bergson that values also abolish temporality itself. Yet, without temporality, how should be there any exchange, progress, or planning?

Some time ago, Bruno Latour argued in his “Politics of Nature” [28], albeit he meanwhile refreshed and extended his first investigations, that the distinction between facts and values is rarely useful and usually counterproductive:

We must avoid two types of fraud: one in which values are used in secret, to interrupt discussions of facts; and one in which matters of fact are surreptitiously used to impose values. But the point is not to maintain the dichotomy between moral judgments and scientific judgments. (p.100)

The way to overcome this dual and mutual assuring fraudulent arrangement Latour proposes three major moves. First, stopping to talk about nature (facts), which results in abolishing the concept of nature completely. This amounts to a Wittgensteinian move, and aligns to Deleuze as well in his critique of common sense. Already the talk about nature insinuates the fact and produces values as their complementary and incommensurable counterpart. “Nature” is an empty determination, since fro a considerable time now everything on this globe relates to mankind and the human, as Merleau-Ponty pointed out from a different perspective.

The second step in Latour’s strategy amounts to the application of the Actor-Network-Theory, ANT.  As a consequence, everything becomes political, even if the “thing” is not human, but for instance a device, or an animal, or any other element being non-human.28 Within the network of actors, he locates two different kinds of powers, the two powers to take into account (perplexity and consultation), traditionally called science, and the two powers to put in order (hierarchy and institution),  usually called politics. The third step, finally, consists in gluing everything together by a process model29, according too which actors “translate” them mutually in a purely political process, a “due process”. In other words, Latour applies a constitutional model, yet not a two-chamber-model, but rather one of continuous assimilation and transformation. This process finally turns into kind of “collective experimentation”.

Latour’s model is one that settles in in the domain of socio-politics. As such, it is a normative model. Latour explicates the four principles, assigned to two kinds of power, by respective moral demands, this or that one “shall” do or not. Not being rooted in a proper theory of morality, the Latourean moral appears arbitrary. It is simply puzzling to read about the “requirement of closure” meaning that once the discussion is closed, it should not be re-opened, or about the “requirement of the institution” (p.111).

What Latour tries to explain is just the way how groups can find a common base as a common sense that stabilizes into a persistent organizational form, in other words that would align this thought to our concept of complexity the transition from order—patterns in the widest sense—to organization.

Yet, Latour fails in his endeavor as it is presented in the “Politics of Nature”.

As Fraser remarked from a Deleuzean perspective [29],

Latour’s concept of exteriority obliges him to pursue a politics of reality which is the special providence of ‘moralists’, rather than a politics of virtual reality in which all entities, human and non-human, are engaged.

In order to construct his argument, he just replaces any old value by some new values, while his main (and mistaken) “enemy” is Platon’s idealism. His attempts are inconsistent and incomplete.

Latour’s concept is too flat, without vertical contours, despite its rugged rhetoric. We must go “deeper,” and much more close to the famous wall where one could get a “bloody nose” (Wittgenstein). Yet, Latour also builds on a the move of proceduralization, rejecting a single totalizing principle [28].

[…] to redifferentiate the collective using procedures taken either from scientific assemblies or from political assemblies. (p.31)

This move away from positive fixation yet towards procedures that are supposed to spur the emergence of a certain goal or even purpose may well be considered as one of the most important ones in the history of thought. The underlying insight is that any such positive fixation inevitably results in some kind of naïve metaphysics or politically practiced totalitarianism.

5.3. Ethics: Theories of Morality

Contrary to a widely held belief, ethics itself can’t say anything about the suitability of a social rule. As a theory30 about moral, ethics helps to derive an appropriate set of moral rules, but there can’t be “content” in ethics. It is extremely important to distinguish properly between ethics and morality. Sue Hendler, for instance, a rather influential scholar in planning ethics, never stopped messing ethics and morality [30].

As a branch of philosophy, ethics is the study of moral behaviour and judgements. A key concept from the field of ethics is that it is possible to evaluate a given behaviour and give coherent reasons why it is ,good or bad’. […] What criteria can be used to decide whether a given action is ethical?

Philosophy never “studies behavior”. Actions “are” not ethical, they can’t be for grammatical reasons. Henderson equates types with tokens, a common fault committed by positivists. Contrary to the fashion of initiating any kind of ethics, such as environmental ethics or said planning ethics, a terminology that appears frequently in respective journals about planning, it is bare nonsense, based on the same conflation of ethics and morality, that is, theory and model. There can be only on level of theoretical argumentation that could be called ethics. There could be different such theories, of course, but any of them would not consider directly practical cases. Behavior is subject of morality, while morality is subject of ethics. 

5.4. Proceduralizing Theory

Some years ago, Wilhelm Vossenkuhl [31]31 published a viable alternative, or more precise, a viable embedding for the concept of value, one which then ultimately would lead to their dissemination. By means of myriad of examples, Vossenkuhl first demonstrates that in the field of morals and ethics there are no “solutions”. Moral affairs remain problematic even after perfect agreements. Yet, he also rejects well-founded the usual trail of abstract principles, such as “justice”, which has been proposed by Rawls in 1971. As Kant remarked in 1796 [32],  any such singular principle can’t be realized except by a miracle. The reason is that any actualization of a singular principle corrupts the principle and its moral status  itself.32 What we can see here is the detrimental effect of the philosophy of identity. If identity is preferred over difference33, you end up with a self-contradiction. Additionally, a singularity can’t be generative, which implies that an external institution is needed to actualize the principle formulated by the singularity. This leads to a self-contradiction as well.

Vossenkuhl’s proposal is radically different. In great detail He formulates a procedural approach to ethics and moral action. He refuses a positive formulation of moral content. Ethics, as a theory of morality, is necessarily empty. Instead, he formulates three precepts that together can be followed as individual and communal mechanisms in order to establish a moral procedurality. This allows to achieve commonly acceptable factual configurations (as goals) without the necessity to define apriori the content of a principle, or even a preference order regarding the implied values, or profiles of values. These three precepts Vossenkuhl calls the maxims about scarcity (affecting the distribution of goods), norms (ensuring their viability) and integration (of goods and norms). All precepts regard the individual as well as the collective. The threefold mechanisms unfold in a field of tensions between the individual and the communal.

Such, ethics becomes the theory of the proceduralization of morality. Values—as constants of morality—are dissolved into procedures. This is the new Image of Ethics. Instead of talking about values, whether in planning, politics or elsewhere, one should simply care about the conditions for the possibility that such a proceduralization can take place. It should be noted that this proceduralization is closely related to Wittgenstein’s notion of rule-following.

There is nothing wrong to conceive this as an implementation, because this ethics as well as the moral is free of content. Only if this is the case, people engaging in a discourse that affects moral positions (values) can talk to each other, find a new position by negotiation, transforming such themselves, finally settling successfully a proper agreement. Note that this completely different from a tradeoff or from “tolerance”.

The precepts should not be imagined as kind of objects or entities with a clear border, or even with a border at all. After all, they are practiced by people, and usually by many of them. It is thus an idealistic delusion to think that the scarcity of goods or the safety of norms could be determined objectively, i.e. by a generally accepted scale. Instead, we deal with a population and the precepts are best conceived as quasi-species, more or less separated subsets in the distribution of intensities. For these reasons, we can find a two-fold source for opposition. (i) The random variation of all implied parameters in the population, and (ii) the factual or anticipated contradiction of expected outcomes for small variations of the relative intensities of the precepts. In other words, the precepts introduce genuine complexity, and hence creativity through emergence and self-generated ability for performing grouping.

The precepts are not only formulated as maxims to be followed, which means that they demand for dynamic behavior of individuals. Together, they also have the potential to set a genuine dynamic creativity into motion, yet now on the level of the collective. The precepts are dynamic and create dynamics.

So, what about the relation between planning and ethics, between a plan and moral action? Let us briefly recapitulate. First, the modern version of ethics combines generative bottom-up mechanisms with the potential for mutual opposition and top-down constraints into a dynamic process. Particularly this dynamics dissolves the mere possibility for identifiable borders between good and bad. The categories of good and bad are unmasked as misguided application of logic to the realm of the social. Second we found that plans demand inherently their literal implementation. As far as plans represent factual goals instead of probabilistic structural ones, e.g. as possibility or constraint, plans must be conceived as representational, hence simplistic models about the world. In extremis we even could say that plans represent their own world. Plans are devices for actualization the principle of the embryonic.

The consequence is quite clear. As long as plans address factual affairs they are not compatible with an appropriate ethics. Hence, in order to allow for a role of ethics in planning, plans have to retreat from concrete factual goals. This in turn has, of course, massive consequences for the way of controlling the implementation of plans. One possibility is again to follow an appropriate operationalization through some currency, where for instance the adaptive potential of the implemented plan is reflected.

This result may sound rather shocking at first sight. Yet, it is perfectly compatible with the perspective made possible through an applicable conceptualization of complexity, which we will meet again in a later section about the challenge of dealing with future(s).

6. Dealing with Future(s)

Differentiation is a process, pretty trivial. Yet, this means that we could observe a series of braided events, in short, an unfolding in time and a generation of time. We have to acknowledge that the events neither do unfold with the same speed, nor on the same thread, nor linearly, albeit at large the entirety of braided braids proceeds. The generation of time refers to the very possibility for as well as the possible form of further differentiation is created by the process itself.

We already mentioned that planning as one of the possible forms of differentiation represents only the deterministic, embryonic part of it. It is inherently analytic and representationalist, since the embryonic game demands a strict decoding and implementation of a plan, once the plan exists as some kind of a encoded document. In other words, planning praises causality.

6.1. Informational Tools

Here we meet just a further blind spot of planning as far as it is understood today. Elsewhere we have argued that we can’t speak about causality in any meaningful manner without also talking about information. It is simply a rather dirty reductionism, which even does not apply in physics any more, except perhaps in case of Newton’s balls (apples?).

This blind spot concerning information comes with dramatic costs. I mean, it is really a serious blindness, affecting the unlocking of a whole methodological universe. The consequence of which has been called the “dark side of planning” Bent Flyvbjerg [34]. He coined that notion in order to distinguish ideal planning from actual planning. It is pretty clear that a misconceived structure opens plenty of opportunities to exploit the resulting frictions. It is certainly a common reaction among politicians to switch to strong directives in cases where the promised causality does not appear. Hence, failing planning is always mirrored in open—and anti-democratic—demonstration of political power, which in turn affects future planning negatively. As any deep structure, so the philosophy of identity is more or less a self-fulfilling prophecy… unfortunately with all the costs, usually burdened to the “small” people.

The argument is pretty simple. First, everybody will agree that planning is about the future. Second, as we have shown, the restriction of differentiation to planning imposes the constraint that everything around a plan is pressed into the scheme of identifiable causality, which excludes all forms that can be described only in terms of information. It is not really surprising that planners have certain difficulties with the primacy of interpretation, that is, the primacy of difference. Hence they are so much in favor of cybernetic philosophers like Habermas and Hegel. Thinking in direct causes strictly requires that a planner is pervasively present. Since this is not possible in reality, most plans fail, often in a double fashion: The fail despite huge violations of budgets. There is a funny parallel to the field of IT-projects and their management, of which is well-known that 80% of all projects fail, doubly. Planning induces open demonstration of power, i.e. strictness, due to its structural strictness.

Without a “living” concept of information as a structural element a number of things, concepts and tools are neither visible nor accessible:

  • – risk, simulation, serious gaming, and approaches like Frederic Vester’s methodology,
  • – market,
  • – insurance
  • – participatory evolutionary forms of organization, such as open source.

Let us just focus on the aspects risk and market. Taking recent self-critical articles from the field of planning (cf. [4],[35]), but also a quick Google ™ search (first 300 entries), not a single notion of risk can be found, where it would be taken as a tool, not just as a parlance. Hence, tools and concepts for risk management are completely unknown in planning theory,  for instance value-of-risk methods for evaluating alternatives or the current “state” of the implementation, or scenario games34. Even conservative approaches such as “key performance indicators” from controlling are obviously unknown.

We already indicated that planning theory suffers from a lack of abstract concepts. One of those concerns the way of mediating incommensurable and indivisible goals. In an information-based perspective it is easy to find ways to organize a goal-finding process. Essentially, there are two possibilities: the concept of willingness-to-pay and the Delphi method (from so-called “soft operations research”).

Willingness-to-pay employs a market perspective. It should not be mistaken as a “capitalist” or even “neo-liberal” strategy, of course. Quite in contrast, it introduces a currency as a basis for abstraction, thereby the possibility for constructing a comparability. This currency is not necessarily represented by money. Else, it serves in both possible directions, regarding costs as well as benefits. Without that abstraction it is simply impossible to find any common aspects in those affairs that appear as incommensurable at first sight. Unfortunately, almost every aspect in human society is incommensurable at first sight.

The second example is the Delphi method. This can be used, for instance, even for the very first step in case of the necessity of mediating incommensurabilities in goals and expectations: finding a common vocabulary, operationalized as a list of qualitative, but quantifiable properties, finding “weights” for those, and making holistic profiles transparent for any involved person.

It is quite clear that a metaphysical belief in identity, independence and determinability renders the accessibility of such approaches completely impossible. Poor guys…

6.2. Complexity

Not only in planning theory it is widely held that, as Manson puts it [36],

[…] there is no single identifiable complexity theory, but instead an array of concepts applicable to complex systems.

Further more, he also states that

[…] we have identified an urgent need to address the question of appropriate levels of generalization and specificity in complexity-based research.

Research about complexity is strongly flavored by the respective domain of its invocation, such as physics, biology or sociology. As an imported general concept, complexity is often more or less directly equaled to concepts like self-organization, fractals, chaos or even the edge of it, emergence, strange attractors, dissipativity and the like. (also Haken etc.)

A lot of myths appeared around these labels. For instance, it has been claimed that chaos is necessary for emergence, which is utterly wrong. Even more catastrophic is the habit to mix cybernetics and cybernetical systems theory with complexity. Luhmannian and Habermasian talking represent the conceptual opposite to an understanding of complexity. Nothing could be more different from each other! Yet, there are even researchers [37] who (quite nonsensical) explain emergence by the Law of Large Numbers, … indeed a rather disappointing approach. Else, it must be clear that self-organization and fractals are only weakly linked to chaos, if at all. On the other hand, concepts like self-organization or emergence are just aspects of complexity, and even more important, they are macro-theoretical descriptive terms which could not be transferred across domains.

The major problem in the contemporary discourse about complexity is that it this discourse is not critical enough. Instead, people first always asked “what is complexity?” before they then despaired of their subject. Finally, the research about “complexity” made its way into the realm of the symbolic, expressing now more a habit than a concept that could be utilized in a reasonable manner. The 354th demonstration of a semi-logarithmical scaling is simply boring and has nothing to do with “complexity”. Note that a multiplicative junction of two purely random processes creates the same numerical effect…

Despite those difficulties, complexity entered various domains, yet, always just as an attitude. Usually, this leads either to a tremendous fuzziness of the respective research or writing, or to perfected emptiness. Franco Archibugi, who proposes a rationalist approach to planning, recently wrote ([5], p.64):

The planning system is a complex system (footnote 24).

… and in the respective footnote 24:

Truly this seems a tautology; any system is complex by definition.

Here, the property “complex” gets both inflated and logified, and neither is appropriate.

What has been missing so far is an appropriate elementarization on the level of mechanisms. In order to adapt the concept of complexity to any particular domain, these mechanisms then have to be formulated in a probabilistic manner, or strictly with regard to information. The five elements of complexity as we devised it previously in a dedicated essay are

  • (1) dissipation, i.e. deliberate creation of additional entropy by the system at hand;
  • (2) an antagonistic setting of distributed opposing “forces” similar to the morphogenetic reaction-diffusion-system described first by Alan Turing;
  • (3) standardization;
  • (4) active compartmentalization as a means of modulating the signal horizon as signal intensity length;
  • (5) systemic knots.

Arranging the talk about complexity in this way has several advantages. First, these five elements are abstract principles that together form a dynamic setup resulting in the concept of “complexity”. This way, it is a proceduralization of the concept, which allows to avoid the burden of a definition without slipping into fuzzy areas. Second, these elements can be matched rather directly to empirical observation across a tremendous range of domains. No metaphorical work is necessary as there is no transfer of a model from one domain to another.

Note, that for instance “emergence” is not part of our setup. Emergence is itself a highly integrated concept with a considerable degree of internal heterogeneity. We would have to discern weak from strong emergence, at least, we would have to clarify what we understand by “novelty” and so on, that is questions that neither could be clarified nor be used on the descriptive, empirical level.

There is yet a third significant methodological aspect of this elementarization. It is possible to think about a system that is missing one of those elements, that is, where one of these elements is set to zero in its intensity. The five elements thus span a space that transcends the quality of a particular system. These five elements create two spaces, one conceptual and one empirical, which however are homeomorphic. The elements are first necessary and sufficient to talk about complexity, but they are also necessary and sufficient for any corporeal arrangement to develop “complexity”. Thus, it is easy and straightforward to apply our concept of complexity.

The first step is always to ask for the respective instantiation of the elements: Which antagonism could we detect? What is the material carrier of it? How many parts could we distinguish in space and time? Which kind of process is embedding this antagonism? How is compartmentalization going to be established, material or immaterial? How stable is it? Is it morphological or a functional compartmentalization? What is the mechanism for establishing the transition from order to organization? Which levels of integration do we observe? Is there any instance of self-contradictory top-down regulation? Are there measures to avoid such (as for instance in military)?

These questions can be “turned around,” of course, then being used as design principles. In other words, using this elementarization it is perfectly possible to scale the degree of volatility shown by the “complex system”.

The only approach transparently providing such an elementarization and the respective possibility  for utilizing  the concept of complexity in a meaningful way is ours (still, and as far as we are aware of recent publications35… feedback about that is welcome here!)36.

From those, the elements 2 and 4 are the certainly the most important ones when it comes to the utilization of the concept of complexity. First, one has to understand that adaptivity requires a preceding act of creativity. Next, only complex systems can create emergent patterns, which in turn can be established as a persistent form only in either of two ways: either by partially dying, creating a left-over, or by evolution. The first of which is internal to the process at hand, the second external. Consequently, only complex systems can create adaptivity, which in in turn is mandatory for a sustainable regenerativity.

So, the element (2), the distributed antagonism denies the reasonability of identity and of consensus-finding as a homogenizing procedure, if the implemented arrangement (“system”) is thought to be adaptive (and enabled for sustainability). Element (4) emphasizes the importance of the transition from order (mere volatile pattern) to persistent or even morphological structures, called organization. Yet, living systems provide plenty of demonstrations that persistence does not mean “eternal”. In most cases structures are temporary, despite their stability. In other words, turnover and destroying is an active process in complex systems.

Complexity needs to be embraced by planning regarding its self-design as well as the plan and its implementation. Our elementarization opens the route to plan complexity. Even a smooth scaling of regarding the space between complexity and determination could be addressed now.

It is quite obvious that an appropriate theory of complexity is highly relevant for any planning in any domain. There are of course some gifted designers and architects as well as a few authors that have been following this route, some even long ago, as for instance Koolhaas in his Euro-Lille. Others like Michael Batty [42][43] or Angelique Chettiparamb (cf. [44][45][46]) investigate and utilize the concept of complexity in the fields of urbanism or planning almost as I propose it. Yet, just almost, for they did not conceptualize the notion of complexity in an operationalizable manner so far.

There is a final remark on complexity to put here, concerning its influence on the dynamics of theory work. Clearly, the concept of complexity transcends ideas such as rationalism or pragmatism. It may be conceived as a generic proceduralization that reaches from thought (“theory”) till action. It is its logic of genesis, as Deleuze called it, that precedes any particular “ism” as well as the separation of theory and practice in the space of the Urban. It is once again precisely here in this space of ever surprising novelty that ethics becomes important, notably an ethics that is structurally homeomorphic through its own proceduralization, where the procedures are at least partially antagonistic to each other.

6.3. Vision

Finally, let me formulate kind of a vision, by referring just to one of the more salient examples. In developing countries there is a large amount of informal settlements, more often tending towards slum conditions than not. More than 30% of urban citizens across the world live in slum conditions. At some point in time, the city administration usually decides to eradicate the whole area. Yet, this comes at the cost of destroying a more or less working social fabric. The question obviously is one of differentiation. How to improve means how to differentiate, which in turn means how to accumulate potential. The answer is quite easy: by supporting enlightened liberalism through an anti-directionist politics (cf. [48]). Instead of bulldozing and enforcing people to leave, and even instead of implanting the “solution” of whatsoever kind in a top-down manner, simply provide them two things: (i) the basic education about materials and organization in an accessibly compiled form, and (ii) the basic materials. The rest will be arranged by the people, as this introduces the opportunity for arbitrage profits. It will not only create a sufficiently diversified market, which of course can be supported in its evolution. It also will create a common good of increased value of the whole area. Such an approach will work for the water problem, whether fresh water or waste water. My vision is that this kind of thinking would be understood, at least (much) more frequently…

7. Perplexion

The history of the human, the history of conceptual thinking and—above all—its transmission by the manifold ways and manners this conceptual thinking has been devising, all of this, until the contemporary urban society, is a wonderful (quite literally) and almost infinite braid. Our attempts here are nothing more than just an attempt to secure this braiding by pointing to some old, almost forgotten embroidery patterns and by showing some new one.

I always have been clear about another issue, but I would like to emphasize it again: Starting with the idea of being, which equals that of existence or identity, demolishes any possibility for thinking the different, the growing, the novel, in short, life. This holds even for Whitehead’s process philosophy. Throughout this blog, as it is there so far, I have been trying to build something, not a system, not a box, but something like an Urban Thought. The ideas, concepts, ways in which that something have been actualizing are stuffed (at least in my hopes) with an inherent openness. Nevertheless I have to admit that it feels like approaching a certain limit, as thoughts and words tend increasingly to enter the “eternal return”. Yet, don’t take this as a resignation or even the beginning of a nihilistic phase. It is said as an out and out positive thought. But still…

Maybe,  these thoughts have been triggered by a friends’ hint towards a small, quite (highly?) exceptional book or booklet of unknown origin:  The “Liber viginti quattuor philosophorum”, the Book of the 24 Philosophers.37 Written presumably somewhere between 800 and 1200 ac38, it consists just of 24 philosophical theses about our relation to God. The main message is that we can’t know, despite it seems to be implicated.

7.1. Method, Generic Differentiation and Urban Reason.

Anyway. In this essay we explored the notion of method. Beginning with Descartes’ achievements, we then tried to develop a critique of it. Next we embedded the issue of planning and method into the context of Urban Reason, including the concept of Generic Differentiation [henceforth GD], which we explicated in the previous essay where we devised it for organizing theory works. Let us reproduce it here again, just as a little reminder.

Figure 3: The structural pragmatic module of Generic Differentiation for binding theory works, modeling and operations (for details see here). This module is part of a fluid moebioid fractal that grows and forms throughout thinking and acting, which thereby are folded into each other. The trinity of modes of actualization (planning, adapting, learning) passes through this fractal figure.

urban reason 4t

All of the four concepts of growth, networks, associativity and complexity can be conceptualized in a proceduralized form as well. Additionally, they all could be taken as perspectives onto abstract, randolated and thus virtual yet probabilistic networks.

Interestingly, this notion opens a route into mathematics through the notions of computability and non-turing computing (also see [52]). Here, we may take this just as a further indication to the fundamental perspective of information as a distinct element of construction whenever we talk about the city, the Urban and the design regarding it.

7.2. “Failing” Plans

Thinking of planning without the aspects of evolution and learning would equal, we repeatedly emphasized this point, the claim of the analyticity of the world. Such a planning would follow positivist or rationalist schemes and could be called “closed planning”. Only under the presupposition of the world’s analyticity such planning could be considered as reasonable.

Since the presupposition is obviously wrong, closed planning schemes such as positivist or rationalist ones are doomed to fail. Yet, this failing is a failure only from the perspective of the plan or planner. From the outside, we can’t criticize plans as failing, since in this case we would confine ourselves to the rationalist scheme. For the diagnosis of failure in a cultural artifice like such of a city, or settlement in the widest sense, always requires presuppositions itself. Of course, in some contexts like that of financial planning within an organization these presuppositions can be operationalized straightforwardly into amounts of money, since the whole context is dominated by it. Financial planning is almost exclusively closed planning.

In the context of town planning, however, even the result of bad planning will always be inhabitable in some way, for in reality the plan is actualized into an open non-analytical world. The argument is the same as Koolhaas applied to the question of the quality of buildings. In China, architects in average build hundreds if not thousands of times more space than in Europe. There is no particular awareness on what Western people call the quality of architecture. The material arrangements into which plans actualize will always be used in some way. But is is equally true that there always will be a considerable part in this usage that imposes ways of using the result that have not been planned.

This way, they never fail, but at the same time they always fail, as they always have to be corrected. The only thing that becomes clear by this is that the reduction of the planners perspective to plan sensu stricto is the actual failure. A planning theory that does not consider evolution and learning isn’t worth the paper onto which it is written.

Both aspects, evolution and learning, need to be expressed, of course, in a proper form before one could assimilate them to the domain of arranging future elements (and elements of the future). Particularly important to understand is that “learning” does not refer to human cognition. Here it refers to the whole, that is the respectively active segment of the city itself, much in the sense of an Actor-Network (following Bruno Latour [53]), but also the concept of the city as an associative corporeality in itself,  as I have been pointing out some time ago [54].

7.3. Eternal Folds

Generic Differentiation is deeply doubly-articulated, as Deleuze would perhaps have said it39. GD may serve as kind of a scaffold to organize thoughts (and hence actions) around the challenge of how to effectuate ideas and concepts. Remember that concepts are transcendent and not to be mistaken as definitions! Here in this piece we tried to outline how an update of the notion of “method” could look like. Perhaps you have been missing references to the more recent discourses, in which, among others, you could find Michel Serres, or Isabelle Stengers, but also Foucault to name just a few. The reason to dismiss them is just given by our focus on planning and the Urban, about which those authors did not talk too much (I mean with respect to the problematics of method).

Another route I didn’t follow was to develop and provide a recipe for planning of whatsoever sort, particularly not one that could be part of a cookbook for mindless robots. It would simply contradict the achieved insights about Differentiation. Yet, I think, that something rather close to a manual could be possible, perhaps a meta-manual targeting the task of creating a manual, that would help to write down a methodology. A “methodology“ which deserves the label is kind of an open didactic talking about methods, and such necessarily comprises some reflection (which is missing in recipes). Such, it is clear that the presented concepts about method around Generic Differentiation should not be perceived as such a methodology. Take it more as a pre-specific scaffold for externalizing and effectuating thought, to confront it with the existential resistance. Thus, the second joint of said double-articulation of Generic Differentiation, besides such scaffolding of thought, connects towards the scaffolding of action.

The double-articulated rooting of method (as we developed it as a concept here) in the dynamics of physical arrangements and the realm of thoughts and ideas enables us to pose three now rather urgent questions in a clear manner :

  • (1) How to find new ways into regenerative urban arrangements? (cf. [51]);
  • (2) How to operate the “Image of Urban”?40
  • (3) The question for a philosophy of the urban […] is how the energetic flow of undifferentiated potentiality in/of urban arrangement might be encoded and symbolically integrated, such that through its transposition into differentiable capacity ability, proficiency and artifice may emerge. (after [52], p.149)

Bühlmann (in [55] p.144/145) points out that

The difficulty, in philosophically cogitating the city or the urban, lies […] with the capacity of dealing in an open and open-ended, yet systematic manner with the determinability of initial and final states. It is precisely the determination of such “initial” and “final” states that needs to be proceduralized.

I guess that those three questions could be answered only together. It is in the corpus (and corporeality) of the virtual and actualized answers that we will meet the Urban Reason. Here, in concluding this essay, we can only indicate the directions, and this only rather broad strokes.

Regenerative cities in the sense of “sustainable sustainability” can be achieved only through a persistent and self-sustained, yet modulated complexity of the city. A respective process model is easy to achieve once it is understood how complexity and ethics are mutually supportive. This implies also a significant political aspect which has been often neglected in the literature about planning. We also referred to Latour’s suggestion of a “Politics of Nature,” which however does not contribute to the problem that he pretends to address.

We have shown here, that and how our notion of method and complexity can be matched with a respective contemporary ethics, which is a mandatory part of the planning game. Planning as such, i.e. is in the traditional meaning of mechanistic implementation ceases to exist. Instead, planning has to address the condition of the possible.

Such, any kind of planning of any kind of arrangement undergoes first a  Kantian turn through which it inevitably changes into “planning of the potential”. Planning the potential, in turn, may be regarded as a direct neighbor to design, its foundation [56] and methodology.41 This reflects the awareness for the primacy of the conditions for the possibility for complexity. These conditions can be actualized only, if planning is understood as one of the aspects of the trinity of Generic Differentiation, which comprises besides planning also evolution and learning, invoking in turn the concepts of population/probabilism and associativity. All parts of the “differentiation game” have to be practiced, of course, in their prozeduralized form. No fixed goals on the level of facts any more, no directive policies, no territorialism, no romanticism hugging the idea of identity any more, please… It is the practice of proceduralization, based on a proper elementarization and bridging from ethics to complexity, that we can identify as the method of choice.

The philosophical basis for such a layout must necessarily deny the idea of identity as a secure starting point. Instead, all the achievements presented here may appear only on the foundation provided by transcendent difference [57]. I am deeply convinced that any “Science of the City” or “Methodology of Planning” (the latter probably as a section of the former) must adhere to appropriate structural and philosophical foundations, for instance those that we presented here and which are part of Urban Reason. Otherwise it will quite likely give rise to the surge of a quite similar kind of political absolutism that succeeded Descartes’ consideration of the “Methode”.

8. Summary

We explored the notion of “method” and its foundations with regard to planning. Starting from its original form as created by Descartes in his “Methode de la Discourse” we found four basic vectors that span the conceptual space of planning.

Ethics and complexity are not only regarded as particular focal points, but rather as common and indispensable elements of any planning activity. The proposed four-fold determination of planning should be suitable to overcome rationalist, neo-liberal, typical modernist or positivist approaches. In other words, without those four elements it is impossible to express planning as an activity or to talk reasonably about it. In its revised form, both the concept and the field of planning allow for the integration of deep domain-specific knowledge from the contributing specializing domains, without stopping the operational aspects of planning. Particularly, however, the new, or renewed, image of planning offers the important possibility to join human reason into the Urban activities of designing and planning our urban neighborhood, and above all, living it.

9. Outlook

In most cases I didn’t give an outlook to the next essay, due to the spontaneous character of this bloggy journey as well as the inevitable autonomy of the segregated text that is increasing more and more as time passes.

This time, however, the topic of the follow-up is pretty clear. Once started with the precis of Koolhaas “Generic City” the said journey led us first to the concept of “Urban Reason” and the Urban as its unique, if not solitary cultural condition. The second step then consisted in bundling several abstract perspectives into the concept of Generic Differentiation. Both steps have been linked through the precept of “Nothing regarding the Urban Makes Sense Except in the Light of the Orchestration of Change.” The third step, as elaborated here, was then a brief (very brief indeed) investigation of the subject and the field of planning. Today, this field is still characterized by rather misty methodological conditions.

The runway towards the point of take-off for the topic of the next essay, then, could be easily commented by a quote from Sigfried Giedion’s “Space, Time and Architecture” (p.7):

For planning of any sort our knowledge must go beyond the state of affairs that actually prevails. To plan we must know what has gone on in the past and feel what is is coming in the future.

Giedion has been an interesting person, if not to say, composition, in order to borrow a notion from Bruno Latour. Being historian, engineer and entrepreneur, among several other roles, he has been in many ways modernist as well as a-modern. Not completely emancipated from the underlying modernist credo of metaphysical independence, he also demanded an integration of the aspect of time as well as that of relationability, which assigns him the attitude of a-modernism, if we utilize Aldo Rossi’s verdict on modernism’s attempt to expunge time from architecture.

Heidegger put it very clear (only marginally translated into my own words): Without understanding the role of time and temporality for the sphere of the human we can’t expect to understand the Being of man-made artifacts and human culture. Our challenge regarding Heidegger will be that we have to learn from his analysis without partaking in his enterprise to give a critique of fundamental ontology.

More recently, Yeonkyung Lee and Sungwoo Kim [58] pointed to the remarkable fact, based on Giedion’s work, that there is only little theoretical work about time in the field of architecture and urbanism. We regard this as a consequence of the prevailing physicalist reductionism. They also hold that

further critical and analytical approaches to time in architecture should be followed for more concrete development of this critical concept in architecture. (p.15)

Hence, our next topic will be just a subsection of Giedion’s work: Time and Architecture. The aspect of space can’t be split off of course, yet we won’t discuss it in any depth, because it deserves a dedicated treatment itself, mainly due to the tons of materialist nonsense that is floating around since Lefebvre’s (ideologic) speculations (“Production of Space”). Concerning the foundations, that is the concept of time, we will meet mainly Deleuze and Heidegger, Bergson and his enemy Einstein, and, of course, also Wittgenstein. As a result, I hopefully will enrich and differentiate the concept of Generic Differentiation even more, and thus also the possible space of the Urban.

Notes 

1. Descartes’ popularity is based, of course, on his condensed and almost proverbial “Cogito, ergo sum”, by which he sought to gain secure grounds for knowledge. Descartes’ Cogito raises difficult issues, and I can only guess that there are lots of misunderstandings about it. Critique of the Cogito started already with Leibniz, and included among almost everybody also Kant, Hume, Nietzsche and Russell. The critique targets either logic (“ergo”), the implications regarding existence (“sum”), or the “I” in the premise. I won’t neither add to this criticism nor comment it; yet, I just would like to point to another possibility to approach it opened by refraining from logic and existentialism: self-referentiality. The “I am thinking” may be taken as a simple, still unconscious observation that there is something going on that uses language. In other words, a language-pragmatic approach paired with self-referentiality opens a quite fresh perspective onto the cogito. Yet, this already would have to count as an update of the original notion. To my knowledge this has never been explored by any of the philosophical scholars. In my opinion, most of the critiques on the cogito are wrong, because they stick to rationalism themselves. The foundation of which, however, can’t be rational itself in its beginning, only through its end (not: “ends”!) and its finalization. Anyway, neither the Cogito nor the sum nor the “I” is subject of our considerations here. Actually, there is not much to say, as such “traditional” metaphysics misunderstands “grammatical sentences” as metaphysical sentences (Ludwig Wittgenstein, in “About Certainty”).

Concerning the wider topic of rationalism as a problematic field in philosophy, I suggest to resolve its position and (at least partial) incommensurability to other “-ism” – modes by means of the choreostemic space, where it just forms a particular attractor.

2. Wittgenstein and main stream cognitive science hold that this should not be possible. Yet, things are not as simple as it may appear at first sight. We could not expect that there is a “nature” of thinking, somehow buried beneath the corporeality of the brain. We certainly can take a particular attitude to our own thinking as well as we can (learn to) apply certain tools and even methodologies in our thought that is directed to our thought. The (Deleuzean) Differential is just one early example.

3. Just to mention here as a more recent example the “failure” of Microsoft’s strategy of recombinable software modules as opposed to the success of the unique app as it has been inaugurated by Apple.

4. Most of the items and boxes in this backpack did not influence the wider public in the same way as Descartes did. One of the most influential among the available items, Hegel, we already removed, it is just dead freight. The group of less known but highly important items comprises the Kantian invention of critique, the transparent description of the sign by Peirce, the insight into the importance of the Form of Life and the particular role and relation of language (Wittgenstein, Foucault), or the detrimental effects of founding thought on logicism—also known as the believe into necessity, truth values, and the primacy of identity—are not recognized among the wider public, whether we would consider sciences, the design area or politics. All these achievements are clearly beyond Descartes’, but we should not forget two things. Firstly, he just was a pioneer. Secondly, we should not forget that the whole era favored a mechanic cosmology. The lemma of the large numbers in the context of probabilism as a perspective had not been invented yet at his times.

5. The believe into this independence may well count as the most dominating of the influences that brought us the schizophrenias that culminated in the 19h and 20th century. Please don’t misunderstand this as a claim for “causality” as understood in the common sense! Of course, there have been great achievements, but the costs of those have always been externalized, first to the biological environment, and second to future generations of mankind.

6. By “planning” I don’t refer just to the “planning of land-use” or other “physical planning” of course. In our general context of Urban Reason and the particular context of the question about method here in this essay I would like to include any aspect around the planning within the Urban, particularly organizational planning.

7. Meant here without any kind of political, ethical or sociological reading, just as the fact of the mere physical and informational possibility.

8. Original in German language (my translation): ” Ob das Gewicht der Forschung gleich immer in dieser Positivität liegt, ihr eigentlicher Fortschritt vollzieht sich nicht so sehr in der Aufsammlung der Resultate und Bergung derselben in »Handbüchern«, als in dem aus solcher anwachsenden Kenntnis der Sachen meist reaktiv hervorgetriebenen Fragen nach den Grundverfassungen des jeweiligen Gebietes. […] Das Niveau einer Wissenschaft bestimmt sich daraus, wie weit sie einer Krisis ihrer Grundbegriffe fähig ist.”

9. As we mentioned elsewhere, the habitus of this site about practical aspects of Hilary Putnam’s philosophical stance is more that of a blook than that of a blog.

10. Descartes and Deleuze are of course not the only guys interested in the principles or methods of and in thought. For instance, Dedekind proposed “Laws of Thought” which shall include things like creative abstraction. It would be a misunderstanding, however, to look to psychology here. Even so-called cognitive psychology can’t contribute to the search for such principles, precisely because it is in need for schemata to investigate. Science always can investigate only what “there is”.

11. Nowadays often called system, and by that referring to “systems science”, often also to Niklaus Luhmann’s extension of cybernetics into the realm of the social. Yet, it is extremely important to distinguish the whole from a system. The whole is neither an empiric nor an analytic entity, it couldn’t be described completely as observation, a set of formula(s), a diagram or any combination thereof, which for instance is possible for a cybernetic system. Complex “systems” must not be conceived as as systems in the mood of systems theory, since openness and creativity belong to their basic characteristics. For complex systems, the crude distinction of “inside” and “outside” does not make much sense.

12. Thinking “items” as independent becomes highly problematic if this belief is going to be applied to culture itself in a self-referential manner. Consequently, man has been thought to be independent from nature. “Precisely, what is at stake is to show how the misguided constitution of modernity finds its roots in the myth of emancipation common to the Moderns. […] Social emancipation should not be condemned to be associated with an avulsion from nature, […]. The error of the modern constitution lies in the way it describes the world as two distinct entities separated from each other.” [18]. It is quite clear that the metaphysical believe into independence is beneath the dualisms of nature/culture, nature/nurture, and body/mind. This does not mean that we could not use in our talking the differences expressed in those dichotomies, yet, the differences need not be placed into a strictly dichotomic scheme. see section about “values” and Bruno Latour’s proposal.

13. This does not imply a denial of God. Yet, I think that any explicit reference to the principle of divinity implicitly corroborates that idea.

14. It is inadequate because by definition you can’t learn from a case study. It is a mis-believe, if not a mystical particularism to think that case studies could somehow “speak for themselves.” The role of a case study must be that it is taken as an opportunity to challenge classifications, models and theories. As such, they have to be used as a means and a target for transformative processes. Yet, such is rarely done with case studies.

15. Subsequent to Niko Tinbergen’s distinction, Dobzhansky introduced a particular weight onto those four perspectives, emphasizing the evolutionary aspect: Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. For him, evolution served as a kind of integrative perspective.

16. As in the preceding essays, we use the capital “U” if we refer to the urban as a particular quality and as a concept in the vicinity of Urban Reason, in order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective that refers to common sense understanding.

17. Difference between architecture and arts, particularly painting.

18. Yet, he continues: “As such, it must be designed according to a model which takes into account all the possible fields of decision-making and all decision-makers who play a role in social life. It has a territorial dimension which is “global” in the literal sense: it extends to the planetary scale.” (p.64) So, since he proposes a design of planning he obviously invokes a planning of planning. Yet, Archibugi does not recognize this twist. Instead, he claims that this design can be performed in a rationalist manner on a global scale, which—as an instance of extended control phantasm—is definitely overdone.

19. In more detail, Archibugi claims that his approach is able to integrate traditional fields of planning in a transdisciplinary methodological move, based on a “programming” approach ( as opposed to the still dominant positivistic approach). The individual parts of this approach are
+ a procedural scheme for the selection of plans;
+ clarification interrelationship between different “levels” of planning;
+ describing institutional procedures of plan bargaining;
+ devising a consulting system on preference, information,
monitoring, and plan evaluation.

Yet, such a scheme, particularly if conducted as a rationalist program, is doomed to fail for several reasons. In monitoring, for instance, he applies an almost neo-liberal scheme (cf. p.81), being unaware of the necessity of the apriori of theoretical attitudes as well as the limitation of reasoning that solely is grounded on empirical observations.

20. Of course, we are not going to claim that “society” does not need the activity of and the will to design itself. Yet, while any externalization needs a continuous legitimization—and by this I don’t refer to one election every four years—, the design of the social should target exclusively the conditions for its open unfolding. There is a dark line from totalitarian Nazi-Germany, the Jewish exiled sociologist, the Macy-Conferences and their attempt to apply cybernetics directly to the realm of social, finally followed by the rationalist Frankfurt School with its late proponent Habermas and his functionalism. All of those show the same totalitarian grammar.

21. Deleuze’s books about cinema and the image of time [33].

22. Rem Koolhaas, Euro-Lille, see this.

23. Just for recall: the Differential is the major concept in Deleuze’s philosophy of transcendental empiricism, which set difference, not identity, as primal, primacy of interpretation, rejection of identity and analyticity, a separation-integration.

24. Sue Hendler despises philosophical foundations of ethics for the area planning as “formalistic”. Instead she continues to draw on values, interestingly backed by a strong contractual element. As this may sound pragmatic in the first instance, it is nothing but utilitarian. Contracts in this case are just acts of ad-hoc institutionalizations, which in turn build on the legislative milieu. Thus I reject this approach, because in this case ethics would just turn into a matter of the size of the monetary investment into lawyers.

25. Note that ethics is the theory of morality, while morality is the way we deal with rules about social organization.

26. here and here or here;

27. It is a paradox only from a rationalist perspective.,of course.

28. “thing” is an originally Nordic concept that refers to the fixation of a mode of interpretation through negotiation. The “althing” is the name of the Islandic parliament, existing roughly since 930 ac in an uninterrupted period. A thing such exists as an objectified/objectifiable entity only subsequent to the communal negotiation, which may or may not include institutions.

29. inspired by Alfred N. Whitehead and Isabel Stengers.

30. See this about the concept of theory.

31. Unfortunately available in German language only.

32. This just demonstrates that it is not unproblematic to jump on the bandwagon of a received view, e.g. on the widely discussed and academically well-introduced Theory of Justice by John Rawls, as for instance exemplified by [23].

33. What is needed instead for a proper foundation is a practicable philosophy of Difference, for instance in the form proposed by Deleuze. Note that Derrida’s proclaimed “method” of deconstruction neither can serve as a philosophical foundation in general nor as an applicable one. Deconstruction establishes the ideal of negativity, from which nothing could be generated.

34. With one (1) [41], or probably two (2) [40] notable and somewhat similar exceptions which however did not find much (if any) resonance so far…

35. Jensen contributed also to a monstrous encyclopedia about “Complexity and Systems Science” [39], comprising more than 10’000 pages (!), which however does not contain one single useable operationalization of the notion of “complexity”.

36. One of the more advanced formulations of complexity has been provided by the mathematician Henrik Jeldtoft Jensen (cf. [38]). Yet, it is still quite incomplete, because he does neither recognize or refer to the importance of the distributed antagonism nor does he respond to the necessity that complex systems have to be persistently complex. Else he is also wrong about the conjecture that there must be a “large number of interacting components”.

37. see review by the German newspaper FAZ, a book in German language, a unofficial translation into English, and into French. Purportedly, there are translations into Spanish, yet I can’t provide a link.

38. Hudry [49] attributes it to Aristotle.

39. Deleuze & Guattari developed and applied this concept first in their Milles Plateaus [50].

40. The notion of an „Image of Urban“ is not a linguistic mistake, of course. It parallels Deleuze’s “Image of Thought”, where thought refers to a habit, or a habitus, a gestalt if you prefer, that comprises the conditions for the possibility of its actualization.

41. At first sight it seems as if such extended view on design, particularly if understood as the design of pre-specifics, could reduce or realign planning to the engineering part of it. Yet, planning in the context of the Urban always has to consider immaterial, i.e. informational aspects, which in turn introduces the fact of interpretation. We see, that no “analytic” domain politics is possible.

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۞

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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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