Time, Magic and the Self (I/III)

January 24, 2013 § Leave a comment

There is.

Isn’t it? Would you agree? Well, I would not. In other words, to say ‘There is.’ is infinitesimally close to a misunderstanding. Or a neglect, if you prefer. It is not the missing of a referent, though, at least not in first instance. The problem would be almost the same if we would have said ‘There is x’. It is the temporal aspect that is missing. Without considering the various aspects of temporality of the things that build up our world, we could neither understand the things nor the world.

Nowadays, the probability for finding some agreement for such a claim is somewhat higher than it once was, in the high tides of modernism. For most urbanists and architects, time was nothing but a somewhat cumbrous parameter, yet nothing of any deeper structural significance. The modern city was a city without time, after breaking the traditions, even not creating new ones. Such was the claim, which is properly demonstrated by Simon Sadler [1] citing Ron Herron, group member of Archigram.

“Living City”1 curator Ron Herron described his appreciation of “Parallel of Life and Art”: It was most extraordinary because it was primarily photographic and with apparently no sequence; it jumped around like anything.

Unfortunately, and beyond the mere “functioning,” the well-organized disorg-anization itself became a tradition. Koolhaas called it Junkspace [2]. Astonishingly, and not quite compatible to the admiration of dust-like scatterings that negate relationality, Archigram claims to be interested in, if not focused to life and behavior. Sadler summarizes (p.55)

“Living City” and its catalogue were not about traditional architectural form, but its opposite: the formlessness of space, behavior, life.

Obviously, Sadler himself is not quite aware about the fact that behavior is predominantly a choreography, that is, it is about form and time as well as form in time. The concepts of form and behavior as implied by Archigram’s utopias are indeed very strange.

Basically, the neglect of time beyond historicity is typical for modern/modernist architects, urbanists and theorists up to our days, including Venturi [2], Tschumi [4] or Oswald [5]. Even Koolhaas does not refer expressis verbis to it, albeit he is constantly in a close orbit of it. This is astonishing since key concepts in the immediate neighborhood of time such as semiotics, narration or complexity are indeed mentioned by these authors. Yet, without a proper image of time one remains on the level of mere phenomena. We will discuss this topic of time on the one side and architects and architecture on the other later in more detail.

Authors like Sigfried Giedion [6] or Aldo Rossi [7] didn’t change much concerning the awareness for time in the practice of architecture and urbanism. Maybe, partly because their positions have been more self-contradictive than consistent. On the one hand they demanded for a serious consideration of time, on the other hand they still stuck to rather strong rationalism. Rationalist time, however, is much less than just half of the story. Another salient reason is certainly given by the fact that time is a subject that is notoriously difficult to deal with. As Mike Sandbothe cites Paul Ricoeur [8]:

Ultimately, for Ricoeur time marks the „mystery“ of our thinking, which resists representation by encompassing our Dasein in a way that is ineluctable for our thinking.2

This Essay

One of the large hypotheses that I have been following across the last essays is that we will not be able to understand the Urban3 and architecture without a proper image of differentiation. Both parts of this notion, the “image” and the “differentiation” need some explication.

Despite “differentiation” seems to be similar to change, they are quite different from each other. The main reason being that differentiation comprises an activity, which, according to Aristotle has serious consequences. Mary Louise Gill [9] summarizes his distinction as follows:

Whereas a change is brought about by something other than the object or by the object itself considered as other (as when a doctor cures himself), an activity is brought about by the object itself considered as itself. This single modification yields an important difference: whereas a change leads to a state other than the one an object was previously in, an activity maintains or develops what an object already is.4

In other terms, in case of change it is proposed that it is relatively unconstrained, hence with less memory and historicity implied, while activity, or active differentiation implies a greater weight of historicity, less contingency, increased persistence and thus an increased intensity of being in time.

Besides this fundamental distinction we may discern several modes of differentiation. The question then is, how to construct a proper “whole” of that. Obviously we can think of different such compound “wholes,” which is the reason for our claim that we need a proper image of differentiation.

Now to the other part of the notion of the “image of differentiation,” the image. An “image” is much more than a “concept.” It is more like a diagram about the possibility to apply the concept, the structure of its use. The aspect of usage is, of course, a crucial one. Actually, with respect to the relation between concepts and actions we identified the so-called “binding problem”. The binding problem claims that there is no direct, unmediated way from concepts to actions, or the reverse. Models are needed, both formalizable structural models, being more close to concepts, and anticipatory models, being more close to the implementation of concepts. The operationalization of concepts may be difficult. Yet, action without heading to get contact to concepts is simply meaningless. (The reason for the emptiness of ‘single case’-studies.) Our overall conclusion regarding the binding problem was that it is the main source for frictions and even failure in the control and management of society, if it is not properly handled, if concepts and actions are not mediated by a layer of “Generic Differentiation.” Only the layer of “Generic Differentiation” with its possibility for different kinds of models can provide the basic conditions to speak about and to conceive any of the mechanisms potentially relevant for the context at hand. Such, the binding problem is probably one of the most frequent causes for many, many difficulties concerning the understanding, designing and dealing with the Urban, or its instances, the concrete city, the concrete settlement or building, the concrete neighborhood.

This transition between concept and action (or vice versa) can’t be fully comprised by language alone. For a certain reasons we need a diagram. “Generic Differentiation”, comprising various species of probabilistic, generalized networks, is conceived as part of a larger compound—we may call it “critical pragmatics”—, as it mediates between concepts and actions. Finally we ended up with the following diagram.

Figure 1: “Critical Pragmatics for active Subjects.” The position of Generic Differentiation is conceived as a necessary layer between the domains of concepts and actions, respectively. See text below for details and the situs where we developed it.

basic module of the fractal relation between concept/conceptual, generic differentiation and operation/operational comprising logistics and politics that describes the active subject urban reason 4t

Note, that this diagram just shows the basic module of a more complete diagram, which in the end would form a moebioid fractal due to self-affine mapping: this module appears in any of the three layers in a nested fashion. Hence, a more complete image would show this module as part of a fractal image, which however could not be conceived as a flat fractal, such like a leaf of fern.5 The image of pragmatics as it is shown above is first a fractal due to the self-affine mapping. Second, however, the instances of the module within the compound are not independent, as in case of the fern. Important traces of the same concepts appear at various levels of the fractal mapping, leading to dimensional braids, in other words to a moebioid.

So, as we are now enabled for approaching it, let us return to the necessity of considering the various aspects of temporality. What are they in general, and what in case of architecture, the city, the Urban, or Urban Reason? Giedion, for instance, related to time with regard to the historicity and with regard to an adaptation of the concept of space-time from physics, which at that time was abundantly discussed in science and society. This adaptation, according to Giedion, can be found in simultaneity and movement. A pretty clear statement, one might think. Yet, as we will see, he conceived of these two temporal forms of simultaneity and movement in a quite unusual way that is not really aligned to the meaning that it bears in physics.

Rossi, focusing more on urban aspects, denotes quite divergent concepts of time. He did not however clearly distinguish or label them. He as well refers to history, but he also says that a city has “many times” (p.61 in [7]), a formulation that reminds to Bergson’s durée. Given the cultural “sediments” of a city within itself, its multiply folded traces of historical times, such a proposal is easy to understand, everybody could agree upon it.

Besides the multiplicity of referential historical time—we will make the meaning of this more clear below—, Rossi also proposes implicitly a locality of time through the acceleration of urbanization through primary elements such as “monuments”, or building that own a “monumental” flavor. Unfortunately, he neither does refer to an operationalization of his time concept nor does he provide his own. In other words, he still refers to time only implicitly, by describing the respective changes and differentiations on an observational level.

These author’s proposals provide important hints, no doubt. Yet, we certainly have to clarify them from the perspective of time itself. This equals firstly an inversion of the perspective from architectural or urbanismic vantage point taken by Giedion and Rossi, who in both cases started from built matter. Before turning to architecture, we have to be clear about time. As a second consequence, we have to be cautious when talking about time. We have to uncover and disclose the well-hidden snares before we are going to push the investigation of the relation between temporality and architecture further down.

For instance, both Giedion and Rossi delivered an analysis. This analyticity results in a pair of consequences. Either it is, firstly, just useful for sorting out the past, but not for deriving schemes for synthesis and production, or, secondly, it requires an instantiation that would allow to utilize the abstract content of their analysis for taking action. Such an instantiation could produce hints for a design process that is directed to the future. Yet, neither Giedion [6] nor Rossi [7] did provide such schemes. Most likely precisely due to the fact that they did not refer to a proper image of time!

This essay is the first of two in a row about the “Time of Architecture”. As Yeonkyung Lee and Sungwoo Kim [10] put it, there is much need for its investigation. In order to do so, however, one has to be clear about time and its conception(s). Insofar we will attempt to trace time as a property of architecture and less as an accessory, we also have to try to liberate time from its distinctive link to human consciousness without sacrificing the applicability of the respective conception to the realm of the human.

Hence, the layout of this essay is straightforward.

(a) First we will introduce a synopsis on various conceptions of time as brief as possible, taking into account a few, and probably the most salient sources. This will equip us with possible distinctions about modes or aspects of time as well as the differences between and interdependencies of time and space.

In architecture and urbanism, almost no reference can be found to philosophical discourses about time. Things are handled intuitively, leading to interesting but not quite valuable and usable approaches. We will see that the topic of “time” raises some quite fundamental issues, reaching at least into the field of hermeneutics, semiotics, narratology, and of course philosophy as well. The result will be a more or less ranked list of images of time as it is possible from a philosophical vantage point.

(b) Before the background of this explication and the awareness for all the possible misunderstandings around the issue of time, we will introduce a radically different perspective. We will ask how nature “creates time”. More precisely, we will ask about the abstract elements and mechanisms that are suitable for “creating time.” As weird this may seem at first, I think it is even a necessary question. And for sure nobody else posed this question ever before (outside of esoterics, perhaps, nut we do not engage in esoterics here!).

The particularity of that approach is that the proposed structure would work as a basis for deriving an operationalization for the interpretation of material systems as well as an abstract structure for a foundation of philosophical arguments about time. Of course, we have to be very careful here in order to avoid falling back into naturalist or phenomenological naiveties. Yet, carefulness will allow us to blend the several perspectives onto time into a single one, without—and that’s pretty significant—reducing time to either space or formal exercises like geometry. Such, the reward will be a completely new image of time, one that is much more general than any other and which overcomes the traditional separations, for instance that which pulls apart physical time and time of experience. Another effect will be that the question about the origin of time will vanish, a question which is continuously being discussed in cosmology (and theology, perhaps, as well).

(c) From the new perspective then we will revisit architecture and the Urban (in the next essay). We will not only return to Giedion, Rossi, or Koolhaas but we also will revisit the “Behavioral Turn that we have been introducing some essays ago.

Displayed in condensed form, our program comprises the following three sections:

  • (a) Time itself as a subject of philosophy.
  • (b) The creation of time.
  • (c) Time of Architecture.

Before we start a few small remark shall be in order. First, it may well appear as somewhat presumptuous to try to handle time in sufficient depth within just one or two sections of a single essay. I am fully aware about this. Yet, the pressure to condense the subject matter also helps to focus, to achieve a structural picture on the large scale. Second, it should be nevertheless clear that we can’t provide a comprehensive overview or summary about the various conceptions of time in philosophy and science, as interesting this would have been. It would exceed even the possibilities of a sumptuous book. Instead, I will lay out my arguments by means of a purposeful selection, enriched with some annotations.

On the other hand this will provide one of the very rare comprehensive inquiries about time, and the first one that synthesizes a perspective that is backward compatible to those authors to whom it should.

Somewhat surprising, this could even include (theoretical) physics. Yet, the issue is quite complex and very different from mainstream, versions of which you may find in [27, 28]. Even as there are highly interesting and quite direct links to philosophy, I decided to put this into a separate essay, which hopefully will happen soon. Just to give you a tiny glimpse on it: Once Richard Feynman called his mentor and adviser John Wheeler in the middle of the night, asking him, “How many electrons are there in the universe?” According to the transmission Wheeler answered: “There is exactly one.” Sounds odd, doesn’t it? Nevertheless it may be that there are indeed only a few of them, according to Robbert Dijkgraaf, who also proposes that space-time is an emergent “property,” while information could be conceived as more fundamental than those. This, however, has a rather direct counterpart in the metaphysics of Spinoza, who claimed that there is only 1 single attribute. Or (that’s not an unhumbleness), take our conception of information that we described earlier. Anyway, you may have got the point.

The sections in the remainder of this essay are the following. Note that in this piece we will provide only chapter 1 and 2. The other chapters from “Synthesis” onwards will follow as a separate piece.

1. Time in Philosophy—A Selection

Since antiquity people have been distinguishing two aspects of time. It was only in the course of the success of modern physics and engineering that this distinction has been gone forgotten in the Western world’s common sense. The belief set of modernism with its main pillar of metaphysical independence may have been contributing as well. Anyway, the ancient Greeks assigned them the two gods of chronos and kairos. While the former was referring to measurable clock-time, the second denoted the opportune time. The opportune time is a certain period of time that is preferential to accomplish an action, argument, or proof, which includes all parts and parties of the setting. The kairos clearly exceeds experience and points to the entirety of consummation. The advantage of taking into account means and ends is accompanied by the disadvantage of a significant inseparability.


Aristotle, of course, developed an image of time that is much richer, more detailed and much less mystical. For him, change and motion are apriori to time [11]. Aristotle is careful in conceiving change and motion without reference to time, which then gets determined as “a number of change with respect to the before and after” (Physics 219 b 1-2). Hence, it is possible for him to conceive of time as essentially countable, whereas change is not. Here, it is also important to understand Aristotle’s general approach of hylemorphism, which states that—in a quite abstract sense—substance always consists of a matter-aspect and a form-aspect [11]. So also for time. For him, the matter-aspect is given by its kinetic, which includes change, while the form aspect shows up in a kind of order6. Time is a kind of order is not, as is commonly supposed, a kind of measure, as Ursula Coope argues [13]. Aristotle’s use of “number” (arithmos) is more a potential for extending operations, as opposed to “measure” (metron), which is imposed to the measured. Hence, “order” does not mean that this order is necessarily monotone. It is an universal order within which all changes are related to each other. Of course, we could reconstruct a monotone order from that, but as said, it is not a necessity. Another of the remarkable consequences of Aristotle’s conception is that without an counting instance—call it observer or interpretant —there is no time.

This role of the interpreter is further explicated by Aristotle with respect to the form of the “now”. Roark summarizes that we have understand that

[…] phantasia (“imagination”) plays a crucial role in perception, as Aristotle understands it, and therefore also in his account of time. Briefly, phantasia serves as the basis for both memory and anticipation, thereby making possible the possession of mental states about the past and the future. (p.7)

Actually, the most remarkable property of Aristotle’s conception is that he is able to overcome the duality between experience and physical time by means of the interpretant.


It is not by chance alone that Augustine denied the Aristotelian conception by raising his infamous paradox about time. He does so from within Christian cosmogony. First he argues that the present time vanishes, if we try to take close look. Then he claims that both past and future are only available in the present. The result is that time is illusory. Many centuries later, Einstein would pose the same claim. Augustine transposed the problem of time into one of the relation between the soul and God. For him, no other “solution” would have been reasonable. Augustine instrumentalises a misunderstanding of references, established by mixing incompatible concepts (or language games). Unfortunately, Augustine inaugurated a whole tradition of nonsense, finally made persistent by McTaggart’s purported proof of the illusion of time [14] where he extended Augustine’s already malformed argument into deep nonsense, creating on the way the distinction between A-series (past, present and future) and B-series (earlier, later) of time. It is perpetuated until our days by author’s like Oaklander [15][16] or Power [17]. Actually, the position is so nonsensical and misplaced—Bergson called it a wrong problem, Wittgenstein a grammatical mistake—that we will not deal with it further7.


Heidegger explicitly refers to phenomenology as it has been shaped by Edmund Husserl. Yet, Heidegger recognized that phenomenology—as well as the implied ontology of Being—suffers from serious defects. Thus, we have to take a brief look onto it.

With the rise of phenomenology towards the end of the 19th century, the dualistic mapping of the notion of time has been reintroduced and reworked. Usually, a distinction has been made between clock-time on the one hand and experiential time on the other. This may be regarded indeed as quite similar to the ancient position. Yet, philosophically it is not interesting to state such. Instead we have to ask about the relation between the two. The same applies to the distinction of time and space.

There are two main positions dealing with this dualism. On the one side we find Bergson, on the other Brentano and Husserl as founders of phenomenology. Both refer to consciousness as an essential element of time. Of course, we should not forget that this is one of the limitations we have to overcome, if we want to achieve a generalized image of time.

Phenomenology suffers from a serious defect, which is given by the assumption of subjects and objects as apriori entities. The object is implied as a consequence of the consciousness of the subject, yet this did not result in a constructivism à la Maturana. Phenomenology, as an offspring of 19th century modernism and a close relative of logicism, continued and radicalized the tendency of German Idealism to think that the world could be accessed “directly”. In the words of Thomas Sheehan [19]:

And finally phenomenology argued that the being of entities is known not by some after-the-fact reflection or transcendental construction but directly and immediately by way of a categorical intuition.

There are two important consequences of that. Firstly, it violates the primacy of interpretation8 and has to assume a world-as-such, which in other words translates into a fundamentally static world. Secondly, there is no relation between to appearances of an object across time.

Heidegger, in “Being and Time” [21] (original “Sein und Zeit” [22]), tried to correct this defect of phenomenology and ontology by a hermeneutic transformation of phenomenology. This would remove the central role of consciousness, which is replaced by the concept of the “Being-there” (Dasein) and so by the “Analysis of Subduity.” He clearly states (end of §3 in “Being and time”) that any ontology has to be fundamental ontology. The Being-there (Dasein) however needs— in order to be able to see its Being—temporality.

The fundamental ontological task of the interpretation of being as such, therefore, includes working out the Temporality of being. The concrete answer to the question of the sense of being is given for the first time in the exposition of the problematic of Temporality. ([22], p.19)

How is temporality described? In §65 Heidegger writes:

Coming back to itself futurally, resoluteness brings itself into the Situation by making present. The character of “having been” arises from the future, and in such a way that the future which “has been” (or better, which “is in the process of having been”) releases from itself the Present. This phenomenon has the unity of a future which makes present in the process of having been; we designate it as “temporality”.9

Time clearly “delimits” Being as a conditioning horizon:

[…] we require an originary explication of time as the horizon of the understanding of being in terms of temporality as the being of Dasein who understands being. ([22], p.17)

Heidegger examines thoroughly the embedding of Being-there into time and the conditioning role of “time.” For instance, we can understand a tool only with respect to its future use. Temporality itself is seen as the structure of “care”, a major constitutive of the being of Dasein, which similarly to anticipation carries a strong reference to the future:

The originary unity of the structure of care lies in temporality” ([22], p.327).

Temporality is the meaning and the foundation of Being.10 Temporality is an Existential. Existential analysis claims that Being-there does not fill space, it is not within spatiality (towards the end of §70):

Only on the basis of its ecstatico-horizontal temporality is it possible for Dasein to break into space. The world is not present-at-hand in space; yet, only within a world does space let itself be discovered. The ecstatical temporality of the spatiality that is characteristic of Dasein, makes it intelligible that space is independent of time; but on the other hand, this same temporality also makes intelligible Dasein’s ‘dependence’ on space—a ‘dependence’ which manifests itself in the well-known phenomenon that both Dasein’s interpretation of itself and the whole stock of significations which belong to language in general are dominated through and through by ‘spatial representations’. This priority of the spatial in the Articulation of concepts and significations has its basis not in some specific power which space possesses, but in Dasein’s kind of Being. Temporality is essentially deterioriating11, and it loses itself in making present; […]

This concept of temporality could have been used to overcome the difference between “vulgar time” (chronos) and experiential time, to which he clearly sub-ordinated the former. Well, “could have been” if Heidegger’s program would have been completable. But Heidegger finally failed, “Being and Time” remained fragmentary. There are several closely related aspects for this failure. Ultimately, perhaps, as Cristina Lafont [24] argues, it is impossible to engage in a radical program of detranscendentalization and at the same time to try to achieve a fundamental foundation. This pairs with the inherited phenomenological habit to disregard the primacy of interpretation. The problem for Heidegger now is that the sign in the language is already in the world which has to be subdued. As Lafont brilliantly revealed, Heidegger still adheres to the concept of language as an “ontic” instrument, as something that is found in the outer world. Yet, this must count simply as a highly inappropriate reduction. Language constantly and refracted points towards the inwardly settled translation between body and thought and the outward directed translation between thought and community (of speakers), while translation is also kind of a rooting. Such we can conclude that ultimately Heidegger therefore still follows the phenomenological subject-object scheme. His attempt for a fundamental foundation while avoiding any reference to transcendent horizons must fail, even if this orientation towards the fundamental pretends to just serve as an indirect “foundation” (see below).

There is a striking similarity between Augustine and Heidegger. We could call it metaphysical linearity as a cosmological element. In case of Augustine it is induced by the believe in Salvation, in case of Heidegger by the believe into an absolute beginning paired with a (implicit) believe to step out of language. In a lecture held in 1963, that is 36 years after Being and Time, titled “Time and Being”, Heidegger revisits the issue of time. Yet, he simply capitulated from the problem of foundations, referring to “intuitional insight” as a foundation. In the speech “Time and Being” hold in 1962 [25], he said

To think the Being in its own right requires to dismiss Being as the originating reason of being-Being (des Seienden), in favor of the Giving that is coveredly playing in its Decovering (Entbergen), i.e. of the “There is as giving fateness.”12 (p.10)13

Here, Heidegger refutes foundational ontology in favour of the communal and external world by he concept of the Giving14. Yet, the step towards the communal still remains a very small step, since now not only the Other gets depersonalized as far as possible. The real serious issue here is that Heidegger now replaces the ontological conception of “ontic” language by the “ontic” communal. He still does not understand the double-articulation of the communal through language. We may say that Heidegger is struck by blindness (on his right eye).

Inga Römer [47] detects a certain kind of archaism throughout the philosophy of Heidegger, which comes along as a still not defeated thinking about origins.

Finally, in „Being and Time“ Heidegger detects the origin of time in the event, which he dedicatedly determines as the provider [m: the Giving] of Being and time. This Giving is seen as being divested from itself. The event, determined by Heidegger elsewhere as a singular tantum, is eliminated from itself—and nevertheless the event is conceived as the origin of time.15 (p.289)

Many years after the publication of “Being and Time”, in the context of the seminar “Time and Being” Heidegger claimed that he did not conceive fundamental ontology as kind of a foundation. He described the role of the Daseins-analytics as proposed in “Being and Time” in the following way [23]:

Being and Time is in fact on the way to find, taking the route through the timeness of Dasein in the interpretation of Being as temporality, a conception of time, that Owned of “time”, whence “Being” reveals itself as Presenting. Such however it is said that the fundamental mentioned in the fundamental ontology can’t take reference and synthesis. Instead, the whole analytics of Dasein ought to be repeated, subsequent of possibly having thrown light upon the sense of Being, in a more pristinely and completely different manner.16

Indeed, “Being and Time” remained fragmentary, Heidegger recognized the inherent incompatibility of the still transcendental alignment with the conception of the Dasein and was hence forced to shift the target of the Daseins-analytics [26](p.99). Being is not addressed from the vantage point of being-Being (Seiendes) anymore. It resulted in a replacement of the sense of Being by the question about the historical truth of Being as fateness. In the course of that shift, however, temporality lost its role, too, and was replaced by a thinking of a historized event. This event is conceived as kind of a non-spatial endurance [25]:

Time-Space (m: endurance) now denotes the open that in the mutually-serving-one-another of arrival, having been (Gewesenheit) and present clears itself. Only this open spacingly allows (räumt ein) the ordinarily known space its propagation. (p.19)17

As far as this move could be taken as a cure of the methodological problems in “Being and Time,” it turned out, however, to be far detrimental for Heidegger’s whole philosophy. He was forced to determine man by his ecstatic exposition and being-thrown (tossed?) into nothingness. Care as kind of cautious anticipation was replaced first by angst, then by incurable disgust through Sartre. While the early Heidegger precisely tried to cure the missing of primal relationality in phenomenology, the later Heidegger got trapped by an even more aggressive form of singularization and denial of relationality at all. This whole enterprise of existential philosophy suffers from this same deep disrespect if not abhorrence of the communal, of the practice of sharing joyfully a common language that turns into the Archimedic Point of being human. Well, how could he think differently given his particular political aberrancy?

Anyway, Heidegger’s shift to endurance brings us directly to the next candidate.


Politically, in real life, Heidegger and Bergson could not be more different. The former more than sympathizing (up to open admiration) with totalitarianism in the form of Hitlerism and fascism, thereby matching his performative rejection of relationality, the latter engaging internationally in forming the precursor of the UN.

But, how does Bergson’s approach to time look like? For Bergson, logicism and the subject-object dichotomy are thoughts that are alien to him. Both actually have to assume a sequential order that yet have to be demonstrated in its genesis.18 The starting point for Bergson is the diagnosis that measurable time, or likewise measuring time, as it is done in physics as well by any clock-time introduces homogeneity, which in turn translates into quantificability [31]. As such, time is converted into a spatial concept, as these properties are also properties of space as physics conceives it. The consequence is that we create pseudo-paradoxes like that which has been explicated by Augustine. To this factum of quantificability Bergson then opposes qualitability. For him, quality and quantity remain incommensurable throughout his works.

At any rate, we cannot finally admit two forms of the homogeneous, Time and Space, without first seeking whether one of them cannot be reduced to the other […] Time, conceived under the form of an unbounded and homogeneous medium, is nothing but the ghost of space, haunting the reflective consciousness. ([32] p. 232)

So we can fix that time is essential a qualitative entity, or in other words, an intensity that is, according to Bergson, opposed to the extensity of spatial entities. Spatial entities are always external to each other, while for intensive entities—such as time—such an externalization is not possible. They can be thought only as a mutually interpenetrating beside-one-another, which however should be thought as an aterritorial “beside”. As Friedrich Kuemmel puts it, intensity, for Bergson, can be detached from extensity.19 Intensity then is being equipped by Bergson with a manifoldness or multiplicity that consequently establishes a reality apart from physical spatiality with its measurable time. This reality is the reality of consciousness and the soul. Bergson calls it “durée”, which of course must not be translated into “duration” (or into the German “Dauer”). Durée is more like the potential for communicable time, or in Deleuze’s words, a “potential number” ([33] p.45), to which we can refer in language literally as “referential time.”

Bergson’s notion of durée is quite easily determined (p.37)

It [durée] is a case of “transition,” of a “change,” a becoming, but it is a becoming that endures, a change that is substance itself. […] Bergson has no difficulty in reconciling the two fundamental characteristics of duration; continuity and heterogeneity. However, defined in this way, duration is not merely lived experience; […] it is already a condition of experience.

As a qualitative multiplicity, durée is opposed to quantitative multiplicity. For Bergson, this duality is a strict and unresolvable one, yet it does not set up an opposition, it is not subject of dialectic. It does, however, follow the leitmotif of Bergson, according to Deleuze ([33] p.23): People see quantitative differences where actually are differences in kind. (RRR)

Deleuze emphasizes that the two multiplicities have to be strictly distinguished ([33] p.38).

[…] the decomposition of the composite reveals to us two types of multiplicity. One is represented by space […]: it is a multiplicity of exteriority, of simultaneity, of juxtaposition, of order, of quantitative differentiation, of difference in degree; it is a numerical multiplicity, discontinuous and actual. The other type of multiplicity appears in pure duration: It is an internal multiplicity of succession, of fusion, of organization, of heterogeneity, of qualitative discrimination, or of difference in kind; it is a virtual and continuous multiplicity that cannot be reduced to numbers.

Here we may recall Aristotle’s notion of time as kind of order. This poses the question whether duration itself is a multiplicity. As Deleuze carves it out ([33] p.85):

At the heart of the question “Is duration one or multiple?” we find a completely different problem: Duration is a multiplicity, but of what type? Only the hypothesis of a single Time can, according to Bergson, account for the nature of virtual multiplicities. By confusing the two types – actual spatial multiplicity and virtual temporal multiplicity- Einstein has merely invented a new way of spatializing time.

Pushing Bergson’s architecture of time further, Deleuze develops his first accounts on virtuality. It becomes clear, that durée is a virtual entity. As such, it is outside of the realm of numbers, even outside of quantificability or quantitability. Speaking in Aristotelian terms we could say that time is a smooth manifold of kinds of orders. Again Deleuze (p.85):

Being, or Time, is a multiplicity. But it is precisely not “multiple”; it is One, in conformity with its type of multiplicity.

For Bergson, tenses are already actualizations of durée. The past is conceived as being different from the present in kind, and could not be compared to it. There is also possibility for a transition from a “past” to a “present.” It is the work of memory (as an abstract entity) that creates the link. Memory extends completely into present, though. Its main effect is to recollect the past. In this sense, memory is stepping forward. Durée and memory are co-extensive.

As we have seen, Bergson’s conception of time is strongly linked to consciousness and its particular memory. We also have seen that he considers physical time as a kind of a secondary phenomenon. He thinks that things surely have no endurance in the sense of a capability to actualize durée into an extended present.

This poses a problem: What is time in our outside? In Time and Free Will he writes [32],

Although things do not endure as we do ourselves, nevertheless, there must be some incomprehensible reason why phenomena are seen to succeed one another instead of being set out all at once. (p.227)

Well, what does this claim “things do not endure as we do ourselves” refer to? Is there endurance of things at all? And what about animals, thinking animals, or epistemic machines? As Deleuze explains, Bergson is able to solve this puzzle only by extending his durée into a cosmic principle ([33], pp.51). Yet, I think that in this case he mixes immaterial and material aspects in a quite inappropriate manner.

Bergson’s conception of time certainly has some appealing properties. But just as its much less potent rival phenomenology it is strongly anthropocentric. It can’t be generalized enough for our purposes that follow the question of time in architecture. Of course, we could conceive of architecture as a thing that is completely passive if nobody looks onto it or thinks about it. But what is then about cities? The perspective of passive things has been largely refuted, first by Heidegger through his hermeneutic perspective, and in a much more developed manner, by Bruno Latour and his Agent-Network-Theory.

In still other terms, we could say that Bergson’s philosophy suffers from a certain binding problem. I think it was precisely the binding problem that caused the hefty dispute between Einstein and Bergson. Just to be clear, in my opinion both of them failed.

Thus we need a perspective that allows to overcome the binding problem without sacrificing either the experiential time, or durée or the measurability of referential time. This perspective is provided by the semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce.


Peirce was an engineer, his formal accounts thus always pragmatic. This sets him apart from Bergson and his early devotion to mathematics. Where the former sees processes in which various parts engage, the latter sees abstract structures.

Being an engineer, Peirce looked at thought and time in a completely different manner. He starts with referential time, with clock-time. He does not criticize it at first hand as Bergson would later do.

The first step in our reconstruction of Peircean time is his move to show that neither thought nor, of course, consciousness can take place in an instant. Consciousness must be a process. Else, thought is a sign. One has to know that for Peirce, a sign is not to be mistaken as a symbol. For him it is an enduring situation. We will return to this point later.

In MS23720 (chapter IV in Writings 3) his primary concern is to explain how thinking could take place

A succession in time among ideas is thus presupposed in time-conception of a logical mind; but need this time progress by a continuous flow rather than by discrete steps?

Of course, he concludes that a “continuous time” is needed. Yet, at this point, Peirce starts to depart from a single, univoke time. He continues

Not only does it take time for an idea to grow but after that process is completed the idea cannot exist in an instant. During the time of its existence it will not be always the same but will undergo changes. […] It thus appears that as all ideas occupy time so all ideas are more or less general and indeterminate, the wider conceptions occupying longer intervals.

This way he arrives at a time conception that could be characterized as a multiplicity of continua. Even if it would be possible to determine a starting time and a time of completion for any of those intervals, it still remains that all those overlapping thoughts form a single consciousness.

Chapter 5 in “Writings 3” (MS239), titled “That the significance of thought lies in reference to the future” [35], starts in the following way.

In every logical mind there must be 1st, ideas; 2nd, general rules according to which one idea determines another, or habits of mind which connect ideas; and, 3rd, processes whereby such habitual connections are established.

The second aspect strongly reminds to our orthoregulation and the underlying “paradox of rule-following” first clearly stated by Ludwig Wittgenstein in the 1930ies [36]. The section ends with the following reasoning:

It appears then that the intellectual significance of all thought ultimately lies in its effect upon our actions. Now in what does the intellectual character of conduct consist? Clearly in its harmony to the eye of reason; that is in the fact that the mind in contemplating it shall find a harmony of purposes in it. In other words it must be capable of rational interpretation to a future thought. Thus thought is rational only so far as it recommends itself to a possible future thought. Or in other words the rationality of thought lies in its reference to a possible future.

In this brief paragraph we may find several resemblances to what we have said earlier, and elsewhere. First, Peirce’s conception of time within his semiotics provide us a means for referring to the binding problem. More precisely, thought as sign process is itself the mechanism to relate ideas and actions, where actions are always preceded, but never succeeded by their respective ideas.

Second, Peirce rejects the idea that a single purpose could be considered as reasonable. Instead, in order to justify reasonability, a whole population of remindable purposes, present and past, is required; all of them overlapping, at least potentially, all of them once pointing to the future. This multiplicity of overlapping and unmeasurable intervals creates a multiplicity of continuations. Even more important, this continuation is known before it happens. Hence, the present extends into the past as well as into the future. Given the fact that firstly the immediate effect of an action is rarely the same as the ultimate effect, and secondly the ultimate effect is often quite different to the expectation related to the purpose, we often do even not know “what” happened in the past. So, by applying ordinary referential time, our ignorance stretches to both sides of present, though not in the same way. It even exceeds the period of time of what could be called event.

Yet, by applying Peirce’s continuity, we find a possibility to simplify the description. For we then are faced by a single kind of ignorance that results in the attitude that Heidegger called “care” (Sorge).

The mentioned extension of the experienced ignorance as an ignorance within the present into the past and the future does not mean, of course, to propose a symmetry between the past and the future with respect to present, as we will see in a moment. Wittgenstein [40] is completely right in his diagnosis that

[…] in the grammar of future tense the conception of “memory” does not occur, even not with inverted sign.21 (p. 159)

The third issue, finally, concerns the way re relates rationality to the notion of “possible future.” This rationality is not claiming absolute objectivity, since it creates its own conditions as well as itself. Peirce’s rationality is a local one, at least at first sight. It is just this creating of the possible future that provides the conditions for the possibility of the experiencibility of future affairs.

The most important (methodological) feature of Peircean semiotics is, however, the possibility to jump out of consciousness, so to speak. Sign situations occur not only within the mind, they are also ubiquitous in interpersonal exchange, and even in the absorption of energy by different kinds of matter. Semiotics provides a cross-medial continuity. This argument has been extended later by John Dewey [37][38], Peirce’s pragmatist disciple .

Such we could say that, if (1) thought comprises signs, and (2) signs are sign situations, then it does not make sense to speak about “instantaneous” time regarding thought and consciousness in particular, but also regarding any interpretation in general, as interpretation is always part of a sign (-situation). Then, we also can say that presence lasts as long as a particular interpretation is “running”. Yet, signs refer to signs only. Interpretations are fundamentally open in its beginning as well as in its end. They are nested and occur in parallel, and are more broken than finished just contingently. Once the time string, or the interpretive chain, respectively, has been broken, past and future appear literally in their own right, i.e. de iure, and only by a formal act.22

The consequence of all that the probabilistic network of interpretations gives rise to a cloud of time strings, any of them with indeterminable ends. It is clear that signs and thus thinking would be absolutely impossible if there would be just one referential clock-time. But even more important, without the inner multiplicity of “sign time” there would be only the cold world of a single strictly causal process. There would be no life and no information. Only a single, frozen black hole.

Given the primacy of the cloud of time strings, it is easy to construct referential time as a clock-time. One just needs to enumerate the overlapping time strings in such a way that enumeration and counting coincide. Once this is done it is possible to refer to a clock. Yet, the clock would be without any meaning without such a enumerative counting. The clock the is suitably actualized in a more simple way by a perfectly repetitive process, that is, a process that actually is outside of time, much as Aristotle thought it is the case for celestial bodies. And once we have established clock time we can engage in interpersonal synchronization of our individual time string populations.

Peircean sign time thus not only allows to reconcile the two modi of time, the experiential time and referential time. It is also possible to extend the same process into historical time, rooting historicity in an alternative and much more appealing manner than it was proposed by Heidegger.


All the positions we met so far can be split into two sets. In the first part we find fundamental ontology and existential philosophy (Heidegger), analytic ontology (Oaklander), “folk approaches” (Augustine), idealistic conceptions (McTaggart) and physics with its reductionist perspective . In the second subset we find Aristotle, Bergson and Peirce.

The difference between the two parties lies in the way they root the concept of time. The former party roots it in reality; hence they ask about the inner structure of time, much like one would ask about the inner structure of wood. For the proponents of the second class time is primary experiential time and such always rooted in the interpretant, i.e. some kind of active observer, whether this refers to observers with or without consciousness. For all of them, though in different ways, the present is primary. For Aristotle it is kind of a substance, for Bergson durée, for Peirce the sign as process.

Wittgenstein does not say much time, since he seems to be convinced that there is not so much to say. He simply accepts the distinction between referential time of physics and experiential time and considers them to be incommensurable. [39]

Both ways of expressing it are okay and equitable, yet not blendable.23 ([40], p.81-82)

Already in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein wrote

We cannot compare any process with the “passage of time”—there is no such thing—but only with another process (say, with the movement of the chronometer).24 (TLP 6.3611)

Here it becomes clear that clock-time is nothing “built into matter”, but rather a communally negotiated reference, or in short, referential time. We all refer to the same particular process, whether this is length of a day or the number of state changes in Cs-133.25 Experiential time, on the other hand, can’t be considered as a geometrical entity, hence there is no such thing as a “point” in present. In experience, there is nothing to measure. The main reason for this being that experience is tightly linked to (abstract) modeling, and thus to the choreosteme. In short, experience is a self-generating process without an Archimedean Point.

“Now” does not denote a point in time. It is not a “name of a moment in time.”26 ([43], 157)

[…] yet it is nonsense to say ‚This is this‘, or ‚This is now‘.27 ([43], 159)

„Now“ is an indexical term, just as „I“, „this“ or „here“. Indexical terms do not refer to an index. Quite in contrast, sometimes, in more simple cases, they are setting an index, in more complicated cases indexical terms just denote the possibility for imposing an index onto a largely indeterminate context. Hence, it is for grammatical reasons that we can’t say “this is now.” Time is not an object. Time is nothing of which we could say that it does exist. Thus we also can not ask “What is time?” as this implies the existentialist perspective. The question about the reality of time is ungrammatical, it is like trying to play Chinese checkers28 on a chess board, or chess on a soccer field.

More precisely, there is no possibility to speak about “time as an object” in meaningful terms. For language is (i) a process itself, (ii) a process that intrinsically relates to the communal (there is no private language), and (iii) language is a strongly singular term. Thus we can conclude that there is no such thing as the objectification of time, or objective time.

Examples for such an objectification are easy to find. For instance, it is included in the question posed by Augustine “What is time?”  (Wittgenstein’s starting point for the Philosophical Investigations.) It is also included in the misunderstanding of an objective referential time. Or in the claim that time itself is flowing (like a river). Or in the attempt to proof that time itself is continuous.29

Instead, “now” is used as an indication of—or a pointer to—the present and the presence of the speaker. Its duration in terms of clock-time is irrelevant. It would be nonsense to attempt to measure this duration, because it would mean to measure the speaker and his act itself.

Accordingly, the temporal modi in language, the tenses, such as past, present time, future, reflect to the temporal modi of actions—including speech acts—, which take place in the “now” and are anchored in the future through their purpose ([42] p.142).

Confusing and mixing the two conceptions of time—referential time and experiential time—is the main reason, according to Wittgenstein, for enigmas and paradoxes regarding time (such as the distinction of A-series and B-series by McTaggart and in ontology).

For there is no such thing as the objectification of time, time is intrinsically a relational “entity”. As Deleuze brilliantly demonstrates in his reflections about Bergson [33], time can be thought only as durée, or in my words, as a manifold of anobjected time strings, that directly points to the virtual, which in turn is not isolated, but rather an intensity within the choreosteme.

The idealistic, phenomenological and existential approaches to temporality are deeply flawed, because it is not possible to take time apart, or to take time out of the game. Wittgenstein considers such attempts as a misuse of language. Expressions like „time itself“ or questions like “What is time?” are outside of any possible language.

In the ‘Philosophical Remarks’ he says

What belongs to the essence of the world could not be expressed by language. Only what we could imagine as being different language is able to tell.30 ([40] p.84).

Everything which we are able to describe at all, could also be different.31 ([45],p .173).

In order to play the game of “questioning reality of X” in a meaningful manner it has to be possible that it is not real, or partially. An alternative is needed, which however is missing in existential questions or attempts to find the essence. Thus it is meaningless (free of sense) to doubt (even implicitly) the reality of time, whether as present, as past or as future. It is similar to Moore’s paradox of doubting of having an arm. In the end, at least after Wittgenstein, one always have to begin with language. It is nonsense to begin with existence, or likewise essence.

Wittgenstein rejects the traditional philosophical reflection that always tried to find the eternal, necessary and general truth, essence or “true nature” as opposed to empirical—and pragmatical—impressions. The attempt to determine the reality of X as a being-X-as-such is a misuse of language, it is outside of the logic of language.

For Wittgenstein, the more interesting part of time points to memory, as clock-time is a mere convention. For him, memory is the sourcing wellspring (“Quelle”) of time, since the past is experienceable just as a recall of the past ([40] p.81f). Bergson called it recollection.

I think that there are one major consequence of Wittgenstein’s considerations. Time can be comprehended only as a transcendent structural condition of establishing a relation, hence also acting, speaking and thinking. Without such conditioning it is simply not possible to establish a relation. This extends, of course, also to the realm of the social [46]. Here we could even point to physics, particularly to the maximum speed of light, that is the maximum speed of exchanging information, which translates to the “establishment of time” as soon as a relation has been built. This includes that this building of a relation is irreversible. Within reversibility it does not make sense to speak about time. Even shorter, we could be tempted to say that within information there is no time, if it would be meaningful to think something like “within information”. Information itself is strictly bound to interpretation, which brings us back to Peircean semiotics.

Such we could say that we as humans “create” time mainly by means of language, albeit it is not the only possibility to “create” time. Yet, for us humans (as a collective individual beings32) there is hardly another possibility, for we can’t step out of language. Different languages and different uses of language “create” different times. It is this what Helga Nowotny calls “Eigenzeit” [46] (“self-owned time”).

It is rather important to understand that by means of these argument we don’t refer any more to something like “historical time” or “natural time”. Our argument is much more general.

Secondarily, then, we may conclude that we have to ask about the different ways we use the language game “time”.


As other authors Paul Ricoeur proposes a strict discontinuity between historical time (“historicality”) and physical time. The former he also calls “time with present”, the latter “time without present.” Yet, unlike other authors he also proposes that this discontinuity can’t be reconciled or bridged. This hypothesis he proceeds to formulate by means of three aporias [47].

  • – Aporia 1, duality: Subjective time and objective time can’t be thought together in a single conception, and even more, they obscure them mutually.
  • – Aporia 2, false unity: Despite we take it for granted that there is one single time, we can’t justify it. We even contradict the insight—which appears as trivial—that there is subjective and objective time.
  • – Aporia 3, inscrutability: Thought can not comprehend time, since its origin can’t be grasped. Conceptually, time is ineluctable. Whenever philosophical thought starts to think about time, this thinking is already too late.

Ricoeur is the second author in our selection who takes a phenomenological stance. Heidegger’s “Being and Time” serves as his point of reference. Yet, Ricoeur is neither interested in the analysis of Being nor of the having-Been. The topic to which he refers in Heidegger, and at the same time his vantage point, is historicality, which he approaches in a very different manner. For Ricoeur, history and historicality can not only be understood just through narrativity; there is even a mutual structural determination. Experience of time as the source of historicality as well as the soil of it gets refigurated through narration. In the essay “On Narrative” [49] that he published while his major work “Time and Narration” [48] was in the making we can find his main hypothesis:

My […] working hypothesis is that narrativity and temporality are closely related—as closely as, in Wittgenstein’s terms, a language game and a form of life. Indeed, I take temporality to be that structure of existence that reaches language in narrativity and narrativity to be the language structure that has temporality as its ultimate referent. Their relationship is therefore reciprocal. (p.169)

Concerning narrativity, Ricoeur draws a lot, of course, on the structure of language and the structure of stories. On both levels various degrees of temporality and nonchronological proportions appear. On the level of language, we find short-range and long-range indicators of temporality, beyond mere grammar. Long-range indicators such as “while” or adverbs of time (“earlier”) do not have a clear boundary, neither structurally nor semantically. The same can be found on the level of the story, the plot as Ricoeur calls it. Here he distinguishes a episodic from a configurational dimension, the former presupposing ordinary, i.e. referential time. Taking into account that

To tell and to follow a story is already to reflect upon events in order to encompass them in successive wholes. (p.178)

it follows that any story comprises a

[…] twofold characteristic of confronting and combining both sequence and pattern in various ways.

In other words, a story creates a multiplicity of possible sequences and times, thereby opening a multiplicity of “planes of manifestation,” or in other words, a web of metaphors33.

[…] the narrative function provides a transition from within-time-ness to historicality.

Yet, according to Ricoeur the configurational dimension of the story has a particular effect on the ordinary temporality of a story as it is transported by the episodics. Through the triggered reflective act, the whole story may condense into a single “thought”.

Finally, the recollection of the story governed as a whole by its way of ending constitutes an alternative to the representation of time as moving from the past forward into the future, according to the well-known metaphor of the arrow of time. It is as though recollection inverted the so-called natural order of time. […] A story is made out of events to the extent that plot makes events into a story. The plot, therefore, places us at the crossing point of temporality and narrativity.

This single thought, the plot of a story as whole now is confronted particularly with the third aporia of inscrutability. Basically, for Ricoeur “not really thinking time” when thinking about time is aporetic. (fTR III 467/dZE III, 417) The aporia

[…] emerges right in that moment, where time, which eludes any attempt to be constituted, turns out to be associated to a constitutive order, which in turn always and already is assumed by the work of that constitution.

Any conception that we could propose about time is confronted with the impossibility of integrating this reflexively ineluctable reason. We never can subject time as an object of our reflexions completely. Inga Römer emphasizes (p.284)

Yet, and this is a crucial point for Ricoeur, “what is brought to its failure here is not thinking, in all its meanings, but rather the drive, better the hubris that our thinking seduces to attempt to dominate sense”. For this failure is only a relative one, the inscrutability is not faced with a lapse into silence, but rather with a polymorphy of arrangements and valuations.34

The items of this polymorphy are incommensurable for Ricoeur. Now, for Ricoeur this polymorphy of time experience is situated in a constitutive and reciprocal relationship with narrativity (see his main hypothesis in “On Narrative” that we cited above). Thereby, our experience of time refigurates and reconfigurates itself continuously. In other words, narration represents a practical and poetic mediation of heterogeneous experiences of time. This interplay, so Ricoeur, can overcome the limitations of philosophical inquiries of time.

Interestingly, Ricoeur rejects any systematicity of his arguments, as Römer points out: (p.454)

This association of withdrawal of grounds at the one hand and the challenge for a thinking-more and thinking-different is the strongest argument for Ricoeur’s explicit refusal of a system regarding the three aporias of time as well as their narrative answers.35 (p.454)

The result of this is pretty clear. The Ricoeurean aporetics starts to molt itself into a narration, constantly staggering and oscillating between its claiming, its negation, its negative positivity and its positive negativity, beginning to dazzle and getting incomprehensible.

Temporality tends to get completely merged in narrativity, which in turn becomes synonymous with the experience of time. Such, there are only two possibilities for Ricoeur, neither of which he actually did follow. The first is the denial of temporality that could be thought independent of narration. The second would be that life is equated with narration.

I think, Ricoeur would favour the second alternative. As Römer summarizes:

Historical practice allows us to mediate experienced time with linear time in its own creation, the historical time.36 (p.326)

Such, however, Ricoeur would introduce a secondary re-mystification, which actually is even an autolog one, since Ricoeur has been starting with it as an inscrutability. At this point, all his arguments vanish and turn into a simple pointing to experience.

In the end, the notion of historical practice remains rather questionable. Ricoeur uses the concepts of witness or testimony as well as “trace,” which of course reminds to Derrida’s infamous trace: an uninterpretable remnant of history. Despite Ricoeur emphasizes the importance of the reader as the situs of the completion of text, he never seems to accept interpretation as a primacy. Here, he closely follows the inherited phenomenological misconceptions of the object that exists independent from and outside of the subject. Other difficulties of it is the denial of transcendence and abstraction, which together with its logicism causes the wrong problem of freedom. Phenomenology never understood, whether in Husserl, Heidegger, Derrida, Ricoeur or analytic philosophy, that comparing things can’t take place on the same level as the compared things. Even the most simple comparison implies the Differential, requiring a considerable amount of constructive activity.

Outside phenomenology, Ricoeur’s attempt is only little convincing, albeit he describes many interesting observations around narration and texts. His aporetics of time appears half-baked, through and through, so to speak. Poisoned by phenomenology, and strangely enough forgetting about language in the formulation of his aporias, he commits almost all of the possible mistakes already in his premises. He objectifies time and he treats it as an existential, which could be explained. After all, his main objection that we “can’t really think time”, does not hit a unique. case. Any thinking of any concept is unable to “really think it.”

Our conclusion is not a rejection of Ricoeur’s basic idea of a mutual relationship between “thinking time” and narration. Yet, obviously thinking about narration and phenomenology is an impossibility itself.

One of interesting observations around narration is the distinction between the episodic and the configurational dimension of a plot. This introduces multiplicity, reversibility, and extended present as well as an additional organizational layer. Yet, Ricoeur failed to step out of his affections with narration in order to get aware of the opportunities attached to it.


Introducing transcendence into our game, we have to refer to Kant, of course, and his conception of time in his “Transzendentale Ästhetik der Kritik der reinen Vernunft”. Kant’s merit is the emancipation of transcendental thinking from the imagined divinity, albeit he did not push this move far enough.

By no means Kant demonstrated the irreality of time, as Einstein as well as McTaggard boldly claim. Kant just demonstrated that time can’t “have” a reality independent from a subject. Accordingly, the idea of an illusionary or irreal time itself is based on a fiction: the fiction of naïve realism. It claims that there is the possibility of an access to “nature” in a way that is independent of subject. Conversely, this does not mean that time as a reality is constructed by human thinking, of course.

The reason for misunderstanding Kant lies in the fact that Kant still argues completely within the realm of the human, while physicists like Einstein talk about the fiction of primarily unrelated entities. It is a major methodological element of the theoretic constitution of physics to assume so, in order to become able, so the fiction, to describe the relations then objectively. Well, actually this does not make much sense, yet physicists usually believe in it.

Far from showing that time is illusionary, Kant tried to secure the objectivity of time under conditions of empirical constitutions, that is, after the explicit and final departure from still scholastic pre-established harmonies that are guaranteed by God. In order to accomplish that he had to invent kind of an intrinsic transcendentality of empirical arrangements. This common basis he found in the transcendent sensual intuition.

For Kant time is a form of intuition (Anschauung), or more precisely, a transcendental and insofar pure form of sensual intuition. It is however of utmost importance, as Mike Sandbothe writes, that Kant himself relativized the universality that is introduced by the transcendentality of time, or in still other words, the intuition of the transcendental subject.

[…] die Form der Anschauung bloss Mannigfaltiges, die formale Anschauung aber Einheit der Vorstellung gibt.” ([47]p.154, B 160f)

The formal account in the intuition now refers to the use of symbols. Thus, it can’t be covered completely as a subject by the pure reason. Here, we find a possible transition to Wittgenstein, since symbols are symbols by convention. Note that this does not refer to a particular symbol, of course, but to the symbolicity that accompanies any instance of talking about time. On the one hand this points towards the element of historicity, which has been developed by Heidegger in a rather limited manner (because he restricted history to the realm of the Dasein, i.e. consciousness).

On the other hand, however, we could extend Kant’s insight of a two-fold constitution of time into more abstract, and this means a-human regions. In a condensed way Kant shows that we need sensual intuitions and symbolicity in order to access temporal aspects of the world. Sensual intuitions, then, require, in the widest sense, kind of match between sensed and the sensing. In human thinking these are the schemata, in particle physics it is the filter built deeply into matter. We could call this transverse excitability. In physics, it is called quantum.

Yet, the important thing is the symbolicity. We can immediately translate this into quantificability and quantitability. And again we are back at Aristotle’s conception.

2. Synopsis

So, after having visited some of the most important contributions to the issue of time we may try to approach a synopsis of those. Again, we have to emphasize that we disregarded many highly interesting ideas, among others those of Platon in his Timaios with his three “transcendental” categories of Being, Space and Becoming, or those of Schelling (cf. in [31]); or those of Deleuze in his cinema books, where he distinguished the “movement image” (presupposing clock time) from the “time image” that is able to provide a grip onto “time itself,” which, for Deleuze, is the virtual to which Bergson’s durée points to; likewise, any of the works by the authors we referred to should have been discussed in much more detail in order to do justice to them. Anyway.

Our intermediate goal was to liberate time from its human influences without sacrificing the applicability of the respective conception to the realm of the human. We need to do so in order to investigate the relation between time and architecture. This liberation, however, still has to obey to the insight of Wittgenstein that we must not expect to find an “essence” of time. Taking all the aspects together, we indeed may ask, as careful as possible,

How should we conceive of time?

The answer is pretty clear, yet, it comes as a compound consisting of three parts. And above all it is also pretty simple.

(1) Time is best conceived as a transcendent condition for the possibility of establishing a relation.

This “transcendent condition” is not possible without a respective plane of immanence, which in turn comprises the unfolding of virtuality. Much could be said about that, of course, with respect to the philosophical implications, its choreostemic references, or its architectonic vicinity. For instance, this determination of time suggests a close relationship to the issue of information and its correlate, causality. Or we could approach other conceptions of time by means of something like a “reverse synthesis.”

It is perhaps at least indicated to emphasize—particularly for all those that are addicted to some kind of science—that this transcendent condition does not, by no means, exclude any consideration of “natural” systems, even not in its material(ist) contraction. On the other hand, this in turn does not mean, of course, that we are doing “Naturphilosophie” here, neither of the ancient nor the scholastic type.

It is clear that we need to instantiate the subjects of this conception in order to achieve a practical relevance of it. It is in this instantiation that different forms of temporality appear, i.e. durée on the one hand and clock-time on the other. Nothing could be less surprising, now, as an incompatibility of the two forms of temporality. Actually, the expectation of a compatibility is already based on the misunderstanding that claims the possibility of a “direct” comparison (which is an illusion). Quite to the contrast, we have to understand that the phenomenal incommensurability just points to a differential of time, which we formulated as a transcendent condition above.

Now, one of the instantiations, clock-time, or referential time, is pretty trivial. We don’t need to deal with it any further. The other branch, where we find Peirce and Bergson, is more interesting.

As we have seen in our discussion about their works, multiplicity is an essential ingredient of relational time. Peirce and Bergson arrived at it on different ways, though. For Peirce it is a consequence of the multiplicity of thoughts about something, naturally derived from his semiotics. For Bergson, it is a multiplicity within experience, or better the experiencing consciousness. So to speak, they take inverse positions regarding the mediality. We already said that we prefer the Peircean perspective due to its more prominent potential for generalization. Yet, I think the two perspectives could be reconciled quite easily. Both conceptions conceive primal time as “experiential” time (in the widest sense).

Our instantiation of time as a transcendent condition is thus:

(2) Transcendent time gets instantiated as a probabilistic, distributed and manifold multiplicity of—topologically spoken—open time strings.

Each time string represents a single and local present, where “local” does not refer to a “spatial place”, but rather to a particular sign process.

This multiplicity is not an external multiplicity, despite it is triggered or filled from the external. It is also not possible to “count” the items in it, without loosing present. If we count, we destroy the coherence between the overlapping strings of present, thus creating countable referential time. This highlights a further step of instantiation, the construction of expressibility.

(3) The pre-specific multiplicity of time strings decoheres by symbolization into a specific space of expressibility.

Symbolization may be actualized by means of numbers, as already mentioned before. This would allow us to comprehend and speak of movement. We also have seen that we could construct a web of proceeding metaphors and their virtual movement. This would put us in midst the narration and into metaphoricology, as I call it, which refers to the perspective that conceives of being human and of human beings as parts of lively metaphors. In other words, culture itself becomes the story and the narrative.

As still another possibility we could address the construction of a space of expressibility of temporality quite directly. Such a space need to be an aspectional space, of course. Just keep in mind that the aspectional space is not a space of quantities, as it is the case for a Cartesian space. The aspectional space is a space that is characterized by a “smooth” blending of intensity and quantity. We may call it intensive quantities, or quantitable intensities. It is a far-reaching generalization of the “ordinary” space conceptions that we know from mathematics. As the aspects —the replacement of dimensions—of that space we could choose the modes of temporality—such as past, present, future—, the durée, the referential time, or implicit time as it occurs and shows up in behavior or choreostemic space. We also could think of an aspection that is built by a Riemannian manifold, allowing to comprise linearity and circularity as just a single aspect.

The tremendous advantage of such a space is manifold, of course, because an infinite amount of particular time practices can be constructed, even as a continuum. This contiguous and continuous plurality is of a completely different kind as the unmediatable items in the plurality of time conceptions that has been proposed by Mike Sandbothe [8].

The aspectional space of transcendent time offers, I mentioned it, the possibility for expressing time, or more precisely, a particular image of time. There are several of those spaces, and each of them is capable to hold an infinite number of different images of time.

It is now easy to understand that collapsing the conditions for building relations with the instantiation into a concrete time form, or even with the action (or the “phenomenon”) results in nothing else than a terrible mess. Actually, it is precisely the mess that physicists or phenomenology create in different ways. “Phenomenal” observables of this mess are pseudo-paradoxes or dualities. We also could say that such mess is created due to a wrong application of the grammar of time.

There is one important aspect of time and temporality, or perspective onto them, that we mentioned only marginally so far, the event. We met it in Heidegger’s “Being and Time” as the provider [m: the Giving] and insofar also the origin of Being and time. We also saw that Ricoeur uses them as building bricks for stories that combine them into successive wholes. For Dewey (“Time and Individuality”, “Context of Thought”) the concept of an event involves both the individual pattern of growth and the environmental conditions. Dewey, as Ricoeur, emphasizes that there is no geometrical sequence, no strict seriality to which events could be arranged. Dewey calls it concurrence, which could not be separated from occurrence of an event.

Yet, for both of them time remains something external to the conception of event, while Heidegger conceives it as the source of time. Considering our conception of time as a proceeding actualization of Differential Time we could say the the concept of event relates to the actualization of the relation within the transcendence of its conditions. Such it could be said to accompany creation of time, integrating transcendent and practical conditions as well as all the more or less contingent choices associated with it. In some way we can see that we have proceduralized (differentiated) Heidegger’s “point of origin”.37. Marc Rölli [52] sharpens this point by referring to Deleuze’s conception as “radically empiricist”, dismissing Heidegger through the concepts of actuality and virtuality. Such we can see that the immediate condition that is embedding the possibility of experience is the “event,” which in turn can be traced back to a proper image of time. Time, as a condition, is mediated towards experience by the event, as a condition. Certainly, however, the “event” could not be thought without an explicitly formulated conception of time. Without it, a multitude of misunderstandings must be expected. If we accept the perspective that insofar time is preceding substance, which resolves of course into a multiplicity in a Deleuzean perspective, we also could say that the trinity of time, event and experience contributes to the foil of immanence, or even builds it up, where experience in turn refers to the choreostemic constitution of being in the world.

In order to summarize our conception as an overview… here is how we propose to conceive of time

  • (1) Time is a transcendent condition for the possibility of establishing a relation, or likewise a quality.
  • (2) It gets instantiated as a probabilistic multiplicity of open time strings that, by the completion of all instantiations, present presence.
  • (3) The pre-specific multiplicity of time strings decoheres by symbolization into a specific, aspectional space of expressibility.
  • (4) Any particular “choice” of a situs in this space of intensive quantities represents the respective image of time, which then may emerge in worldly actualizations.

Particularly regarding this last element we have to avoid the misunderstanding of a seriality of the kind “I choose then I get”. This choice is an implicit one, just as the other instantiations, and can be “observed” only in hindsight, or more precise, they show themselves only within performance. Only in this way we can say that it brings time into a particular Lebenswelt and its contexts as a matter (or subject) of design.

Nevertheless, we now could formulate kind of a recipe for creating a particular “time”, form of temporality, or “time quality.” This would work also in the reverse direction, of course. It is possible to construct a comparative of time qualities across authors, architects or urban neighborhoods. Hopefully, this will help to improve urban practices. In order to make this creational aspect more clear, we now have to investigate the possibilities to create time “itself”.

to be continued …

(The next part will deal with the question whether it could be possible to identify the mechanisms needed to create time…)


1. “Living City” was Archigram’s first presentation to the public, which has been curated by Ron Herron in 1963. 

2. German orig.: „Zuletzt markiert die Zeit für Ricoeur das “Mysterium” unseres Denkens, das sich der Repräsentation verweigert, indem es unser Dasein auf eine für das Denken uneinholbare Weise umgreift.“

3. 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.

4. remark about state and development.

5. We discussed them in the essay about growth patterns. The fractal is a consequence of self-affine mapping, roughly spoken, a local replacement by a minor version of the original diagram.

6. It is tempting to relate this position to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Yet, we won’t deal with contemporary physics here, even as it would be interesting to investigate the deficiencies of physical conceptions of time.

7. McTaggart paper about time that has been cited over and over again and became unfortunately very influential. Yet, it is nothing but a myth. For a refutation see Tegtmeier [18]. For reasons of its own stupidity and the boldly presented misinterpretation of the work of Kant, McTaggart’s writing deserves the title of a “most developed philanosy” (Grk: anoysia ανοησία, nonsense, or anosia, immunity). It is not even worthwhile, as we will see later through our discussion of Wittgenstein’s work regarding time, to consider it seriously, as for instance Sean Power does .

8. There is a distant resemblance to Georg Berkley’s “esse est percipi.” [20] Yet, in contrast to Berkley, we conceive of interpretation as an activity that additionally is deeply rooted in the communal.

9. German original: SZ: 326: „Zukünftig auf sich zurückkommend, bringt sich die Entschlossenheit gegenwärtigend in die Situation. Die Gewesenheit entspringt der Zukunft, so zwar, dass die gewesene (besser gewesende) Zukunft die Gegenwart aus sich entlässt. Dies dergestalt als gewesend-gegenwärtigende Zukunft einheitliche Phänomen nennen wir die Zeitlichkeit.

10. One has to consider that Heidegger conceives of Being only in relation to the Being-there (“Dasein”), while the “Being-there” is confined to conscious beings.

11. The translators used ”falling”, which however does not match the German “verfallend”. (Actually, I consider it as a mistake.) Hence, I replaced it by a more appropriate verb.

12. Note that Heidegger always used to write in a highly ambigue fashion, which makes it nearly impossible to translate him literally from German to English. In everyday language “Es gibt” is surely well translated by “There is.” Yet, in this text he repeatedly refers to “giving”. Turning perspective to “giving” opens the preceding “Es” away from its being as impersonate corpuscle towards impersonal “fateness”. This interpretation matches the presentation of the affair in [24].

13. German original: “Das Sein eigens denken, verlangt, das Sein als den Grund des Seienden fahren zu lassen zugunsten des im Entbergen verborgen spielenden Gebens, d.h. des „Es gibt“.“

14. see also: Marcel Mauss, Die Gabe. Form und Funktion des Austauschs in archaischen Gesellschaften. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2009 [1925].

15. German orig.: „In “Zeit und Sein” schliesslich sieht Heidegger den Ursprung der Zeit im Ereignis, welches er ausdrücklich als den [sich ] selbst entzogenen Geber von Sein und Zeit bestimmt. Das Ereignis, von Heidegger andernorts bestimmt als singulare tantum, ist selbst grundsätzlich entzogen – und dennoch ist das Ereignis der Ursprung der Zeit.“

16. German original (my own translation): “Sein und Zeit ist vielmehr dahin unterwegs, auf dem Wege über die Zeitlichkeit des Daseins in der Interpretation des Seins als Temporalität einen Zeitbegriff, jenes Eigene der “Zeit” zu finden, von woher sich “Sein” als Anwesen er-gibt. Damit ist aber gesagt, daß das in der Fundamentalontologie gemeinte Fundamentale kein Aufbauen darauf verträgt. Stattdessen sollte, nachdem der Sinn von Sein erhellt worden wäre, die ganze Analytik des Daseins ursprünglicher und in ganz anderer Weise wiederholt werden.“ [21]

17. German original (my translation): “Zeit-Raum nennt jetzt das Offene, das im Einander-sich-reichen von Ankunft, Gewesenheit und Gegenwart sich lichtet. Erst dieses Offene und nur es räumt dem uns gewöhnlich bekannten Raum seine mögliche Ausbreitung ein.“

18. This also holds for any of the attempts hat can be found in physics. The following sources may be considered as the most prominent sources, though they are not undisputed: Carroll [22], Price [23][24], Penrose [25]. Physics always and inevitably conceives of time as a measurable “thing”, i.e. as something which already has been negotiated in its relevance for the communal aspects of thinking. See Aristotle’s conception of time.

19. hint to Schelling, for whom intensity is not accessible at all, but could be conceived only as a force that expands into extensity.

20. You will find Peirce’s writings online here: http://www.cspeirce.com/; the parts reference here for instance at http://www.cspeirce.com/menu/library/bycsp/logic/ms237.htm,

21. German original (my transl.): „Denn in der Grammatik der Zukunft tritt der Begriff des ,Gedächtnis’ nicht auf, auch nicht mit umgekehrten Vorzeichen.“

22. In meditational practices one can extend the interpretive chain in various ways. The result is simply the stopping of referential time.

23. German orig.: „Beide Ausdrucksweisen sind in Ordnung und gleichberechtigt, aber nicht miteinander vermischbar“.

24. German orig.: „Wir können keinen Vorgang mit dem ,Ablauf der Zeit’ vergleichen – diesen gibt es nicht – sondern nur mit einem anderen Vorgang (etwa mit dem Gang des Chronometers).“ translation taken from here.

25. 1 second is currently defined as the duration of 9192631770 transitions between two energy levels of the caesium-133 atom. [39] Interestingly, this fits nicely to Aristotle’s conception of time. The reason to take the properties of Cs-133 as a reference is generality. The better the resolution of the referential scale the more general it could be applied.

26. German orig.: „„Jetzt“ bezeichnet keinen Zeitpunkt. Es ist kein „Name eines Zeitmomentes“.“

27. German orig.: „[…] es ist aber Unsinn zu sagen ‘Dies ist dies’, oder ‘Dies ist jetzt’.“

28. In German “Halma”.

29. Much could be said about physics here, regarding the struggling of physicists to “explain” the so-called arrow of time, or regarding the theory of relativity or quantum physics with its Planck time, but it is not close enough to our interests here. Physics always tries to objectify time, which happens through claiming an universally applicable scale, hence they run into paradoxes. In other terms, the fact of the necessity of conceptions like Planck time, or time dilatation, is precisely that without observer there is nothing. The mere possibility of observation (and the observer) vanishes at the light of speed, or at the singularity “within” black holes”. In some way, physics all the time (tries to) proof(s) their own nonsensical foundations.

30. German orig.: „Was zum Wesen der Welt gehört, kann die Sprache nicht ausdrücken. (…) Nur was wir uns auch anders vorstellen können, kann die Sprache sagen.”

31. German orig.: ,,Alles was wir überhaupt beschreiben können, könnte auch anders sein”.

32. Note that in case of a city we meet somewhat the inverse of it. We could conceive of a city as “an individual being made from a collective.”

33. see also Paul Ricoeur (1978), “The Metaphorical Process as Cognition, Imagination, and Feeling,” Critical Inquiry, 1978.

34. German orig.: „Aber, und das ist für Ricoeur entscheidend, “was hier zum Scheitern gebracht wird, ist nicht das Denken, in allen Bedeutungen des Wortes, sondern der Trieb, besser die hybris, die unser Denken dazu verleitet, sich zu Herrn des Sinns zu machen“. Aufgrund dieses nur relativen Scheiterns stehe der Unerforschlichkeit kein Verstummen, sondern vielmehr eine Polymorphie der Gestaltungen und Bewertungen der Zeit gegenüber.“

35. German orig.: „Diese Zusammengehörigkeit von Entzug des Grundes und Herausforderung um Mehr- und Andersdenken ist der stärkste Grund für Ricoeurs explizite Ablehnung eines Systems sowohl der drei Aporien der Zeit selbst wie auch ihrer narrativen Antworten.“

36. German orig.: „Historische Praxis erlaubt uns, die erlebt Zeit mit der linearen Zeit in einer ihr eigenen Schöpfung, der historischen Zeit, zu vermitteln.“

37. Much more would be to say about the event, of course (cf. [51]). Yet, I think that our characterization not only encompasses most conceptions or fits to most of the contribution to the “philosophy of the event,” it also clarifies and sheds light (kind of x-rays?) on them.


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  • [2] Koolhaas, Junkspace
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  • [7] Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City. Oppositions 1984 [1966].
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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.


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.


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.


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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Growth Patterns

November 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

Growing beings and growing things, whether material

or immaterial, accumulate mass or increase their spreading. Plants grow, black holes grow, a software program grows, economies grow, cities grow, patterns grow, a pile of sand grows, a text grows, the mind grows and even things like self-confidence and love are said to grow. On the other hand, we do not expect that things like cars or buildings “grow.”

Despite the above mentioned initial “definition” might sound fairly trivial, the examples demonstrate that growth itself, or more precisely, the respective language game, is by far not a trivial thing. Nevertheless, when people start to talk about growth or if they invoke the concept of growth implicitly, they mostly imagine a smooth and almost geometrical process, a dilation, a more or less smooth stretching. Urbanists and architects are no exception to this undifferentiated and prosy perspective. Additionally, growth is usually not con- sidered seriously beyond its mere wording, probably due to the hasty prejudgment about the value of biological principles. Yet, if one can’t talk appropriately about growth—which includes differentiation—one also can’t talk about change. As a result of a widely (and wildly) applied simplistic image of growth, there is a huge conceptual gap in many, if not almost all works about urban conditions, in urban planning, and about architecture.1  But why talking about change, for in architecture and urbanism is anyway all about planning…

The imprinting by geometry often entails another prejudice: that of globality. Principles, rules, structures are thought to be necessarily applied to the whole, whatever this “wholeness” is about. This is particularly problematic, if these rules refer more or less directly to mere empirical issues. Such it frequently goes unnoticed that maintaining a particular form or keeping position in a desired region of the parameter space of a forming process requires quite intense interconnected local processes, both for building as well as destroying structures.

It was one of the failures in the idea of Japanese Metabolism not to recognize the necessity for deep integration of this locality. Albeit they followed the intention to (re-)introduce the concept of “life cycle” into architecture and urbanism, they kept aligned to cybernetics. Such, Metabolism failed mainly for two reasons. Firstly, they attempted to combine incommensurable mind sets. It is impossible to amalgamate modernism and the idea of bottom-up processes like self-organization or associativity, and the Metabolists always followed the modernist route. Secondly, the movement has been lacking a proper structural setup: the binding problem remained unresolved. They didn’t develop a structural theory of differentiation that would have been suitable to derive appropriate mechanisms.

This Essay

Here in this piece we just would like to show some possibilities to enlarge the conceptual space and the vocabulary that we could use to describe (the) “growing” (of) things. We will take a special reference to architecture and urbanism, albeit the basics would apply to other fields as well, e.g. to the growth and the differentiation of organizations (as “management”) or social forms, but also of more or even “completely” immaterial entities. In some way, this power is even mandatory, if we are going to address the Urban6, for the Urban definitely exceeds the realm of the empirical.
We won’t do much of philosophical reflection and embedding, albeit it should be clear that these descriptions don’t make sense without proper structural, i.e. theoretical references as we have argued in the previous piece. “As such” they would be just kind of a pictorial commentary, mistaking metaphor as allegory. There are two different kinds of important structural references. One is pointing to the mechanisms2, the abstract machinery with its instantiation on the micro-level or with respect to the generative processes. The other points to the theoretico-structural embedment, which we have been discussing in the previous essay. Here, it is mainly the concept of generic differentiation that provides us the required embedding and the power to overcome the binding problem in theoretical work.

The remainder of this essay comprises the following sections (active links):

1. Space

Growth concerns space, both physical and abstract space. Growth concerns even the quality of space. The fact of growth is incompatible with the conception of space as a container. This becomes obvious in case of the fractals, which got their name due to their “broken” dimensionality. A fractal could be 2.846-dimensional. Or 1.2034101 dimensional. The space established by the “inside” of a fractal is very different from the 3-dimensional space. Astonishingly, the dimensionality even need not be constant at all while traveling through a fractal.

Abstract spaces, on the other hand, can be established by any set of criteria, just by interpreting criteria as dimensions. Such, one gets a space for representing and describing items, their relations and their transformations. In mathematics, a space is essentially defined as the possibility to perform a mapping from one set to another, or in other terms, by the abstract (group-theoretic) symmetry properties of the underlying operations on the relations between any entities.

Strangely enough, in mathematics spaces are almost exclusively conceived as consisting from independent dimensions. Remember that “independence” is the at the core of the modernist metaphysical belief set! Yet, they need neither be Euclidean nor Cartesian as the generalization of the former. The independence of descriptive dimensions can be dropped, as we have argued in an earlier essay. The resulting space is not a dimensional space, but rather an aspectional space, which can be conceived as a generalization of dimensional space.

In order to understand growth we should keep in contact with a concept of space that is as general as possible. It would be really stupid for instance, to situate growth restrictively in a flat 2-dimensional Euclidean space. At least since Descartes’ seminal work “Regulae” (AT X 421-424) it should be clear that any aspect may be taken as a contribution to the cognitive space [8].

The Regulae in its method had even allowed wide latitude to the cognitive use of fictions for imagining artificial dimensions along which things could be grasped in the process of problem solving. Natures in the Meditations, however, are no longer aspects or axes along which things can be compared, evaluated, and arrayed, but natures in the sense that Rule 5 had dismissed: natures as the essences of existing things.

At the same time Descartes also makes clear that these aspects should not be taken as essences of existing things. In other words, Descartes has been ahead of 20ieth century realism and existentialism! Aspects do not represent things in their modes of existence, they represent our mode of talking about the relations we establish to those things. Yet, these relations are more like those threads as String Theory describes them: without fixed endings on either side. All we can say about the outer world is that there is something. Of course, that is far to little to put it as a primacy for human affairs.

The consequence of such a dimensional limitation would be a blind spot (if not a population of them), a gap in the potential to perceive, to recognize, to conceive of and to understand. Unfortunately, the gaps themselves, the blind spots are not visible for those who suffer from them. Nevertheless, any further conceptualization would remain in the state of educated nonsense.

Growth is established as a transformation of (abstract) space. Vice versa, we can conceive of it also as the expression of the transformation of space. The core of this transformation is the modulation of the signal intensity length through the generation of compartments, rendering abstract space into a historical, individual space. Vice versa, each transformation of space under whatsoever perspective can be interpreted as some kind of growth.

The question is not any more to be or not to be, as ontologists tried to proof since the first claim of substance and the primacy of logics and identity. What is more, already Shakespeare demonstrated the pen-ultimate consequences of that question. Hamlet, in his mixture of being realist existentialist (by that very question) and his like of myths and (use) of hidden wizards, guided by the famous misplaced question, went straight into his personal disaster, not without causing a global one. Shakespeare’s masterfully wrapped lesson is that the question about Being leads straight to disaster. (One might add that this holds also for ontology and existentialism: it is consequence of ethical corruption.)

Substance has to be thought of being always and already a posteriori to change, to growth. Setting change as a primacy means to base thought philosophically on difference. While this is almost a completely unexplored area, despite Deleuze’s proposal of the plane of immanence, it is also clear that starting with identity instead causes lots of serious troubles. For instance, we would be forced to acknowledge that the claim of the possibility that a particular interpretation indeed could be universalized. The outcome? A chimaera of Hamlet (the figure in the tragedy!) and Stalin.

Instead, the question is one of growth and the modulation of space: Who could reach whom? It is only through this question that we can integrate the transcendence of difference, its primacy, and to secure the manifold of the human in an uncircumventable manner. Life in all of its forms, with all its immanence,  always precedes logic.3 Not only for biological assemblages, but also for human beings and all its produces, including “cities” and other forms of settlements.

Just to be clear: the question of reaching someone else is not dependent on anything given. The given is a myth, as philosophers from Wittgenstein to Quine until Putnam and McDowell have been proofing. Instead, the question about the possibility to reach someone else, to establish a relation between any two (at least) items is one of activity, design, and invention, targeting the transformation of space. This holds even in particle physics.

2. Modes of Talking

Traditionally spoken, the result of growth is formed matter. More exactly, however, it is transformed space. We may distinguish a particular form, morphos, or with regard to psychology also a “Gestalt,” and form as an abstractum. The result of growth is form. Thus, form actually does not only concern matter, it always concerns the potential relationality.

For instance, growing entities never interact “directly”. They, that is, also: we, always interact through their spaces and the mediality that is possible within them.4 Otherwise it would be completely impossible for a human individual to interact with a city. Before any semiotic interpretive relation it is the individual space that enables incommensurable entities to relate.

If we consider the growth of a plant, for instance, we find a particular morphology. There are different kinds of tissues and also a rather typical habitus, i.e. a general appearance. The underlying processes are of biological nature, spanning from physics and bio-chemistry to information and the “biological integration” of those.

Talking about the growth of a building or the growth of a city we have to spot the appropriate level of abstraction. There is no 1:1 transferability. In a cell we do neither find craftsmen nor top-down-implementations of plans. In contrast, rising a building apparently does not know anything about probabilistic mechanisms. Just by calling something intentionally “metabolism” (Kurokawa) or “fractal” (Jencks), invoking thereby associations of organisms and their power to maintain themselves in physically highly unlikely conditions, we certainly do not approach or even acquire any understanding.

The key for any growth model is the identification of mechanisms (cf. [4]). Biology  is the science that draws most on the concept of mechanism (so far), while physics does so for the least. The level of mechanism is already an abstraction, of course. It needs to be completed, however, by the concept of population, i.e. a dedicated probabilistic perspective, in order to prevent falling back to the realm of trivial machines. In a cross-disciplinary setting we have to generalize the mechanisms into principles, such that these provide a shared differential entity.5

Well, we already said that a building is rarely raised by a probabilistic process. Yet, this is only true if we restrict our considerations to the likewise abstract description of the activities of the craftsmen. Else, the building process starts long before any physical matter is touched.

Secondly, from the perspective of abstraction we never should forget—and many people indeed forget about this—that the space of expressibility and the space of transformation also contains the nil-operator. From the realm of numbers we call it the zero. Note that without the zero many things could not be expressed at all. Similarly, the negative is required for completing the catalog of operations. Both, the nil-operator and the inverse element are basic constituents of any mathematical group structure, which is the most general way to think about the conditions for operations in space.

The same is true for our endeavor here. It would be impossible to construct the possibility for graded expressions, i.e. the possibility for a more or less smooth scale, without the nil and the negative. Ultimately, it is the zero and the nil-operation together with the inverse that allows to talk reflexively at all, to create abstraction, in short to think through.

3. Modes of Growth

Let us start with some instances of growth from “nature”. We may distinguish crystals, plants, animals and swarms. In order to compare even those trivial and quite obviously very different “natural” instances with respect to growth, we need a common denominator. Without that we could not accomplish any kind of reasonable comparison.

Well, initially we said that growth could be considered as accumulation of mass or as an increase of spread. After taking one step back we could say that something gets attached. Since crystals, plants and animals are equipped with different capabilities, and hence mechanisms, to attach further matter, we choose the way of organizing the attachment as the required common denominator.

Given that, we can now change the perspective onto our instances. The performance of comparing implies an abstraction, hence we will not talk about crystals etc. as phenomena, as this would inherit the blindness of phenomenology against its conditions. Instead, we conceive of them as models of growth, inspired by observations that can be classified along the mode of attachment.

Morphogenesis, the creation of new instances of formed matter, or even the creation of new forms, is tightly linked to complexity. Turing titled his famous article the “Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis“. This, however, is not exactly what he invented, for we have to distinguish between patterns and forms, or likewise, between order and organization. Turing described the formal conditions for emergence of order from a noisy flow of entropy. Organization, in contrast, also needs the creation of remnants, partial decay, and it is organization that brings in historicity. Nevertheless, the mechanisms of complexity of which the Turing-patterns and -mechanisms are part of, are indispensable ingredients for the “higher” forms of growth, at least, that is, for anything besides crystals (but probably even for for them in same limited sense). Note that morphogenesis, in neither of its aspects, should not be conceived as something “cybernetical”!

3.1. Crystals

Figure 1a: Crystals are geometric entities out of time.

Crystals are geometrical entities. In the 19th century, the study of crystals and the attempt to classify them inspired mathematicians in their development of the concept of symmetry and group theory. Crystals are also entities that are “structurally flat”. There are no levels of integration, their macroscopic appearance is a true image of their constitution on the microscopic level. A crystal looks exactly the same on the level of atoms up to the scale of centimeters. Finally, crystals are outside of time. For their growth is only dependent on the one or two layers of atoms (“elementary cells”) that had been attached before at the respective site.

There are two important conditions in order to grow a 3-dimensional crystal. The site of precipitation and attachment need to be (1) immersed in a non-depletable solution where (2) particles can move through diffusion in three dimensions. If these conditions are not met, mineral depositions look very different. As far as it concerns the global embedding conditions, the rules have changed. More abstractly, the symmetry of the solution is broken, and so the result of the process is a fractal.

Figure 1b. Growth in the realm of minerals under spatial constraints, particularly the reduction of dimensionality. The image does NOT show petrified plants! It is precipitated mineral from a solution seeped into a nearly 2-dimensional gap between  two layers of (lime) rock. The similarity of shapes points to a similarity of mechanisms.

Both examples are about mineralic growth. We can understand now that the variety of resulting shapes is highly dependent on the dimensional conditions embedding the growth process.

Figure 1c. Crystalline buildings. Note that it is precisely and only this type of building that actualizes a “perfect harmony” between the metaphysics of the architect and the design of social conditions. The believe in independence and the primacy of identity  has been quite effectively delivered into the habit of the everyday housing conditions.

Figure 1d. Crystalline urban layout, instantiated as “parametrism”. The “curvy” shape should not be misinterpreted as “organic”. In this case it is just a little dose of artificial “erosion” imposed as a parametric add-on to the crystalline base. We again meet the theme of the geological. Nothing could be more telling than the claim of a “new global style”: Schumacher is an arch-modernist, a living fossil, mistaking design as religion, who benefits from advanced software technology. Who is Schumacher that he could decree a style globally?

The growth of crystals is a very particular transformation of space. It is the annihilation of any active part of it. The relationality of crystals is completely exhausted by resistance and the spread of said annihilation.

Regarding the Urban6, parametrism must be considered as being deeply malignant. As the label says, it takes place within a predefined space. Yet, who the hell Schumacher (and Hadid, the mathematician) thinks s/he is that s/he is allowed, or even being considered as being able, to define the space of the Urban? For the Urban is a growing “thing,” it creates its own space. Consequently all the rest of the world admits not to “understand” the Urban, yet Hadid and her barking Schumacher even claim to be able to define that space, and thus also claim that this space shall be defined. Not surprisingly, Schumacher is addicted to the mayor of all bureaucrats of theory, Niklas Luhman (see our discussion here), as he proudly announces in his book “The Autopoiesis of Architecture” that is full of pseudo- and anti-theory.

The example of the crystal clearly shows that we have to consider the solution and the deposit together as a conditioned system. The forces that rule their formation are a compound setup. The (electro-chemical) properties of the elementary cell on the microscopic level, precisely where it is in contact with the solution, together with the global, macroscopic conditions of the immersing solution determine the instantiation of the basic mechanism. Regardless the global conditions, basic mechanism for the growth of crystals is the attachment of matter is from the outside.

In crystals, we do not find a separated structural process layer that would be used for regulation of the growth. The deep properties of matter determine their growth. Else, only the outer surface is involved.

3.2. Plants

With plants, we find a class of organisms that grow—just as crystals—almost exclusively at their “surface”. With only a few exceptions, matter is almost exclusively attached at the “outside” of their shape. Yet, matter is also attached from their inside, at precisely defined locations, the meristemes. Else, there is a dedicated mechanism to regulate growth, based on a the diffusion of certain chemical compounds, the phyto-hormones, e.g. auxin. This regulation emancipates the plant in its growth from the properties of the matter it is built from.

Figure 2a. Growth in Plants. The growth cone is called apical meristeme. There are just a handful of largely undifferentiated cells that keep dividing almost infinitely. The shape of the plant is largely determined by a reaction-diffusion-system in the meristem, based on phyto-hormones that determine the cells. Higher plants can build secondary meristemes at particular locations, leading to a characteristic branching pattern.


Figure 2b. A pinnately compound leaf of a fern, showing its historical genesis as attachment at the outside (the tip of the meristeme)  from the inside. If you apply this principle to roots, you get a rhizome.

Figure 2c. The basic principle of plant growth can be mapped into L-Grammars, n order to create simulations of plant-like shapes. This makes clear that fractal do not belong to geometry! Note that any form creation that is based on formal grammars is subject to the representational fallacy.

Instead of using L-grammars as a formal reference we could also mention self-affine mapping. Actually, self-affine mapping is the formal operation that leads to perfect self-similarity and scale invariance. Self-affine mapping projects a minor version of the original, often primitive graph onto itself. But let us inspect two examples.

Figure 2d.1. Scheme showing the self-affine mapping that would create a graph that looks like a leaf of a fern (image from wiki).

self-affine Fractal fern scheme
Figure 2d.2. Self-affine fractal (a hexagasket) and its  neighboring graph, which encodes its creation [9].
self-affine fractals hexagasket t

Back to real plants! Nowadays, most plants are able to build branches. Formally, they perform a self-affine mapping. Bio-chemically, the cells in their meristeme(s) are able to respond differentially to the concentration of one (or two) plant hormones, in this case auxine. Note, that for establishing a two component system you won’t necessarily need two hormones! The counteracting “force” might be realized by some process just inside the cells of the meristeme as well.

From this relation between the observable fractal form, e.g. the leaf of the fern, or the shape of the surrounding of a city layout, and the formal representation we can draw a rather important conclusion. The empirical analysis of a shape should never stop with the statement that the respective shape shows scale-invariance, self-similarity or the like. Literally nothing is gained by that! It is just a promising starting point. What one has to do subsequently is to identify the mechanisms leading to the homomorphy between the formal representation and the particular observation. If you like, the chemical traces of pedestrians, the tendency to imitate, or whatever else. Even more important, in each particular case these actual mechanisms could be different, though leading to the same visual shape!!!

In earlier paleobiotic ages, most plants haven’t been able to build branches. Think about tree ferns, or the following living fossile.

Figure 2d. A primitive plant that can’t build secondary meristemes (Welwitschia). Unlike in higher plants, where the meristeme is transported by the growth process to the outer regions of the plant (its virtual borders), here it remains fixed; hence, the leaf is growing only in the center.

Figure 2e. The floor plan of Guggenheim Bilbao strongly reminds to the morphology of Welwitschia. Note that this “reminding” represents a naive transfer on the representational level. Quite in contrast, we have to say that the similarity in shape points to a similarity regarding the generating mechanisms. Jencks, for instance, describes the emanations as petals, but without further explanation, just as metaphor. Gehry himself explained the building by referring to the mythology of the “world-snake”, hence the importance of the singularity of the “origin”. Yet, the mythology does not allow to say anything about the growth pattern.

Figure 2f. Another primitive plant that can’t build secondary apical meristems. common horsetail (Equisetum arvense). Yet, in this case the apical meristeme is transported.

Figure 2g. Patrick Schumacher, Hadid Office, for the master plan of the Istanbul project. Primitive concepts lead to primitive forms and primitive habits.

Many, if not all of the characteristics of growth patterns in plants are due to the fact that they are sessile life forms. Most buildings are also “sessile”. In some way, however, we consider them more as geological formations than as plants. It seems to be “natural” that buildings start to look like those in fig.2g above.

Yet, in such a reasoning there are even two fallacies. First, regarding design there is neither some kind of “naturalness”, nor any kind of necessity. Second, buildings are not necessarily sessile. All depends on the level of the argument. If we talk just about matter, then, yes, we can agree that most buildings do not move, like crystals or plants. Buildings could not be appropriately described, however, just on the physical level of their matter. It is therefore very important to understand that we have to argue on the level of structural principles. Later we will provide an impressive example of an “animal” or “animate” building.7 

As we said, plants are sessile, all through, not only regarding their habitus. In plants, there are no moving cells in the inside. Thus, plants have difficulties to regenerate without dropping large parts. They can’t replace matter “somewhere in between”, as animals can do. The cells in the leafs, for instance, mature as cells do in animals, albeit for different reasons. In plants, it is mainly the accumulation of calcium. Such, even in tropical climates trees drop off their leaves at least once a year, some species all of them at once.

The conclusion for architecture as well as for urbanism is clear. It is just not sufficient to claim “metabolism” (see below) as a model. It is also appropriate to take “metabolism” as a model, not even if we would avoid the representational fallacy to which the “Metabolists” fell prey. Instead, the design of the structure of growth should orient itself in the way animals are organized, at the level of macroscopic structures like organs, if we disregard swarms for the moment, as most of them are not able to maintain persistent form.

This, however, brings immediately the problematics of territorialization to the fore. What we would need for our cities is thus a generalization towards the body without organs (Deleuze), which orients towards capabilities, particularly the capability to choose the mode of growth. Yet, the condition for this choosing is the knowledge about the possibilities. So, let us proceed to the next class of growth modes.

3.3. Swarms

In plants, the growth mechanisms are implemented in a rather deterministic manner. The randomness in their shape is restricted to the induction of branches. In swarms, we find a more relaxed regulation, as there is only little persistent organization. There is just transient order. In some way, many swarms are probabilistic crystals, that is, rather primitive entities. Figures 3a thru 3d provide some examples for swarms.

From the investigation of swarms in birds and fishes it is known that any of the “individual” just looks to the movement vector of its neighbors. There is no deep structure, precisely because there is no persistent organization.

Figure 3a. A flock of birds. Birds take the movement of several neighbors into account, sometimes without much consideration of their distance.

Figure 3b. A swarm of fish, a “school”. It has been demonstrated that some fish not only consider the position or the direction of their neighbors, but also the form of the average vector. A strong straight vector seems to be more “convincing” for the neighbors as a basis for their “decision” than one of unstable direction and scalar.

Figure 3c. The Kaaba in Mekka. Each year several persons die due to panic waves. Swarm physics helped to improve the situation.

Figure 3d. Self-ordering in a pedestrians population at Shibuya, Tokyo. In order to not crash into each other, humans employ two strategies. Either just to follow the person ahead, or to consider the second derivative of the vector, if the first is not applicable. Yet, it requires a certain “culture”, an unspoken agreement to do so (see this for what happens otherwise)

A particularly interesting example for highly developed swarms that are able to establish persistent organization is provided by Dictyostelium (Fig 4a), in common language called a slime-mold. In biological taxonomy, they form a group called Mycetozoa, which indicates their strangeness: Partly, they behave like fungi, partly like primitive animals. Yet, they are neither prototypical fungi nor prototypical animals. in both cases the macroscopic appearance is a consequence of (largely) chemically organized collaborative behavior of a swarm of amoeboids. Under good environmental conditions slime-molds split up into single cells, each feeding on their own (mostly on bacteria). Under stressing conditions, they build astonishing macroscopic structures, which are only partially reversible as parts of the population might be “sacrificed” to meet the purpose of non-local distribution.

Figure 4a. Dictyostelium, “fluid” mode; the microscopic individuals are moving freely, creating a pattern that optimizes logistics. Individuals can smoothly switch roles from moving to feeding. It should be clear that the “arrangement” you see is not a leaf, nor a single organism! It is a population of coordinating individuals. Yet, the millions of organisms in this population can switch “phase”… (continue with 4b…)

Figure 4b. Dictyostelium, in “organized” mode, i.e. the “same” population of individuals now behaving “as if” it would be an organism, even with different organs. Here, individuals organize a macroscopic form, as if they were a single organism. There is irreversible division of labor. Such, the example of Dictyostelium shows that the border between swarms and plants or animals can be blurry.

The concept of swarms has also been applied to crowds of humans, e.g. in urban environments [11]. Here, we can observe an amazing re-orientation. Finally, after 10 years or so of research on swarms and crowds, naïve modernist prejudices are going to be corrected. Independence and reductionist physicism have been dropped, instead, researchers get increasingly aware of relations and behavior [14].

Trouble is, the simulations treat people as independent particles—ignoring our love of sticking in groups and blabbing with friends. Small groups of pedestrians change everything, says Mehdi Moussaid, the study’s leader and a behavioral scientist at the University of Toulouse in France. “We have to rebuild our knowledge about crowds.”

Swarms solve a particular class of challenges: logistics. Whether in plants or slime-molds, it is the transport of something as an adaptive response that provides their framing “purpose”. This something could be the members of the swarm itself, as in fish, or something that is transported by the swarm, as it is the case in ants. Yet, the difference is not that large.

Figure 5: Simulation of foraging raid patterns in army ants Eciton. (from [12]) The hive (they haven’t a nest) is at the bottom, while the food source is towards thr top.  The only difference between A and B is the number of food sources.

When compared to crystals, even simple swarms show important differences. Firstly, in contrast to crystals, swarms are immaterial. What we can observe at the global scale, macroscopically, is an image of rules that are independent of matter. Yet, in simple, “prototypical” swarms the implementation of those rules is still global, just like in crystals. Everywhere in the primitive swarm the same basic rules are active. We have seen that in Dictyostelium, much like in social insects, rules begin to be active in a more localized manner.

The separation of immaterial components from matter is very important. It is the birth of information. We may conceive information itself as a morphological element, as a condition for the probabilistic instantiation. Not by chance we assign the label “fluid” to large flocks of birds, say starlings in autumn. On the molecular level, water itself is organized as a swarm.

As a further possibility, the realm of immaterial rules provides allows also for a differentiation of rules. For in crystals the rule is almost synonymic to the properties of the matter, there is no such differentiation for them. They are what they are, eternally. In contrast to that, in swarms we always find a setup that comprises attractive and repellent forces, which is the reason for their capability to build patterns. This capability is often called self-organization, albeit calling it self-ordering would be more exact.

There is last interesting point with swarms. In order to boot a swarm as swarm, that is, to effectuate the rules, a certain, minimal density is required. From this perspective, we can recognize also a link between swarms and mediality. The appropriate concept to describe swarms is thus the wave of density (or of probability).

Not only in urban research the concept of swarms is often used in agent-based models. Unfortunately, however, only the most naive approaches are taken, conceiving of agents as entities almost without any internal structure, i.e. also without memory. Paradoxically, researchers often invoke the myth of “intelligent swarms”, overlooking that intelligence is nothing that is associated to swarms. In order to find appropriate solutions to a given challenge, we simply need an informational n-body system, where we find emergent patterns and evolutionary principles as well. This system can be realized even in a completely immaterial manner, as a pattern of electrical discharges. Such a process we came to call a “brain”… Actually, swarms without an evolutionary embedding can be extremely malignant and detrimental, since in swarms the purpose is not predefined. Fiction authors (M.Crichton, F.Schätzing) recognized this long ago. Engineers seem to still have difficulties with that.

Such, we can also see that swarms actualize the most seriously penetrating form of growth.

3.4. Animals

So far, we have met three models of growth. In plants and swarms we find different variations of the basic crystalline mode of growth. In animals, the regulation of growth acquired even more degrees of freedom.

The major determinant of the differences between the forms of plants and animals is movement. This not only applies to the organism as a whole. We find it also on the cellular level. Plants do not have blood or an immune system, where cells of a particular type are moving around. Once they settled, they are fixed.

The result of this mobility is a greatly diversified space of possibilities for instantiating compartmentalization. Across the compartments, which we find also in the temporal domain, we may even see different modes of growth. The liver of the vertebrates, for instance, grows more like a plant. It is somehow not surprising that the liver is the organ with the best ability for regeneration. We also find interacting populations of swarms in animals, even in the most primitive ones like sponges.

The important aspects of form in animals are in their interior. While for crystals there is no interiority, plants differ in their external organization, their habitus, with swarms somewhere in between. Animals, however, are different due to their internal organization on the level of macroscopic compartments, which includes their behavioral potential. (later: remark about metabolism, as taking the wrong metaphorical anchor) Note that the cells of animals look quite similar, they are highly standardized, even between flies and humans.

Along with the importance of the dynamics and form of interior compartments, the development of animals in their embryological phase8 is strictly choreographed. Time is not an outer parameter any more. Much more than plants, swarms or even crystals, of course, animals are beings in and of time. They have history, as individual and as population, which is independent of matter. In animals, history is a matter of form and rules, of interior, self-generated conditions.

During the development of animal embryos we find some characteristic operations of form creating, based on the principle of mobility, additionally to the principles that we can describe for swarms, plants and crystals. These are

  • – folding, involution and blastulation;
  • – melting, and finally
  • – inflation and gastrulation;

The mathematics for describing these operations is not geometry any more. We need topology and category theory in order to grasp it, that is the formalization of transformation.

Folding brings compartments together that have been produced separately. It breaks the limitations of signal horizons by initiating a further level of integration. Hence, the role of folding can be understood as a way as a means to overcome or to instantiate dimensional constraints and/or modularity. While inflation is the mee accumulation of mass and amorphous enlargement of a given compartment by attachment from the interior, melting may be conceived as a negative attachment. Abstractly taken, it introduces the concept of negativity, which in turn allows for smooth gradation. Finally, involution, gastrulation and blastulation introduce floating compartments, hence swarm-like capabilities in the interior organization. It blurs the boundaries between structure and movement, introducing probabilism and reversibility into the development and the life form of the being.

Figure 6a. Development in Embryos. Left-hand, a very early phase is shown, emphasizing the melting and inflating, which leads to “segments”, called metamers. (red arrows show sites of apoptosis, blue arrows indicate inflation, i.e. ordinary increase of volume)

Figure 6b. Early development phase of a hand. The space between fingers is melted away in order to shape the fingers.

Figure 6c. Rem Koolhaas [16]. Inverting the treatment of the box, thereby finding (“inventing”?) the embryonic principle of melting tissue in order to generate form. Note that Koolhaas himself never referred to “embryonic principles” (so far). This example demonstrates clearly where we have to look for the principles of morphogenesis in architecture!

In the image 6a above we can not only see the processes of melting and attaching, we also can observe another recipe of nature: repetition. In case of the Bauplan of animal organisms the result is metamery.9 While in lower animals such as worms (Annelidae), metamers are easily observed, in higher animals, such as insects or vertebrates, metamers are often only (clearly) visible in the embryonal phase. Yet, in animals metamers are always created through a combination of movement or melting and compartmentalization in the interior of the body. They are not “added” in the sense of attaching—adding—them to the actual border, as it is the case in plants or crystals. In mathematical terms, the operation in animals’ embryonic phase is multiplication, not addition.

Figure 6d. A vertebrate embryo, showing the metameric organization of the spine (left), which then gets replicated by the somites (right). In animals, metamers are a consequence of melting processes, while in plants it is due to attachment. (image found here)

The principles of melting (apoptosis), folding, inflating and repetition can be used to create artificial forms, of course. The approach is called subdivision. Note that the forms shown below have nothing to do with geometry anymore. The frameworks needed to talk about them are, at least, topology and category theory. Additionally, they require an advanced non-Cartesian conception of space, as we have been outlining one above.

Figure 7. Forms created by subdivision (courtesy Michael Hansmeyer). It is based on a family of procedures, called subdivision, that are directed towards the differentiation of the interior of a body. It can’t be described by geometry any more. Such, it is a non-geometrical, procedural form, which expresses time, not matter and its properties. The series of subdivisions are “breaking” the straightness of edges and can be seen also as a series of nested, yet uncompleted folds (See Deleuze’s work on the Fold and Leibniz). Here, in Hansmeyer’s work, each column is a compound of three “tagmata”, that is, sections that have been grown “physically” independently from each other, related just by a similar dynamics in the set of parameters.

subdivision columns

Creating such figurated forms is not fully automatic, though. There is some contingency, represented by the designer’s choices while establishing a particular history of subdivisions.

Animals employ a wide variety of modes in their growing. They can do so due to the highly developed capability of compartmentalization. They gain almost complete independence from matter10 , regarding their development, their form, and particularly regarding their immaterial setup, which we can observe as learning and the use of rules. Learning, on the other hand, is intimately related to perception, in other words, configurable measurement, and data. Perception, as a principle, is in turn mandatory for the evolution of brains and the capability to handle information. Thus, staffing a building with sensors is not a small step. It could take the form of a jump into another universe, particularly if the sensors are conceived as being separate from the being of the house, for instance in order to facilitate or modify mental or social affairs of their inhabitants.

3.5. Urban Morphing

On the level of urban arrangements, we also can observe different forms of differentiation on the level of morphology.

Figure 8. Urban Sprawl, London (from [1]). The layout looks like a slime-mold. We may conclude that cities grow like slime-molds, by attachment from the inside and directed towards the inside and the outside. Early phases of urban sprawl, particularly in developing countries, grow by attachment form the outside, hence they look more like a dimensionally constrained crystal (see fig.1b).

The concept of the fractal and the related one of self-similarity entered, of course, also the domain of urbanism, particularly an area of interest which is called Urban Morphology. This has been born as a sub-discipline of geography. It is characterized by a salient reductionism of the Urban to the physical appearance of a city and its physical layout, which of course is not quite appropriate.

Given the mechanisms of attachment, whether it is due to interior processes or attachment from the outside (through people migrating to the city), it is not really surprising to find similar fractal shapes as in case of (dimensionally) constrained crystalline growth, or in the case of slime-molds with their branching amoeba highways. In order to understand the city, the question is not whether there is a fractal or not, whether there is a dimensionality of 1.718 or one of 1.86.

The question is about the mechanisms that show up as a particular material habitus, and about the actual instantiation of these mechanisms. Or even shorter: the material habitus must be translated into a growth model. In turn, this would provide the means to shape the conditions of the cities own unfolding and evolution. We already know that dedicated planning and dedicated enforcement of plans will not work in most cities. It is of utmost importance here, not to fall back into representationalist patterns, as for instance Michael Batty sometimes falls prey to [1]. Avoiding representationalist fallacies is possible only if we embed the model about abstract growth into a properly bound compound which comprises theory (methodology and philosophy) and politics as well, much like we proposed in the previous essay.

Figure 9a. In former times, or as a matter of geographical facts, attachment is excluded. Any growth is directed towards the inside and shows up as a differentiation. Here, in this figure we see a planned city, which thus looks much like a crystal.

Figure 9b. A normally grown medieval city. While the outer “shell” looks pretty standardized, though not “crystalline”, the interior shows rich differentiation. In order to describe the interior of such cities we have to use the concept of type.

Figure 10a. Manhattan is the paradigmatic example for congestion due to a severe (in this case: geographical) limitation of the possibility to grow horizontally. In parallel, the overwhelming interior differentiation created a strong connectivity and abundant heterotopias. This could be interpreted as the prototype of the internet, built in steel and glass (see Koolhaas’ “Delirious New York” [15]).

Figure 10b. In the case of former Kowloon (now torn down), it wasn’t geological, but political constraints. It was a political enclave/exclave, where actually no legislative regulations could be set active. In some way it is the chaotic brother of Manhattan. This shows Kowloon in 1973…

Figure 10c. And here the same area in 1994.

Figure 10d. Somewhere in the inside. Kowloon developed more and more into an autonomous city that provided any service to its approx. 40’000 inhabitants. On the roof of the buildings they installed the play grounds for the children.

The medieval city, Manhattan and Kowloon share a particular growth pattern. While the outer shape remains largely constant, their interior develops any kind of compartments, any imaginable kind of flow and a rich vertical structure, both physical and logical. This growth pattern is the same as we can observe in animals. Furthermore, those cities, much like animals, start to build an informational autonomy, they start to behave, to build an informational persistence, to initiate an intense mediality.

3.6. Summary of Growth Modes

The following table provides a brief overview about the main structural differences of growth models, as they can be derived from their natural instantiations.

Table 1: Structural differences of the four basic classes of modes of growth. Note that the class labels are indeed just that: labels of models. Any actual instantiation, particularly in case of real animals, may comprise a variety of compounds made from differently weighted classes.

Aspect \ Class crystal plant swarm animal
Mode of Attachment passive positive active positive active positive and negative active positive and negative
Direction from outside from inside from inside  towards outside or inside from & towards the inside
Morphogenetic Force as a fact by matter explicitly produced inhibiting fields implicit and explicit multi-component fields 11 explicitly produced multi-component fields
Status of Form implicitly templated by existing form beginning independence from matter independence from matter independence from matter
Formal Tools geometric scaling, representative reproduction, constrained randomness Fibonacci patterns, fractal habitus, logistics fractal habitus, logistics metamerism, organs, transformation, strictly a-physical
Causa Finalis(main component) actualization of identity space filling logistics mobile logistics short-term adaptivity

4. Effects of Growth

Growth increases mass, spread or both. Saying that doesn’t add anything, it is an almost syntactical replacement of words. In Aristotelian words, we would get stuck with the causa materialis and the causa formalis. The causa finalis of growth, in other words its purpose and general effect, besides the mere increase of mass, is differentiation12, and we have to focus the conditions for that differentiation in terms of information. For the change of something is accessible only upon interpretation by an observing entity. (Note that this again requires relationality as a primacy)

The very possibility of difference and consequently of differentiation is bound to the separation of signals.13 Hence we can say that growth is all about the creation of a whole bouquet of signal intensity lengths, instantiated on a scale that stretches from as morpho-physical compartments through morpho-functional compartments to morpho-symbolic specializations.14

Inversely we may say that abstract growth is a necessary component for differentiation. Formally, we can cover differentiation as an abstract complexity  of positive and negative growth. Without abstract growth—or differentiation—there is no creation or even shaping of space into an individual space with its own dynamical dimensionality, which in turn would preclude the possibility for interaction. Growth regulates the dimensionality of the space of expressibility.

5. Growth, an(d) Urban Matter

5.1. Koolhaas, History, Heritage and Preservation

From his early days as urbanist and architect, Koolhaas has been fascinated by walls and boxes [16], even with boxes inside boxes. While he conceived the concept of separation first in a more representational manner, he developed it also into a mode of operation later. We now can decode it as a play with informational separation, as an interest in compartments, hence with processes of growth and differentiation. This renders his personal fascinosum clearly visible: the theory and the implementation of differentiation, particularly with respect to human forms of life. It is probably his one and only subject.

All of Koolhaas’ projects fit into this interest. New York, Manhattan, Boxes, Lagos, CCTV, story-telling, Singapore, ramps, Lille, empirism, Casa da Musica, bigness, Metabolism. His exploration(s) of bigness can be interpreted as an exploration of the potential of signal intensity length. How much have we to inflate a structure in order to provoke differentiation through the shifting the signal horizon into the inside of the structure? Remember, that the effective limit of signal intensity length manifests as breaking of symmetry, which in turn gives rise to compartmentalization, opposing forces, paving the way for complexity, emergence, that is nothing else than a dynamic generation of patterns. BIG BAG. BIG BANG. Galaxies, stardust, planets, everything in the mind of those crawling across and inside bigness architecture.  Of course, it appears to be more elegant to modulate the signal intensity length through other means than just by bigness, but we should not forget about it. Another way for provoking differentiation is through introducing elements of complexity, such as contradictory elements and volatility. Already in 1994, Koolhaas wrote [17]15

But in fact, only Bigness instigates the regime of complexity that mobilizes the full intelligence of architecture and its related fields. […] The absence of a theory of Bigness–what is the maximum architecture can do?–is architecture’s most debilitating weakness. […] By randomizing circulation, short-circuiting distance, […] stretching dimensions, the elevator, electricity, air-conditioning,[…] and finally, the new infrastructures […] induced another species of architecture. […] Bigness perplexes; Bigness transforms the city from a summation of certainties into an accumulation of mysteries. […] Bigness is no longer part of any urban tissue. It exists; at most, it coexists. Its subtext is fuck context.

The whole first part of this quote is about nothing else than modulating signal intensity length. Consequently, the conclusion in the second part refers directly to complexity that creates novelty. An artifice that is double-creative, that is creative and in each of its instances personalized creative, how should it be perceived other than as a mystery? No wonder, modernists get overcharged…

The only way to get out of (built) context is through dynamically creating novelty., by creating an exhaustively new context outside of built matter, but strongly building on it. Novelty is established just and only by the tandem of complexity and selection (aka interpretation). But, be aware, complexity here is fully defined and not to be mistaken with the crap delivered by cybernetics, systems theory or deconstructivism.

The absence of a theory of Bigness—what is the maximum architecture can do? —is architecture’s most debilitating weakness. Without a theory of Bigness, architects are in the position of Frankenstein’s creators […] Bigness destroys, but it is also a new beginning. It can reassemble what it breaks. […] Because there is no theory of Bigness, we don’t know what to do with it, we don’t know where to put it, we don’t know when to use it, we don’t know how to plan it. Big mistakes are our only connection to Bigness. […] Bigness destroys, but it is also a new beginning. It can reassemble what it breaks. […] programmatic elements react with each other to create new events- Bigness returns to a model of programmatic alchemy.

All this reads like a direct rendering of our conceptualization of complexity. It is, of course, nonsense to think that

[…] ‘old’ architectural principles (composition, scale, proportion, detail) no longer apply when a building acquires Bigness. [18]

Koolhaas sub-contracted Jean Nouvel for caring of large parts of Euro-Lille. Why should he do so, if proportions wouldn’t be important? Bigness and proportions are simply on different levels! Bigness instantiates the conditions for dynamic generation of patterns, and those patters, albeit volatile and completely on the side of the interpreter/observer/user/inhabitant/passer-by, deserve careful thinking about proportions.

Bigness is impersonal: the architect is no longer condemned to stardom.

Here, again, the pass-porting key is the built-in creativity, based on elementarized, positively defined complexity. We thus would like to propose to consider our theory of complexity—at least—as a theory of Bigness. Yet, the role of complexity can be understood only as part of generic differentiation. Koolhaas’ suggestion for Bigness does not only apply for architecture. We already mentioned Euro-Lille. Bigness, and so complexity—positively elementarized—is the key to deal with Urban affairs. What could be BIGGER than the Urban? Koolhaas concludes

Bigness no longer needs the city, it is the city.’ […]

Bigness = urbanism vs. architecture.

Of course, by “architecture” Koolhaas refers to the secretions by the swarm architects’ addiction to points, lines, forms and apriori functions, all these blinkers of modernism. Yet, I think, urbanism and a re-newed architecture (one htat embraces complexity) may be well possible. Yet, probably only if we, architects and their “clients”, contemporary urbanists and their “victims,” start to understand both as parts of a vertical, differential (Deleuzean) Urban Game. Any comprehensive apprehension of {architecture, urbanism} will overcome the antipodic character of the relations between them. Hope is that it also will be a cure for junkspace.

There are many examples from modernism, where architects spent the utmost efforts to prevent the “natural” effect of bigness, though not always successful. Examples include Corbusier as well as Mies van der Rohe.

Koolhaas/OMA not only uses assemblage, bricolage and collage as working techniques, whether as “analytic” tool (Delirious New York) or in projects, they also implement it in actual projects. Think of Euro-Lille, for instance. Implementing the conditions of or for complexity creates a never-ending flux of emergent patterns. Such an architecture not only keeps being interesting, it is also socially sustainable.

Such, it is not really a surprise that Koolhaas started to work on the issue and the role of preservation during the recent decade, culminating in the contribution of OMA/AMO to the Biennale 2010 in Venice.

In an interview given there to Hans Ulrich Obrist [20] (and in a lecture at the American University of Beirut), Koolhaas mentioned some interesting figures about the quantitative consequences of preservation. In 2010, 3-4% of the area of the earths land surface has been declared as heritage site. This amounts to a territory larger than the size of India. The prospects of that have been that soon up to 12% are protected against change. His objection was that this development can lead to kind of a stasis. According to Koolhaas, we need a new vocabulary, a theory that allows to talk about how to get rid of old buildings and to negotiate of which buildings we could get rid of. He says that we can’t talk about preservation without also talking about how to get rid of old stuff.

There is another interesting issue about preservation. The temporal distance marked by the age of the building to be preserved and the attempt to preserve the building constantly decreased across history. In 1800 preservation focused on buildings risen 2000 years before, in 1900 the time distance shrunk to 300 years, and in 2000 it was as little as 30 years. Koolhaas concludes that we obviously are entering a phase of prospective preservation.

There are two interpretations for this tendency. The first one would be, as a pessimistic one, that it will lead to a perfect lock up. As an architect, you couldn’t do anything anymore without being engaged in severely intensified legislation issues and a huge increase in bureaucrazy. The alternative to this pessimistic perspective is, well, let’s call it symbolic (abstract) organicism, based on the concept of (abstract) growth and differentiation as we devised it here. The idea of change as a basis of continuity could be built so deeply into any architectural activity, that the result would not only comprise preservation, it would transcend it. Obviously, the traditional conception of preservation would vanish as well.

This points to an important topic: Developing a theory about a cultural field, such as it is given by the relation between architecture and preservation, can’t be limited to just the “subject”. It inevitably has to include a reflection about the conceptual layer as well. In the case of preservation and heritage, we simply find that the language game is still of an existential character, additionally poisoned by values. Preservation should probably not target the material aspects. Thus, the question whether to get rid of old buildings is inappropriate. Transformation should not be regarded as a question of performing a tabula rasa.

Any well-developed theory of change in architectural or Urban affairs brings a quite important issue to the foreground. The city has to decide what it wants to be. The alternatives are preformed by the modes of growth. It could conceive of itself as an abstract crystal, as a plant, a slime-mold made from amoeboids, or as an abstract animal. Each choice offers particular opportunities and risks. Each of these alternatives will determine the characteristics and the quality of the potential forms of life, which of course have to be supported by the city. Selecting an alternative also selects the appropriate manner of planning, of development. It is not possible to perform the life form of an animal and to plan according to the characteristics of a crystal. The choice will also determine whether the city can enter a regenerative trajectory, whether it will decay to dust, or whether it will be able to maintain its shape, or whether it will behave predatory. All these consequences are, of course, tremendously political. Nevertheless, we should not forget that the political has to be secured against the binding problem as much as conceptual work.

In the cited interview, Koolhaas also gives a hint about that when he refers to the Panopticum project, a commission to renovate a 19th century prison. He mentions that they discovered a rather unexpected property of the building: “a lot of symbolic extra-dimensions”. These symbolic capital allows for “much more and beautiful flexibility” to handle the renovation. Actually, one “can do it in 50 different ways” without exhausting the potential, something, which according to Koolhaas is “not possible for modern architecture”.

Well, again, not really a surprise. Neither function, nor functionalized form, nor functionalized fiction (Hollein) can bear symbolic value except precisely that of the function. Symbolic value can’t be implanted as little as meaning can be defined apriori, something that has not been understood, for instance, by Heinrich Klotz14. Due to the deprivation of the symbolic domain it is hard to re-interpret modernist buildings. Yet, what would be the consequence for preservation? Tearing down all the modernist stuff? Probably not the worst idea, unless the future architects are able to think in terms of growth and differentiation.

Beyond the political aspects the practical question remains, how to decide on which building, or district, or structure to preserve? Koolhaas already recognized that the politicians started to influence or even rule the respective decision-making processes, taking responsibility away from the “professional” city-curators. Since there can’t be a rational answer, his answer is random selection.

Figure 11: Random Selection for Preservation Areas, Bejing. Koolhaas suggested to select preservation areas randomly, since it can’t be decided “which” Bejing should be preserved (there are quite a few very different ones).

Yet, I tend to rate this as a fallback into his former modernist attitudes. I guess, the actual and local way for the design of the decision-making process is a political issue, which in turn is dependent on the type of differentiation that is in charge, either as a matter of fact, or as a subject of political design. For instance, the citizens of the whole city, or just of the respective areas could be asked about their values, as it is a possibility (or a duty) in Switzerland. Actually, there is even a nice and recent example for it. The subject matter is a bus-stop shelter designed by Santiago Calatrava in 1996, making it to one of his first public works.

Figure 12: Santiago Calatrava 1996, bus stop shelter in St.Gallen (CH), at a central place of the city; there are almost no cars, but every 1-2 minutes a bus, thus a lot of people are passing even several times per day. Front view…

…and rear view

In 2011, the city parliament decided to restructure the place and to remove the Calatrava shelter. It was considered by the ‘politicians’ to be too “alien” for the small city, which a few steps away also hosts a medieval district that is a Unesco World Heritage. Yet, many citizen rated the shelter as something that provides a positive differential, a landmark, which could not be found in other cities nearby, not even in whole Northern Switzerland. Thus, a referendum has been enforced by the citizens, and the final result from May 2012 was a clear rejection of the government’s plans. The effect of this recent history is pretty clear: The shelter accumulates even more symbolic capital than before.

Back to the issue of preservation. If it is not the pure matter, what else should be addressed? Again, Koolhaas himself already points to the right direction. The following fig.13 shows a scene from somewhere in Bejing. The materials of the dwelling are bricks, plastic, cardboard. Neither the site nor the matter nor the architecture seems to convey anything worthwhile to be preserved.

Figure 13: When it comes to preservation, the primacy is about the domain of the social, not that of matter.

Yet, what must be preserved mandatorily is the social condition, the rooting of the people in their environment. Koolhaas, however, says that he is not able to provide any answer to solve this challenge. Nevertheless it s pretty clear, that “sustainability” start right here, not in the question of energy consumption (despite the fact that this is an important aspect too).

5.2. Shrinking. Thinning. Growing.

Cities have been performances of congestion. As we have argued repeatedly, densification, or congestion if you like, is mandatory for the emergence of typical Urban mediality. Many kinds of infrastructures are only affordable, let alone be attractive, if there are enough clients for it. Well, the example of China—or Singapore—and its particular practices of implementing plans demonstrate that the question of density can take place also in a plan, in the future, that is, in the domain of time. Else, congestion and densification may actualize more and more in the realm of information, based on the new medially active technologies. Perhaps, our contemporary society does not need the same corporeal density as it was the case in earlier times. There is a certain tendency that the corporeal city and the web amalgamate into something new that could be called the “wurban“. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, some kind of density is needed to ignite the conditions for the Urban.

Such, it seems that the Urban is threatened by the phenomenon of thinning. Thinning is different from shrinking, which appears foremost in some regions of the U.S. (e.g. Detroit) or Europe (Leipzig, Ukrainia) as a consequence of monotonic, or monotopic economic structure. Yet, shrinking can lead to thinning. Thinning describes the fact that there is built matter, which however is inhabited only for a fraction of time. Visually dense, but socially “voided”.

Thinning, according to Koolhaas, considers the form of new cities like Dubai. Yet, as he points out, there is also a tendency in some regions, such as Switzerland, or the Netherlands, that approach the “thinned city” from the other direction. The whole country seems to transform itself into something like an urban garden, neither of rural nor of urban quality. People like Herzog & deMeuron lament about this form, conceiving it as urban sprawl, the loss of distinct structure, i.e. the loss of clearly recognizable rural areas on the one hand, and the surge of “sub-functional” city-fragments on the other. Yet, probably we should turn perspective, away from reactive, negative dialectics, into a positive attitude of design, as it may appear a bit infantile to think that a palmful of sociologists and urbanists could act against a gross cultural tendency.

In his lecture at the American University in Beirut in 2010 [19], Koolhaas asked “What does it [thinning] mean for the ‘Urban Condition’?”

Well, probably nothing interesting, except that it prevents the appearance of the Urban16 or lets it vanish, would it have been present. Probably cities like Dubai are just not yet “urban”, not to speak of the Urban. From the distant, Dubai still looks like a photomontage, a Potemkin village, an absurdity. The layout of the arrangement of the high-rises remembers to the small street villages, just 2 rows of cottages on both sides of  a street, arbitrarily placed somewhere in the nowhere of a grassland plain. The settlement being ruled just by a very basic tendency for social cohesion and a common interest for exploiting the hinterland as a resource. But there is almost no network effect, no commonly organized storage, no deep structure.

Figure 14a: A collage shown by Koolhaas in his Beirut lecture, emphasizing the “absurdity” (his words) of the “international” style. Elsewhere, he called it an element of Junkspace.

The following fig 14b demonstrates the artificiality of Dubai, classifying more as a lined village made from huge buildings than actually as a “city”.

Figure 14b. Photograph “along” Dubai’s  main street taken in late autumn 2012 by Shiva Menon (source). After years of traffic jamming the nomadic Dubai culture finally accepted that something like infrastructure is necessary in a more sessile arrangement. They started to build a metro, which is functional with the first line since Sep 2010.

dubai fog 4 shiva menon

Figure 14c below shows the new “Simplicity ™”. This work of Koolhaas and OMA oscillates between sarcasm, humor pretending to be naive, irony and caricature. Despite a physical reason is given for the ability of the building to turn its orientation such as to minimize insulation, the effect is a quite different one. It is much more a metaphor for the vanity of village people, or maybe the pseudo-religious power of clerks.

Figure 14c-1. A proposal by Koolhaas/OMA for Dubai (not built, and as such, pure fiction). The building, called “Simplicity”, has been thought to be 200m wide, 300m tall and measuring only 21m in depth. It is placed onto a plate that rotates in order to minimize insulation.

Figure 14b-2. The same thing a bit later the same day

Yet, besides the row of high-rises we find the dwellings of the migration workers in a considerable density, forming a multi-national population. However, the layout here remembers more to Los Angeles than to any kind of “city”. Maybe, it simply forms kind of the “rural” hinterland of the high-rise village.

Figure 15. Dubai, “off-town”. Here, the migration workers are housing. In the background the skyscrapers lining the infamous main street.

For they, for instance, also started to invest into a metro, despite the (still) linear, disseminated layout of the city, which means that connectivity, hence network effects are now recognized as a crucial structural element for the success of the city. And this then is not so different anymore from the classical Western conception. Anyway, even the first cities of mankind, risen not in the West, provided certain unique possibilities, which as a bouquet could be considered as urban.

There is still another dimension of thinning, related to the informatization of presence via medially active technologies. Thinning could be considered as an actualization of the very idea of the potentiality of co-presence, much as it is exploited in the so-called “social media”. Of course, the material urban neighborhood, its corporeality, is dependent on physical presence. Certainly, we can expect either strong synchronization effects or negative tipping points, demarcating a threshold towards sub-urbanization. On the other hand, this could give rise to new forms of apartment sharing, supported by urban designers and town officials…

On the other hand, we already mentioned natural structures that show a certain dispersal, such as the blood cells, the immune system in vertebrates, or the slime-molds. These structures are highly developed swarms. Yet, all these swarms are highly dependent on the outer conditions. As such, swarms are hardly persistent. Dubai, the swarm city. Technology, however, particularly in the form of the www and so-called social media could stabilize the swarm-shape.17

From a more formal perspective we may conceive of shrinking and thinning simply as negative growth. By this growth turns, of course, definitely into an abstract concept, leaving the representational and even the metaphorical far behind. Yet, the explication of a formal theory exceeds the indicated size of this text by far. We certainly will do it later, though.

5.3. In Search for Symbols

What turns a building into an entity that may grow into an active source for symbolization processes? At least, we can initially know that symbols can’t be implanted in a direct manner. Of course, one always can draw on exoticism, importing the cliché that already is attached to the entity from abroad. Yet, this is not what we are interested in here.The question is not so dissimilar to the issue of symbolization at large, as it is known from the realm of language. How could a word, a sign, a symbol gain reference, and how could a building get it? We could even take a further step by asking: How could a building acquire generic mediality such that it could be inhabited not only physically, but also in the medial realm? [23] We can’t answer the issues around these questions here, as there is a vast landscape of sources and implications, enough for filling at least a book. Yet, conceiving buildings as agents in story-telling could be a straightforward and not too complicated entry into this landscape.

Probably, story-telling with buildings works like a good joke. If they are too direct, nobody would laugh. Probably, story-telling has a lot to do with behavior and the implied complexities, I mean, the behavior of the building. We interpret pets, not plants. With plants, we interpret just their usage. We laugh about cats, dogs, apes, and elephants, but not about roses and orchids, and even less about crystals. Once you have seen one crystal, you have seen all of them. Being inside a crystal can be frightening, just think about Snow White. While in some way this holds even for plants, that’s certainly not true for animals. Junkspace is made from (medial) crystals. Junkspace is so detrimental due to the fundamental modernist misunderstanding that claims the possibility of implementing meaning and symbols, if these are regarded as relevant at all.

Closely related to the issue of symbols is the issue of identity.

Philosophically, it is definitely highly problematic to refer to identity as a principle. It leads to deep ethical dilemmata. If we are going to drop it, we have to ask immediately about a replacement, since many people indeed feel that they need to “identify” with their neighborhood.

Well, first we could say that identification and “to identify” are probably quite different from the idea of identity. Every citizen in a city could be thought to identify with her or his city, yet, at the same time there need not be such a thing as “identity”. Identity is the abstract idea, imposed by mayors and sociologists, and preferably it should be rejected just for that, while the process of feeling empathy with one’s neighborhood is a private process that respects plurality. It is not too difficult to imagine that there are indeed people that feel so familiar with “their” city, the memories about experiences, the sound, the smell, the way people walk, that they feel so empathic with all of this such that they source a significant part of their personality from it. How to call this inextricable relationship other than “to identify with”?

The example of the Calatrava-bus stop shelter in St.Gallen demonstrates one possible source of identification: Success in collective design decisions. Or more general: successfully finished negotiations about collective design issues, a common history about such successful processes. Even if the collective negotiation happens as a somewhat anonymous process. Yet, the relative preference of participation versus decreed activities depends on the particular distribution of political and ethical values in the population of citizens. Certainly, participatory processes are much more stable than top-down-decrees, not only in the long run, as even the Singaporean government has recognized recently. But anyway, cities have their particular personality, because they behave18 in a particular manner, and any attempt to get clear or to decide about preservation must respect this personality. Of course, it also applies that the decision-making process should be conscious enough to be able to reflect about the metaphysical belief set, the modes of growth and the long-term characteristics of the city.

5.4. The Question of Implementation

This essay tries to provide an explication of the concept of growth in the larger context of a theory of differentiation in architecture and urbanism. There, we positioned growth as one of four principles or schemata that are constitutive for generic differentiation.

In this final section we would like to address the question of implementation, since only little has been said so far about how to deal with the concept of growth. We already described how and why earlier attempts like that of the Metabolists dashed against the binding problem of theoretical work.

If houses do not move physically, how then to make them behaving, say, similar to the way an animal does? How to implement a house that shares structural traits with animals? How to think of a city as a system of plants and animals without falling prey to utter naivity?

We already mentioned that there is no technocratic, or formal, or functionalist solution to the question of growth. At first, the city has to decide what it wants to be, which kind of mix of growth modes should be implemented in which neighborhoods.

Let us first take some visual impressions…

Figure 16a,b,c. The Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe (1929 [1986]).

This pavilion is a very special box. It is non-box, or better, it establishes a volatile collection of virtual boxes. In this building, Mies reached the mastery of boxing. Unfortunately, there are not so much more examples. In some way, the Dutch Embassy by Koolhaas is the closest relative to it, if we consider more recent architecture.

Just at the time the Barcelona pavilion has been built, another important architect followed similar concepts. In his Villa Savoye, built 1928-31, LeCorbusier employed and demonstrated several new elements in his so-called “new architecture,” among others the box and the ramp. Probably the most important principle, however, was to completely separate construction and tectonics from form and design. Such, he achieved a similar “mobility” as Mies in his Pavilion.

Figure 17a: La Villa Savoye, mixing interior and exterior on the top-roof “garden”. The other zone of overlapping spaces is beneath the house (see next figure 17b).

corbusier Villa Savoye int-ext

Figure 17b: A 3d model of Villa Savoye, showing the ramps that serve as “entrance” (from the outside) and “extrance” (towards the top-roof garden). The principle of the ramp creates a new location for the creation and experience of duration in the sense of Henri Bergson’s durée. Both the ramp and the overlapping of spaces creates a “zona extima,” which is central to the “behavioral turn”.

Corbusier Villa Savoye 06 small model

Comparing La Villa Savoye with the Barcelona pavilion regarding the mobility of space, it is quite obvious, that LeCorbusier handled the confluence and mutual penetration of interior and exterior in a more schematic and geometric manner.19

The quality of the Barcelona building derives from the fact that its symbolic value is not directly implemented, it just emerges upon interaction with the visitor, or the inhabitant. It actualizes the principle of “emerging symbolicity by induced negotiation” of compartments. The compartments become mobile. Such, it is one of the roots of the ramp that appeared in many works of Koolhaas. Yet, its working requires a strong precondition: a shared catalog of values, beliefs and basic psychological determinants, in short, a shared form of life.

On the other hand, these values and beliefs are not directly symbolized, shifting them into their volatile phase, too. Walking through the building, or simply being inside of it, instantiates differentiation processes in the realm of the immaterial. All the differentiation takes place in the interior of the building, hence it brings forth animal-like growth, transcending the crystal and the swarm.

Thus the power of the pavilion. It is able to transform and to transcend the values of the inhabitant/visitor. The zen of silent story-telling.

This example demonstrates clearly that morphogenesis in architecture not only starts in the immateriality of thought, it also has to target the immaterial.

It is clear that such a volatile dynamics, such a active, if not living building is hard to comprehend. In 2008, the Japanese office SANAA has been invited for contributing the annual installation in the pavilion. They explained their work with the following words [24].

“We decided to make transparent curtains using acrylic material, since we didn’t want the installation to interfere in any way with the existing space of the Barcelona Pavilion,” says Kazuyo Sejima of SANAA.

Figure 18. The installation of Japanese office SANAA in the Barcelona Pavilion. You have to take a careful look in order to see the non-interaction.

Well, it certainly rates as something between bravery and stupidity to try “not to interfere in any way with the existing space“. And doing so by highly transparent curtains is quite to the opposite of the buildings characteristics, as it removes precisely the potentiality, the volatility, virtual mobility. Nothing is left, beside the air, perhaps. SANAA committed the typical representational fault, as they tried to use a representational symbol. Of course, the walls that are not walls at all have a long tradition in Japan. Yet, the provided justification would still be simply wrong.

Instead of trying to implement a symbol, the architect or the urbanist has to care about the conditions for the possibility of symbol processes and sign processes. These processes may be political or not, they always will refer to the (potential) commonality of shared experiences.

Above we mentioned that the growth of a building has its beginning in the immateriality of thought. Even for the primitive form of mineralic growth we found that we can understand the variety of resulting shapes only through the conditions embedding the growth process. The same holds, of course, for the growth of buildings. For crystals the outer conditions belong to them as well, so the way of generating the form of a building belongs to the building.

Where to look for the outer conditions for creating the form? I suppose we have to search for them in the way the form gets concrete, starting from a vague idea, which includes its social and particularly its metaphysical conditions. Do you believe in independence, identity, relationality, difference?

It would be interesting to map the difference between large famous offices, say OMA and HdM.

According to their own words, HdM seems to treat the question of material very differently from OMA, where the question of material comes in at later stage [25]. HdM seems to work much more “crystallinic”, form is determined by the matter, the material and the respective culture around it. There are many examples for this, from the wine-yard in California, the “Schaulager” in Basel (CH), the railway control center (Basel), up to the “Bird’s Nest” in Bejing (which by the way is an attempt for providing symbols that went wrong). HdM seem to try to rely to the innate symbolicity of the material, of corporeality itself. In case of the Schaulager, the excavated material have been used to raise the building, the stones from the underground have been erected into a building, which insides looks like a Kafkaesque crystal. They even treat the symbols of a culture as material, somehow counterclockwise to their own “matérialisme brut”. Think about their praise of simplicity, the declared intention to avoid any reference beside the “basic form of the house” (Rudin House). In this perspective, their acclaimed “sensitivity” to local cultures is little more than the exploitation of a coal mine, which also requires sensitivity to local conditions.

Figure 18: Rudin House by Herzog & deMeuron

HdM practice a representationalist anti-symbolism, leaning strongly to architecture as a crystal science, a rather weird attitude to architecture. Probably it is this weirdness that quite unintentionally produces the interest in their architecture through a secondary dynamics in the symbolic. Is it, after all, Hegel’s tricky reason @ work? At least this would explain the strange mismatch of their modernist talking and the interest in their buildings.

6. Conclusions

In this essay we have closed a gap with respect to the theoretical structure of generic differentiation. Generic Differentiation may be displayed by the following diagram (but don’t miss the complete argument).

Figure 19: Generic Differentiation is the key element for solving the binding problem of theory works. This structure is to be conceived not as a closed formula, but rather as a module of a fractal that is created through mutual self-affine mappings of all of the three parts into the respective others.

basic module of the fractal relation between concept/conceptual, generic differentiation/difference and operation/operational comprising logistics and politics that describes the active subject

In earlier essays, we proposed abstract models for probabilistic networks, for associativity and for complexity. These models represent a perspective from the outside onto the differentiating entity. All of these have been set up in a reflective manner by composing certain elements, which in turn can be conceived as framing a particular space of expressibility. Yet, we also proposed the trinity of development, evolution and learning (chp.10 here) for the perspective from the inside of the differentiation process(es), describing different qualities of differentiation.

Well, the concept of growth20 is now joining the group of compound elements for approaching the subject of differentiation from the outside. In some way, using a traditional and actually an inappropriate wording, we could say that this perspective is more analytical than synthetical, more scientific than historiographical. This does not mean, of course, that the complementary perspective is less scientific, or that talking about growth or complexity is less aware of the temporal domain. It is just a matter of weights. As we have pointed out in the previous essay, the meta-theoretical conception (as a structural description of the dynamics of theoretical work) is more like a fractal field than a series of activities.

Anyway, the question is what can we do with the newly re-formulated concept of growth?

First of all, it completes the concept of generic differentiation, as we already mentioned just before. Probably the most salient influence is the enlarged and improved vocabulary to talk about change as far as it concerns the “size” of the form of a something, even if these something is something immaterial. For many reasons, we definitely should resist the tendency to limit the concept of growth to issues of morphology.

Only through this vocabulary we can start to compare the entities in the space of change. Different things from different domains or even different forms of life can be compared to each other, yet not as those things, but rather as media of change. Comparing things that change means to investigate the actualization of different modes of change as this passes through the something. This move is by no means eclecticist. It is even mandatory in order to keep aligned to the primacy of interpretation, the Linguistic Turn, and the general choreostemic constitution.

By means of the new and generalized vocabulary we may overcome the infamous empiricist particularism. Bristle counting, as it is called in biology, particularly entomology. Yes, there are around 450’000 different species of beetles… but… Well, overcoming particularism means that we can spell out new questions: about regulative factors, e.g. for continuity, melting and apoptosis. Guided by the meta-theoretical structure in fig.19 above we may ask: How would a politics of apoptosis look like? What about recycling of space? How could infrastructure foster associativity, learning and creativity of the city, rather than creativity in the city? What is epi/genetics of the growth and differentiation processes in a particular city?

Such questions may appear as elitary, abstract, of only little use. Yet, the contrary is true, as precisely such questions directly concern the productivity of a city, the speed of circulation of capital, whether symbolic or monetary (which anyway is almost the same). Understanding the conditions of growth may lead to cities that are indeed self-sustaining, because the power of life would be a feature deeply built into them. A little, perhaps even homeopathic dose of dedetroitismix, a kind of drug to cure the disease that infected the city of Detroit as well as the planners of Detroit or also all the urbanists that are pseudo-reasoning about Detroit in particular and sustainability in general. Just as Paracelsus mentioned that there is not just one kind of stomach, instead there are hundreds of kinds of stomach, we may recognize how to deal with the thousands of different kinds of cities that all spread across thousands of plateaus, if we understand of how to speak and think about growth.


1. This might appear a bit arrogant, perhaps, at first sight. Yet, at this point I must insist on it, even as I take into account the most advanced attempts, such as those of Michael Batty [1], Luca D’Acci or Karl Kropf [2]. The proclaimed “science of cities” is in a bad state. Either it is still infected by positivist or modernist myths, or the applied methodological foundations are utterly naive. Batty for instance embraces full-heartedly complexity. But how could one use complexity other as a mere label, if he is going to write such weird mess [3], mixing wildly concepts and subjects?

“Complexity: what does it mean? How do we define it? This is an impossible task because complex systems are systems that defy definition. Our science that attempts to understand such systems is incomplete in the sense that a complex system behaves in ways that are unpredictable. Unpredictability does not mean that these systems are disordered or chaotic but that defy complete definition.

Of course, it is not an impossible task to conceptualize complexity in a sound manner. This is even a mandatory precondition to use it as a concept. It is a bit ridiculous to claim the impossibility and then writing a book about its usage. And this conceptualization, whatsoever it would look like, has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that complex systems may behave unpredictable. Actually, in some way they are better predictable than complete random processes. It remains unclear which kind of unpredictability Batty is referring to? He didn’t disclose anything about this question, which is a quite important one if one is going to apply “complexity science”. And what about the concept of risk, and modeling, then, which actually can’t be separated at all?

His whole book [1] is nothing else than an accumulation of half-baked formalistic particulars. When he talks about networks, he considers only logistic networks. Bringing in fractals, he misses to mention the underlying mechanisms of growth and the formal aspects (self-affine mapping). In his discussion of the possible role of evolutionary theory [4], following Geddes, Batty resorts again to physicalism and defends it. Despite he emphasizes the importance of the concept of “mechanism”, despite he correctly distinguishes development from evolution, despite he demands an “evolutionary thinking”, he fails to get to the point: A proper attitude to theory under conditions of evolution and complexity, a probabilistic formulation, an awareness for self-referentiality, insight to the incommensurability of emergent traits, the dualism of code and corporeality, the space of evo-devo-cogno. In [4], one can find another nonsensical statement about complexity on p.567:

“The essential criterion for a complex system is a collection of elements that act independently of one another but nevertheless manage to act in concert, often through constraints on their actions and through competition and co-evolution. The physical trace of such complexity, which is seen in aggregate patterns that appear ordered, is the hallmark of self-organisation.” (my emphasis).

The whole issue with complex systems is that there is no independence… they do not manage to act in concert… wildly mixing with concepts like evolution or competition… physics definitely can nothing say about the patterns, and the hallmark of self-organizing systems is not surely not just the physical trace: it is the informational re-configuration.

Not by pure chance therefore he is talking about “tricks” ([5], following Hamdi [7]): “The trick for urban planning is to identify key points where small change can lead spontaneously to massive change for the better.” Without a proper vocabulary of differentiation, that is, without a proper concept of differentiation, one inevitably has to invoke wizards…

But the most serious failures are the following: regarding the cultural domain, there is no awareness about the symbolic/semiotic domain, the disrespect of information, and regarding methodology, throughout his writings, Batty mistakes theory for models and vice versa, following the positivist trail. There is not the slightest evidence in his writing that there is even a small trace of reflection. This however is seriously indicated, because cities are about culture.

This insensitivity is shared by talented people like Luca D’Acci, who is still musing about “ideal cities”. His procedural achievements as a craftsman of empirism are impressive, but without reflection it is just threatening, claiming the status of the demiurg.

Despite all these failures, Batty’s approach and direction is of course by far more advanced than the musings of Conzen, Caniggia or Kropf, which are intellectually simply disastrous.There are numerous examples for a highly uncritical use of structural concepts, for mixing of levels of arguments, crude reductionism, a complete neglect of mechanisms and processes etc. For instance, Kropf in [6]

A morphological critique is necessarily a cultural critique. […] Why, for example, despite volumes of urban design guidance promoting permeability, is it so rare to find new development that fully integrates main routes between settlements or roads directly linking main routes (radials and counter-radials)?” (p.17)

The generic structure of urban form is a hierarchy of levels related part to whole. […] More effective and, in the long run, more successful urbanism and urban design will only come from a better understanding of urban form as a material with a range of handling characteristics.” (p.18)

It is really weird to regard form as matter, isn’t it? The materialist final revenge… So, through the work of Batty there is indeed some reasonable hope for improvement. Batty & Marshall are certainly heading to the right direction when they demand (p.572 [4]):

“The crucial step – still to be made convincingly – is to apply the scientifically inspired understanding of urban morphology and evolution to actual workable design tools and planning approaches on the ground.

But it is equally certain that an adoption of evolutionary theory that seriously considers an “elan vital” will not be able to serve as a proper foundation. What is needed instead is a methodologically sound abstraction of evolutionary theory as we have proposed it some time ago, based on a probabilistic formalization and vocabulary. (…end of the longest footnote I have ever produced…)

2. The concept mechanism should not be mistaken as kind of a “machine”. In stark contrast to machines, mechanisms are inherently probabilistic. While machines are synonymic to their plan, mechanisms imply an additional level of abstraction, the population and its dynamics. .

3. Whenever it is tried to proof or implement the opposite, the primacy of logic, characteristic gaps are created, more often than not of a highly pathological character.

4. see also the essay about “Behavior”, where we described the concept of “Behavioral Coating”.

5. Deleuzean understanding of differential [10], for details see “Miracle of Comparison”.

6. 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 order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective that refers to common sense understanding.

7. Only in embryos or in automated industrial production we find “development”.

8. The definition (from Wiki) is: “In animals, metamery is defined as a mesodermal event resulting in serial repetition of unit subdivisions of ectoderm and mesoderm products.”

9. see our essay about Reaction-Diffusion-Systems.

10. To emancipate from constant and pervasive external “environmental” pressures is the main theme of evolution. This is the deep reason that generalists are favored to the costs of specialists (at least on evolutionary time scales).

11. Aristotle’s idea of the four causes is itself a scheme to talk about change. .

12. This principle is not only important for Urban affairs, but also for a rather different class of arrangements, machines that are able to move in epistemic space.

13. Here we meet the potential of symbols to behave according to a quasi-materiality.

14. Heinrich Klotz‘ credo in [21] is „not only function, but also fiction“, without however taking the mandatory step away from the attitude to predefine symbolic value. Such, Klotz himself remains a fully-fledged modernist. see also Wolfgang Welsch in [22], p.22 .

15. There is of course also Robert Venturi with his  “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture”, or Bernard Tschumi with his disjunction principle summarized in “Architecture and Disjunction.” (1996). Yet, both went as far as necessary, for “complexity” can be elementarized and generalized even further as he have been proposing it (here), which is, I think a necessary move to combine architecture and urbanism regarding space and time. 

16. see footnote 5.

17. ??? .

18. Remember, that the behavior of cities is also determined by the legal setup, the traditions, etc.

19.The ramp is an important element in contemporary architecture, yet, often used as a logistic solution and mostly just for the disabled or the moving staircase. In Koolhaas’ works, it takes completely different role as an element of story-telling. This aspect of temporality we will investigate in more detail in another essay. Significantly, LeCorbusier used the ramp as a solution for a purely spatial problem.

20. Of course, NOT as a phenomenon!


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  • [22] Vera Bühlmann, inahbiting media. Thesis, University of Basel 2009. (in german, available online)
  • [23] Report in de zeen (2008). available online.
  • [24] Jacques Herzog, Rem Koolhaas, Urs Steiner (2000). Unsere Herzen sind von Nadeln durchbohrt. Ein Gespräch zwischen den Architekten Rem Koolhaas und Jacques Herzog über ihre Zusammenarbeit. Aufgezeichnet von Urs Steiner.in: Marco Meier (Ed.). Tate Modern von Herzog & de Meuron. in: Du. Die Zeitschrift der Kultur. Vol. No. 706, Zurich, TA-Media AG, 05.2000. pp. 62-63. available online.


Urban Strings

November 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

The urban life on this globe forms a vastly diverse and

heterogeneous universe. How could one ever expect to understand it in its entirety ? And isn’t some sort of understanding required to deal with all the challenges offered by the complexity of urban environments that we are faced with? Such, or similar, is the despair of the urbanist. Some say, urbanism is dead, has disappeared, at least as far as urbanism is said to be concerned about kind of a theory about the city or urban life. Whatever happened to urbanism [1], Herzog & deMeuron are convinced [2] that “There are no theories of cities; there are only cities.” No manifestos any more, please!

Should we dismiss the despair of our putative urbanist? Or should we take the expressed concerns serious? Is it reasonable at all to strive for an understanding? And what could “understanding“ mean in light of the complexity of large urban arrangements? The Newton of urban affairs is quite unlikely to appear, the globally unified formula about urban affairs is certainly a delusion. For what purpose should we aim for insights, as most planning initiatives don’t hit their targets anyway? Why not just dropping the distanced attitude that seems to be implied by theory and planning and just act, on the local or even micro-level, to deal with the challenges? At least urbanists of any shade have already many toolboxes for any kind of problem, haven’t they? Well, the outcome of the “just acting,” the collection of works contributed by swarm architects, results, according to Koolhaas, in nothing else than Junkspace.

The matter is not of least relevance, as there have been more than 50% of all humans living in urban environments by 2011, with a projected 75% by 2050, and even today the conditions for inhabitants of cities as well as for cities themselves are often threatening, to say the least. In many urban aggregations in the South, slums are more something common than an exception.

Behind the scenes, and on a quite general level, any discourse about the city and its theory is about the dynamics of urban culture, or simply the concept of change and its political actualization. Upfront it does not matter whether we talk about succeeding whole-sale plans as in the case of Singapore, or similarly perhaps Masdar, failing planning like in case of Mumbai whether we talk about the effects of the mobilization of people, with positive net total as in the case of Shanghai, or a negative net total as in the case of Leipzig (at least up to 2010), whether we talk about self-organized changes or any mixture of those. Given the enormous diversity of the “cultural actual” we have to find a structure for any argument about urban change that is both general enough to include all of those aspects and, most important, that could be bound to the operational level. Otherwise we simply would neither be able to compare them at all, or to “learn” from it. Note that it is not appropriate to “define” change, as this would obscure any theoretical notion. And the generality of this structure should not be burdened by a neglect of the realm of individual personality. The “operational” comprises the political, of course, and thus also issues of ethics and morality.

This Essay

This essay is proposed to be a further step into the direction of Urban Reason. Urban Reason could be circumscribed as human reason that is unfolding, emerging etc. under the condition of the Urban1. In this piece we will try to elucidate the link between some foundational, that is, more conceptual issues and the possibility for active practice.

As one of the pillars of that endeavor we follow the grand or omni-cultural hypotheses of urbanism: Nowadays, human culture is largely identical with urban culture, and through the influence of the cities even in seemingly non-urbanized areas.

The grand cultural hypothesis is b no means a new one. As early as 1966, Aldo Rossi formulated one of its first more complete versions in his “The architecture of the City” (p.51):

In other words, on the most general level, it must be understood that the city represents the progress of human reason, is a human creation par excellence; and this statement has meaning only when the fundamental point is emphasized that the city and every urban artifact are by nature collective.

Yet, Rossi remains largely on the rationalist track (as we will discuss in a later essay about time and architecture). Even as he departs from “classical modernism” in stressing the importance of history, time and (collective) memory with regard to the understanding of the city, the city still remains an artifact, something produced. As a “skeleton,” any existing architecture informs any subsequent architecture, which is beyond mere cause and effect, but for Rossi this influence also remains neutral regarding the possibility of conceptual schemes of thinking. Additionally, the urban remains constructed, there is no autonomy in it.

Despite Rossi’s concepts certainly provide a valuable starting point, it does not push the issue far enough. Even as he realizes that human reason is involved in the subject of the city, as a rationalist he fails to recognize the self-referentiality in such an arrangement.

The grand cultural hypothesis thus not only provokes the serious issue of how to speak about2 the Urban (see footnote 1). With respect to the realms of thoughts and taughts, the Urban takes a role that is quite similar to that of language: everything we (as humans) can think already takes place within language. We can’t step out of it. Likewise we may say that really everything we think and do relates to the Urban, at least nowadays. Thus, the omni-cultural hypotheses also relieves the thinking about the Urban from the monopolistic claims of science(s), relocating the issue of theory from control and pushing it towards design and play. The secondary claim thus is simply that a theory of the Urban is impossible without a strong and serious appropriation of philosophy.3

Such, our grand cultural hypothesis is markedly different from the early and almost classic opening of Henri Lefebvre in his “The Urban Revolution” :

I’ll begin with the following hypothesis: Society has been completely urbanized. This hypothesis implies a definition: An urban society is a society that results from a process of complete urbanization. This urbanization is virtual today, but will become real in the future. (p.1)

Lefebvre still treats the Urban (capital “U”) as something external, from the perspective of a science study, in this case “urbanism” being the target. After all, Lefebvre holds a strong materialist (-marxist) position throughout his work, rejecting even the idea that epistemology could play a role in dealing with the Urban. So, indeed, markedly different from ours.

Another “eternal” issue to be addressed in the context of the Urban is the question about the role of theory. Just throwing around some neologisms, importing exotic concepts from largely unrelated domains, expressing a demand for ethics or morality or doing historical studies does not constitute a theory. Not quite astonishingly, neither modernism in general nor positivism/scientism in particular have been able to develop an appropriate concept of theory. We will also see, for instance, that it is highly unreasonable to conceive “theory” somehow as the antipode of practice or practical concerns.

The refined and appropriately positioned concept of theory directly raises another, almost always overlooked topic. In the “negotiations” about the reasonability of some common ground there is neither a final justification for anything, nor is it reasonable to refer to “values”. Both abolish any possibility for open evolution and lead directly into narrow ideology and dictatorship. Instead, when talking about and engaging e.g. in urban design affairs, we firstly have to make visible our metaphysical stances. Without such exposition any single move or opinion is either rendered into blind—ultimately technocratic—activism or arbitrariness. Secondly, the metaphysics has to rely on a strictly processual approach, which is cleaned from any thinking that refers to origins, centers or axioms.

Both, theory and metaphysics limit effectively what can be expressed, hence what could be recognized, measured and done, both directly limit the achievable ethics, and both constrain the space of possible methods and means that could be applied in any practical case. There are some striking examples for that, as we will see later.

Another important pillar thus is the exploration and adjustment of the conceptual vocabulary. We propose to drop realism and existentialism as the structural basis of urbanism and to switch to a foundation that speaks “informational,” that embraces probabilism in a reflected manner, of course without sliding into the technocratic abyss and also without dropping aspects of empathy. This requires a proper methodological setup that consists of rather clearly identified methodological domains. We will propose a layered structure for that.

The effects of this re-orientation of Urban Theory and its two-sided, bi-lateral binding to both abstract philosophy and practical policy are not limited to the considerations of the Urban. It will also exert a significant force onto philosophy. What (for us) is particularly at stake philosophically is a reconciliation of transcendence with material aspects of the world. Which transposes in less spherical wording to the transitions between concepts and operations, which in turn regards the issue of methods and planning.

The remainder of this essay comprises the following sections (active links):

1. Rendering “Theory”

There are indeed a lot challenges, as even a short visit of the site The Global Urbanist may proof. The variety and scale of the problems is enormous—staggering would be probably a more appropriate description from the perspective of the putatively rational urbanist. The editors of the Global Urbanist site distinguish 7 major regions for this globe, they identify 6 top-level domains and for each of them 10 sub-domains. Any of these 60 areas could be assigned a couple of scientific domains. Taking into account the definition of science as a domain with a particular vocabulary, urbanism is probably well comparable to the attempt of building the tower of Babel.

All of this is indeed, I already mentioned it, impressive. Yet, what is completely missing on that site is a section for theory. Some kind of bottom-line, a frame is missing. The whole site provides reports on conferences about case studies and other so-called hands-on approaches, close to the factual conditions. At least for the Global Urbanist, which certainly provides a representative sample, HdM’s forecasting proposal from 2008 turned true as a matter of fact, it seems.

If we take the modernist conceptualization of theory into consideration, HdM have been completely right in expressing their doubts about the reasonability of theory in urbanism. From within modernism, the concept of theory has achieved a very clear definition, displayed extensively in Stegmüller’s series [3], which continues the legacy of Popper, Carnap, and Sneed, accompanied and extended by the work by Salmon Wesley and van Fraassen. Well, at least the late van Fraassen stumbled into some doubts about the analyticity of theories. For our concerns here it is important to see that the concept of theory is a matter of the philosophy of science, not of the sciences themselves.

Well, domain-specific theories not only introduce dedicated terms and rules that allow the derivation of models. The first important claim of the modernist notion of theory is that this derivation of models from a theory can be formalized. The second important claim about theories is that they have to be falsifiable, which implies and presupposes that any two theories could be separated in a clear-cut manner. The result of the these claims is devastating. Theories couldn’t be distinguished from models anymore, since any model also introduces theoretical terms. Since falsifiability and uniqueness are also required, both the difference to models as well as the value of the concept “theory” vanishes. Thus, analytic theories indeed don’t exist. They are not even possible. In some sense, modernism is an attitude free from any theory, just as HdM claimed. And HdM would be also right in rejecting another idea about theory that can be met often in architecture, namely, that theory ought to deal with that which is permanent and always valid, notably the rules of art and law of statics. In their exclamation that we cited in the beginning HdM did not deplore, of course, the missing of theories with regard to urbanism… they praised it.

Yet, the failure of modernism and positivism to provide an appropriate concept of theory does not mean at all that we have to drop theoreticity completely and once and for all. We just have to revoke the modernist conceptualization of “theory”. This gap we are now going to fill.

As we have argued in a previous essay about theory in general, theories are orthoregulative milieus for the invention of models. It is the models that we use for anticipation. This notion of theory relates modeling with the Form of Life in which said modeling takes place. As a consequence, it is clear that the subject of theories are models and the process of creating models. The subject of theory is not empirical issues, quite contrary to the modernist (positivist) attempt. Inversely, we can see that any anticipation, even any model that has some utility, whether it is a formalizable one or a de-facto model, implies a theory, since nothing could be done outside of any condition. There is no rule-based activity without at least one theory. The true conceptual antipode of theory is therefore not practice, but rather performance. This conception solves a number of riddles about theories. For instance, different theories may well overlap, even producing a common sub-set of models that are hardly separable when directly compared as such. It also opens a much more appropriate perspective onto the fuzzy evolutionary network of theories than Kuhn [4] has been able to conceive it. Revolutions, whether scientific or not, are a matter of underdevelopment, symptoms of the possibility of disconnected singularities, hence not any more appropriate for our current techno-scientific, globalized societies today. (Though there is no guarantee for the ability to prevent underdevelopment.)

What does this concept of theory mean for the practice of urbanism, for the practice of building within a city, whether it expands the city or differentiate it? Why is it justified to commiserate the missing of theory on the Global Urbanist website?

As a first hint we may take Frank Lloyd Wright’s frequently cited credo about the relation of principles and form:

“Do not try to teach design. Teach principles.”

Certainly, Wright did not provide an architectural theory that could have been understood easily. Despite he himself provided 9 principles, these principles can’t count as a reflected theory, albeit Wright’s approach is clearly heading towards the concept of theory as we understand it. Think for instance about his insisting on the aspect of instantiation as actualization, even as he didn’t use such wording. The required philosophy (Deleuze) was to be written down only years later. Doubtless Wright’s approach was an early one, and one that has to be developed much further. But his message is quite clear: Theory precedes form, or in philosophical terms, potentiality precedes actuality, and concepts precede representation. Well, what applies to architecture fits also to the affairs around urbanism.

Yet, principles are a weak foundation. They remain axiomatic, messing representations and values, hence remaining completely within naïve realism or phenomenology. This holds for other “principled” theoretical approaches as well, e.g. that of Christopher Alexander, LeCorbusier, or those of Bernhard Tschumi, notwithstanding their respective appeal. On the other hand, praising some philosophical stance, let us say, the deconstructivism as unfolded by Derrida, and trying to coin it more or less directly into architecture is just as deficient. Jumping on some ism-bandwagon doesn’t qualify as theory, neither in architecture, nor in urbanism or any other domain.

Let me highlight the issue with a small anecdote. Recently, Sam Mendes, the celebrated director of the latest James Bond 007 movie, reflected about the use of action elements in an interview regarding the making-of of the movie. After a few weeks of taking more and more action shots, perfecting them eventually, he said, you will arrive at a point where you have ask yourself: What is it that you actually want to do and show?

Obviously, Mendes relates a particular action to the dynamics of the whole story, and that “wholeness” is quite extensive in the case of the 007 series, after 22 other James Bond movies. Previously, and as an extension to the Austin/Searle speech-act-theory [5], we called this aspect the delocutionary aspect of an utterance. It concerns the story-telling—through which is also actualizes—and the play whose subject is the playing itself. Taking this delocutionary aspect into consideration, formally and content-wise, implies precisely the conceptualization of theory as an orthoregulative milieu. In contrast to that, the Austin/Searle theory remains completely compatible with a modernist, i.e. positivistic and reductionist approach, since its top-most level relates just to a strategy, that is to a predefined or at least a predefinable purpose, but fails to relate to the openness of social intercourse. Delocutionary aspects, in contrast, resist any kind of apriori assignment, since they precisely declare to play with the potential of assignment, thereby abolishing any actual apriori assignment.

Well, the same scheme applies—and I think quite well so—to the presentation of topics on the Global Urbanist site. A lot of activities, undisputably interesting, but no framing. More clearly: mostly like a herd of chickens running wildly across the limited ground within a well-defined cage. That does not mean that the reports could not be inspiring. Yet, they could be inspiring only before the background of a suitable theory. Otherwise, case reports can count just as kind of soulful portrays which hardly can provide any kind of “lesson learnt” whatsoever.

Let us take a brief view onto an example of activism devoid of theory (in our sense). Kerwin Datu, editor-in-chief of The Global Urbanist, reported about the World Urban Forum in Naples in the beginning of September 2012. He distils four key elements of spatial planning of expanding cities (emphasis by Datu).

The first is the inevitable expansion proposition: that urbanization is a process that cannot be stopped, only shaped, by effective spatial planning.

The second is the sustainable densities proposition: that in place of the commonplace mantra that cities need to densify, Angel argues that it needs only to be optimised. Cities should be dense enough to sustain a public transport system, but not so dense that they generate health risks for their inhabitants.

Third is the decent housing proposition. ‘Adequate housing is possible only when land is in ample supply,’ a situation that many local authorities must do a lot more to create. In many cities there is an effective coalition that restricts land supply to generate superprofits for landowners, with severe impacts on the affordability of housing for all.

And fourth is the public works proposition: ‘as a city expands, space for public works must be secured in advance of development,’ […].

For once, it appears that the basic principles of planning for urbanization have been identified, and packaged in a form simple enough for laypeople (which most politicians are when it comes to spatial planning) can understand. Of course, in a conference as large and fragmented as the World Urban Forum, it remains to be seen whether any urban leaders are willing to listen.

As Datu emphasizes, a lot of ministers and mayors have been attending, thus politically important people who indeed could make the difference. Yet, the results are just depressing, aren’t they? If these four points indeed would be taken as the “basic principles of planning for urbanization”, well, then no wonder the conditions in many cities are simply bad. These results of the World Urban Forum are obviously almost nil, precisely because there are no design commitments regarding the social quality. It represents the effect of misplaced, physicalist reductionism. Doing spatial planning just from the perspective of almost physical elements is nothing but deficient. A further reason for the irrelevance of these “results” is that there is not the slightest reference to even a simple theory of differentiation, well, to any theory. Obviously, politically important people are confused and disoriented. What a dark age…

Given that we again would like to drop a remark about the parentage of theory in a field concerning the topic of the Urban. Approaching the problems from a meta-perspective, from some distance so-to-speak, by applying some particular domain science, for instance sociology, statistics, geography, fluid physics, engineering of control, etc. is not sufficient for calling the approach a “theory”. Imposing the implied theoretical stances of any particular science onto the field of the Urban and so importing those stances reverses the roles. This way, one does not achieve anything that is related to the Urban. One just creates a kind of sub-species of the respective science, that is sociology about urban populations, geography about spatial pattern dynamics, etc. Clearly, that does not solve the problem of how to address the Urban itself. Sticking to this hope may well be called scientism. And that is clearly misplaced with regard to the Urban.

Quite interestingly, a few recent articles published on the Global Urbanist site argue in favor of bottom-up approaches4, emphasizing that large-scale projects inevitably fail in most cases, and stretching the point of planning-with instead of a planning-for attitude. This bottom-up attitude is running contrary to—the fallacious—modernist scientism. We will return to this issue later. Yet, the respective articles are case-studies that hardly could be generalized, hence their value is quite limited. This is even true for AMO’s and Koolhaas’ investigation of Lagos, Nigeria [6]. What we would need is—again—a proper theory of differentiation. Koolhaas and his AMO/OMA obviously recognized that. As we argued recently, they approached that problematic field practically through their buildings, and more theoretical through their delocutionary essays (Generic City, Junkspace, the first an alleged movie script, the second kind of text for staged play). This engagement continued with their recently published work about the Japanese Metabolists and their concepts [7], provided as a collection of interviews and reviews [8].

2. Clearance for Take-Off

From all of that it should be clear that we would like to suggest to reject the attitude that denies the relevance of theory for dealing with the Urban, whether it is suggested explicitly—as in the case of Herzog&deMeuron—or implicitly—as the Global Urbanists prefer.

The whole endeavor of theorizing about the Urban must respect the role of theory: theory is NOT concerned about those empirical facts or material arrangements that we can observe in any particular city. As soon as we are engaged in observing we have been moving into the realm of modeling.5

Our conceptualization of “theory” renders the task of creating—or at least that of approaching—a theory more easy. We can set the empirical manifold of the Urban apart, at least for the time being. Later we will see that the treatment of the vast and almost infinite body of empirical facts concerning the Urban can be structured neatly before the background of the theoretical move. Anyway, leaving the particularity of the Urban behind allows us to focus on methodological as well as delocutionary issues.

One of these issues concerns the pervasiveness of the Urban. As we have been deriving this in a previous article, nowadays the Urban is synonymic with human culture at large. There is no single aspect on this globe anymore that would not be significantly affected by human culture and that is, human urban culture. “ More than ever, the city is all we have.” [1] Anything that we could say about the Urban is already enclosed by the Urban, it always takes place with respect to and even within the Urban.

The situation is thus much like it is the case for language. Any investigation not only presupposes language, it takes place within it, especially however any investigation of language itself. This insight, first recognized by Wittgenstein, paved the way for a (small?) revolution in philosophy, eventually called the Linguistic Turn in the 1970ies.

Language, Reason, Concept, the Urban, or culture are examples for performable conceptual entities for which an objectifying externalization is impossible.6 Whenever we refer to them we already need them to express them. It is meaningless and methodologically silly to try to objectify them, say as we usually pretend to do for concepts like chair, table ball etc. Yet, even in those cases the explication could never be finitized, i.e. finally closed. This setting corrodes any attempt for a “closed”, i.e. formal analysis of the Urban, much like it does in the case of language. In other words, we find a strong self-referentiality. Wittgenstein phrased it as the “paradox of rule-following” in §201 in his Philosophical Investigations [9].

For Wittgenstein the consequence has been clear: Language, as form, as a performance as well as with regard to the conveyed meaning has to be anchored in the form of life. It is not possible to establish an investigation, whether about language or anything other, that would be complete by itself. In philosophical terms: No investigation about some observable can provide sufficient reason, which quickly amounts to the fact that there is no such thing as self-sufficient sufficient reason at all.

Hence, the attempt of a “scientific language” (Carnap) is nonsense. Language is performed much like a game or a play, where the rules are quite volatile and in themselves subject of the play. There are some rules that we follow, yet the rules are neither complete, nor fully determinable, neither stable nor “justifiable” at all.

In written German for instance, we find clearly separated sentences and each word has a clear positional value and a distinct grammatical type. Yet, the borders of a sentence, or a few of them, is almost never a representative of a proposal. And what is going to be said is almost never representable as a proposal. While this aspect is present in written language, writing can be conceived as a means to limit this effect—or to play explicitly with it. In spoken language, however, the situation aggravates dramatically, as even sentences appear almost never as a complete(d) unit. Instead, what is created by talking together, on any side of the discourse, is much more a probabilistic field of densities and potentials that is only usable = understandable as a multi-channel diachronically organized braid of possible stories, from which we as participants agree on focusing to a particular one. Yet, this focus certainly does not remove any of the other threads. I am absolutely sure that this “structure” applies to any other language, at least Indo-European language as well. I mean, that’s the whole issue of rhetoric.

Hence Wittgenstein came up with the idea that language always comes as a language game [9]. Meaning is nothing else than usage, which in case of language refers to the couple of “interpretation” and the “prompt to interpret”. Thus, meaning is neither a private affair, nor a mental one, nor could it be determined by somebody or apriori.

Why do I anatomize the language process with such an emphasis, despite our main topic is the Urban, and the particular form of reason(s) that spring out from it?

Well, there are two reasons for that. Firstly, I want to demonstrate that the grammatical rules and all the rules that we actually could talk about with respect to language games do not, by no means, tell us anything about the nature of the play. Even in chess, which is a strictly determinable game, we find different styles in the way the players contribute to the individuation of the game. Secondly, it should have become clear that language can’t be conceived in any way as a process that contains precisely determinable entities, or that even would be itself determinable. The impression of clarity is an illusion triggered by the habits around its usage. Language and its usage is essentially is a probabilistic process, despite the school grammars, and despite the positivist propaganda of contemporary linguistics.

Language games can be instantiated in extremely different ways, of course. Ultimately, we even could not claim that there is a determinable content in practiced speech. Content appears only upon a bag of retrograde interpretations, each spanning across a different time span, each of them with different resolution, each of them with different intensity. Language games and the putative content change with context, such that there won’t be a ever such a thing like an repeated utterance. Everything we say, we say it for the first time, despite and because we practice a certain style, caring thereby for our grown and growing habits.

We now can ask for the consequences of all of that for a theory of the Urban. I think, we just could perform the analogous move, that is, we may introduce the concept of the “Urban Game”. Everything we said above about language games applies to Urban Games as well.

We will discuss this concept of the Urban Game in more detail in a later piece. For the time being, we just would like to touch two issues. Firstly, we may say that the “Urban Game” takes the role of the Wittgensteinian “showing”. They are not only shaped by the urban environment, many of them would not even take place at all. While they could be described, of course, with respect to their visible parts, such descriptions would not catch up with their consequences, their sense and meaning. There is no single, crisp effect associated to them, they just release kind of “excitation” into the probabilistic network of the urban fabric. Essentially, we can’t describe the effect without pointing to the entirety of the city, its whole becoming. In this way, Urban Games work as kind of media, conveying the amorphous, unspecific showing (up) of the culture (reflexively: “es zeigt sich”), and also as a means to show the expectation of this mediated excitation (transitively). This refers to quite different activities and moves, as the category of Urban Games comprises the whole spectrum between legislation and installation. Secondly, the concept of “Urban Game” certainly allows to respect the aforementioned self-referentiality. And as we have seen, it demands for probabilistic concepts when describing them, like it is the case for language games. Probably even more important, it also provides a stable conceptual bridge between the individual and the communal level of urban affairs.

Regarding architecture, a typical Urban Game is the semiosical (!) play with styles. Semiosis is the spreading and branched and “culturally embedded” probabilistic process of creating new (Peircean) signs, i.e. to establish a new sign-practice. Venturi and his collaborators have been the first (and since then seriously neglected ones) that emphasized the importance of the dimension of the sign. While Koolhaas in his Junkspace [10] pejoratively lamented about the fact that

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)

it is also certainly true that the city is a quite special breeding site for new signs, demanding ever for more interpretation, despite all the habituation [11]. And equally certainly, a term like “architectural incongruence” isn’t helpful to any extent, particularly when used in combination with the idea of a “mature streetscape”. For Michael Conzen, proponent of the British school of urban morphologists and who coined these terms, the semiotic dimension is simply irrelevant, calling them “linguistic problems” [12]. One has to know that Conzen beliefs in the reasonability to investigate the layout of the town map as a separate subject, albeit influenced by culture at large, while (as a geographer) at the same time he rejects the outbound attempt to benefit from other disciplines like biology. In his attempt to stay aware of the need of theory, he readily adopts phenomenological patterns, pimped by leaning towards Cassirer. Yet, Conzen not only completely fails to understand the role of theory, by means of that orientation he also remains entirely within the modernist tradition, even in its raw version, that is, not understanding the importance of the linguistic turn. In the next essay we will discuss this issue further.

It is important to see that in the context of the Urban neither language games nor of course Urban Games are necessarily bound to a particular speaker in a particular situation. Urban arrangements transform everything into probabilistic affairs.

The “Urban Game” always comprises language games, of course. Else, it provides a bridge between issues of matter, power and language. The language-driven perspective, which is also a semiotically7 driven perspective, includes the speech-act, which in our case includes the extension of the delocutionary act, that is, the open play that goes beyond mere rule-following.8

There are important consequences for any theory about Urban, for a critique of Urban Reason, but also for any kind of practice. We can refer only to the most important ones here:

  • 1. The Urban can’t be addressed analytically, hence it is also impossible to implement any kind of representational top-down control or planning without annihilating the Urban.
  • 2. The Urban Game is a potentially rule-changing social performance.
  • 3. There is no “complete” empirical description of the Urban, that is, any anticipatory model will fail at least partially. This failure has to be covered by an appropriate treatment of and attitude towards risk.
  • 4. The Urban can’t be constructed.
  • 5. The Urban may appear in an unlimited diversity.

Note that these items are not based on “values” or “attitudes”. They are the result of a rigorous philosophical argument.

There is still another issue that we can derive from language philosophy. With regard to language it is misguided to ask about some kind of absolute, global or stable meaning. Instead we have to ask: Which (kind of) language game she or he is playing? Since we are interested in theory here, this transforms immediately into a methodological issue. Regarding the Urban, we have to be clear about the relation between actions and concepts.

3. Schemata of a Critique of Urban Reason

For our purposes it is sufficient to distinguish two aspects of actions. Firstly, there is the aspect of rule-following. The rules implied by an action are chosen either due to some anticipatory “calculation” or due to the influence of the form of life. It is reasonable to expect that in most cases both sources are active. Whether the actions are based on free will or not is not relevant for us here.

The second aspect of actions that we’d like to distinguish concerns about what often is considered as “unintended effects”. Of course, the issues around acting upon the external world are much larger than just that. Actions unfold into material re-arrangements, they are a major component of irreversibility, hence they provoke what we previously called the “existential resistance”. The changes “then” are subject of further interpretation.

These two aspects, rule-following and the couple of acting and interpreting that are tied together through irreversibility, make clear that there is no direct link between concepts and actions. From a quite different perspective we achieved the same result earlier when introducing the choreostemic space. There we argued that in any move besides modeling and concepts also mediality and virtuality have to be taken into consideration, notably all of them conceived as transcendent entities (not: transcendental!). Also related to this issue is what the philosopher John McDowell called the unboundedness of concepts, according to him an inevitable consequence of the Myth of the Given. [13]

From this we can now proceed to the basic structure of theory building. Yet, insofar as we don’t want to just provide some rules, seemingly out of the blue, we‘d like to stress the point that we propose a “conscious,” that is a critical approach. A critical approach concerns about the conditions that are implied by setting it up. One of these concerns, and probably the major one, is language, regarded as a transcendent condition. Another one is the transcendentality itself, which causes the concept of Concept to be not only transcendent, but also virtual. A critical approach to theory building can’t stop, however, here, just stating that there are transcendent aspects. We also need to explicate the (abstract) mechanisms that are in charge in the field made from theory, structural models, predictive models and the organization of operations.

In a first and rather coarse step we can distinguish three layers that are important for theory building regarding the Urban:

  • – The operational level, including politics, legislation, immaterial and material logistics, the construction of infrastructure and all individual activities as well;
  • – The categorical work, providing the concepts that determine what could be expressed at all concerning the Urban;
  • – The model layer between the first two areas, providing concepts that enable us to describe the dynamics of the Urban on the structural level.

Here, a small remark about the operational level is probably indicated. Operations have to be distinguished from actions. We conceive of operations here indeed as the application of operators to the material world, whether physical or social. Actions comprise, in contrast to that, much more, e.g. models and concepts. Yet, precisely those we tried to make visible, including their relations among each other. The concept of action is hiding that inner structure. Operations can’t be regarded just as rule-following. To operate means to flexibly adapt to unforeseen contextual influences in order to actualize the respective model(s). It is clear that matter will exert some “resistance” to that, existential resistance. The world can’t be mapped to analytical descriptions by principle, hence operations always have to deal with some gap and ignorance.

This may be depicted as shown in the following figure 1. The brackets here should not be understood as objective borders, of course, it just reflects a particular focus. On both sides, regarding the conceptual area, i.e. philosophy, and the operational area, i.e. largely politics, are manifolds by themselves. Actually, there is no clear border between the fields, just “gravitational” spots. Additionally, one should resist analytical habits that would imply a certain directionality in this field. The field may be entered from either side, and any kind of sequence is possible, given the actual context and the individuality of persons engaging in the process. Yet, the scheme allows to organize that sequence, or to simply talk about it. That is, the process of theory building as well as its application are critical also insofar as the externalization may trigger a secondary symbolization.

Figure 1: Generalized methodological layering for the binding of abstract thought to operations.

The scheme is a projection of the choreostemic space, both simplifying and extending it. The “concept” area is subject of philosophy. Note that the three layers are mutually dependent; the dependency of these layers works in either direction. More exactly we may say that these fields are dependent on each other in a particular way. They build a high-dimensional fluid moebius fractal.

Let us briefly visit the two conceptual components, the moebioid and the fractal. A fractal can be created in several ways, which however are all traceable to a procedure called self-affine mapping. An example for a simple self-affine mapping in 2-dimensional space with 2 surfaces is the leaf of the fern (see figure 2a), by the Peano-curve, the Sierpinski triangle, or the Koch snowflake curve. Inversely, fractals are created also recursive sub-division procedures.

A moebioid is a n-dimensional body with a topological “defect”. Despite a 3-dimensional moebioid exists in 3 dimensions, it has only 1 topological surface, instead of the usual 2 surfaces. There is no “inside” or “outside” with it, as you can observe if draw a closed circle. (Astonishingly, you can even fill water “into” a Moebius bottle despite their is no “inside”.) A moebioid is also conceivable as a knot, though not built from threads but from surfaces. As it is the case for trivial, that is smooth knots, moebioids become flat = unknotted in higher dimensions. A fractal moebioid, however, can’t be unknotted in higher dimensions. (I have no proof for this, it is just a conjecture)

Just as a small remark: This concept about theory work (and the potential working of theory) has been deeply inspired by Deleuze&Guattari’s “What is Philosophy”[14], particularly the sections about concepts and the “Plane of Immanence”. You will find a strong resemblance, for instance concerning the fractal structure, the distinction between the concept and the field they generate, etc.. Nevertheless, what we propose here is an extension of Deleuze’s work, so to speak, down-stream towards politics and logistics. Deleuze himself always refused to approach these areas, focusing on philosophical aspects. [15] Actually, I regard the binding between theory and politics, mediated through models, as one of the most interesting ones, not just with regard to architecture and urbanism, and for sure I will prepare a dedicated essay about it (working title so far: “Braidings between Immanence and Politics: The Case of Urban Tales.”).

Back to our scheme from figure 1. Our requirement is that any of the three fields contains any sequence from the three fields. Fortunately, the sequences do not grow very much due to pragmatic reasons. In other words, it needs to be treated by a self-affine mapping in order to approximate the actual arrangements in socio-mental settings, while at the same time the actual form of the “embedding” or framing is only a matter of relative phase, i.e. pseudo-location on the surface of the moebioid. Additionally, the resulting figure should not be expected to be a fixed geometrical entity. Rather, it is fluid, pruning some sequences, bringing any of the field-like components to the surface through foldings, etc. A distantly approximating impression is provided by figure 2b, just click to to see the projections moving.

Operations can not do without deeply integrated models, as it is the case for concepts. There are no “pure” models, or concepts, either, of course. Which compartment is surrounded by the others is dependent on the respective purpose, i.e. context and style, I suppose. in the following we will try to develop this scheme into an abstract space that could be used to trace the dynamics of the Urban.

Figure 2a: The fern leaf as a simple example for a self-affine mapping.

The next two images provide visualizations of projections of objects (not of fractals!) in high-dimensional spaces, the first in figure 2b more “conventional” (it is different aspects of a Calabi-Yau-manifold, which takes an important role in String theory, found here), the second in figure 2c more artistic and moebioid (found here).

Figure 2b: A grid of projections of the 6-dimensional Calabi-Yau-manifolds into 3-dimensional space. Note that a projection from higher to lower dimensionality not only creates knots and moebius figures, there is also no single definite projection, hence the grid.

Figure 2c: This image actually has been produced by weaving a lightstick, capturing it with long exposure times, not by any kind of digital rendering of numericals.

Despite the scheme from figure 1 is still quite coarse, we nevertheless can say that the most important part of this scheme is the one referring to theory, the categorical work. This includes all the modes that are being used to apply abstract concepts for the derivation of the concepts assignable to the intermediate layer. Hence, the categorical work fully constrains what could be expressed about the Urban, but also what could be recognized, modeled, anticipated and integrated into the symbolic constitution of a particular urban instance, whether it is by means of population dynamics or of more or less centrally organized activities. It constrains entirely what can be thought and said, whether on the level of the generic model, on the level of actual models, or with respect or logistic or political actions.

From that we can conclude three things. (1) The conceptual part has to be abstract enough. Reasoning about geometric forms, generative grammars and other forms of “automated” (or state-bound) methods to generate forms, the “origin of the pictorial” following Paul Klee or Wassily Kandinsky, all of such approaches are certainly not abstract enough, neither for doing theory work in architecture nor in the context of the Urban. (2) We need appropriate concepts and techniques to derive such concepts for creating structural models. (3) Both together have to allow for the derivation of political actions that are compatible with basic philosophical insights, with appropriate ethical and political positions. This would include, for instance, the discourse about sustainability, which is definitely neither a trivial nor a eco-technical issue.

Anyway, we may propose that the methodological layering shown above is indeed a generalizable scheme for the binding of abstract thought to operations. We just have to add that it should be conceived more as a high-dimensional methodological field with blurred borders between the components. As we already mentioned, there are many proposals that suffer from a considerable methodological “binding problem”, from either side. This causes critical developments particularly in those domains where we can find self-referentiality, for instance in linguistics or urbanism through their subjects “language” and/or “culture”. Examples for such critical developments are the whole movement of idealism, or, somehow as its pretended counterpart, the denial of theory. As a further abundant methodological fault we may count representationalism and the closely related believe in the dominance of common sense, as Deleuze has been pointing out (for details see this previous essay).

Of course, we have to explicate the model layer. Yet, before that we first have to take the thread up again that is put down by the importance and the guiding role of the concepts.

It is quite important to understand that concepts are transcendent, but neither universal nor eternal. They are not transcendental either, which would mean that they represent the demand for some kind of ultimate origin. There is also nothing with them that could be called “truth”. Concepts act more like hubs for semiotic processes that allow for and organize certain kinds of “vectorial traffic”, yet without maintaining any kind of materiality—even not a symbolic one—on their own. This position of the concepts inherits towards language.

Precisely here we can exclude any philosophical framework as a proper candidate that does not respect the primacy of concepts and language in the genealogy of a theory.9 Among the rejected attitudes we comprise phenomenology, external realism, existentialism, positivism, structuralism, and deconstructivism.

So, we can ask now: What else?

4. The Core

Actually, it is quite simple. The core of any Urban Theory, as well as its critique, must necessarily comprise the following two questions:

  • 1.How to speak about the Urban?
  • 2.How to actualize the Urban Games?

These questions are far from being “only of theoretical” significance, “theoretical” used here in the inappropriate, common sense way. It is for instance simply meaningless to address questions of sustainability without first answering those, as it is superfluous to engage in research about planning without a proper answer to those. What we also meet here is the eternal (and internal) tension of conservatism: what to conserve, the status quo, the dynamics or the potential? In order not to demolish itself, it must stick to the conservation status quo, which on the other hand abolishes any reasonability. We certainly have to care not to trap the concept of sustainability in the same dilemma.

Another area where the dominance of language and the conceptual may appear surprising is public services, particularly concerning the essential flows, i.e. energy and water. We will discuss this in more detail in the application section below.

What we find here is nothing else than a very practical consequence of Wittgenstein’s famous, almost proverbial, proposal: The borders of one’s language constitute the borders of one’s world. Inversely, we always can conclude that in case these questions will not be addressed explicitly they necessarily are answered implicitly. Yet, this also means that the answers will be most likely inconsistent, arbitrary, and contingent, without any possibility to set up a reasonable discourse about the urgent local issues.

It is of utmost importance to understand that these important questions can’t be answered without reference to two rather divergent areas, albeit they are also deeply and strongly linked to each other: (1) the predominant Form of Life that is practiced in a community, and (2) the metaphysical setup on the level of the individuals.

It is precisely here that we find the entrance point for “modernism”, whether the “original”, i.e. European version, or in its segregated form in the case of Singapore. Across the decades and centuries there is of course a co-evolution of the Form of Life and its accompanying metaphysics.

5. Metaphysics

As we have described earlier, modernism can be described by a characteristic set of beliefs. The dominant component of this set, however, is the strong belief in the necessity of metaphysical independence. Note that the idea of identity builds just the other side of the coin, essentially, independence and identity are almost synonymic from the philosophical perspective. In our essays about the role of logic and our add-on to the Deleuzean dual concept of Difference & Repetition, the choreostemic space, we discussed the alternative to identity and independence: transcendental difference.

Though historically comprehensible, independence is as little justifiable as any other metaphysical belief. The fact is simply that you can tell different and different kind of stories, some being more extensible and more fruitful than others. Anyway, this belief into independence informed everything in Western societies at least for several hundred years up to present times, with origins deep in classic Greek thought and with a particular blossoming at the end of the 19th century and the 1950ies/1960ies. Even Descartes and a whole series of scientists from Newton to Helmholtz would not have been thinking the way they did without it.

This independence has a range of strong correlates. One of the most influential is the belief in the indispensability of centralized control. A more abstract companion is the belief in centers and middle points itself [16], together with the cosmology of the sphere [17]. Traces of that can be found in architecture—from Boullée to Buckminster—as well as in urbanism, particularly as the phantasm of the “ideal city” that has been prevailing throughout the centuries.

Figure 3a: Etienne L. Boullée, Kenotaph for Newton (1784)

Figure 3b: Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, Dwelling for the Gardener in an utopian ideal city, ~1800.

The sphere and the implied importance of the concept of the center-point did not only show up as utopian buildings. It was also used, and is still being used, for the layout of cities. The phantasm of the “ideal city” has been poisoning the discourse about the Urban up to our days.

Figure 4a: Nowa Huta, a Polish city built to praise the heroism of the mine workers in former communist Poland.

Figure 4b: Palma Nova, near Venice, Italy. Note, that in former times the costs for the fortification caused a drive for circular layouts for geometrical reasons. Palma Nova still exists. Yet, in former times people didn’t want to live there.


Even today density is often misunderstood as a center of a radial symmetrical arrangement, with Manhattan being the great and pleasant exception.

With regard to methodology, statistics as it is practiced since the mid of the 19th century up today, is deeply structured by the independence assumption, which, as a matter of fact, renders it incapable to deal with patterns. In urban environments, the deep modernistic belief in independence led to forms reflecting crystalline growth, that is, the most primitive form of growth, which also is the least adaptive one.

Fortunately, things are changing. Well, they change slowly, but steady. The first incentive stems from biology, of course. In biology, nothing makes sense under the assumption of independence. Everything is meaningful only if conceived as a historically constrained processual manifold, called evolution, yet which also includes complexity. The second incentive comes—astonishingly—from physics, yet from the “non-classical” area of physics, in particular the physics on sub-atomic scales.

Changing the metaphysical setup in order to pave the way for a more appropriate understanding of the Urban means to drop the addiction to the sphere, of independence, of the object, of the territory, to leave behind the strive for identity as a constant as well as the representational attitude in (“explicit”) controlling and planning. Maybe you already detected the remote reference to the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze here.10 It is rather important to understand that all these items are not “universal” in any respect. They just follow from certain methodological considerations, influenced for instance by the insight into the primacy of language. Yet, even if language and concepts can be considered to play a transcendent role, universality does not follow from that.

6. Dropping the Spheres

The revolution that started to erode the deterministic scientific cosmogony towards a de-centered metaphysical cosmology is still running at high rates. In many areas its main messages are still not assimilated. Modernism and its detrimental offspring prevail.

The first “step” into that revolution was the discovery of in-computability. In-computability is a principle barrier that could not be overcome by more accurate measures. Actually, on the level of the sub-atomic world accuracy does not make much sense. Basically, there are three contributions:

  • 1. Poincaré’s investigation of the three-body-problem (~1900), leading to the first description of chaotic systems.
  • 2. The invention of Quantum physics from Planck (~1890) to Schrödinger (~1950), including the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.
  • 3. The investigation of dissipative processes by Prigogine (~1975).

The second “step”, which also stretches across several decades, derives from the paradoxical situation of quantum physics. On the one hand, the so-called “Standard Model” is quite successful. For instance, a simple principle has been deduced that allowed the prediction of the existence of formerly unknown sub-nuclear particles. There is some kind of order for the set of particles.

Figure 5. The “periodic System” of elementary particles according to the Standard Model. Despite the usual graphical depiction conveys seemingly a certain degree of simplicity, it is neither not that simple, nor does it display the open issues. In other words, it is some kind of propaganda.

On the other hand, it fails completely, as it does not allow to create a super-symmetric theory, that is, a theory that combines all of the four fundamental forces in nature.

As a result, some—if not many—basic observations are still unexplained, on the mesocosmic, rather small scales as well as on the cosmic scales (cf. [23]). Let us just pick three of the most salient gaps. First, there is no explanation of electro-magnetism that goes beyond its phenomenal description. In other words, physicists still don’t understand exactly what a “charge” is, say of an electron. Secondly, the “condensation” of elementary particles from “clouds” of extremely high “temperature”, e.g. sub-nuclear gluon plasma, is not understood. All physicists can say is simply: it happens. One of the gaps, according to the physicist Quigg, of the Standard Model concerns what makes a top quark a top quark and an electron an electron. Both seemingly don’t have further internal structure, both have electrical charge, though the quark only 1/3 of an elementary charge owned by the electron. Thirdly, now on the cosmic scale, there is complete ignorance in physics about the so-called “dark matter”. Would the “Standard Model” be indeed applicable and accurate, neither of the three phenomena should remain inexplicable.11

This situation gave rise to a still heavily disputed theoretical framework that is completely different from the “Standard Model” (SM). It is the so-called String Theory, more recently extended into M-Theory (MST).

The difference between those two frameworks is tremendous. In fact, they follow different and incommensurable metaphysical belief sets, which provides the reason that their case is particularly interesting for us.


Standard Model

String Theory

conventional Space-Time

presupposes it

induces it

Basic Form

spherical particles or sections of space with 3-d rotational symmetry

1-dimensional strings of energy of approximately defined, positive length, the Planck length (10-33m)

Sub-atomic Particles

extremely concentrated energy, but the mechanism of creating inertial as well as rest mass is unknown

amplitude of vibration

Type of Particles

existential, produce of condensation frThere are many fundamental differences between the two frameworks, yet, the basic ones that are interesting for us here are the following:om gluon plasma, but mechanisms/rules are unknown

modes of vibration

Particle-Wave Dualism

phenomenal existent


4 Basic Forces

gravitation remains incommensurable (even if the Higgs Boson would be confirmed)

gravitation is a consequence, a unified theory is possible

Structure of Space

3 spatial dimensions+1 temporal dimension, presupposed

~10 abstract dimensions, from which the mesocosmic space derives through “overlapping” of low-dimensional (2d) projections

Basic Characteristics of the Framework

existential, claims desperately a “God”-particle, the Higgs-boson

generative, existence is not a central concept

Philosophical Status of the implied Image of Thought

based on identity and representation, with energy as an onto-realistic fact

based on difference and form (information), with energy as a mediator

Conceptual Status

it is a model (indeed)

it is a theory, i.e. an orthoregulative set of rules about how to generate a model

Note that it does not make sense to think of the strings as kind of objects. It is not possible to draw them, despite there are many artistic interpretations around. The basic architectonic difference between the frameworks is their relation to the concept of mechanism. The Standard Model is based on 19th century attitudes, expressing the initial claim that logic is imprinted to nature. There is no place for incorporating information as a separate entity. Causality and information are not distinguished, which ultimately leads to pseudo- paradoxes12. There is even the claim of perfect analyticity, that is, calculability, despite quantum physics itself proposes the uncertainty principle. It is precisely this architectonic flaw of trying contradictory things that lead to the “paradoxes” of current mainstream interpretations of the Quantum world.

The String Theory, in contrast, comprises a proposal of a mechanism that creates kinds of matter based on different information. String Theory describes the form of energy, where different forms—in this case different modes of “vibration”—lead to different kinds of matter. It concerns all particles, even photons, i.e. electromagnetic waves.

Both models, however, share an extremely important property: in some way or another, the describe a probabilistic, yet quantized world.

The sub-atomic world is not a continuous one. That means that it is impossible to have a smooth transition from a “natural law”, expressed in an analytic formula, and the observation of the behavior of those tiny “objects”. At some point we thus need an abstract transition that creates a quantum. Despite physics can only state that there is the quantum, incapable to “explain” the why, we may well say that this transition is induced by a transfer of information, e.g. by a measurement. In other words, the objects and their phenomenal appearance is dependent on the measurement, whether this is imposed by another particle without an experimenter or by the apparatus and the actions of the experimenter. Before measurement, however, particles are not particles at all. There are only waves of probability. That transition is called decoherence. The whole arrangement is thus one of information. The quantum introduces one of the conditions of identifiability: discontinuity. The other condition is memory, which we find only in the String Theory. As we already said above, the greatest defect in Standard Theory is the architectonic flaw that it conflates causality and information, which in turn is a consequence of its representational characteristic.

Nevertheless, from all of that it should be clear that quantum physics developed a strikingly different tool-set as compared to that of statistical mechanics. There, particles—atoms or molecules in this case—are conceived as tiny billiard balls, almost without spatial extension. Initially, statistical mechanics did not know anything about information. Yet, statistical mechanics introduced another important perspective into the realm of potential expressions: the population. In some way, we may conceive the whole 19th century as the century of the discovery or invention of the population, from the French Revolution to Darwin to Helmholtz.

In quantum physics, particularly in String Theory, the modernist assumptions collapse.

  • 1. There are no objects independent of measurement, quite to the contrary, measurement is a form of information transfer that induces the way how the microscopic world transits=transforms=decoheres into a macro world.
  • 2. There is no independence at all.
  • 3. The basic mode of description is based on probability, that is information and risk.
  • 4. Induced generation and probabilistic relation supersede existential claims.
  • 5. Computability is a matter of context and performing interaction.
  • 6. There is no complete analytic, i.e. symbolic description for the transition from micro to macro.

So, if the modernist belief set has been already seriously corroded even in physics, why should we continue to stick to it in a field like urbanism? We’d suggest to drop existentialist attitudes completely, concerning both theoretical as well as performative and material aspects, and with it all the anti-cultural procedures like representational top-down planning.

Some important questions could be derived here. What else can we learn from the example of quantum physics, particularly for urbanism? Is there a “standard model” in urbanism, drawing mainly on existential claims like objecthood? How would a stringy theory of the Urban look like? How could we assimilate a probabilistic perspective into our methodological setup?

At least one aspect of those open issues could be addressed right now. We have seen that in quantum physics the separation between observer and the observed breaks down. The reason is that measurement takes place on the same scale, within the same actualization or form of matter. Measurement itself introduces indistinguishability. The result is known as wave-particle dualism, linked by decoherence. And it is probably not the last strangeness physicists are enforced to handle, just think about the yet unknown quality of what they call dark matter and dark energy.

Well, the similarity of scale and kind is not limited to physics. We find it everywhere in cultural studies. Unfortunately enough, it is rarely recognized at all. It is still to be unleashed what decoherence could mean for cultural and urban studies, but for sure there are similar kinds of processes, strictly limiting what can be measured. Probably, we could even say that the self-referentiality introduced by the sameness of measurement scales shows up as quantum effect as well. One of the possible candidates for a cultural “quantum” is nothing else than the sign as it is formulated by Peircean semiotics. For “quantum” just means that there is no countability, nor identifiability beyond it. Probably, we have to be aware of “quantum effects”, mediated by different “particles”, in any cultural study.

Indeed, the Peircean sign is fully compatible with probabilistic foundations, for it marks a continuous field of actional densities, from which eventually an actual vector or reference is taken. This way we could say that Peircean signs and the signs in the Urban are isomorph (at least). The urban quantum-sign raises the issue of the symbol, which is often treated in a rather unsuitable manner, mainly in the context of the question of identity or identification and the related issue of historical continuity. Yet, the topics of the symbol, there symbolicalness and symbolability we have to postpone to a later piece (without forgetting about the probabilistic foundations).

7. Revisiting the Core

After this small excursion into the world of physics, which allowed us to harvest some promising conceptual tools, we return to our starting point, the topic of approaching a theory about the Urban. This we sketched by the following two questions:

  • 1. How to speak about the Urban?
  • 2. How to actualize the Urban Games?

The first of those questions could be said to relate to the field between the conceptual and the performative13, while the second would link the performative with the story-telling and the political. Again, the two questions or perspectives do certainly not delineate ideally (geometrically) separated fields. We already mentioned that Urban Games comprise language games. Additionally, they work from different directions, creating a complex dynamics. As a suitable metaphor for this we may cite fluid dynamics, especially of free streams such like the Gulf stream.

Figure 6a: The Gulf stream in the North Atlantic, departing from the east coast of America westward towards Europe (source). Red color means high differential velocity. A lot of vortices can be seen in a highly complex dynamics, creating patterns of mutual embedding.

Figure 6b. Vortices in a turbulent stream. As in case of the Gulf steam, there is no clear border, i.e. no separability between two mixing streams.

Let us focus the first issue for now, the mode and the possibility of explications as it is constrained by conceptual tools on various levels.

From previous work and the results achieved here so far we can fix some basic requirements for the explication of the model layer from figure 1.

Table 2: Basic requirements for a theory about the Urban.



type of processes

differentiation, behavior

methodological frame

probabilistic, generative

architectonic constraint

satisfying self-referentiality

internal structural dynamics

construction by elementarization

The four basic types of structural model perspectives that match these requirements are


establishing persistent form (“Gestalt”, morphos) by attachment (either positive or negative), or more general, by a change in magnitude in some property (or properties); we may call it morphodiny (grk. dino, abstractly: to give, provide)


describing the form of matter capable for re-arranging information;


for the transition from probabilistic processes to propositional statements, i.e. the basis for symbolification and encoding/decoding;


for pattern creation and morphogenesis, i.e. the transition from order to organization as a self-stabilizing process.14

All of them we introduced in previous essays, yet in a slightly different context, which means that in the future we will provide updates to them such to match better the wording of urbanism.

These structural models share four eminently important properties: (1) They are all relational. (2) They are all built from “elements”. (3) These elements in turn provide docking sites for the even more abstract conceptual layer and the metaphysical attitudes behind them. (4) They allow to derive anticipatory models that directly engage with operational issues.

It is crucial to understand that these four categories are simply different perspectives, or language games, useful for talking about differentiation. Whenever we find a process that produces something different, whether as novelty or as some kind of alteration, we may take one of these perspectives. Yet, we won’t be able to talk about form and the “becoming different” without those categories as a group. In general terms, these four categories are to be conceived again as elements that we can use to construct a space (an aspectional one!), or likewise a scale that allows to compare things

A second group of categories is needed to take the perspective of the process itself. We may distinguish the basic qualities in the arrangement of matter and information, which is nothing else than the orchestration of dynamical change.

The scale is actually being built along the differential weight of matter or information. If the weight of matter or plans (symbolic quasi-matter) is more pronounced than that of information, then we call it usually development, if the matter becomes less relevant, we find either evolution, or still further down in the same direction, learning;

Thus we can see that form (morphos), adaptation and behavior build an almost continuous space, and thus, quite important, also a subjectivating scale to describe the dynamics of things. In turn, talking about changing things by just referring to one of these perspectives, whether on the objectivating or on the subjectivating scale, always must be rated as a inadmissible reduction.

Note that the “Relational Turn” is completely incompatible with modernism and its belief set. From a modernist perspective, the particular role of the above mentioned four structural perspectives remains simply invisible, for it is even impossible to talk about the dynamic effects and emergences of relationality within the limits of modernist concepts. Interestingly, throughout the 20ieth century, more and more scientific disciplines discovered the necessity for  relational turn, from biology (Rashevsky, 1935, Rosen 1991 [28]) thru economics to architecture (Lorenzo-Hemmer [29]).

In order to support the transition into the are of anticipatory models, the structural models have to support some quite essential processes. Any of them has to…

  • — be formalizable,
  • — be capable to provide scales for different kinds of measurement ,
  • — be operationalizable for actual construction of measurements,
  • — allow for active comparatistics.

Without support for these constructive properties a structural model would be hardly of any value.

Figure 7: Three methodological layers. The model layer showing only the main types of structural models. The other component of the model layer, the anticipatory models are not shown.

All four types of structural models can be used also for describing the transition between the material and the informational. Interestingly, they apply both with respect to the empirically observable processes as well as the methodological concerns, where they serve the transfer from concepts to action.

Finally, we can fill the model layer with more concrete aspects, creating something like an associative field. Of course, and in striking contrast to the short list of structural models, this field is by far not complete. Actually, on the level of anticipatory modeling we find already the influence of the unlimited number of forms of life. This does not mean that a particular form of life would provide an infinite number of possible moves. Quite the contrary is true. However, it definitely does mean that the forms of life can’t be constrained, or limited in their number, apriori, or top-down. Anything else results directly in chauvinist or imperialist patterns.

Figure 8: A possible explication of the model layer, now showing a mixture of structural and anticipatory models as an associative field.

Concepts like the aspection, the choreosteme, or the theory of theory can be used as conceptual tools, but they are also conceptual categories.15 Some of its components are still quite abstract and strictly non-representative. Thus, the intermediate “model” layer in its entirety may be also conceived as a multinomial or multi-perspectival generic model.

Similar to the model layer the explication could be done for both the conceptual layer as well as the operational domain. Together they probably establish what Foucault once called the field of proposals and propositions. Since we here are interested in and arguing towards the Urban, this field also represents a possible instantiation of “Urban Reason”. We just should not forget that story-telling, the playful delocutionary speech-act, provides the nodes and strings and knots that will bind everything together.

Once we manage to be able to keep all three areas alive simultaneously, whether we are engaged in political operations or in philosophical concepts, we can expect to understand the schemata that can be used to perform a Critique of Urban Reason. From this vantage point, finally, again being conscious about delocution, the playful story-telling, we can start to think the construction of the city. Probably only from this perspective.

8. Tokens, Types

If we consider the four basic constituents of the model layer also as major mechanisms of actual differentiation processes, then an interesting issue appears. Given the enormous variety of urban forms, concerning morphology, material and immaterial organization, and cultural processes, we could address the question whether we could derive a classificatory scheme, or distinguish certain types.

One could think of at least two purposes of such a classification, albeit both are concerned with the topos of the “Urban in Time”. We may for instance ask about the evolution of Urban life forms, in a similar way as it is done in biology with respect to natural evolution. This purpose would be directed to the past, putatively allowing for a better understanding of the history of the city and of urban arrangements.

David Shane proposed an approach to the description of forms that could well be called a hermeneutical one, thus being closely related to this evolutionary attitude [29]. When describing the forms he derives abstract elements of construction, attaches empirical instances and distils an evolutionary sequence of the form of the city. He distinguishes Archi Città, Cine Città and Tele Città. Each of them is characterized by a particular cultural setup that precipitates in typical morphological structures. Thus, Shane is able to build a kind of metric for “measuring” by the distinguished elements of “citiness”. These elements comprise two morphological forms on the level of built matter: armatures and enclaves. Highly interesting, however, he also includes Foucaultian heterotopias as a third element of citiness. He even proceeds differentiates heterotopia induced by material crisis from heterotopia of immaterial illusion. The heterotopia comprises incommensurable components, hence it is nothing else than an instance of the opposing forces that is a major element of complexity. Shane’s approach clearly exceeds for instance Tom Mayne’s approach who distinguishes different kinds of armatures and maneuvers in order to build a morphological taxonomy. Mayne also invokes the concept of complexity, yet, he doesn’t arrive at a comparable level of generality. Not quite surprising, Mayne’s work tends to the figural and representational. One of his main clients is the federal government of the U.S.A.

Both, Shane and Mayne are heading for a taxonomy. Shane’s achievement in his “Recombinant Urbanism” [30] is more abstract and thus more general than Mayne’s “Combinatory urbanism” [31]. Mayne got caught by the primacy of aspects of form, to which he assigns behavior, rather than the opposite as it is the case in Shane’s approach. For Shane, behavior comes first. Thus, Shane is able to reflect about city theory while Mayne provides case studies. These are beautiful to look at, but there is no theory, even as Mayne tries to distil a “method” from it as common denominator.

Yet, even Shane does not arrive at a theory of differentiation. He just describes it, almost in a phenomenological manner. Underpinning the description with plausible arguments does not yield a theory of differentiation. Hence, Shane’s approach is still not suitable to derive a taxonomy of city-contexts. But his results are perfectly compatible with the abstract structure we propose here.

Another “problem” with the approach as proposed by Shane is its tendency towards global interpretations. An extension of his work would be needed focusing more on the dynamic mechanisms. Together then it would be possible to create a classification scheme for urban neighborhoods that would tell the urbanist which “species” he is dealing with.

The second purpose of a classification or a taxonomy is not directed to the past, but rather more to the future. The model of differentiation could provide a means to anticipate struggles and to organize precisely the differentiation in the desired manner, without getting caught by inherent limitations due to metaphysical blindness. The paradigmatic example for such a potential deadlock is provided by the case of Singapore, as we have discussed in the previous essay. Another example is Mumbai, where the city administration imposes embryological principles onto a self-organizing urban body. This creates a deep mismatch since the city itself is at least on the verge of developing the capability for learning, that is, a very dynamic form of differentiation (at least in some parts of it).

This brings us to the application perspective.

9. The Application Perspective

In this last section we will show some examples for the “binding problem” regarding the relation between theory and operation.

So far we have introduced the abstract structure that is necessary for binding theory, models and operations together. We are convinced that without this structure, that any neglect of this structure leads to pathological consequences, particularly with respect to all those domains that deal with observations from the social or cultural realm. These consequences could be labelled the “binding problem”. Note that there is no particular addressee, since it concerns any concept and any operation, whether on the level of urban politics or on the level of implementing urban infrastructure.

Philosophical stances develop their specific binding deficit, think for instance of analytical philosophy where one can find the dismissal of metaphysics, while political operations may induce likewise instances of another kind of typical binding deficit. Common to all these deficits is some structural inconsistency, or even internal contradiction concerning central issues of the respective stance, often appearing as kind of (pseudo-)paradox.

Metaphysics is involved in this binding whether one is aware of it or not. We have argued that metaphysical belief sets constrain what can be perceived, recognized, expressed and conceived. Now let us see how such belief unfolds in actual reality.

The examples we choose for this essay are the supply of water and energy, and the movement that called itself “Metabolism”.


One of the most striking examples is provided by the challenge of providing clean water in urban areas of developing countries. The problem is usually rendered into terms of necessary investment and uncontrolled growth of slums, accompanied by corruption or other forms of weakness in government. Together, these factors seem to prevent the installation of a sufficiently stable system of water pipes. Well, the actual problem, however, is precisely this rendering. Why? 

If we resort to the results discussed above we immediately can ask about the theoretical conditions that lead to that rendering. These conditions have nothing to do with the living conditions or political conditions. It is the metaphysical belief in central control and the belief in the possibility of rationalist, if not even deterministic planning that is creating the visible part of the problem.16 Central control as well as the belief in rigorous planning are both top-down approaches, hence they are applicable only to development, yet not to open evolution. Development, on the other hand, requires a fixation of side-conditions, which results in a particular model of differentiation: the abstract embryo. (Again: note that the biological type serves as a structural sibling, not even as a model!) Actually, we all should stop talking exclusively about “urban development”. Concerning the differentiation processes it is quite urgently to be completed with “urban evolution” and “urban learning”.

Usually, in urban differentiation processes the fixation of side-conditions is not possible, whether due to ethical or practical reasons. The result is that the problem persists, and with it the suffering of the people, the examples are countless, particularly all around in Africa. It is both a scandal as well as it is ridiculous that provision of water has been declared to be the major problem of the urban areas in the South.

Dropping the belief in planning, control and development immediately directs the attention to local solutions. Any local solution for material resources need an identifiable source, available storage and the organization of flows. Everybody can see the material arrangements of that basic setup. It is not an anonymous flow anymore. Regarding water, all of that can be established—astonishingly enough—in a strictly local manner, even in less developed areas.

Recently, Najiyah Alwazir described a project called RAINS that was conducted in Sanaa, the capital of Jemen. The project designed a solution for the problem of water shortage, which is a quite pressing issue in the mostly arid climate of Jemen. As a developing or even “underdeveloped” country, Jemen does not provide a stable, pervasive and abundant infrastructure. According to RAINS, the core element of the solution is thus the installation of appropriate private=local storage capacities, since in Sanaa there is a short raining period two times a year. Storage devices can be made almost from everything, especially however from various sorts of plastic. Yet, storing water for months is not without problems. For instance, it needs to be heated which requires additional energy.

But where to take water from locally, when there is none, if the raining season doesn’t provide enough water, or huge storage devices can’t be realized? Well, it is not true that there is no water. There is almost always water around, even in arid areas of the tropical or subtropical latitudes. It is in the air. The respective technology is blastingly simple. Basically, it is a windmill that creates pressure in the closed circuit of a heat pump, in other contexts also known as refrigerator. (read the respective story here). Nicely enough, the technology can be scaled, from hi-tech to low-tech, from small to big. A mid-sized turbine produces up to 1000 liters per day. Yet, low-tech turbines would work as well, requiring only very little investment, besides the fact that it creates lots of workplaces.

Without any exaggeration we can say that if there will be (is?) any scarcity of water (or energy, as we will see in the next section), then exclusively due to modernist stupidity or cynical politics. Scenarios like that imagined in the projective documentation about the consequences of global warming, “Les temps changent,” [32] are complete nonsense, since they mechanically recite the catastrophe against which there is allegedly no measure that society, i.e. the centrally administered state could take.

Water is not only an essential resource for living beings. The principle “water from air” can be integrated into any kind of architecture in order to use it as the basis of passive cooling. It should be clear that such infrastructural solutions become thinkable only if the modernist belief set is left behind.


Not only in developing countries, or the urban areas in the South, problems prevail due to the addiction to modernist belief sets. In industrialized countries there is a quite similar issue.

Currently, countries like Germany or Switzerland are propagating the so-called “Energy Turn” (official grm.: “Energiewende”), meaning that the required energy supply should be organized through so-called “regenerative sources” (which actually is a mis-nomer), that is from wind energy and solar energy. The problem imposed by this change is that the individual source is both rather small and rather volatile regarding its output, as compared with large power plants.

The modernist “solution” has been propagated as the so-called “smart grid”. A lot of computers are thought to be needed to distribute the electricity from many small sources and to minimize the peak-capacities, using the existing grid. Yet, smart grids do not change the principle for distributing the electrical energy at all: it remains centralized.

Thinking locally leads to a completely different solution, quite analogous to the water story. We need local producers, which in this case is simply the solar panel on the roof. And we need some storage, in other words batteries. In fact, what can be forecasted is a whole new culture of energy storage, across many scales. Fortunately, the market already started to offer such storage devices. IBC Solar offers devices for individual buildings, and ABB is working on large scale storage devices. There is also a solution involving methane and fuel cells in a closed loop system. The most funny thing, however, is the possibility to create methane, the main component of mineral gas, directly from the CO2 from air and hydrolyzed water (descriptions in german, in engl.). The tendency is the same as in the case of water: decentralization, and democratization, emergence of local infrastructures for storage and distribution. Astonishingly, the involved chemical reaction is known for more than 100 years, and wind power is an equally traditional source of energy. It was modernist thinking preventing its appearance on the engineers’ (and investors) radar. And nowadays, they again think of it only in large, expensive, technically difficult to handle installations, which therefore would have to be administered and run following the paradigm of centralization.

It is clear that the result could be a completely different kind of organization for the grid and a completely different kind of differentiation processes. Bottom-up processes lead automatically to the emergence of cluster- or cell-like organization.17 Such an organization not only automatically provides redundancy. It also will create suitably designed and unforeseeable business opportunities on the fly, which in ecology is called niche creation. To large parts it will be privately owned (on the level of cells), just the overarching informational organization may be provided by institutions. Such, institutions become clients rather than remaining providers. It is clear, that only in such a bottom-up organized energy culture we will see a true market for usable energy differences, quite in contrast to the oligopolistic (at best) fake we have to deal with today.

Most important, however, replacing top-down with bottom-up ultimately results in a change of metaphysical attitudes. Away from the orientation towards the lithosphere, turning around towards the solar stream of usable energy. In one of the next essays we will discuss this in more details by means of reviewing an upcoming book about the issue.


As a third example for illustrating the binding problem regarding the relation between theory and operation we will briefly visit the idea of metabolism, or organicism in a wider perspective, with regard to architecture and urbanism.

Metabolism is a biological concept. It describes the capability of living cells or even whole organisms to grow, to differentiate and to maintain their structure. Etymologically, metabolism means “a change”, that is the observation of a particular change. Metabolic processes are observable as large variety of well-orchestrated changes, that form a dynamic “equilibrium”, i.e. a phenomenologically more or less stable macroscopic appearance, which however rests on myriads of changes on the microscopic level. Yet, it must be understood, that metabolic processes are dissipative processes, meaning that they create a surplus of entropy in order to build up structures, that is, negentropy. Creating a surplus of entropy requires quite excessive consumption of energy differences, turning them into heat radiation.

Above all, metabolism is not simply a particular change. Its orchestration requires a preceding structure, including the respective functional compartments. And this change is devised to a particular function, the synthesis of new morphological structures as well as their break-down and recycling. Such, biological metabolism denotes “change within structures that leads to change of morphology”. This does not mean, however, that the shortcut “metabolism is morpho-change” is allowed. Rather we have to consider that we have different levels of integration with respect to the changes, linked together by emergence and deposits—just as in any complex system.

The idea of metabolism was by no means revolutionary at that time in the beginnings of the 1960ies. It just extended a line of thinking that prevailed in architecture and urbanism at least for 30 years in advance. In architecture and urbanism, the idea of organicism appeared the first time in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, already in the first or second decade of the 20th century. Yet, his notion of organicism had only little to do with organisms, or the Kantian organon. Wright called himself a modernist, and such his assimilation aimed for things like “super-nature,” designs better than nature. He tried to extract principles that almost naturally would lead to good design. All of this is utterly naïve, of course.

A next important step was the adoption of the concept of the organism into the Charta of Athens in 1933. Planners obviously felt overwhelmed by the complexity and vitality of cities, and perhaps by their own ignorance about that, that the notion of “city as organism” has been quite popular. Additionally, corporeality has been subject of heroism all around the developed countries throughout the 1930ies. A bit later Sigfried Giedion (1941) referenced organisms explicitly as a template for built architecture in his famous “Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition”. Yet, growth is not developed as a concept there, and time is conceived just as “history”, but rather not as an intrinsic result of the Urban, something which had to wait until Aldo Rossi’s (1984) critique of modernist conceptions of cities and architecture.

Yet, a city is not an organism, of course. Despite both entities, cities as well as organisms, can be said to be complex entities, the actual mechanisms are quite different. Simply spoken, in a city, we do not find a Golgi-apparatus, and in the cell we don’t find  mayors or administration.

This topic appeared also in the discourse about urban morphology. In the recent two decades or so, the quarrel between the various schools on urban morphology happened to become really serious. The Italian school around Caniggia traditionally embraced the idea of the organism as kind of a template for thinking about urban form. Yet, they didn’t used it as a template for deriving a theoretical position, they approached it more in a sympathetic mood. This caused a fierce critique by Michael Conzen [12], one of the popes of the area:

In a recent issue of Urban Morphology, Nicola Marzot offered an interpretation of my approach to urban morphology as compared to that of Caniggia who ‘equated human history and natural history. Each entailed th processes of birth, development, maturity and death. And there was a clear implication of the products of human endeavours.’ If Caniggia really said that he would have committed an obvious absurdity, for the existence of an urban settlement is a fundamentally different thing from the life of a human individual. (p.78)

Yet, Conzen too has obviously been completely unable to derive a theoretical position himself from his almost infinite catalog of particulars. Of course, he is a pope, and as such he could not do without installing the need for exegesis.

What is needed is a suitable binding between predictive models that are used in operations and structural models that allow a transition or integration towards the conceptual level. In fact, and quite unfortunately, up today and with the exception of the approach we proposed earlier, even the concept of complexity wasn’t presented in a useful form so far. One of the dramatic effects of misunderstood organicism as envisioned by the Athens Charta was the program of de-densifying the core of the cities. Of course, the opposite, densification, can’t be limited to just the material aspects as for instance in case of the Banlieues of Paris (F), which additionally follows the crystalline growth model. In the context of the Urban, densification has to be understood always as an issue of mediality. Media in turn require densified semiosis, which will emerge only on the basis of sufficient diversity of life forms within the same physical space.

In both cases, with Wright and with the Athens Carta, we can observe a binding problem in the theory work, leading to a literal, representational adoption of concepts from another domain. As Girard puts it,

one should avoid allegory, which consists in replacing the object with its metaphor. ([33] p.136, his emphasis)

What is missing in both cases, in Wright’s writing as well as in the Athens Charta, is a proper concept of differentiation18 that could have been used as a binding element.

Before the background of the discourse about sustainability19 and regenerative cities20 the ideas of the Japanese Metabolists from the early 1960ies gain increasing attention. Koolhaas & Obrist are just the most recent ones publishing an anthology about them, though probably the most serious one, as it consists of lots of interviews with still living former proponents of the group and with sketches of drawings.

What is this Japanese “Metabolism” about? In a recent interview with a German newspaper about his book Koolhaas praises their intention [34]:

Kiyonori Kikutake explains why at that time they haven’t been satisfied by the time-honored laws about form and function any more, and they tried to transfer the life cycle of birth and growth to town planning and construction and architecture.21

If nothing else, then this citation definitely demonstrates Koolhaas’ interest in a theory of differentiation for urbanism and architecture. Yet, it also uncovers Koolhaas’ own deficits, which he shares with many other “experts” of the field. On his conscious radar only expansion appears, albeit in his practice he applied embryological principles several times, e.g. in case of Casa da Musica.

Kiyonori Kikutake [35] writes

Metabolism” is the name of the group […]. We regard human society as a vital process […]. The reason why we use such a biological word, the metabolism, is that, we believe, design and technology should be a denotation of human vitality.

And Kisho Kurokawa specifies (cited after [36] p.81):

…if spaces were composed on the basis of the theory of the metabolic cycle, it would be possible to replace only those parts that had lost their usefulness and in this way to contribute to the conservation of resources by using buildings longer.

Later, Kurokawa extended the Metabolists’ approach into a theory of “symbiosis” to be applied to urbanism, architecture and their relation to nature. Yet, despite their approach—as far it is conveyed in their writings—is certainly sympathetic, it is not so much more than that. It provides an early support of the idea of sustainability, but there are neither structural nor predictive models, there is no theory of differentiation and no reflection about metaphysical conditions. There is just a fluffy use of a biological metaphor and the operations, that is, building as operation and politics of building. Not quite surprisingly, they conceive of themselves also as modernists, publishing the “last manifesto” in urbanism. Looking to their built matter, it becomes clear that the Metabolists’ approach is deeply infected by cybernetics. The implied model of differentiation and morphogenesis that they applied is close to crystalline growth, as it is demonstrated by the Nagakin Capsule Tower from 1972. It looks like an unorderly grown crystal. Thus it fits to the overall impression that in case of the Capsule Tower (and its many replicates throughout Japan) the core idea of the Metabolists never got realized. Not a single capsule has been replaced. Crystals do not replace parts of themselves, dependent on the physical circumstances they either grow forever, fall into everlasting stasis or get destroyed. At least Kikutake’s private “Sky House” has been slightly modified throughout its life cycle ([37], p.17). But there is nothing particular “metabolizing” with it.

In both type of buildings, the communal as well as the solitary one, “metabolism” has been implemented on the physical level. We have to rate this just as an indication of missing abstraction. Above we said that the shortcut “metabolism is morpho-change” isn’t allowed at all, since this would neglect the emergence relation between morpho-structures and producer changes in the complex system “cell”, for which biologists developed a particular perspective of metabolism. The Metabolists neglect precisely this layering of the complex system. Such, however, the Metabolists’ theory is nothing else than a metaphor, victimized to flatness by modernist reduction.

In some way, this renders the Metabolists that always claimed to propose a “utopia” as late descendants of the idea of the “Ideal City”. As the label already conveys, it’s just idealism, which always suffers from the double illusion implied by all top-down approaches.

Japanese Metabolism headed for adaptivity. Such they have been years ahead of the mainstream. Yet, the honourable intention haven’t been backed by structural models, there are no predictive models present in their approach, no abstraction towards a theory of differentiation, no reflection about the conditionability. Well, okay, even philosophy wasn’t developed far enough, Deleuze still breeding on the foundations of his philosophy. And cell biology itself has been completely absorbed by cybernetics, as one can see in the works of Monod. It is not our intention to blame anybody here. But it must be clear, that the Japanese Metabolism could not be transferred into our times due to its structural deficiencies.

10. Urban Strings

In an interview about his S,M,L,XL, conducted in 2001, Koolhaas mentioned that

“Compared with the metropolises of the industrial nations, Lagos is 50 to 100 years ahead.“[38]22

Given the seemingly chaotic condition of Lagos, the failure of its official urban services and organizations, in other words, its immaterial infrastructures, that seems like a bold and weird statement. Yet, Koolhaas addresses nothing less than a change in the metaphysical setup.

“We have been interested in the fact that at the one hand all organizational systems fail, on the other hand, however, the city nevertheless is functioning. […] The reason for that being that the inhabitants organize themselves in micro-systems.”23

Bottom-up organizational processes are not compatible with the major claims of the modernist belief set, particularly the idea of independence. Self-organization starting on the micro-level requires the metaphysical primacy of relation.

As we mentioned already several times, here and in previous essay, our impression is that Koolhaas is clearly interested in the processual aspects of differentiation, where others not even got a grip to the fact that we are in need of a metaphysics of differentiation. As a guest editor of an issue of the “wired”, he mentioned [39]:

“Where space was considered permanent, it now feels transitory—on its way to becoming.”

In an earlier interview from 1994, he explicitly referred to a characteristic of complex systems, opposing forces, denying the economically and politically motivated”Taylorization” into defined fields of function. Regarding the central station in Lille, a mega-structure Koolhaas was engaged to generate, he relied on the “alchemia of mixed use”, something that he had been cherishing in his famous “Delirious New York”.

The understanding of complex, self-organizing entities differs dramatically from linear entities. Analytic and thus a comprehensive symbolic representation, e.g. as some kind of a “law” is possible only for the latter. Trying to do the same for the former usually ends in some kind of disaster. For in that case anticipation based on the assumption of linearity inevitably fail at any point in time for whatever reason, that is for no particular reason, despite the fact that for some time the model could have been working quite well. Complex entities can’t be controlled, as there is no law, there are just mechanisms, actualized in a manifold of mutually penetrating populations. The best one can try is to tune the side-conditions of the respective processes. Yet, there is no guarantee for a particular outcome.

In other words, if urbanism claims to respect the moral and ethical conditions of the inhabitants (see for instance this, then traditional attitudes to planning and development have to be dropped. Respect for people is incompatible to the mere concept of development. Implementing plans is always and necessarily accompanied by violence, even if that violence is not visible from within the plan.

Yet, if we talk about mechanisms, the question raises, which are the subjects of those mechanisms? Where to find them and how to talk about these mechanisms?

If we consider the case of models of complex systems, such as the Gray-Scott-model, we’d probably distinguish certain elementary species. In case of the Urban, these species can’t be representational or even material, I guess, as it is the case in those models, which assume them to be particular kinds of molecules.

So, we may adjust our question slightly. We now can ask, what are the elementary, abstract species that we need to build appropriate models of the Urban?

Approaching this question requires a framework, and a reasonable choice is that of differentiation, from the metaphysical level down to the operational and back. Previously we identified three levels of actualization for differentiation, which can be rendered into different forms. The basic form is certainly the trinity of development, evolution and learning. Yet, there are transpositions of this basic theme; any of those would be worthwhile to be subject for further investigation, yet, we just list them here:

  • – embryos, populations (or brains) and evolution (minds as hosts of ideas),
  • – plans, probabilization and mediatization,
  • – automation, participation and (abstract) creativity,
  • – form, process and virtualization,
  • – the particular, the species and the general (concepts).

These basic aspects all have to be thought of as principles that actualize exclusively in local contexts. The geographic space of a city could be consequently thought of as a highly dynamic and volatile patchwork of such actualizations, and each of those could be assigned to one of the three levels or types of differentiation. This patchwork is by no means randomly arranged, of course. We have to think of it more in terms of said complex system, built from several components. Yet, again, in contrast to the simulated models, we should defy the temptation of assuming any kind of global rules for the interaction of the respective “species”.

Any possible pairing within the trinity of differentiation is inherently contradictory, albeit this contradiction is not a mutual one, it is a directed one. Embryos neither evolve nor do they learn. Learning, however, definitely comprises “embryonic” as well as “evolutionary” phases, without exhausting them. Inversely, while there is quite some play in learning processes, there is only little of it in evolutionary and almost none in embryonic processes.

Building upon notions from biology, even if we use it in a quite abstract way as structural schemata, immediately relate us to a number of objections. The most thorough ones have been posed by Anthony Giddens in his “Constitution of Society” (1986) regarding evolution. Yet, albeit Giddens is certainly right in criticizing the direct application or transfer of the biological theory about evolution into the realm of the social, his critique commits the same mistake (p.228). His image of evolution remains by far too naive, and partially even severely misunderstood, as to justify his objections against evolutionary theory and his final rejection. Nevertheless, he correctly emphasizes that talking about the realm of the social involves processes of largely “immaterial” signification. While such processes imply learning, it also remains true that this does not imply an incompatibility with a generalized theory of evolution. The same holds for adapting the notion of the embryo, or of growth. We just have to be always aware that these are modes of talking.

It is clear, that we can speak about differentiation only by also invoking probabilistic concepts. On the other hand, differentiation not only concerns individuals in their life history, but also as subjects of those differentiation processes.

This highlights an interesting issue, as play is eminently social and development is not less distinct a matter of automation. We can read the whole period of unfolding modernism, starting with the end of the Middle Ages, as a continued battle between participation and automation. In some way, cities and the Urban form of life provide just a further, upfolded field for the eternal contest between control and play, between constraints and overturn, between automation and participation. Yet, it is also true that it is the Urban as a life form that transformed battlegrounds into playing fields, thereby rendering the aterritorial into a local as well as a global social practice. Hopefully, it is the Urban and the respective life form that renders the nation and the underlying detrimental ideas insignificant.

The patches in the urban patchwork of various kinds of differentiation processes certainly influence each other, but it is an issue of future research to determine whether and to which grade the interaction of those differentiation processes can be arranged in separate classes.

So, let’s return to the question of the species. Probably it is quite reasonable to assume the species being subject to the mechanisms of the Urban to be just the instances of those three types of differentiation processes. In figure 7 above we introduced 4 types of structural models as candidates for solving the binding problem in theory works, namely growth, networks, associativity and complexity.

Result 1

This assemblage we now can simplify by subsuming it to the concept of differentiation as we have discussed it so far, of course, without dropping those four components, as they are growth, networks, associativity and complexity. Yet, this differentiation still resides in the realm of models, hence we have to call it “generic differentiation”. The abstract (meta-)structure suitable to overcome the binding problem regarding theories about cultural processes as well as their political instantiation would look like so:

Figure 9: Generic Differentiation as key element for solving the binding problem of theory works. Three things are important here: (i) the charts depicts the elementary module of a fluid moebioid fractal, since there is no separability between the three parts. They are mutually embedded into each other. (ii) “Concept” is a transcendent entity (see this for the argument). (iii) The brackets need to be conceived as the “realm of method”, which is something that we still have to accomplish (in one of the next essays). A similar structure may be suitable for the foundation of a planning theory (also to be discussed in some future essay).

Note, that the basic metaphysical stance of this methodological structure builds upon the “probabilistic relational”, which directly derives from the (Deleuzean) transcendental difference as soon as we care about any kind of application, or rule following. Deleuze bound the repetition as sort of a still transcendental application closely to his concept of the transcendental difference.

The field of models can be summarized by the differential (in the Deleuzean sense) of the four basic types of designs, namely growth, networks, associativity and complexity. Any of them leads to some kind of “change,” whether as a horizontal difference or a vertical differential. Else, any of them is capable to “associate” or to “grow”, they all are kind of networks (just of various degree of fluidity), and they all refer to complexity, and last but not least they all are (basic) forms for the description of the transition from mainly material to mainly immaterial contexts (material/immaterial here used in the common sense as a first conceptual approach, yet, actually there is no categorical difference between them: just think about the quasi-materiality of symbols and the form of energy in String theory). We can’t delve further into this matter here, but I think it will be highly rewarding to develop a vocabulary and expressions in order to establish the respective space that then could be called the “Space of Generic Differentiation”.

Result 2

Above, in the context of figure 1, we already mentioned that this scheme as we have developed it starting with figure 1 up to here is only the atomic module of a fluid moebioid fractal. (not the city or any other empiric entity is meant to be a fractal here, but rather the dynamics of theory itself!) This very same module is part of any theory work, yet, both the weights of the three parts as well as the parameters for the mapping into the more mature forms must be expected to be very different.

Such, we finally arrived at a conceptualization for theory work that is applicable to any science, even to philosophy. One of the nice things is that it makes the categorical difference between hard and social sciences to vanish, without neglecting the actual differences. But we definitely removed the existentialist contamination or even intoxication from the socio-mental landscape.

Result 3

A small remark about the philosophical consequences shall be allowed here. We already mentioned, thru result 1 and result 2, that the structure shown in figure 9 above would represent the basic module for the category of change. Of course, we do not conceive change as something that could be objectively determined, because there is something in the outer world that cold be called “pure change”. We propose neither to follow Kant in his favor for physicalist aprioris, nor the external (=naive) realists.

Instead, our category of change “socializes” the Kantian approach. As such it complements the structure that we called the choreostemic space. That space describes the fundamental conditionability of becoming, without telling anything about the actual mechanisms to move around in this space. The category of change (as the moebioid fractal) focuses the individual and his actual moves, that is its use of concepts and its corporeal activities. After the linguistic turn there is no space for physics any more, regarding the realm of human affairs. The apriori is not space and time, it is generic differentiation, concepts and the political corporeality.

Note that time is a language game about the scale of measurement for changes. If there is no change, or if change is not determinable, then there is no time. Examples for that are the “life form” of the photon or black holes, where no signal can be transferred any more, because photons get fixed.

Result 4

Above, in the chapter about String Theory, we said that it describes the form of energy, where different forms lead to different kinds of matter. Could we assimilate or even transfer the structure of that theory into a critical theory about the Urban?

Well, the first thing for which we have to identify a parallel is the notion of energy. Probably the hottest candidate for a similar role with regard to the Urban, that is for culture, is mediality. Like in the case of energy, density plays a crucial role for it (cf. [40]). All of the four components of our generic differentiation are strongly dependent on mediality, induced by densification processes. Changing levels, this holds true even for generic differentiation itself, as part of the theoretical structure as shown in figure 9.

We certainly can say that the form of mediality, that is, the way it gets instantiated, is able to create very different urban styles. Think about the difference between a Maya city, with some 70’000 inhabitants, where most of the mediality is related to religious affairs, and then about a typical radio city (Berlin 1939?), a TV city (Los Angeles), and an internet city (Seoul?). Or about Manhattan, where mediality found a quite unique instantiation, comprising interpersonal contacts and high density of heterotopias. Or about Shanghai with its extreme neon density.

As mediality gets actualized in different ways, so the proportion of our four components of the Generic Differentiation. Without any doubt one can find the traces of the establishment of a particular proportion, that is, the location  of the Urban Game in a particular “region” in the (yet to be formulated) space of Generic Differentiation, in the built assemblage of urban neighborhoods, as well as in its individual and characteristic “urban look & feel”. Or in other word, the “quality” of a particular “city”. Generic differentiation is somehow the inverse or a n abstract consequence of mediality.

Result 5

Here in this figure 9, much like for the figures above, we don’t provide any detail about the conceptual and the operational side. Of course, both areas comprise their own rich structure. Yet, in order to avoid the binding problem, both the concepts and the operations need to be compatible to the model layer, at least insofar as the three components develop suitable docking sites.

Result 6

The structure in figure 9 above can be read in two very different ways. This is not  just due to the possibility of different vantage points, its more a kind of a principle duality.

The first one derives from a choreostemic perspective. In this case the structure describes the forces that lead to particular trajectories in the choreostemic space, representing a particular style to think about the city and to act within it, whether as an individual or as a population.

The second way to conceive of the structure is as the Urban itself, as the life form of the Urban, that is as the actualization of a Foucaultian field of proposals. In both cases the three areas of concept, differentiation and operation are not at all separated or separable. They form a field of simultaneous activity throughout, with varying degrees of overlapping and mutual infection.

In such a setting, story-telling takes an important role: it creates a dynamic fabric from all the relational elements, the tiny Urban Strings, of which myriads over myriads are produced all the time, released to float around in unpredictable yet beautifully arranged patterns, spanning from logistics to anticipation and metaphysics, providing the mere possibility for Urban meaning and Urban Reason.24


1. 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 order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective that refers to common sense understanding.

2.The terminus “speaking about” is by no means a trivial one. First, it implies that language is used and in turn we have to respect the transcendental role of language (for more details see here, and here). This has been not only the center point of Wittgenstein’s philosophy, it also resulted in a “revolution” throughout philosophy—unfortunately largely only in philosophy so far, the so-called “Linguistic Turn.” Particularly scientists are often quite forgetful about that. Secondly, “speaking about” also means that concepts have to be used. As we discussed in the context of the choreostemic space, concepts are also transcendent.

3. Here, philosophy is not understood as a domain that creates rules of a good life. Instead, we conceive it as a technique of thinking; as such it is helpful to explore the rules and principles of human affairs as a social process. Philosophy has no representational content!

4. Case of Bombay, informal workers.

5. For more details please the essays about modeling.

6. Previously we called such concepts “Strongly Singular Terms”. For details please refer to “Formalization and Creativity as Strongly Singular Terms”.

7. Concerning semiotics as always: CS Peirce.

8. Umberto Eco (2002): Semiotik der Theateraufführung. In: Wirth, Uwe (Hrsg.): Performanz. Zwischen Sprachphilosophie und Kulturwissenschaft. Frankfurt/M. S.262-276.

9. This is even true for the “hardest science” of all, physics. Even as physics benefits from the luxury of a stable external referent, though that referent has to be recognized as an unknown. This stability allows for a closed and quite fast loop between building and testing anticipatory models on the one hand, and inventing concepts on the other. This stability is possible only if the subject of the respective investigations is strictly a-historic, a-contextual and an-individual. Nevertheless it remains true that even the concepts of physics are at least partially dependent on the respective form of life. In sciences that deal with historic contingency like biology and all of the human sciences including architecture and urbanism, this stability is not present in principle.

10. Gilles Deleuze developed a dedicated counterdraft to these concepts, mainly in Difference & Repetition [18], A Thousand Plateaus [19], and Logic of Sense [20].

11. Note that even the discovery of the putative Higgs-Boson wouldn’t change much with regard to these open issues.

12. Usually, paradoxes are just a consequence of contradictions either in the metaphysical setup or in the course of their instantiation. Pseudo-paradoxes can be provoked also by choosing to few dimensions for the description of a problem. (for details see Deleuzean Move, footnote 3, and Vagueness: The Structure of Non-Existence.)

13. In German language the book “Performanz” edited by the semiotician Uwe Wirth [21]; unfortunately, I don’t know of any comparable work in English language.

14. Talking about complexity and story-telling may remind inevitably to Charles Jencks’ “jumping universe”, where he, among other things invokes the science of complexity and post-modernism as kind of twin-siblings. We clearly disassociate from Jencks’ writings, for multiple reasons so. It is nothing else than esoterism. He not only fails to accurately use the concept of fractals and chaos, he also misses to describe the mechanisms through which that “chaos” gets actualized. He does not provide any model for growth and differentiation, just using fractals as the universal weaponry. It is not really surprising that he finally ends up with cosmogonic phantasies.

We not only reject this kind of poor “theorizing,” but also post-modernism as a valuable way of talking about architecture or urbanism. Both suffer seriously from the binding problem, ending in wild speculations. It is telling that Jencks tries to proof the existence of a battle between modernist and post-modernist thinking. Nothing could be more unmasking. Above all, his crusade seems to be politically motivated. What we try instead in this series of essays is to provide a sound abstract structure for a value-free theory, from which a rich scape of models can be derived.

The post-modernist attitude of “not only function, but also fiction” (H.Klotz, The history of postmodern architecture, 1986) remains flat and representationalist, such as Hollein’s Juweliergeschäft (Wien 1972-1974). As Venturi once demonstrated, any arbitrary facade is semiotically active. Yet, the interpretation is not on the side of the designer! Thus, the “fiction” of the post-modernists are misplaced, and miles away from the story-telling Koolhaas is organizing for us and into which we may embed and integrate ourselves. In a later piece we will discuss the metaphysics, the hidden resentment and the limitations of post-modernism in greater detail.

15. Most of the items of that layer that is mediating between theory and operations we already discussed in earlier essays. Note that the set of possible terms of that map is far from being complete, albeit it certainly provides a useful cross-section. Links : choreosteme, complexity, model, orthoregulation, learning, memory, evolution, theory, aspection, network, probabilism, adaptivity, associativity, behavioral coating, operationalization.

16. Note that these beliefs are not to be mixed up with values. Values themselves are anyway highly problematic. Values are quite effective to abolish any discourse, since—by definition—they are not justifiable. Hence it is dangerous to invoke them “too early”. Actually, values that purport some representational attitude about a moral “good(ness)”, should be dropped altogether, except some last solitary and transcendental principle. According to Wilhelm Vossenkuhl [26], a German philosopher (mainly Kant, Wittgenstein and Ethics) and political scientist, all the other claimed values should be replaced by the techné of organizing discourses about the difficult challenges.

17. For details about morphogenesis through self-organization and complexity see this essay.

18. Differentiation not only includes morphogenesis sensu strictu, that is with regard to “purely” material aspects. It is anyway not possible to separate the material from the immaterial as the modernists and positivists always claimed. Differentiation and growth apply to the immaterial as well. In our essay about Koolhaas and Singapore we explicated three perspectives onto differentiation, for which we find varying grades of materiality: development, evolution and learning. also note that Deleuze’s work may be conceived as a philosophy of differentiation, whether concerning development, evolution or learning.

19. Sustainability that is backed by the the idea of protection [24,25,26]

20. Recently, Anna Leidreiter proposed to change perspective from mere sustainability (see previous footnote) to regeneration and “circular metabolism”. Despite we certainly agree with the intention, her approach is still suffering from the binding problem. There is no theory of differentiation, just a more or less metaphorical use of the concept of metabolism. Metabolism anyway is always organized by many overlapping “cycles”. It is naïve or even wrong that natural ecosystems run without producing waste, as she claims. In natural ecosystems there is a lot of decay, debris and sedimentation. How would debris look like with respect to the Urban?

Fitting to these suggestions is another point. Earlier we already pointed out that sustainability requires persistent adaptivity, and this in turn can be achieved only by complexity, that is self-organization, transition from order to organization, and emergence. As such it can’t be directly implemented, of course. In other words, planning and sustainability exclude each other.

21. German original: „Kiyonori Kikutake erklärt, warum ihnen die altehrwürdigen Gesetze der Form und Funktion damals nicht mehr ausreichten und sie versuchten, den Lebenszyklus von Geburt und Wachstum auf Städtebau und Architektur zu übertragen.“

22. German original: „Lagos ist den Metropolen der Industrienationen um 50 bis 100 Jahre voraus.“

23. German original : „Wir haben uns dafür interessiert, wie einerseits alle Organisationssysteme versagen, die Stadt aber andererseits trotzdem funktioniert. Das liegt daran, dass die Einwohner sich in Mikrosystemen organisieren.“

24. We are well aware of the fact that a concept like “generic differentiation”, particularly if it comprises growth and networks as sub-concepts, relates to the discourse about urban form, or urban morphology. For 15 years now, this discourse gets more and more organized through the journal “Urban Morphology”, issued by the International Seminar on Urban Form ISUF. This discourse suffers considerably from the binding problem, hence, any kind of naivity can be found there. Typically for the underdeveloped stage of the field is the fact that there are (still) at least two “schools”, inherited from times long ago (the French, the Italian, the Anglo-Saxon schools). Of course, there are also the great pioneers (pope-eneers?), celebrated individuals like Caniggia or Conzen. Yet, identifying the more valuable contributions requires (and deserves) a dedicated treatment. This will be the topic our next piece: How to speak about (urban) forms?


  • [1] Rem Koolhaas (1995), Whatever happened to Urbanism. In: O.M.A., Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S,M,X,XL. Crown Publishing Group, 1997. p.1009-1089.
  • [2] Herzog & deMeuron, How do Cities differ? Introductory text to the course of study on the cities of Naples – Paris – The Canary Islands – Nairobi at the ETH Studio Basel – Contemporary City Institute. In: Gerhard Mack (Ed.). Herzog & de Meuron 1997-2001. The Complete Works. Volume 4. Basel / Boston / Berlin, Birkhäuser, 2008. Vol. No. 4. pp. 241-244.First published in: Jacques Herzog: Terror sin Teoría. Ante la ‘Ciudad indiferente’. In: Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.). Arquitectura Viva. Herzog & de Meuron, del Natural. Vol. No. 91, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva, 07.2003. p. 128. available online.
  • [3] Wolfgang Stegmüller, Probleme und Resultate der Wissenschaftstheorie und Analytischen Philosophie, Band II Theorie und Erfahrung, Teil G: Strukturspecies. T-Theoretizität. Holismus. Approximation. Verallgemeinerte intertheoretische Relationen. Inkommensurabilität. Springer, Berlin Heidelberg 1986.
  • [4] Thomas S. Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 1962.
  • [5] John R. Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1969.
  • [6] O.M.A., Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S,M,X,XL. Crown Publishing Group, 1997.
  • [7] Kisho Kurokawa, From Metabolism to Symbiosis. John Wiley 1992.
  • [8] Rem Koolhaas & Hans Ulrich Obrist. Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. Taschen, Berlin 2011.
  • [9] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.
  • [10] Rem Koolhaas (2002). Junkspace. October, Vol. 100, “Obsolescence”, pp. 175-190. MIT Press. available here
  • [11] 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.
  • [12] Michael R. G. Conzen.  “Apropos a Sounder Philosophical Basis for Urban Morphology,” in: Thinking About Urban Form: Papers on Urban Morphology, 1932-1998. Google books. p.78.
  • [13] John McDowell, Mind and World. 1996. pp.25.
  • [14] Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?
  • [15] Isabelle Garo, Molecular Revolutions: The Paradox of Politics in the Work of Gilles Deleuze, in: Ian Buchanan, Nicholas Thoburn (eds.), Deleuze and Politics. Edinburgh 2008.
  • [16] K. Wassermann, That Centre-Point Thing. The Theory Model in Model Theory. In: Vera Bühlmann, Printed Physics, Springer New York 2012, forthcoming.
  • [17] Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären I-III. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1998-2004.
  • [18] Gilles Deleuze, Difference & Repetition.
  • [19] Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus.
  • [20] Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense.
  • [21] Uwe Wirth (Hrsg.), Performanz. Zwischen Sprachphilosophie und Kulturwissenschaft. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M. 2002.
  • [22] Charles Jencks, The Architecture of the Jumping Universe. Wiley-Academy 2001.
  • [23] Website of the Fermi-Lab: http://home.fnal.gov/~carrigan/pillars/Quarks.htm ; http://www.fnal.gov/pub/inquiring/matter/madeof/index.html.
  • [24] World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), Our Comm on Future (1987), page 24, para 27.
  • [25] World Summit on Social Development (1995), Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, page 5.
  • [26] World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), Plan of Implementation, page 8.
  • [27] Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Die Möglichkeit des Guten. Hanser, München 2006.
  • [28] Robert Rosen, Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life, Columbia University Press 1991.
  • [29] Timothy Druckrey (2003). Relational Architecture: the work of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, in: Debates & Credits. Media/Art/Public Domain. De Balie-Centre for Culture and Politics. Amsterdam 2003. p.69.
  • [30] David G. Shane, Recombinant Urbanism. 2005.
  • [31] Thom Mayne, Combinatory urbanism: The Complex Behavior of Collective Form. 2011.
  • [32] Jean Christoph de Reviere; Marion Milne (directors), Les temps changent, F/CDN 2008;
  • [33] Jean-Yves Girard, LOCUS SOLUM: From the rules of logic to the logic of rules (2001). Journal Mathematical Structures in Computer Science archive, Vol 11(3), p.301-506. available online.
  • [34] Barbara Nolte, „Unser westlicher Blick liefert Zerrbilder“, Interview mit Rem Koolhaas, 12.02.2012 in: Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin). available online.
  • [35] Kiyonori Kikutake et al. Preface, Metabolism: Proposals for New Urbanism. Tokyo 1960.
  • [36] Jennifer Johung, Replacing Home: From Primordial Hut to Digital Network in Contemporary Art. Minnesota University Press, Minneapolis 2012.
  • [37] Zhongjie Lin, Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias of Modern Japan. Routledge, New York 2010.
  • [38] Ulrike Knöfel und Marianne Wellershoff (2001). „Eine der besten Erfindungen“, Interview mit Rem Koolhaas, 15.10.2001, in: DER SPIEGEL 42/2001, available online.
  • [39] Rem Koolhaas (2003). Editorial, The New World. 30 Spaces for the 21st Century. wired, Issue 11.06 | June 2003. available online.
  • [40] Vera Bühlmann, inhabiting media. Thesis, Basel 2009.


Songs of Birth

September 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Embryos do not sing.

For embryos do not live in a probabilistic world, there is no need for the negotiation of codes and playing with them, both the codes and the negotiations. We even may not ask how the world could look like for an embryo, because there is no world. The vast majority of all relations of an embryo are purely internal. Obviously, the embryo exhausts all its possibilities of becoming when submersed in a tank. Embryos are professional solipsists. They are their own environment.

Embryos are able to absorb violent transformations that are dictated by its plan. The condition of the embryonic transforms the plan into morphogenetic processes. Foldings, transfers, inversions, and above all, melting of tissue. The fingers of the hand of vertebrates, including humans, do not just simply grow out like a branch in a plant. Fingers exist because tissue is removed by melting and “recycling” it. Between the DNA and the body there is the embryo. It constitutes even a different kind of corporeality.

As always with the particular factuality of biological systems we have to take it along the road into abstractness if we would like to learn from it. This road is, of course, not prebuilt. It is never, to be more precise. If we will build it in a proper way, we will find neat junctions into architecture, urbanism and the theory of machine-based episteme as well. Of course, we are not the first ones delving into this subject matter. Think of Simondon and his individuation, or again Deleuze, to whom we owe so much also for this essay that actually is about the principle of embryonic with regard to Singapore, Rem Koolhaas and his writing “Singapore Songlines”.

Anyway, these transformations that embryos undergo, this violence is a direct consequence of the simultaneity of the presence of a plan and the absence of play. We may even turn this relation around: Wherever we find a plan and processes that implement its actualization we may describe the respective context is an embryological context. Wherever we find violence (of one kind or the other) and its tolerance (of one kind or the other), we may describe the respective context as an embryological context. Yet, we must be careful regarding our valuation. From the perspective of the embryo, even the most brutal processes of folding, melting, secondary morphogenesis and renewal are perhaps not brutal at all.

Here we also find cybernetics as a symptom for a societies’ infancy, if not for still being embryo. It is not by mere chance that Michel Serres came up with the idea of Hominiscence only in the late 1990ies (published 2001), well after the retreat of cybernetics. Any cybernetical structure is the materialized plan, it is apriori closed, anti-probabilistic, any structural extension would result in its collapse. Cybernetic structures—which are actually quite rare in natural systems—may be regarded even as being proto-embryonic, as they can’t result in morphogenesis. Cybernetics works only for perfect solipsists like embryos, or, in a slightly different perspective, for perfectly constrained sub-systems.

Embryos may be conceived as instances of a principle or a concept that actualizes the possibility of material differentiation and growth. Embryos develop. Etymologically, to develop relates to replace, unwrap (like the German “entwickeln”, Swedish “utwickla”, or Portugues “desenvolver”), the particle “en” melted away from “des-en-velop”. The something that needs to be there as the entity is going to be unwrapped is the plan.

From here we can develop this concept of the embryo in a straightforward manner. It is a construction by inversion. Inversion here means to select one of the key “properties” or elements of the concept and to invert it, which of course generates something very different, compared to its ancestor. Remarkably enough, “construction by inversion” also goes far beyond of negation and dialectics, it is a deeply positive move.

Well, in our context, there are two main routes for doing that. Either we drop its inherent solipsism, confronting the becoming with the probabilistic, open world. If we still focus on the more material aspects, we arrive at the concept of evolution. The second route of inversion drops the focus on the material. Usually, we call differentiation and growth in the domain of the immaterial.1 “learning”. Hence, it would not be reasonable at all to say that embryos learn, or that they evolve. Concerning the general concept of differentiation we found now a trinity of only slightly overlapping language games, comprising development, evolution and learning, or embryos, populations and brains, or plans, probabilization and mediatization. Admittedly, minds create secondary, immaterial or virtual embryonic morphogenesis as well as probabilized and highly volatile populations. The immanence of thought is located between populations of informational germ layers of interpretation, where the respective morphology settles in the realm of the symbolic. In more philosophical terms, we could express this trinity as form, process and virtualisation, and even more abstract the particular, the species and the general. By means of all these parallel perspectives it should be clear for now that this trinity establishes a fundamental space (which is an aspectional space) for the language game of change.

In any real system, these three aspects of differentiation as mentioned above overlap, of course. For there is, for instance, no clear separation between the material and the immaterial (see footnote 1); there is also no perfect solipsism, which could claim that there are no relations to some kind of “outside”. And everybody knows that plans are subject to failure precisely due to the probabilistic influences from this outside as well as from the processes going to implement them.

In biology, these three aspects are handled by, or even just applied as three perspectives for asking about the underlying mechanisms. During the last two decades or so, biologists started to drop the idealistic distinction between the individual and the species by talking about the respective problematic field as evo-devo. Both, evolutionary and embryonic differentiation are characterized by constraints and potentials that are inherently implied by the process “it-self” .

So what’s about other domains, such as the Urban.2, or machine-based episteme? Urban environments are full of change, are representatives of change par excellence, and so is the condition of the Urban. In many cities, even rather small ones, we find urban planning agencies or urban development offices. In Singapore, however, which will constitutes our target in this piece, we find an Urban Redevelopment Authority—note the “re-“ here! Yet, so far we won’t find any Urban Evolution Department… How to speak about change processes without invoking ideology, and, most significant, beyond the particularity of a given “case”? Could the concept of the abstract embryo be helpful for that? And if, how?

Restricting questions about change to the level of the embryonic seems to be tempting. Yet, design efforts directed to the Urban hardly can be limited to the first level. Doing so instead causes strange conditions such as extreme forms of neoteny, or even embryoteny. From the perspective of a embryotenic entity, birth is conceived as a threat. Above we have seen that the embryonic level is closely related to the particular, restricting design activity regarding the Urban to the first level thus means to get trapped by a representational fallacy. Any prolonged development activity does not only deny birth and the possibility of learning as a mechanism of smooth adaptation, it necessarily results in “re”-development and the violence of the embryonic.

Of course, in such domains outside of biological structures we do neither find “eggs” nor “placentas”, even not metaphorically. We should avoid to call a city an “organism”, or “super-organism”. Yet, asking about the instantiation and orchestration of change processes in cities (regarding the Urban) or machines (regarding understanding and consciousness), we certainly can apply a sufficiently generalized concept of differentiation, such as we put it above as the trinity of plans (embryos), probabilization (populations) and mediatization (brains). This trinity establishes an aspectional space of differentiability and its expressibility. This space also comprises the Deleuzean concept of the differential (as a structure) as well as Simendonean individuation (as a process).3, both in their full complexity.

The obvious question regarding any designed process of change thus concerns about the mechanisms and the implied changes of quality when moving around in this space of differentiability. Practically, in actual cases we have to choose a particular differential weighting regarding the trinity of development, evolution and learning.

Not all moves are possible in that space, and not all possible moves are smooth and painless. We also should not expect that those somehow disrupting transitions in this space such as birth are taking place only once, or as a unique event. Perhaps, we should not conceive the moves and movements in this space as transitions, since the relation

Embryos are still not born..

This Essay

This essay is the third of a row about Rem Koolhaas’ trilogy4 comprising three texts titled “The Generic City”, “Junkspace” and “Singapore Songlines”. The former two are much more abstract than the third, which actually seems to strive for some kind of understanding the Singaporean condition. It is thus the most extensive in the trilogy, bringing in a wealth of details.

The resulting trilogy of our own, established by “The Generic City – a Précis”, “Junkspace, extracted”, and this essay accompanies our investigation about the possibility and the form of a “Theoretical Architecture” as well as a “Theory of Architecture” and the role of “Theory in Architecture”. These theoretical moves are explored under the umbrella of a philosophically guided approach that we call Urban Reason.

Here, our main subject of interest is Singapore and its particular quality. Such it turns also into a critique of Koolhaas’ investigation. Our main proposal about Singapore is that it is best conceived as an Urban Embryo, where the notion of embryo as well as that of the Urban is a rather abstract one, of course. Yet, everything in Singapore starts making sense only before this background.

The remainder of this essay comprises the following sections (active links):

Dreaming Koolhaas

Songlines refer to the cultural heritage. They convey something about the Life Form of the culture’s past as well as its presence, yet not about those things that could be clearly spoken about. Its a kind of myth, though it is less and at the same time more than a myth. Actually, even just referring to them establishes important constraints on any further individual and collective action. Songlines are like collective daydreams, often expressed in non-textual music or images or actions. Writing about someone else’s Songlines is thus a delicate issues, since one is going to confront the speakable with those issues about which we can’t speak, nor which we could show or demonstrate.

Previously, we called Rem Koolhaas a story-teller. More recently, his works showed a tendency towards cross-mediality and genericity. Such it seems as if he’d remembered his roots as journalist and experimental moviemaker. In an interview from 1999 (to a German newspaper), he describes himself, his major profession, as a writer and author—at that time—, yet not as an architect or even an urbanist.

Story-telling, .consolidated into a more or less secular and profane form first by Boccaccio through his Decamerone5 is a form and a mirror of human reason. Reason exceeds rationality by far, as for instance ethics can’t be fully determined by rationality, or the necessary contradictions inherent to complex, living entities and their social organization defy rationality as well.

At this point it is quite interesting to see that Koolhaas, in his earlier, still more modernist “configuration,” relates evolution and stories almost by definition. In Singapore Songlines [1]—which is from 1995—he writes:

Singapore is a city without qualities (maybe that is an ultimate form of deconstruction, and even of freedom). But its evolution—its songline—continues: from enlightened postwar UN triumvirate, first manifestation of belated CIAM apotheosis, overheated metabolist metropolis, now dominated by a kind of Confucian postmodernism in which the brutal early housing slabs are rehabilitated with symmetrical ornament. (p.1077/78)

Singapore Songlines appeared in S, M, X, XL [2], a remarkable cross-over-view about his oeuvre up to the mid-nineties. There he also demonstrates how AMO/OMA approached regional cultures, i.e. a particular city, by empiric studies for the purpose of learning about the city (e.g. the study about Lagos, Nigeria). In the case of Singapore, Koolhaas added a detailed investigation addressing the particular history of Singapore, resulting in an almost hermeneutical attitude.

The passage quoted above is remarkable for at least two reasons. First, he ascribes the historical course of Singapore a hidden tendency and consistency, which nevertheless consists for large parts of unintended effects (and affects), despite the particular culture of planning that prevails in Singapore.

Secondly, equating evolution with a songline, i.e. mythical sequential order of undefined dimensionality, but surely not of a single one. Such, he conceives of the evolution of a local cultural arrangement as kind of a generic story, but he also conceives of the songlines as evolution. The former bringing in inceptions, bursting fountains of dreamt cross-media from buried experiences, the latter invoking the element of probability, constraints, symbiosis, extinction and inheritance. The former purely immaterial, the latter constantly crossing the border between the material dimension of the differentiating body and the probabilistic, informational dynamics of populations

Equating both, .the songlines and evolution, is provocative in its own, especially if it is performed in such a parenthetic manner. Probably, it is used by Koolhaas to indicate a particular constitution regarding the “resistance of the existential”6. By qualifying Singapore as a “city without qualities” he is actually pointing to the same direction. In particular, Robert Musil described the advent of the age of the probabilized conditions—the times around 1910 in the agonizing Austrian monarchy—in his novel “The man without qualities” [5]. Far from being without qualities—his main figure Ulrich has been called of being without qualities as an offending act by another figure inside the novel—, Ulrich is described as a person who explicitly tries to develop the manifoldness based on his individuality, albeit he as an individual is detached from traditions and immersed into the upcoming “mass society”, that is, a population where everything gets probabilized. In his novel, Musil unfolded a broad view about the problematics of societal transformation, particularly the relation between the individual and the fundamentally changing society at large.

Without doubt, these references as introduced by Koolhaas en passant all apply to contemporary Singapore as well as to its history, the subject of Koolhaas’ 80-page essay. Yet, his piece constitutes also a particular point of departure for Koolhaas’ own Songlines, which should eventually be completed through “The Generic City” (also contained in S, M, X, XL) and particularly through “Junkspace,” besides his architectural works such as the Dutch embassy or the Casa da Musica.

In 1995, some seven years before his piece “Junkspace,” Koolhaas was still defending modernism despite he also felt uneasy about it. In his short critical piece “What ever happened to Urbanism?”, which also appeared in S,M,X,XL, he mentioned:

Modernism’s alchemistic promise—to transform quantity into quality through abstraction and repetition—has been a failure, a hoax: magic that didn’t work.

His defense in the Singapore Songlines, though being an implicit one, goes by emphasizing that its goals should not be separated from its way of operation, namely a mechanistic and rationalist program. This, of course, means that he proposes to leave precisely these mechanisms intact:

In Singapore—modernization in its pure form—the forces of modernity are enlisted against the demands of modernism. Singapore’s modernism is lobotomized: from modernism’s full agenda, it has adopted only the mechanistic, rationalistic program and developed it to an unprecedented perfection in a climate of streamlined “smoothness” generated by shedding modernism’s artistic, irrational, uncontrollable, subversive ambitions—revolution without agony.  (p.1041)

Koolhaas’ argument here is almost a romanticist one. First, modernism is no exception to the general condition that the goals of a movement are often shaped by the mixture of historical facts and metaphysical beliefs. Obviously, Koolhaas suggests that it is indeed possible to separate the goals from the operational setup. Such, he fails to recognize the core modernism itself, namely the way that the metaphysical beliefs characterizing modernism—above all “independence”—leads to its particular arrangement of operations.

The point now is that a similarity in the operations is by far not sufficient to conclude about the similarity regarding metaphysical beliefs. Yet, what are the metaphysical beliefs of Singaporeans? And how could a member of a Western society relate to it? For Koolhaas, the latter issue is clear: don’t forget to confirm your return flight (p.1087). This clarity does not hold for the former part; as Koolhaas was not aware about his own metaphysical setup, he barely could get aware that of the Singaporeans. No wonder he feels the whole subject as a troubling one:

[…] the most disconcerting question is: Where are these urgencies buried? (p.1017)

The answer would have been, of course: in his own metaphysical beliefs. At that time, in the mid-1990ies, Koolhaas had apparently been puzzled about what he experienced in Singapore. He was neither able to think appropriately about differentiation , nor, as a consequence, he could find sufficient distance that would have been necessary for an appropriate comparison. I think that at least some important conclusions about Singapore are mis-spelled, at least. In turn Koolhaas misses to construct a launching site for a general theory of urban development. The first thing such a theory would need is an appropriate conceptual work. Elements that could serve as building blocks as well as a basis to speak about changing urban structures or processes.

Koolhaas describes his strategy for approaching the particular constitution of Singapore by reference to biological systems:

I have tried to decipher its reverse alchemy, understand its genealogy, do an architectural genome project, re-create its architectural songlines. (p.1017)

As we already noted, invoking the image of the “songlines” serves Koolhaas as a metaphorical placeholder for evolution and its historical fabric, its abstract tendencies, contingencies and non-linearities. Like in dreams, it is impossible to forecast the results of the actualization of evolution, yet, beyond the contingency there is also a certain consistency in both cases. Such, Koolhaas set up another tuple that reminds to the major domains of living systems: the combinatorics of molecules (chemistry), the basic encoding (plan, genome), its becoming (genealogy, differentiating individuation), and finally the level of evolution.

Unfortunately, this is the only case where Koolhaas’ essay exhibits a tendency towards abstract structuralism that is inspired by the perspectives developed in biology. Even worse, Koolhaas got stuck in an almost phenomenological habit, blending delving and drowning unwittingly into each other. Of course, Koolhaas essay is a great source for any thorough view onto the historical constraints influencing Singapore’s actualization. In this regard, Singapore Songlines his a highly recommended reading. Yet, Koolhaas tried to do more than just bringing together important sources and describing its history. As a story-teller about the Urban, he is interested in a generally applicable approach. It is regarding this “more” where he didn’t succeed.

We already mentioned that his affiliation to modernism could be seen one of the major reasons for this failure. Later, Koolhaas will depart more and more from modernism, resulting in a rather critical attitude towards modernism. This is reflected in his work as well, of course, which—at least regarding some instances—became more and more relational, and thus Deleuzean.

Behind the Curtains

From this context, given by Koolhaas and Singapore, there are mainly two questions that may appear significant. First, how could we approach the case “Singapore” in a more appropriate way? That is, how could we ask about Singapore and learn from it, rather than being drowned by the amount of particular bits of facts about its peculiarity? Second, how could we read Koolhaas’1995-writing with his more recent achievements?

These interrelated achievements we already discussed previously, they could be summarized as three beyonds:

  • Beyond Erecting: story-telling (in its serious, thus playfully comparatist version) as a method and an effect in architecture, regarding the usage of the building—ultimately its Life Form—as well as the building’s relation to architecture itself;
  • – Beyond Form or Function: emphasizing relationality rather than individual form or functionality, with regard to the people using the building as well as the building’s embedding into a given arranged asset of other buildings;
  • Beyond the Differential Equation: employing time as an activated structural element or asset of building, overcoming the reductionist concept of time as a parameter or even as a (passive) dimension, as it appears in commonly used models of usage or change.

In more concise manner we could express these points also by saying that Koolhaas is on an evolutionary trajectory towards an animate architecture, where behavior is the main organizing paradigm. It is somewhat significant not to separate the three parts listed above. Story-telling does NOT mean that the architect is telling his or her own story as an egomaniac, a category populated by “star architects” and “deconstructivists”. It would be a serious misunderstanding to conceive of story-telling in the same vein as programmatic music once did (for instance Mussorgsky, and Bach earlier). Of course, these pieces can be beautiful, but you can’t listen to them very often. Programmatic, or theme-oriented, often also means “programmed”, i.e. closed.

It is much as Nigel Coates expresses it [6]

Heathrow has versions of Yates Wine Lodge. A debased form of narrative adorns every hotel lobby restaurant and ready-furnished apartment reaching out to the experience-hungry consumers. We live in a morass of meaningless quotation […] ( p.160)

It is more appropriate to conceive of story-telling as a particular game (or play) of braiding teller, listeners, the text, and the situation. The art of story-telling is to create a self-sustaining, nested story-process within each of the listeners by means of feeding and growing their interpretive activity. For good stories, and good story-telling events, the story told is never the story of the teller, it is always the story of the listeners. Having a rich history of telling is certainly helpful to create this, yet, it would be a fatal reduction to conceive of architects as “sources” of stories. Koolhaas referred to a similar issue in his essay about “Bigness”.

We repeatedly mentioned that modernism is characterized by the metaphysical belief in independence. As a corollary, time is usually conceived as a single thing, a primitive series of infinitesimal points. Change is usually described using this time as an external parameter, while the description itself, e.g. as some kind of formula, is symmetric with respect to time. this is paradigmatically realized in physics and, (not quite) astonishingly, also in modernist urbanism.

Taking historicity into consideration, as S.Giedion or Aldo Rossi did it, is just the first step towards a communal story-telling. Koolhaas, in contrast, applies a completely different concept of time. We could call this image of time semiotic (Peirce), cinematic (Deleuze), or complex (Prigogine). In any case, the naive physicalist image of time as a series of independent points vanishes. Not only is “presence” not point-like any more. Presence is as long as a particular “sign-process” is ongoing. There are also bundles of different times, created by different compartments that all host (more or less) separate forms of life.

But again, how would we start interesting communal story-telling? At first, it should be clear that there is always some story told by an urban context. For it is always possible to project some coherence to an urban arrangement, even if would be filled with crap urbanism, ugly store-houses, etc. Such, the mere notion of narrative architecture is just empty. What is at stake is the “proto-content” of the story and dynamics of its unfolding. I put it into quotation marks because it is of course clear, we just mentioned it, that the content can’t be predefined. The visible story is always and only the mediation of the actual story. And that is going to be braided by people, citizens, active listeners. Architecture and town design just has to provide suitable settings.

Nigel Coates tries to identify such elements of city design that could support a different kind of story telling. Yet, Coates fails, not only because he does not develop a proper theory of urban story-telling, which would include some reference or even assimilation of cultural theory. He also is not aware of city theory, e.g. that of David Shane. Yet, intuitively he strongly refers to heterotopias, albeit just by example, not by concept. Coates’ work generally suffers from the case-study approach, even as he tries to get some grip onto the more abstract level. In his advanced theory Shane, identifies several types of heterotopias. The common denominator for those is, however, complexity, either as we introduced it, or in the way Koolhaas is celebrating it as Bigness. Coates is far from understanding any of those. He just points to Koolhaas.

It is crucial to understand that those three beyonds  fom a few paragraphs above are deeply incompatible with the metaphysical belief system of modernism, first of all the sacrosanct independence as a primary element. To put it in another way, these three beyonds are actualizations of a deeply a-modern attitude. This includes any kind of post-modernism as well! Yet, so far Koolhaas didn’t develop his own songlines explicitly that follow these particular issues.

Teaching Singapore

Many people, at least the more sensitive ones, get irritated when visiting Singapore for the first time. Despite it reminds to Western urban arrangements at first sight, it turns out to be quite different. Despite Western guys may recognize some or even many elements that contribute to urban arrangements, at second sight these elements turn out to be choreographed in a strikingly different manner, or to establish a choreography of its own. In terms of animate architecture we could say, Singapore behaves differently.  (Just remember that we conceive of behavior quite abstractly, not in terms of organisms!)

Of course, we should understand that these “despites” are just evoked by underlying disappointments of illusions, created by inappropriate projections. In the case of Singapore the illusion that may be easily triggered by the visual similarity to sceneries in Western cities, perhaps spurred by a certain expectation regarding the effect of globalization. In a sense, traveling with a A380 is not traveling any more. There is just a little movement to and from the airport, but the flight as such is like staying overnight at a weird hotel.

Anyway, what remains is that difference at the second sight. And this difference is a very strong one. By now it should be clear that the peculiarity of Singapore can’t be found on the surface, where empiricists could hope that counting frequencies of whatsoever could show us “directly” the representative differences. Even a latent state variable analysis wouldn’t reveal anything meaningful. This applies, of course, not only to the case of Singapore.

Yet, again, what are the metaphysical beliefs of Singaporeans? Of which achievements are Singaporeans proud of?

In order to understand Singapore, on the level of the individual as well as on the level of the whole state, we have to be clear where they come from. In a sense, Singapore repeats the typical European transformation from non-urban to urban structures, yet in an extremely condensed form, both in the spatial as well as in the temporal dimension. This renders mechanisms visible that otherwise are hidden by vast amounts of historical and contingent particulars. To put it in Foucaultian terms: How could we describe the field of proposals, the space of everything that Singapore could think, and how could we describe the fields of forces that are at the roots of its specific governmentality? Such questions are part of what we could call “Archaelogy of the Urban”.

As a state, Singapore was born by an act of segregation. Yet, it didn’t set apart itself, it has been cast out by Malaysia. The Malayan government enforced the founding of the state because it considered the conditions on the island of Singapore as highly pathological, indeed so bad that it was considered as being incurable. Well, the conditions indeed have been quite bad. In the case of Singapore, the state was born into a chaos. The formal political state was not even accompanied by any organizational structure, nor such a thing as political awareness among its factual inhabitants. From the perspective of the perinatal Singapore there wasn’t anything to build upon.

At that time, in the beginning of the 1960ies, a lot of Chinese people have been living on the island. This brought the structure of the family as a clan into the political reality of Singapore, where it still prevails today. Undeniably, it is a kind of feudalism, yet, it can’t be directly compared to the European form of feudalism. After all, members of the clan are related to each other.

Operationally, the initial mess had to be cleaned up, and this wouldn’t have been possible without a strong plan of almost a military precision. Without any doubt, the political system was Singapore, and probably still is, an oligarchy, establishing a political elite de facto. Yet, it is also clear that it is not a tyranny or a dictatorship. The “big families” feel a serious responsibility about the welfare of the whole state. The political system is probably best described as a technocratic paternalistic oligarchy, using a parliament for the purpose of limited mediation. (In some way, not so dissimilar to the course of development of the E.U.) Else, in Singapore, you won’t see as much video surveillance as you could in London, and the reason is not a lack of potential funding.

In a sense, the Singaporeans did an incredible job. It is the successful improvement of the conditions by actualizing an incredible culture of planning that contributes most to the self-esteem of Singapore. This culture is orchestrated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which spends a lot of efforts to inform the public about the result of the planning process, not however about the process of planning itself. The emblematic item of the Singaporean culture of planning is a continuous exhibition run by the URA. Below I show just a few images from this exhibition, which covers historical aspects as well as planning aspects.

Generally, the exhibition tries to smooth the history and align intentions, means and effects. Center of the exhibition is a large, representational model, approximately of the size 15mx6m, where one can find all built houses, and all planned houses.

Figure 1a: Partial view of the city model at U.R.A.’s continuous exhibition. In the foreground, you can see Marina Bay, which extends to Singapore River to the background and to the left. The blueish color of the indicated buildings (each model of a high-rise approx 15 cm tall) indicates “being planned” and contracted. The material of blue models is plastic foam.

Figure 1b: Marina Bay, now in wood indicating that it is being built or that it has has been built.

Figure 2a: Poster about the Master Plan 2008. You can see an enormous grade of details. It is indeed a plan, not an open program.

Figure 2b: Exhibiting proudness, the Singaporean way.

Really smart, one could think about such enduring success regarding the implementation of large scale plans. Yet, one also can feel that something under its hood leaves a trace of acid. so, what’s wrong with it? Deleuze frequently insisted on the distinction of reality vs. actuality and possibility vs. potential. Plans are already denoting the possible, everything that is possible (such as denoted by a plan) is already real. Hence, the poster above (Fig.2b) tries to feed on a contrast where actually is none. Deleuze also analyzed and described in detail the origin and the setup of such a misunderstanding, which according to him suffers from the representationalist fallacy (see our earlier discussion here). It is nothing else than a nice match and confirmation that he describes such thinking also as an instance of the “dogmatic image of thought”.

What the author of the poster most likely was referring to is what we described earlier as the existential. Yet, the existential defies any control, even to speak about it, which is quite the opposite to what “planning” refers to. The transduction and implementation of plans as something we then could experience as  something “external” may succeed only, and here we repeat ourselves, if the conditions of such an implementation are completely fixed. Plans could be implemented successfully only if there is no potential. Thus, exhibiting proudness about the successful implementation of plans may be well considered as nothing else than the embryo saying “I am”. The doubts appear much later.

Within a comparably very short time, and without externalized violence, i.e.  bloody revolutions and riots, they transformed their society from level zero into a wealthy third-sector society. Yet, Singapore feels strange for a Western visitor nowadays, as we already pointed out. The reason is that Singapore still behaves as if there would be chaos to fight against, as if there would be a serious lack regarding material supplies, as if Singapore still would fall behind developed countries regarding the economical figures. Employing the umbrella of sustainability (see the next figure below), the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority) readily declares the alternative to planning.

Figure 3: Beautiful new world. How much halves of the full story are appropriate?

why do we plan

Yet the declared alternative is at least incomplete, if not wrong, in two ways. Neither is it a necessity that the absence of planning results in bad conditions of industrialization (evolution and learning as alternatives), nor does a polished city mean that this city runs well-balanced on a larger scale (costs are likely to be externalized). In fact, solar energy is almost unknown in Singapore, and the “adoption process” has not even started. All electricity is generated by three power plants running on mineral oil.

Figure 4: Screen shot from the official website of the URA, where it is providing a lot of video and images for a virtual visit. The image below is showing the Clarke Quay at Singapore River mouth, near Marina Bay, which would follow right-hand. In this area you can find a lot of restaurants (Chinese, Japanese, French cuisine), where every aspect of them is choreographed. Hence, the whole arrangement does neither feel “native”, nor “smooth”.


William Gibson once mentioned that Singapore is like Disneyland with death penalty. This of course is a deeply misleading exaggeration. The grain of truth in it is the particular silliness due to the still rigorous adherence to the paradigm of planning. Singapore is not threatened by chaos, predatory capitalism, democratic trash or mis-understood materialism of the Marxian flavor. Singapore is threatened by blocking itself from giving birth to itself. Its silliness derives from its neoteny, which in this case is even kind of an embryoteny. Embryos claiming to be fully alive look silly, or troubling at least.

Nevertheless, we should be cautious in our valuation. As it is the case for embryos, we simply can’t apply any of the categories we are used to refer to when thinking about Western societies as Western enculturates. Note that this is not a question of Western vs. Asian though, as Koolhaas repeatedly mentions in his text.

The mystery of how […] the strategy of modern housing that failed in much more plausible conditions could suddenly “work” is left suspended between the assumption of greater authoritarianism and the inscrutable nature of the Asian mentality. (p.1037)

Koolhaas fails to recognize the particular setup of Singapore as an embryo. For grammatical reasons, his conclusions are thus inappropriate, despite his hermeneutical and thorough approach. Singapore is an urban embryo in Asia, its parents gifted it with a potentiality that is Asian, yet, Singapore itself can’t conceived as an Urban body so far. In a sense, it is not even Asian.

The example of Singapore demonstrates that for embryos the dimension of history does not exist at all. Melting and folding erases the possibility for history. Instead, the embryo “knows” only about the future. Even the presence is irrelevant to it. Embryonic morphogenesis means to live inside the plan. If you know that a particular structure is necessary for the next step, but also that this awaited next structure needs to be melt down afterwards again, well then you would start to speak about continuous renewal. Plans reduce the potential to the possible, their purpose being precisely to expel the unforeseeable. Koolhaas is therefore wrong when he repeatedly reproach Singaporean authorities for a certain violence or cruelty. If you live inside a plan, then there is no cruelty except the plan’s rationality, which however is not visible from within. Actually, the perspective from within a plan renders concepts like violence, rationality or moral freedom even meaningless. They could not even be debated within the life form of plans. Perhaps, here we meet the major argument against any close ties between politics and plans, whether in the form of “normal” bureaucracy or in the form of centralized governments.

Such, despite Koolhaas is certainly right to expose a certain “violence”, he definitely fails to find an appropriate category for it. Calling it some kind of “war” is probably not quite correct: War is an extreme form of politically organized externalized violence!

A regime like the one in power in Singapore is a radical movement: it has transformed the term urban renewal into the moral equivalent of war, […] (p. 1035)

[…] a perpetuum mobile where what is given is taken away in a convulsion of uprooting, a state of permanent disorientation. (p.1036)

All the new housing, accommodated in high-rises, close together, entirely devoid of the centrifugal vectors of modernism, obscuring both sky and horizon, precludes any notion of escape. In Singapore, each perspective is blocked by good intentions.  (p.1037)

How would an embryo “escape”? If it “escapes”, we call it birth. More significant, the “escape” of embryos is equivalent to a vary fundamental change of the life form. Not only relations change, even what could be called a relation changes during birth. For Singapore, it seems to me, the appropriate question could be how to initiate its birth?

The delicate situation of the planning authorities, probably of the whole city all together is described by a serious kind of impossibility. It would be the first embryo thinking about its own birth.

Well, today the URA established a rule that spectators should be enabled too get a glimpse to the sea each from high-rise building. (Of course, Koolhaas meant a different thing here… :)

Living inside a plan, likewise we could say that living as embryo creates a strange attitude towards the presence. Everything is known to be potentially replaced quite soon. So, why spend any efforts to make things beautiful? As beauty always means some kind of sustainably encoded luxury, it should be clear how it feels to be in Singapore, strolling around. For a Western soul it feels sterile, sharp, uncreative. I say this without any notion of reproach, of course. Nevertheless, it remains at least exciting to observe how Singapore will proceed to turn its paradigm of change from development to evolution. Sustainable adaptiveness is achievable only through the latter, and in a smart way only by overcoming evolution through a further turn towards virtuality and learning.

It is very important to understand that this current Singaporean paradigm of renewal has nothing to do with an open evolution. Precisely here we find the suture for intensive conflict. Unfortunately, Singapore apparently didn’t recognize the necessity for proceeding towards a more open style of development. What the SG authorities try nowadays is to plan leisure and the play, i.e. the playfulness of its citizens, which indeed sounds somewhat perverse. You can’t issue commands like “Play!”, “Be creative!”, “Develop tolerable sub-culture!” Nevertheless, this is exactly what the Singaporean government apparently is heading for.

It is a period of transition, revision, marginal adjustments, “New Orientations”; after “urbanization” comes “leisurization.”  “Singaporeans now aspire to the finer things in life to the arts, culture, and sports …”

The recent creation of a Ministry for Information and the Arts is indicative. As Yeo, its minister, warns, “It may seem odd, but we have to pursue the subject of fun very seriously if we want to stay competitive in the 21st century …” (p.1077)

Not recognizing the embryonic form of life Koolhaas was tempted into a further mistake. It is plainly wrong to call Singapore a semiotic state.

Singapore is perhaps the first semiotic state, a Barthian slate, a clean synthetic surface, a field at once active and neutralized where political themes or minimal semantic particles can be launched and withdrawn, tested like weather balloons. (p.1039)

Embryos need anything but open interpretation. Koolhaas would even be wrong if he would apply the (open) Peircean concept of the sign (he obviously sticks to the mechanistic and closed Saussurean model). Yet, Roland Barthes himself preferred the Peircean conception. Additionally, Koolhaas seriously misunderstands semiotics, as it has been made available for architecture e.g. by Venturi. In 1995, Koolhaas was still following the common modernist misconception regarding semantics, namely that semantics and thus meaning could be determined apriori. Semantic particles can’t be launched simply because they don’t exist (they are impossible). In fact, the city of Singapore lacks semiotic anchor points almost completely (so far at least), except perhaps the exaggerated tourismic choreographies around Marina Bay, not quite surprising due to the same misunderstanding. The semiotics of a city depends on its history, as it is impossible to introduce a symbolic value by declaration. Yet, living inside the plan, such a history is impossible. Trying to enforce the presence of history—which is nothing else than to pretend it—results just in more silly artificiality—regarding the Western setup. Yet, if we compare it to things like the “historical district” in San Diego, Singapore may not be that far off.

SingaPure Conclusions

Given the unique conditions that we can find in Singapore, or as Singapore, it is not really a surprise to find two highly renowned technical universities engaged in large projects. The Boston MIT and the Zurich ETH run “laboratories” in Singapore. The total budget spent in the 5-year period since 2010 well exceeds 400 mio. $, shared between Singapore and the universities. Of course, both parties address technical questions almost exclusively, attracting reductionist practitioners of all sorts (For most of them “complexity” is an offense). It has been proven difficult to bring in a more cultural perspective. Encouragingly, or should we say ironically, the Swiss fraction is housed in a building called the “Create Tower”.

Singapore is indeed a laboratory, .though a very special one. Yet, like in an experiment conducted in material science, the basic setup is known. No new natural laws are to be expected7, the main target being optimization of the embedding system. In such an experiment, you know how to set it up in advance. Hopefully, the Future Cities Laboratory, as the Swiss branch is called, will recognize the subtle complexity of that naming. Hopefully, Singapore will not serve as a template for other cities. Yet, just his seems to happen in China.

The main lesson we can learn from Singaporean Songlines is what it means to become embryonic. Without the implemented example we simply would not know. It  would not be possible to set up a theory about change, particularly not about change with respect to the Urban. In turn we may say that the actual Gestalt of the Urban—as a concept and as a Life Form—is highly dependent on the way one actualizes the concept of change. Thinking change means thinking time. And this is definitely different all around the Asian cultures as compared to the Western concept.

In our summary we claimed that everything in Singapore starts making sense only before the background of its embryonic condition. .This may easily be generalized into a generally applicable principle: Nothing regarding the Urban Makes Sense Except in the Light of the Orchestration of Change.8

Of course, everything always changes. Yet, we deliberately emphasize its orchestration as the important aspect. Cities that are not aware of that, instead just reacting on a daily basis to the never ending challenges without any reflection about the conditions for these actions and reactions, can hardly maintain the quality of the Urban. Such, the Orchestration of Change provides the transcendental conditions for the particular quality of the Form of Life that establishes in a certain city, maybe even as the Urban. Thus, it is clear that mere size is only a secondary condition for the appearance of the Urban. (For instance, Munich has been dubbed as a “large village” by Karl Krauss in the 1920ies, and it is quite likely that he would label it the same today.)

The perspective expressed above includes, of course, the conceptualization as well as the socio-political instantiation of change, the former implying the choreosteme, the latter all the (usually) highly complex mechanism associated with it. We have argued that change always implies embryonic, evolutionary and learning aspects (all in its abstract form). In the opposite direction we could say that any process of change or differentiation can be situated in the aspectional space spanned by these three aspect. Such we can sharpen the perspective onto differentiation that we have been developing earlier, in our essay about growth, where we distinguished different modes of growth. Now, we are able to transpose the “observation of growth” into the abstract, which allows us to derive a general approach to change. A very brief remark should be allowed here saying that this aspectional space conveys precisely the attitude of the late Putnam regarding essences or prototypes. They simply do not exist for him outside the collective process of settling down at a particular configuration (which then is considered as being an “essence”). (cf. [7])

With regard to the Urban this is particularly interesting for shrinking cities or neighborhoods. Gaps and local meltdowns in urban assets are anything but defects or pathological. Shrinking processes do not provide any reason to become desperate. Yet, they definitely deserve a vision, a long-term perspective, even if it won’t be implemented as rigorously as it is done in Singapore.

Singapore demonstrates what it means to “become positive”. The embryo is wholeheartedly positive. It is a punch to representational negativity, blaming the Western flavor of urbanism that got infected by it. Koolhaas was aware of this (“What ever happened to Urbanism?”), yet at that time without being able to point towards a possible release of this deadlock.

Our amalgamated wisdom can be easily caricatured: according to Derrida we cannot be Whole, according to Baudrillard we cannot be Real, according to Virilio we cannot be There.

Of course, the actual issue with all of those three guys is that they are caricatures of themselves. Trying to reason about the whole and its actuality as romanticist hyper-modernists is a contradictio in adiecto. Methodological stupidity. It is stupid (or childish) to believe—as modernists actually do—in metaphysical independence of everything, thus splitting everything into metaphysical and empirical dust, and then at the same time tying to pretend to say anything about the imagined whole, which even worse is often assumed to be out there as such. Yet, the positivism of Singapore is just following the negative of this negativity, because it takes the positive itself again representational. There is no free choice in a plan. If it would, it would not be a plan anymore. The metaphysical setup of Singapore is characterized by the belief in transcendental identity as the primary element, shaped by the historic need for rigorous planning. We already have been discussing several times the problem with concepts that are based on the principle of identity. Yet, in an engineered city it matches the general habit.

Both together, planning within the paradigm of identity, resulted in the city-state’s embryonic character. The abstract embryo is the only being that could claim identity, since it is the only being that also could claim being a solipsist. As it is typical for embryos, the Singaporean model is possible only on this apriori spatially restricted island of 600 square kilometers (a bit more than the Lake of Constance in the middle of Europe). Indeed, it could prove quite hard to adopt a more relational attitude.

No wonder Singapore attracts engineers and reductionist urbanists. By no means Singapore could be considered a “model” city in the sense that one could transfer “experiences” to other cases. (Except similarly brutal cases of city planning in China.) Time will reveal whether Singapore once will develop into a model case. For that, however, it must find some way to get born.

Regarding Koolhaas and his Singapore Songlines, we have seen that he was not able to depart far enough from his own modernist setup. Despite he is able to observe that…

Singapore is incredibly “Western” for an Asian city, […]. This perception is a Eurocentric misreading. The “Western” is no longer our exclusive domain. (p.1013)

…he is not able to develop an appropriate perspective to the change model that is implemented in Singapore. Neither the assignment of ugliness nor that of absurdity actually makes sense. Who would say that embryos are ugly? Or chaotic? Or a Potemkinic entity?

It is managed by a regime that has excluded accident and randomness: even its nature is entirely remade. It is pure intention: if there is chaos, it is authored chaos; if it is ugly, it is designed ugliness; if it is absurd, it is willed absurdity. Singapore represents a unique ecology of the contemporary. (p.1011)

The problem of Singapore, its problematic field, is provoked by its addiction to embryonism. In order to avoid an increase of the intensity of violence there is no other possibility than to transform the centralized, representationalist embryonism into its probabilized version, a steady, multiplied and manifold nativity on the level of the individual or small social groups. I am (not so) sure that they will find a plan how to accomplish this….


.1. This distinction between the material and immaterial is a secondary distinction. Previously, in the essay about behavior, we argued that this distinction is due to the existential fallacy. That distinction implicitly assumes that we could speak about the material in its or as an existence before any perception, any language and any conceptual work. This of course is not possible. Distinguishing between the material and the immaterial pretends a problematics, yet it only gets trapped by a misunderstanding.
Thus, this distinction should be regarded as a coarse approximation only. 

.2. As always, we use the capital “U” if we refer to the urban as a particular quality and as a concept (particularly the one we are developing in this series), in order to distinguish it from the ordinary adjective, and additionally to avoid any reference to any kind of “-ism”. 

.3. For discussion of Simendon’s individuation see Bühlmann [3] who discussed him with respect to mediality; also see Kenneth Dean [4] who refers to him in a concise way: “Gilbert Simendon ( 1989; 1992) has analysed the process of individuation of living organisms, individuals, and social collectives. He argues that an individual is generated out of a complex metastable field of preindividual forces, potential forms, and possible coalescences of matter. The moment of individuation is determinative in physical processes, such as in the formation of a crystal. Even after attaining the consistency of energy, form, and matter that constitutes a crystal, the crystal continues to interact with its milieu, in order to maintain its consistency. In the case of living organisms, the realm of virtuosity Simendon refers to as the preindividual is carried along throughout the living being’s lifetime of continuous individuation. Thus, attaining a particular identity is only one, and but a temporary, aspect of a continuous interaction with the milieu, and a continuous process of individuation drawing upon the virtual, or preindividual, realm. Many of the forces that move through a living being undergoing these processes may be described as transindividual. This is particularly the case with regard to the establishment of an individual identity vis-a-vis a social collective.” (p.31). 

.4. Note that Koolhaas didn’t conceive those texts as a trilogy by himself, at least as far as I know. Rather, putting these texts into a close neighborhood is due to our interpretation.

.5. The Decamerone is commonly regarded as the first instance of the novel, (it. novella), indeed a novel thing, usually about novel stories, though the same stories have been told innumerable ways before.

.6. We introduced “resistance of the existential” as an accidens of corporeality. There is always something about the material arrangement that we can’t speak of, as any speaking or thinking already refers to modeling, or more precisely, to the choreosteme. Yet, despite we can infer any outside and its materiality only indirectly, we are faced with it. Saying this we also have to emphasize that materiality is not limited to the outside (of the mind, or the choreosteme), since symbols always acquire a quasi-materiality.

.7. Unless the experimentator does not just play around, as it happened in case of the discovery of ceramic high-temperature super conductivity by Bednorz and Müller in 1986. Accordingly, there is still no theory that explains the physical phenomenon of high-temperature super conductivity.

.8. This is a mirror of Dobzhansky’s famous “principle” for biology as a science. He mentioned that “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution”, American Biology Teacher vol. 35 (March 1973)


  • [1] Rem Koolhaas (1995), Singapore Songlines – Portrait of a Potemkin Metropolis …or Thirty Years of Tabula Rasa.  In: O.M.A., Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S,M,X,XL. Crown Publishing Group, 1997. p.1009-1089.
  • [2] O.M.A., Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S,M,X,XL. Crown Publishing Group, 1997.
  • [3] Vera Bühlmann. Inhabiting media. Thesis University of Basel (CH) 2009.
  • [4] Kenneth Dean, Lord of the Three in One: The Spread of a Cult in Southeast China. Princeton University Press, Princeton 1998.
  • [5] Robert Musil, The Man without Qualities.
  • [6] Nigel Coates, Narrative Architecture: Architectural Design Primers series Wiley, London 2012.
  • [7] Ian Hacking (2007), Putnam’s Theory of natural Kinds and their Names is not the Same as Kripke’s. Principia, 11(1) (2007), pp. 1–24.


Urban Reason II: Scopes & Scapes

September 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

Architecture is strongly based on models.

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

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

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

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

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

This Essay

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

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

The Scope of Current Approaches to Theory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Departure to Urban Reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaching the Critique of Urban Reason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion and Outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



September 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Animals behave. Of course, one could say.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. This Essay

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

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

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

The chapters in this essay are the following:

Table of Content (active links)

2. The Inversion

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. The Targets

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

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

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

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

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

4. Methodology

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

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

Markov Processes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Computers Dealing with Text

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

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

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

Fault 1 : Objectivation

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

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

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

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

Fault 2 : Thinking in Frequencies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fault 4 : Structure as Meaning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fault 5 : Grouping, Modeling and Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. The Statistics of Urban Environments

The Importance of Conceptual Backgrounds

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space Syntax

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. The Toolbox Perspective

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

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

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

8. Behavior

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Urban

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urban Text, Text and Urbanity, Textuality and Performance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9. The Behavioral Turn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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