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 , Herzog & deMeuron are convinced  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 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”
- 2. Clearance for Take-Off
- 3. Schemata of a Critique of Urban Reason
- 4. The Core
- 5. Metaphysics
- 6. Dropping the Spheres
- 7. Revisiting the Core
- 8. Tokens, Types
- 9. The Application Perspective
- 10. Urban Strings
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 , 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  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 , 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 . 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 , provided as a collection of interviews and reviews .
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.”  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 .
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 . 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  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 . 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” . 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. 
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”, 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.  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.
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 , together with the cosmology of the sphere . 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 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. ). 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.
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)
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
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
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
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 ) thru economics to architecture (Lorenzo-Hemmer ).
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.
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 . 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”  is more abstract and thus more general than Mayne’s “Combinatory urbanism” . 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).
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,”  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 , 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. ( 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 :
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  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  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 (, 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.“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 :
“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.
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”.
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.
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.
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. ). 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.
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.
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.
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 , A Thousand Plateaus , and Logic of Sense .
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 ; 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 , 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.
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?
-  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.
-  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.
-  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.
-  Thomas S. Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. 1962.
-  John R. Searle, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1969.
-  O.M.A., Rem Koolhaas and Bruce Mau, S,M,X,XL. Crown Publishing Group, 1997.
-  Kisho Kurokawa, From Metabolism to Symbiosis. John Wiley 1992.
-  Rem Koolhaas & Hans Ulrich Obrist. Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. Taschen, Berlin 2011.
-  Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.
-  Rem Koolhaas (2002). Junkspace. October, Vol. 100, “Obsolescence”, pp. 175-190. MIT Press. available here
-  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.
-  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.
-  John McDowell, Mind and World. 1996. pp.25.
-  Gilles Deleuze, Félix Guattari, What is Philosophy?
-  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.
-  K. Wassermann, That Centre-Point Thing. The Theory Model in Model Theory. In: Vera Bühlmann, Printed Physics, Springer New York 2012, forthcoming.
-  Peter Sloterdijk, Sphären I-III. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1998-2004.
-  Gilles Deleuze, Difference & Repetition.
-  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus.
-  Gilles Deleuze, Logic of Sense.
-  Uwe Wirth (Hrsg.), Performanz. Zwischen Sprachphilosophie und Kulturwissenschaft. Suhrkamp, Frankfurt/M. 2002.
-  Charles Jencks, The Architecture of the Jumping Universe. Wiley-Academy 2001.
-  Website of the Fermi-Lab: http://home.fnal.gov/~carrigan/pillars/Quarks.htm ; http://www.fnal.gov/pub/inquiring/matter/madeof/index.html.
-  World Commission on Environment and Development (1987), Our Comm on Future (1987), page 24, para 27.
-  World Summit on Social Development (1995), Copenhagen Declaration on Social Development, page 5.
-  World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002), Plan of Implementation, page 8.
-  Wilhelm Vossenkuhl, Die Möglichkeit des Guten. Hanser, München 2006.
-  Robert Rosen, Life Itself: A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature, Origin, and Fabrication of Life, Columbia University Press 1991.
-  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.
-  David G. Shane, Recombinant Urbanism. 2005.
-  Thom Mayne, Combinatory urbanism: The Complex Behavior of Collective Form. 2011.
-  Jean Christoph de Reviere; Marion Milne (directors), Les temps changent, F/CDN 2008;
-  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.
-  Barbara Nolte, „Unser westlicher Blick liefert Zerrbilder“, Interview mit Rem Koolhaas, 12.02.2012 in: Der Tagesspiegel (Berlin). available online.
-  Kiyonori Kikutake et al. Preface, Metabolism: Proposals for New Urbanism. Tokyo 1960.
-  Jennifer Johung, Replacing Home: From Primordial Hut to Digital Network in Contemporary Art. Minnesota University Press, Minneapolis 2012.
-  Zhongjie Lin, Kenzo Tange and the Metabolist Movement: Urban Utopias of Modern Japan. Routledge, New York 2010.
-  Ulrike Knöfel und Marianne Wellershoff (2001). „Eine der besten Erfindungen“, Interview mit Rem Koolhaas, 15.10.2001, in: DER SPIEGEL 42/2001, available online.
-  Rem Koolhaas (2003). Editorial, The New World. 30 Spaces for the 21st Century. wired, Issue 11.06 | June 2003. available online.
-  Vera Bühlmann, inhabiting media. Thesis, Basel 2009.
September 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
Rem Koolhaas is not an architect. Neither could he be regarded.
as an urbanist. Well, in some way it is undeniable that he is engaged in architecture or the design and arrangement of urban environments. So it seems that he sometimes behaves as architects or urbanists do. Yet, there is something more about his way.
Koolhaas is a story-teller. As a good story-teller he also is a great listener. Koolhaas is treating builts and buildings in a very special way. Not as built matter, but rather as a story. Story-telling always means, and so also in the case of Koolhaas, to weave a particular fabric. The specialty of the fabric established through the story is the densification of potentiality that appears in the course of telling a story and listening to it. As the fabric, the story starts with a series, a thin thread, recurring to almost the same place after it has been departing to almost the same distant.
A story differs in precise way from a “normal” text. Alike, story-telling is not presenting. By means of the story one does not try to say something particular. One does not try to say. Quite in contrast, stories play with the potentiality to do some magic with the particulars. Particulars are much like the facts after we have fixed them, after we have stopped talking about and playing with them (The same holds for universals.) The story makes them vanish at some point and re-appear at another point. Even the point here is a deliberate, that is a designed illusion. Magic is best if words and acts amalgamate, denying such the importance they pretend. Think of Shakespeare and his plays.
Stories are not bound to particular media. We can create it as a novel, as a play in the theater, as a “tele novela”, as a movie, but also as the unfolding of possible events in a building or the arrangement of potentiality in urban builts. As a play with potentiality, the story is not even bound to a particular form. We could tell the same story in very different ways, yet, it is impossible to tell the same story as an exact copy a second time. Story-telling results in a deep alignment between the story-teller and the story-listeners. And between the listeners. And between the stories. Stories never come as a single one, as a particular. These alignments remain established only as long as it is not spoken about. If there is any methodology Koolhaas follows at all we may say that he aligns stories and aligns through stories.
Stories don’t actualize a particular function as well, of course. Telling a story means to play with them as magicians do. Letting them appear and vanish, not only at will, but also for one’s delight. It is in this secondary plane of the stories’ immanence where the notion of an object or materiality becomes meaningful at all. Just by the power of the story to let them appear, to make them created, to make them vanish. The story is a transfer of power while there is neither a clear origin nor an identifiable goal of this transfer.
The story tells something that neither can be spoken about nor what could be demonstrated. Story-telling is not explication, but implication. It is not just unfolding. It transcends unfolding by wrapping it into the fabric it creates. The format of the story is the only adequate response to entities that are autonomous. Behaving entities, in other words. We discussed the issue of behavior with regard to text and the urban last time.
Koolhaas the story-teller. Only as a story-teller you can invent. Skyscraper that do not scrape the (physical) skies, for instance, but rather the way of story-telling (CCTV). The skyscraper as a loop. Taken as a particular, that’s just pure craziness, a collapse of categories. Taken as a story, e.g. about the fact that the alignment by a story always comes as loop, it easily appears as a reasonable consequence.
Figure 1: Closing the Loop as story-telling by building a building that is used to produce story-telling (TV).
Figure 2: Approaching the Loop. Rendering for the Science Center Hamburg. The building as metaphor: Science is the story of telling a story about doing it over and over again. Though the loop is not a smooth one.
Without stories there is only habit, and here I mean a blind collective habit, swarms, the fashion of the neurons. Only as a story-teller you can transcend matter, the built, the particular, the structure and the grammar. Only by means of stories new materiality is created, usually first in the realm of the symbolic, as or by new symbols. In the beginning there is the story. Without stories, the world is full of necessities and givens, the world would be even almost synonymical to those. Without them there would be reality only (which fortunately is not possible), but no potential. Stories and necessities are mutually exclusive. I prefer the story. It is the story, and only the story, that opens the future, creates potential relationality that establishes culture as the Conditional II, III, IV …
Koolhaas the cross-medialist, who happens to tell stories by building and buildings. Humans can’t be without stories, of course. Even if not explicitly told, any social alignment brings it to the surface, at least implicitly. Even if there is no story at first place, it will invade the dead claim of the given, like the plants, the animals, small and large, the relations, close and distant, like the succession of an ecosystem on a blanked piece of rock. Stories are invasive. Koolhaas is invasive, patiently.
Of course there are rules, particular structural elements, weights and preferences. Such like the box, the ramp, the script, the surprise, the opening and the closing (e.g. of perspectives and views), the pattern in the fabric, the randolation. These rules are completely irrelevant as particular, despite they are necessary. Stories play also with the rules. Koolhaas developed his use of boxes, boxes in the box, vanishing of the boxed boxes, the block as the ultra-box, the entity of the antithetic box (the ramp), the box as module and as figure, the dematerialization of the box (the script), the re-materialization of the box as behavior, into his way of story-telling and building, just to put all this something into the box again (The Dutch embassy), yet without refraining to demonstrate that the box is a box only if there is something other, the non-box. In one word, story-telling.
Figure 3a: The story about the evolution of the Box: The Box and its Surround. Note that the wall-like surround is a building of the embassy, too, containing flats for the personnel of the embassy. It is an essential pat of the whole arrangement, providing the space for cube to be perceived as a cube. Metaphorically, and such extending the story-telling, Koolhaas refers here to the ex-territorial nature of embassies.
Figure 3b: The Box that denies to be a Box. What you see here is the main functional element of the embassy, the room for diplomatic meetings. Providing a function as the purpose of the building that is outside of it and its boxedness. Of course, this not architecture, but rather story-telling.
Figure 3c: The Box and its incorporated anti-thesis (the ramp). Some years before turning fully into an architectural embryologist (Porto, see figure 4 below), Koolhaas employed the principle of creating space by melting for the first time. At that time, the ramp was already a well-established element in Koolhaas’ toolbox (see the Seattle Public Library for its mastering). The result is a simple external shape and a rich and dynamic interior structure, much like in an animal organism, but quite different from plants or even crystals (see this for different models of growth).
Figure 3d: The script as the Ariadne thread of Architecture. Where others talk about the “program” to be fulfilled by the building and try to optimize it by means of computers (e.g. Kees Christianse in Zurich near the main station), leading almost necessarily, i.e. grammatically to logically “structured” ugliness, Koolhaas refers to scripts and stories, such creating a multi-leveled and above all open coherence and consistency. Which way do you prefer?
Story-telling is weaving of potentiality and weaving with potentiality. Story-telling is aterritorial, non-geological. Nothing could be more different from story-telling than geology. (Just think of Libeskind’s or Eisenman’s titanic geomorphisms, thrown rocks [Aronoff Center, Victoria and Albert Museum], canyons made from concrete [Jewish Museum in Berlin].) As story-telling materializes particular relations it also implies the randolation. Koolhaas the String theorist. He plays a special kind of music on strings without ends. He even manages to organize whole populations of those strings and their tones, sometimes at least. As a musician-urbanist, Koolhaas belongs to the rare species of builders that are completely aware of time. He not only doesn’t try to expel it from the city, to make the city timeless, as all the modernists are trying. As a story-teller he plays with time, he creates Eigen-times, sheafs of times, planes of time, he uses choreographing deriving as a kind of applied embryology (Casa da Musica, Porto), when he melts the space out of the block, as it happens with organisms before their nativity. By that, Koolhaas is aware of time as a tool for building, not just a parameter of a formula addressing change. He also employs a concept of morphological differentiation and growth far ahead of any of his colleagues. Koolhaas, the accoucheur. Or the breeder. The pander. In “Mars attacks” the journalist asked: Do they have two sexes?”
Figure 4: Traces of Time. Koolhaas at the final demonstration of his concept for the Casa da Musica (Porto). You can see his showing of the removal of inner space, reminding strongly to the embryological principle of establishing form and space through melting tissue generating implicitly structured space, rather than by enclosing space through explicit enclosure. This way time is established as the historicity of constraints during development, quite in contrast to the time-inert procedure of enclosing.
Koolhaas is pretty conscious about what he is doing. That’s certainly not true for many other architects. They could not be regarded as story-tellers. They are commas. Like a rule itself. Even if there is pretentious wording around. Else, story-telling is never deconstructivist. Derrida tried to tell a story without telling a story, by denying it. Not quite reasonable, I guess, except if you are addicted to the ancient Egyptian underworld of shadows (as Derrida was). Stories are purely positive, yet without being positivist. Denying story-telling and by the same time pretending to do it causes a downward spiral. It leads you to the point zero on the scale of human affairs, geology, physics, and titans. Consequently, Eisenman and Libeskind, and even Gehry, arrived just there, in praising the titanic geosphere. (With that mind set, they should design oil drilling platforms instead)
Thus, either all those architects are not architects at all (which is a view difficult to hold), or Koolhaas is not an architect. Here we could say, q.e.d., but that’s a different story.
Well, probably that came a bit too strong now. For it is not possible for human activities to separate story from non-story. We are language-beings, down to the last quantum. First, we all take part in the unfolding of culture, which establishes kind of a (big) story and consists of many, many smaller and tiny stories. Second, we can’t step out into a zone free of language. Third, language always triggers what can be conceived as the differential locutionarity that comes with the use of language. The concept of locutionarity has been introduced by Austin with regard to the different perspectives and scopes that we can observe and employ in language. The distinction he made is straightforward: We say something as an almost physical performance, we say what we think is and what we want, we say something for strategic reasons. These three dimensions have been described by Austin in his Speech Act Theory as locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary. .Yet, concerning story telling there is a further level. Perhaps we could call it the delocutionary aspect and this aspect is the playing with the other indeed serious levels, playfully challenging their seriousness. It is here, and only here, where culture becomes pleasant.
A similar distinction could be made for architecture. It is quite obvious that any architecture below the delocutionary aspect can easily be reduced to cause and effect, to necessities, amenable to analytic reasoning. Fortunately the world is not like that, neither in language, nor in architecture. Or should I say: hopefully? I can’t follow this trail of the possibility of “architectural acts” further here. Yet, the point should have become a bit more clear.
Koolhaas mingles texting and building, text and built. Like a chef de cuisine Koolhaas knows the procedures for creating a runaway mediatization, a self-sustaining, if not self-accelerating explosion of interpretations. A good story defies the single interpretation, the function, the strategy, the territory. It sweeps away the claim of the apriori necessary. It not only carries you to unknown shores, it even creates new currents in every moment. To be more precise here, it is not the story that causes this. It is more appropriate to say that the story is created anew in each and any moment, in statu nascendi, if the “well-formed” series (requires an author!) and networks of symbols and references invades your mind as an listener and interpreter. Many things happen through such encounters. Even a short list would distrack us here. The point is: Some pieces (stories) evoke more, taking the step into sustained imagination, others less, being kept in a static factualism that could not count as a story, perhaps as a report, at most, and some close to nil, stumbling babbling. Yet, the example of Singapore demonstrates that things are more complicated than it might appear, for the whole culture could be devoted to plans and development instead of imagination and evolution.
Koolhaas created a trilogy of texts that form their own story: The Generic City (the script), Junkspace (the play), and Singapore Songlines (the music). It is often said that The Generic City is about the city. Nothing could be more wrong than that. It would be as if one would say that the movie by Godard is about the movement of the actors, or even of the celluloid. In an interview Godard once said that he is not making movies. He pretended not to be interested in movies as such. His interest is the shaping of time. The Generic City is a story that performatively explores the story that unfolds if we conceive a movie script that could be thought to create a city. Of course, there is something generic about it, yet there is nothing about the generics of cityness, isn’t it? I suppose it is due to the gap established by the different mediality that prevents to take The Generic City as a piece about architecture, at least no more so than Blade Runner is, or Playtime (J.Tati).
It is often said the Junkspace is a (desperate) critique of the outcome of the work of swarm architects. Well, this perspective is not completely out of the world. Though it is probably more reasonable to take it (the written piece) as a staged play. Remember, there are no sentences, no paragraphs, no enumerations, no structure, no analytics. There are just waves of words. Where these waves densify, the junk becomes a medium. In Junkspace, Koolhaas explores—and struggles with—the mediality of concertant activity. Of words, of swarm architects.
Koolhaas is not an architect. And architecture is not about form. To say so, would be much like to conflate literature science as literature. Or to take Shakespeare as a person capable of writing. Or Umberto Eco as funky professor of semiotics. (The trace of semiotics we didn’t explore here, despite we could have done so.)
Of course, there is structure, of course form is important, of course there is a grammatology. But all this is not about what architecture and the urban is about. The question then is, what is the about of the city? One part of the aboutness of the city is clearly performance, and by this I do not refer to the durability of materials, as architects usually are going to interpret this term. Performance is about situating one’s own body, one could add, as part of a delicately urban story.
Figure 4a: Performance as a response to the question of the “Situated Body”, or how to situated the body in the city. Heinrich Lueber near the Paradeplatz, Bahnhofstrasse Zurich, Switzerland (2005?). Space is where bodies can relate. Relations are inevitable, even if bodies get fixed. The categorical borders to buildings blur.
Figure 4b: Yves Klein, Leap into the Void (1960). Space is where nothingness is. Despite being avantgarde, and in contrast to Lueber, Klein remains modernist as he just transposes the claim of modernism for metaphysical independence.
Performance challenges what we have called before the existential resistance of things and (situative) arrangements. Of course, the body and its image, our model about the body are rather significant for the outcome of this challenge. The other part concerns talking about that performance. Understanding this talking about implies to think about the coming along, or a bit more clearly, to think about the conditions of this talking about. This will be the subject of the second part about Urban Reason (and the story behind it).
In his more recent works Koolhaas undeniably is approaching the field of differentiation. Unlike other architects, he employs a strictly non-analytical way of creating structure, one that strongly reminds to the differentiation processes in embryos. The resulting emphasis of rich internal structure, where each of the contained sites and locations is unique, results in a much more animal-like characteristics than it is the case for any other architectural designer. This introduces behavior as an important immaterial component of buildings, and explicitly so. it is of a major significance that this creates the context for Koolhaas’ story telling. In, or by, a crystalline building, from Seagram to Eastern Berlin, even in a fractal one, you can’t tell any story, simply because the immaterial make-up does not allow to do so in these cases. As a matter of fact, Koolhaas has been fascinated by internal differentiation and the resulting structures even before he’d built any building at all, as everyone can read in his Delirious New York.
Recently, this tendency to explore the issue of differentiation strengthened again when he published his “Project Japan”  together with Hans-Ulrich Obrist. This book is a collection of interviews with all the still alive propagators of the Metabolism movement. Metabolism deliberately turned away from the machine perspective, stressing the adaptivity of buildings (and partially also of cities), which should be achieved through an imitation of animal life cycles, i.e. through adaptation of the principles of birth and growth. Here, we just want to note that Metabolism took a rather simple stance towards the issue of differentiation. It does not satisfy any advanced theoretical intentions. Nevertheless it represents an important starting point. And as we just mentioned, it is highly significant, and supportive for our perspective here, that Koolhaas brought these ideas to the fore, and with it the topic of differentiation.
Koolhaas certainly and confidently departed from those positions he explored (and criticized so much) in his trilogy of the mid-1990ies (Generic City, Junkspace, Singapore Songlines). In some way he practically demonstrated the future directions of theory in architecture (and urbanism, if you still want to separate those). Yet, it would be a mistake to conceive his answer to the above mentioned theoretical explorations, particularly given by Casa da Musica and the Dutch Embassy, as inconsistent or contradictory. Those texts remain fully valid, quite in contrast to the suggestions of Jacques Herzog in his “How Do Cities Differ?”  Herzog eagerly writes:
The Ideal City abdicated ages ago, as have Aldo Rossi’s Rational City, Rem Koolhaas’s Generic City and Venturi’s Strip. Not to mention Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse. All of these attempts to describe the city, to comprehend and reinvent it, were both necessary and useful. But today they leave us cold. Like water under the bridge, they no longer concern us. We cannot relate to them because they refer to a world that is no longer ours. The time has come to relinquish our longing for labels, to abandon manifestos and theories. They don’ t hit the mark; they simply brand the author for life. There are no theories of cities; there are only cities.
In this text, Herzog and his partner deMeuron stress the point that cities have a body, a corporeality. Cities can be, after, all vulnerated, injured or even destroyed. HdM do not follow the infamous (ridiculous?) approach of so-called emergency design. Yet, HdM are nevertheless wrong in several aspects, particularly in his overt dismissal of theory. Theory is inevitable, even for amoebas. In a previous essay we spent some space on the role of theory. Astonishingly, shortly after this dismissal the office run by Herzog and deMeuron published a space atlas for Switzerland, depicting their suggestions for a better planning in the whole country. How would one do that without theory? In the same way as in Singapore? Not so astonishingly thus is the almost dictatorial attitude they employ in this atlas.
Both, Koolhaas and Herzog & deMeuron discover the importance of corporeality, the individual materiality of the city, bundling, comprising and compressing all the historical contingency and continuity. The answers, however, that they gave could not be more different. HdM got deeply stuck in a pseudo-paradoxon:
Urban development today does not begin with Barthes’ punctum and it does not seek the most worthwhile targets; it occurs wherever a plot of land happens to be or become available. Yet the Twin Towers affect every city and their destruction affects urban dwellers everywhere. Terrorists see in them the destruction of a symbol; urban dwellers see in them a massive attack on their neighborhoods and their homes. The specific, the unique, that which distinguishes us from others, the indestructible: all these have become vulnerable, and so we have to protect ourselves. Time and again. But how? The best protection would be to aspire to “indistinguishability,” the “Indistinguishable City.” And that is the greatest illusion of all.
I just would like to remember that the “indistinguishability” may be conceived as the holy grail of modernists. Without theory, one inevitably gets drowned in factuality, one get totally disabled to see any immaterial effect of design, the associativity of material arrangements, where we find upstream and downstream effects. No wonder he denies the importance of Barthes and his semiotics. Herzog even moves the symbolic from everyday life to the side of the aggressor, which is almost a scandalous denunciation. The poor guy seems to think that neighborhoods and homes are without symbols, without symbolicity. Indeed a poor guy. A complaining modernist. Condemned to blind actions, sticking to the arbitrariness of the physical (“…wherever a plot of land happens become available.”). Obviously, HdM do not know about Immanuel Kant’s insight: “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind” 
Well, as we mentioned before, the contrast to the animate building(s) of Koolhaas could not be greater. With his theoretical and practical explorations of the topos of differentiation Koolhaas left them far behind. We will return to this topos of differentiation in the next pieces, since it is by no means a trivial one. Above all, it is a crucial yet so far completely neglected element for any concept of sustainability of urban environments. Honestly, how could sustainability be thought of at all without a proper concept of differentiation? Hence, Koolhaas’ contribution to this problematic area is drastically undervalued as well.
-  Jacques Herzog, How do Cities differ? Introductory text to the course of study on the cities of Naples – Paris – The Canary Islands – Nairobi at the ETH Studio Basel – Contemporary City Institute. In: Gerhard Mack (Ed.). Herzog & de Meuron 1997-2001. The Complete Works. Volume 4. Basel / Boston / Berlin, Birkhäuser, 2008. Vol. No. 4. pp. 241-244.First published in: Jacques Herzog: Terror sin Teoría. Ante la ‘Ciudad indiferente’. In: Luis Fernández-Galiano (Ed.). Arquitectura Viva. Herzog & de Meuron, del Natural. Vol. No. 91, Madrid, Arquitectura Viva, 07.2003. p. 128. available online.
-  Rem Koolhaas & Hans Ulrich Obrist. Project Japan: Metabolism Talks. Taschen, Berlin 2011.
-  Immanuel Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft (KrV B75, A51)
July 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
There can be no doubt that nowadays “modernism”,
due to a series of intensive waves of adoption and criticism, returning as echoes from unexpected grounds, is used as a label, as a symbol. It allows to induce, to claim or to disapprove conformity in previously unprecedented ways, it helps to create subjects, targets and borders. Nevertheless, it is still an unusual symbol, as it points to a complex history, in other words to a putative “bag” of culture(s). As a symbol, or label, “modernity” does not point to a distinct object, process or action. It invokes a concept that emerged through history and is still doing so. Even as a concept, it is a chimaera. Still unfolding from practice, it did not yet move completely into the realm of the transcendental, to join other concepts in the fields most distant from any objecthood.
Here, we continue the investigation of the issues raised by Koolhaas’ “Junkspace”. Our suggestion upon the first encounter has been that Koolhaas struggles himself with his attitude to modernism, despite he openly blames it for creating Junkspace. (Software as it is currently practiced is definitely part of it.) His writing bearing the same title thus gives just a proper list of effects and historical coincidences—nothing less, but also nothing more. Particularly, he provides no suggestions about how to find or construct a different entry point into the problematic field of “building urban environments”.
In this essay we will try to outline how a possible—and constructive—archaeology of modernism could look like, with a particular application to urbanism and/or architecture. The decisions about where to dig and what to build have been, of course, subjective. Of course, our equipment is, as almost always in archaeology, rather small, suitable for details, not for surface mining or the like. That is, our attempts are not directed towards any kind of completeness.
We will start by applying a structural perspective, which will yield the basic set of presuppositions that characterizes modernism. This will be followed by a discussion of four significant aspects, for which we will hopefully be able to demonstrate the way of modernist thinking. These four areas concern patterns and coherence, meaning, empiricism and machines. The third major section will deal with some aspects of contemporary “urbanism” and how Koolhaas relates to that, particularly with respect to his “Junkspace”. Note, however, that we will not perform a literary study of Koolhaas’ piece, as most of his subjects there can be easily deciphered on the basis of the arguments as we will show them in the first two sections.
The final section then comprises a (very) brief note about a possible future of urbanism, which actually, perhaps, already has been lifting off. We will provide just some very brief suggestions in order to not appear as (too) presumptuous.
Table of Content (active links)
- 1. A structural Perspective
- 2. Problems with Modernism
- 2.1. Dust, Coherence, Patterns
- 2.2. Meaning
- 2.3. Shades of Empiricism
- 2.4. Machines
- 3. Urbanism, and Koolhaas
- 4. Redesigning Urbanism
1. A structural Perspective
According to its heterogeneity, the usage of that symbol “modernity” is fuzzy as well. While the journal Modernism/modernity, published by John Hopkins University Press, concentrates „on the period extending roughly from 1860 to the mid-twentieth century,“ while galleries for “Modern Art” around the world consider the historical period since post-Renaissance (conceived as the period between 1400 to roughly 1900) up today, usually not distinguishing modernism from post-modernism.
In order to understand modernism we have to take the risk of proposing a structure behind the mere symbolical. Additionally, and accordingly, we should resist the abundant attempt to define a particular origin of it. Foucault called those historians who were addicted to the calendar and the idea of the origin, the originator, or more abstract the “cause”, “historians in short trousers” (meaning a particular intellectual infantilism, probably a certain disability to think abstractly enough) . History does not realize a final goal either, and similarly it is bare nonsense to claim that history came to an end. As in any other evolutionary process historical novelty builds on the leftover of preceding times.
After all, the usage of symbols and labels is a language game. It is precisely a modernist misunderstanding to dissect history into phases. Historical phases are not out there, or haven’t been there. It is by far more appropriate to conceive it as waves, yet not of objects or ideas, but of probabilities. So, the question is what happened in the 19th century that it became possible to objectify a particular wave? Is it possible to give any reasonable answer here?
Following Foucault, we may try to reconstruct the sediments that fell out from these waves like the cripples of sand in the shallow water on the beach. Foucault’s main invention put forward then in his “Archaeology”  is the concept of the “field of proposals”. This field is not 2-dimensional, it is high-dimensional, yet not of a stable dimensionality. In many respects, we could conceive it as a historian’s extension of the Form of Life as Wittgenstein used to call it. Later, Foucault would include the structure of power, its exertion and objectifications, the governmentality into this concept.
Starting with the question of power, we can see an assemblage that is typical for the 19th century and the latest phase of the 18th. The invention of popular rights, even the invention of the population as a conscious and a practiced idea, itself an outcome of the French revolution, is certainly key for any development since then. We may even say that its shockwaves and the only little less shocking echoes of these waves haunted us till the end of the 20th century. Underneath the French Revolution we find the claim of independence that traces back to the Renaissance, formed into philosophical arguments by Leibniz and Descartes. First, however, it brought the Bourgeois, a strange configuration of tradition and the claim of independence, bringing forth the idea of societal control as a transfer from the then emerging intensification of the idea of the machine. Still exhibiting class-consciousness, it was at the roots of the modernists rejection of tradition. Yet, even the Bourgeois builds on the French Revolution (of course) and the assignment of a strictly positive value to the concept of densification.
Without the political idea of the population, the positive value of densification, the counter-intuitive and prevailing co-existence of the ideas of independence and control neither the direction nor the success of the sciences and their utilization in the field of engineering could have been emerging as it actually did. Consequently, right to the end of the hot phase of French Revolution, it was argued by Foucroy in 1794 that it would be necessary to found a „Ecole Polytechnique“1. Densification, liberalism and engineering brought another novelty of this amazing century: the first spread of mass media, newspapers in that case, which have been theorized only approx. 100 years later.
The rejection of tradition as part of the answer to the question “What’s next?” is perhaps one of the strongest feelings for the modernist in the 19th century. It even led to considerable divergence of attitudes across domains within modernism. For instance, while the arts rejected realism as a style building on “true representation,” technoscience embraced it. Yet, despite the rejection of immediate visual representations in the arts, the strong emphasis on objecthood and apriori objectivity remained fully in charge. Think of Kandinsky’s “Punkt und Linie zu Fläche“ (1926), or the strong emphasis of pure color (Malevich), even of the idea of purity itself, then somewhat paradoxically called abstractness, or the ideas of the Bauhaus movement about the possibility and necessity to objectify rules of design based on dot, line, area, form, color, contrast etc.. The proponents of Bauhaus, even their contemporary successors in Weimar (and elsewhere) never understood that the claim for objectivity particularly in design is impossible to be satisfied, it is a categorical fault. Just to avoid a misunderstanding that itself would be a fault of the same category: I personally find Kandinsky’s work mostly quite appealing, as well as some of the work by the Bauhaus guys, yet for completely different reasons that he (they) might have been dreaming of.
Large parts of the arts rejected linearity, while technoscience took it as their core. Yet, such divergences are clearly the minority. In all domains, the rejection of tradition was based on an esteem of the idea of independence and resulted predominantly in the emphasis of finding new technical methods to produce unseen results. While the emphasis of the method definitely enhances the practice of engineering, it is not innocent either. Deleuze sharply rejects the saliency of methods :
Method is the means of that knowledge which regulates the collaboration of all the faculties. It is therefore the manifestation of a common sense or the realisation of a Cogitatio natura, […] (p.165)
Here, Deleuze does not condemn methods as such. Undeniably, it is helpful to explicate them, to erect a methodology, to symbolize them. Yet, culture should not be subordinated to methods, not even sub-cultures.
The leading technoscience of these days had been physics, closely followed by chemistry, if it is at all reasonable to separate the two. It brought the combustion engine (from Carnot to Daimler), electricity (from Faraday to Edison, Westinghouse and Tesla), the control of temperature (Kelvin, Boltzmann), the elevator, and consequently the first high-rise buildings along with a food industry. In the second half of 19th century it was fashionable for newspapers to maintain a section showing up the greatest advances and success of technoscience of the last week.
In my opinion it is eminently important to understand the linkage between the abstract ideas, growing from a social practice as their soil-like precursory condition, and the success of a particular kind of science. Independence, control, population on the one side, the molecule and its systematics, the steam and the combustion engine, electricity and the fridge on the other side. It was not energy (in the form of wood and coals) that could be distributed, electricity meant an open potential for an any of potential . Together they established a new Form of Life which nowadays could be called “modern,” despite the fact that its borders blur, if we could assume their existence at all. Together, combined into a cultural “brown bag,” these ingredients led to an acceleration, not to the least also due to the mere physical densification, an increase of the mere size of the population, produced (literally so) by advances in the physical and biomedical sciences.
At this point we should remind ourselves that factual success does neither legitimize to expect sustainable success nor to reason about any kind of universal legitimacy of the whole setup. The first figure would represent simply naivety, the second the natural fallacy, which seduces us to conclude from the actual (“what is”) to the deontical and the normative (“what should be”).
As a practice, the modern condition is itself dependent on a set of beliefs. These can neither be questioned nor discussed at all from within the “modern attitude,” of course. Precisely this circumstance makes it so difficult to talk with modernists about their beliefs. They are not only structurally invisible, something like a belief is almost categorically excluded qua their set of conditioning beliefs. Once accepted, these conditions can’t be accessed anymore, they are transcendental to any further argument put forward within the area claimed by these conditions. For philosophers, this figure of thought, the transcendental condition, takes the role of a basic technique. Other people like urbanists and architects might well be much less familiar with it, which could explain their struggling with theory.
What are these beliefs to which a proper modernist adheres to? My list would look like as that given below. The list itself is, of course, neither a valuation nor an evaluation.
- – independence, ultimately taken as a metaphysical principle;
- – belief in the primacy of identity against the difference, leading to the primacy of objects against the relation;
- – linearity, additivity and reduction as the method of choice;
- – analyticity and “lawfulness” for descriptions of the external world;
- – belief in positively definable universals, hence, the rejection of belief as a sustaining mental figure;
- – the belief in the possibility of a finally undeniable justification;
- – belief that the structure of the world follows a bi-valent logic2, represented by the principle of objective causality, hence also a “logification” and “physicalization” of the concept of information as well as meaning; consequently, meaning is conceived as being attached to objects;
- – the claim of a primacy of ontology and existential claims—as highlighted by the question “What is …?”—over instances of pragmatics that respect Forms of Life—characterized by the question “How to use …?”;
- – logical “flatness” and the denial of creativity of material arrangements; representation
- – belief in the universal arbitrariness of evolution;
- – belief in the divine creator or some replacement, like the independent existence of ideas (here the circle closes).
It now becomes even more clear that is not quite reasonable to assign a birth date to modernism. Some of those ideas and beliefs haven been around for centuries before their assembly into the 19th century habit. Such, modernism is nothing more, yet also nothing less than a name for the evolutionary history of a particular arrangement of attitudes, believes and arguments.
From this perspective it also becomes clear why it is somewhat difficult to separate so-called post-modernism from modernism. Post-modernism takes a yet undecided position to the issue of abstract metaphysical independence. Independence and the awareness for the relations did not amalgamate yet, both are still, well, independent in post-modernism. It makes a huge, if not to say cosmogonic difference to set the relation as the primary metaphysical element. Of course, Foucault was completely right in rejecting the label of being a post-modernist. Foucault dropped the central element of modernism—independence—completely, and very early in his career as author, thinking about the human world as horizontal (actual) and vertical (differential) embeddings. The same is obviously true for Deleuze, or Serres. Less for Lyotard and Latour, and definitely not for Derrida, who practices a schizo-modernism, undulating between independence and relation. Deleuze and Foucault never have been modern, in order to paraphrase Latour, and it would be a serious misunderstanding to attach the label of post-modernism to their oeuvre.
As a historical fact we may summarize modernism by two main achievements: first, the professionalization of engineering and its rhizomatically pervasive implementation, and second the mediatization of society, first through the utilization of mass media, then by means of the world wide web. Another issue is that many people confess to follow it as if they would follow a program, turning it into a movement. And it is here where difficulties start.
2. Problems with Modernism
We are now going to deal with some of the problems that are necessarily associated to the belief set that is so typical for modernism. In some way or another, any basic belief is burdened by its own specific difficulties. There is no universal or absolute way out of that. Yet, modernism is not just an attitude, up to now it also has turned into a large-scale societal experiment. Hence, there are not only some empirical facts, we also meet impacts onto the life of human beings (before any considerations of moral aspects). Actually, Koolhaas provided precisely a description of them in his “Junkspace” . Perhaps, modernism is also more prone to the strong polarity of positive and negative outcomes, as its underlying set of believes is also particularly strong. But this is, of course, only a quite weak suggestion.
In this section we will investigate four significant aspects. Together they hopefully provide kind of a fingerprint of “typical” modernist thinking—and its failure. These four areas concern patterns and coherence, empiricism, meaning and machines.
Before we start with that I would like to visit briefly the issue raised by the role of objects in modernism. The metaphysics of objects in modernism is closely related to the metaphysical belief of independence as a general principle. If you start to think “independence” you necessarily end up with separated objects. “Things” as negotiated entities do barely exist in modernism, and if so, then only as kind of a error-prone social and preliminary approximation to the physical setup. It is else not possible, to balance objects and relations as concepts. One of them must take the primary role.
Setting objects as primary against the relation has a range of problematic consequences. In my opinion, these consequences are inevitable. It is important that neither the underlying beliefs nor their consequences can’t be separated from each other. For a modernist, it is impossible, to drop one of these and to keep the other ones without stepping into the tomb of internal inconsistency!
The idea of independence, whether in its implicit or its explicit version, can be traced back at least to scholastics, probably even to the classic where it appeared as Platonic idealism (albeit this would be an oversimplification). To its full extent it unfolded through the first golden age of the dogma of the machine in the early 17th century, e.g. in the work of Harvey or the philosophy of Descartes. Leibniz recognized its difficulties. For him perception is an activity. If objects would be conceived as purely passive, they would not be able to perceive and not to build any relation at all. Thus, the world can’t be made of objects, since there is a world external to the human mind. He remained, however, being caught by theism, which brought him to the concept of monads as well as to the concept of the infinitesimal numbers. The concept of the monads should not be underestimated, though. Ultimately, they serve the purpose of immaterial elements that bear the ability to perceive and to transfer them to actual bodies, whether stuffed with a mind or not.
The following centuries brought just a tremendous technical refinement of Cartesian philosophy, despite there have been phases where people resisted its ideas, as for instance many people in the Baroque.
Setting objects as primary against the relation is at the core of phenomenology as well, and also, though in a more abstract version, of idealism. Husserl came up with the idea of the “phenomenon”, that impresses us, notably directly, or intuitively, without any interpretation. Similarly, the Kantian “Erhabenheit”, then tapered by Romanticism, is out there as an independent instance, before any reason or perception may start to work.
2.1. Dust, Coherence, Patterns
When interpreted as a natural principle, or as a principle of nature, the idea of independence provokes and supports physical sciences. Independence matches perfectly with physics, yet it is also an almost perfect mismatch for biological sciences as far as they are not reducible to physics. The same is true for social sciences. Far from being able to recognize their own conditionability, most sociologist just practice methods taken more or less directly from physics. Just recall their strange addiction to statistics, which is nothing else than methodology of independence. Instead of asking for the abstract and factual genealogy of the difference between independence and coherence, between the molecule and harmony, they dropped any primacy of the relation, even its mere possibility.
The effects in architecture are well-known. On the one hand, modernism led to an industrialization, which is reaching its final heights in the parametrism of Schumacher and Hadid, among others. Yet, by no means there is any necessity that industrialization leads to parametrism! On the other hand, if in the realm of concepts there is no such thing as a primacy of relation, only dust, then there is also no form, only function, or at least a maximized reduction of any form, as it has been presented first by Mies von der Rohe. The modularity in this ideology of the absence of form is not that of living organisms, it is that of crystals. Not only the Seagram building is looking exactly like the structural model of sodium chloride. Of course, it represents a certain radicality. Note that it doesn’t matter whether the elementary cells of the crystal follows straight lines, or whether there is some curvature in their arrangements. Strange enough, for a modernist there is never a particular intention in producing such stuff. Intentions are not needed at all, if the objects bear the meaning. The modernists expectation is that everything the human mind can accomplish under such conditions is just uncovering the truth. Crystals just happen to be there, whether in modernist architecture or in the physico-chemistry of minerals.
Strictly spoken, it is deeply non-modern, perhaps ex-modern, to investigate the question why even modernists feel something like the following structures or processes mysteriously (not: mystical!) beautiful, or at least interesting. Well, I do not know, of course, whether they indeed felt like that, or whether they just pretended to do so. At least they said so… Here are the artefacts3:
These structures are neither natural nor geometrical. Their common structural trait is the local instantiation of a mechanism, that is, a strong dependence on the temporal and spatial local context: Subdivision in case (a), and a probabilistically instantiated set of “chemical” reactions in the case of (b). For the modernist mindset they are simply annoying. They are there, but there is no analytical tool available to describe them as “object” or to describe their genesis. Yet, both examples do not show “objects” with perceivable properties that would be well-defined for the whole entity. Rather, they represent a particular temporal cut in the history of a process. Without considering their history—which includes the contingent unfolding of their deep structure—they remain completely incomprehensible, despite the fact that on the microscopical level they are well-defined, even deterministic.
From the perspective of primary objects they are separated from comprehensibility by the chasm of idealism, or should we say hyper-idealistic conditioning? Yet, for both there exists a set of precise mathematical rules. The difference to machines is just that these rules describe mechanisms, but not anything like the shape or on the level of the entirety. The effect of these mechanism on the level of the collective, however, can’t be described by those rules for the mechanism. They can’t be described at all by any kind of analytical approach, as it possible for instance in many areas in physics and, consequently in engineering, which so far is by definition always engaged in building and maintaining fully determinate machines. This notion of the mechanism, including the fact that only the concept of mechanism allows for a thinking that is capable to comprehend emergence and complexity—and philosophically potential—, is maybe one of the strongest differences between modernist thinking and “organicist” thinking (which has absolutely nothing to do with bubble architecture), as we may call it in a preliminarily.
Here it is probably appropriate to cite the largely undervalued work of Charles Jencks, who proposed as one of the first in the domain of architecture/urbanism the turn to complexity. Yet, since he had not a well-explicated formulation (based on an appropriate elementarization) at his disposal, we had neither been able to bring his theory “down to earth” nor to connect it to more abstract concepts. People like Jencks, Venturi, “parts of” Koolhaas (and me:)—or Deleuze or Foucault in philosophy—never have been modernist. Except the historical fact that they live(d) in a period that followed the blossoming of modernism, there is not any other justification to call them or their thinking “post-modern”. It is not the use of clear arguments that those reject, it is the underlying set of beliefs.
In modernism, that is, in the practice of the belief set as shown above, collective effects are excluded apriori, metaphysically as well as methodologically, as we will see. Statistics is by definition not able to detect “patterns”. It is an analytic technique, of which people believe that its application excludes any construction. This is of course a misbelief, the constructive steps are just shifted into the side-conditions of the formulas, resulting in a deep methodological subjectivity concerning the choice of a particular technique, or formula respectively.
This affects the perspective onto society as well as individual perception and thought. Slightly metaphorically spoken, everything is believed to be (conceptual) dust, and to remain dust. The belief in independence, fired perhaps by a latent skepticism since Descartes, has invaded the methods and the practices. At most, such the belief, one could find different kinds of dust, or different sizes of the hives of dust, governed by a time-inert, universal law. In turn, wherever laws are imposed to “nature”, the subject matter turns into conceptual dust.
Something like a Language Game, let it even be in combination with transcendental conditionability, must almost be incomprehensible for a modernist. I think they even do not see there possibility. While analytic philosophy is largely the philosophy that developed within modernism (one might say that it is thus not philosophy at all), the philosophical stances of Wittgenstein, Heidegger or Deleuze are outside of it. The instances of misunderstanding Wittgenstein as a positivist are countless! Closely related to the neglect of collective effects is the dismissal of the inherent value of the comparative approach. Again, that’s not an accusation. Its just the description of an effect that emerges as soon as the above belief set turns into a practice.
The problem with modernism is indeed tricky. On the one hand it blossomed engineering. Engineering, as it has been conceived since then, is a strictly modernist endeavor. With regard to the physical aspects of the world it works quite well, of course. In any other area, it is doomed to fail, for the very same reasons, unfortunately. Engineering of informational aspects is thus impossible as it is the engineering of architecture or the engineering of machine-based episteme, not to mention the attempt to enable machines to deal with language. Or to deal with the challenges emerging in the urban culture. Just to avoid misunderstandings: Engineering is helpful to find technical realizations for putative solutions, but it never can deliver any kind of solution itself, except the effect that people assimilate and re-shape the produces of urban engineering through their usage, turning them into something different than intended.
The most problematic effects of the idea of “primary objects” are probably the following:
- – the rejection of creational power of unconscious or even purely material entities;
- – the idea that meaning can be attached to objects;
- – the idea that objects can be represented and must be represented by ideas.
These strong consequences do not concern just epistemological issues. In modernism, “objectivity” has nothing to do with the realm of the social. It can be justified universally and on purely formal grounds. We already mentioned that this may work in large parts of physics—it is challenged in quantum physics—but certainly not in most biological or social domains.
In his investigation of thought, Deleuze identifies representationalism (, p.167) as one of the eight major presuppositions of large parts of philosophy, especially idealism in the line from Platon, Hegel, and Frege up to Carnap.
(1) the postulate of the principle, or the Cogitatio natura universalis (good will of the thinker and good nature of thought); (2) the postulate of the ideal, or common sense (common sense as the concordia facultatum and good sense as the distribution which guarantees this concord); (3) the postulate of the model, or of recognition (recognition inviting all the faculties to exercise themselves upon an object supposedly the same, and the consequent possibility of error in the distribution when one faculty confuses one of its objects with a different object of another faculty); (4) the postulate of the element, or of representation (when difference is subordinated to the complementary dimensions of the Same and the Similar, the Analogous and the Opposed); (5) the postulate of the negative, or of error (in which error expresses everything which can go wrong in thought, but only as the product of external mechanisms); (6) the postulate of logical function, or the proposition (designation is taken to be the locus of truth, sense being no more than the neutralised double or the infinite doubling of the proposition); (7) the postulate of modality, or solutions (problems being materially traced from propositions or, indeed, formally defined by the possibility of their being solved); (8) the postulate of the end, or result, the postulate of knowledge (the subordination of learning to knowledge, and of culture to method). Together they form the dogmatic image of thought.
Deleuze by no means attacks the utility of these elements in principle. His point is just that these elements work together and should not be taken as primary principles. The effect of these presuppositions are disastrous.
They crush thought under an image which is that of the Same and the Similar in representation, but profoundly betrays what it means to think and alienates the two powers of difference and repetition, of philosophical commencement and recommencement. The thought which is born in thought, the act of thinking which is neither given by innateness nor presupposed by reminiscence but engendered in its genitality, is a thought without image.
As engineer, you may probably have been noticing issue (5). Elsewhere in our essay we already dealt with the fundamental misconception to start from an expected norm, instead from an open scale without imposed values. Only the latter attitude will allow for inherent adaptivity. Adaptive systems never will fail, because failure is conceptually impossible. Instead, they will cease to exist.
The rejection of the negative, which includes the rejection of the opposite as well as dialectics, the norm, or the exception, is particularly important if we think about foundations of whatsoever (think about Hegel, Marx, attac, etc.) or about political implications. We already discussed the case of Agamben.
Deleuze finally will arrive at this “new imageless image of thought” by understanding difference as a transcendental category. The great advantage of this move is that it does not imply a necessity of symbols and operators as primary, as it is the case if we would take identity as primary. The primary identical is either empty (a=a), that is, without any significance for the relation between entities, or it needs symbolification and at least one operator. In practice, however, a whole battery of models, classifications and the assumptions underlying them is required to support the claim of identity. As these assumptions are not justifiable within the claim of identity itself, they must be set, which results in the attempt to define the world. Obviously, attempting so would be quite problematic. It is even self-contradicting if contrasted with the modernists claim of objectivity. Setting the difference as primary, Deleuze not only avoids the trap of identity and pre-established harmony in the hive of objects, but also subordinates the object to the relation. Here he meets with Wittgenstein and Heidegger.
Together, the presupposition of identity and objecthood is necessarily and in a bidirectional manner accompanied with another quite abundant misunderstanding, according to which logic should be directly applicable to the world. World here is of course “everything” except logic, that is (claimed) objects, their relations, measurement, ideas, concepts and so on. Analytic philosophy, positivism, external realism and the larger movement of modernism all apply the concept of bi-valent logic to empirical entities. It is not really a surprise that this leads to serious problems and paradoxa, which however are pseudo-paradoxa. For instance, universal justification requires knowledge. Without logical truity in knowledge universal justification can’t be achieved. The attempt to define knowledge as consisting of positive content failed, though. Next, the formula of “knowledge as justified belief” was proposed. In order not to fall prey to the Gettier-problem, belief itself would have to be objectified. Precisely this happened in analytic philosophy, when Alchourron et al. (1985) published their dramatically (and overly) reduced operationalization of “belief”. Logic is a condition, it is transcendental to its usage. Hence, it is inevitable to instantiate it. By means of instantiation, however, semantics invades equally inevitable.
Ultimately due to the presupposed primacy of identity, modernists are faced with a particular difficulty in dealing with relations. Objects and their role should not be dependent on their interpretation. As a necessary consequence, meaning—and information—must be attached to objects as quasi-physical properties. There is but one single consequence: tyranny. Again, it is not surprising that at the heights of modernism the bureaucratic tyranny was established several times.
Some modernists would probably allow for interpretation. Yet, only as a means, not as a condition, not as a primacy. Concerning their implications, the difference between the stances is a huge one. If you take it simply as a means, keeping the belief into the primacy of objects, you still would adhere to the idea of “absolute truth” within the physical world. Ultimately, interpretation would be degraded into an error-prone “method”, which ideally should have no influence onto the recognition of truth, of course. The world, at least the world that goes beyond the mere physical aspects, appears as a completely different one if relations, and thus interpretation is set as primary. Obviously, this implies also a categorical difference regarding the way one approaches that world, e.g. in science, or the way one conceives of the possible role of design. Is a nothing else than myth that a designer, architect, or urbanist designs objects. The practitioners in these professions design potentials, namely that for the construction of meaning by the future users and inhabitants (cf. ). There is nothing a designer can do to prevent a particular interpretation or usage. Koolhaas concludes that regarding Junkspace this may lead to a trap, or kind of a betrayal :
Narrative reflexes that have enabled us from the beginning of time to connect dots, fill in blanks, are now turned against us: we cannot stop noticing—no sequence is too absurd, trivial, meaningless, insulting… Through our ancient evolutionary equipment, our irrepressible attention span, we helplessly register, provide insight, squeeze meaning, read intention; we cannot stop making sense out of the utterly senseless… (p.188)
I think that on the one hand Koolhaas here accepts the role of interpretation, yet, and somewhat contradictory, he is not able to recognize that it is precisely the primacy of interpretation that enables for an transformation through assimilation, hence the way out of Junkspace. Here he remains modernist to the full extent.
The deep reason being that for the object-based attitude there is no possibility at all to recognize non-representational coherence. (Thus, a certain type of illiteracy regarding complex texts is prevailing among “true” modernists…)
2.3. Shades of Empiricism
Science, as we understand it today—yet at least partially also as we practice it—is based on the so-called hypothetico-deductive approach of empiricism (cf. ). Science is still taken as a synonym for physics by many, even in philosophy of science, with only very few exceptions. There, the practice and the theory of Life sciences are not only severely underrepresented, quite frequently biology is still reduced to physics. Physicists, and their philosophical co-workers, often claim that the whole world can be reduced to a description in terms of quantum mechanics (among many others cf. ). A closely related reduction, only slightly less problematic, is given by the materialist’s claim that mental phenomena should be explained completely in biological terms, that is, using only biological concepts.
The belief in empiricism is implemented into the methodological framework that is called “statistics”. The vast majority of the statistical tests rest on the assumption that observations and variables are independent from each other. Some tests are devised to test for independence, or dependence, but this alone does not help much. Usually, if dependency is detected, then the subsequent tests are rearranged as to fit again the independence assumption. In other words, any possibly actual coherence is first assumed to be nonexistent. By means of the method itself, the coherence is indeed destroyed. Yet, once it is destroyed, you never will get it back. It is quite simple: The criteria for any such construction are just missing.
From this perspective, statistics is not scientific according to science’s own measures; due to its declared non-critical and non-experimental stance it actually looks more like ideology. For a scientific method would perform an experiment for testing whether something could be assumed or not. As Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz said: I never needed statistics to do my work. What would be needed instead is indeed a method that is structurally independent of any independence assumption regarding the observed data. Such a method would propose patterns if there are sufficiently dense hints, and not , otherwise. Without proposing one or the other apriori. From that perspective, it is more the representationalism in modernism that brings the problem.
This framework of statistics is far from being homogeneous, though. Several “interpretations” are fiercely discussed: frequentism, bayesianism, uncertainty, or propensity. Yet, any of them faces serious internal inconsistencies, as Alan Hajek convincingly demonstrated . To make a long story short (the long version you can find over here), it is not possible to build a model without symbols, without concepts that require interpretation and further models, and outside a social practice, or without an embedding into such. Modernists usually reject such basics and eagerly claim even universal objectivity for their data (hives of dust). More than 50 years ago, Quine proofed that believing otherwise should be taken just as nothing else than a dogma . This dogma can be conceived as a consequence of the belief that objects that are the primary constituents of the world.
Of course, the social embedding is especially important in the case of social affairs such like urbanism. The claim that any measurement of data then treated by statistical modeling (they call it wrongly “analysis”) could convey any insight per se is nothing but pretentious.
Dealing with data always results in some kind of construction, base don some methods. Methods, however, respond differentially to data, they filter. In other words, even applying “analytical” methods involves interpretation, often even a strong one. Unfortunately for the modernist, he excluded the possibility of the primacy of interpretation at all, because there are only objects out there. This hurdle is quickly solved, of course, by the belief that the meaning is outside of interpretation. As result, they believe, that there is a necessary progress towards the truth. For modernists: Here you may jump back to subsection 3.2. …
For le Corbusier a house is much like a “machine for living in”. According to him, a building has clear functions, that could be ascribed apriori, governed by universal relations, or even laws. Recently, people engaged in the building economy recognized that it may turn problematic to assign a function apriori, as it simply limits the sales arguments. As a result, any function from the building as well as from the architecture itself tends to be stripped away. The “solution” is a more general one. Yet, in contrast to an algebraic equation that will be instantiated before used, the building actually exists after building it. It is there. And up today, not in a reconfigurable form.
Actually, the problem is created not by the tendency for more general, or even pre-specific solutions. It turns critical if it generality amalgamates with the modernist attitude. The category of machines, which is synonymic to ascribing or assigning a function (understood as usage) apriori, doesn’t accept any reference to luxury. A machine that would contain properties or elements that don’t bear any function, at least temporarily, other than pleasure (which does not exist in a world that consists only of objects) would be badly built. Minimalism is not just a duty, it even belongs to the grammar of modernism. Minimalism is the actualization and representation of mathematical rigidity, which is also a necessity as it is the only way to use signs without interpretation. At least, that is the belief of modernists.
The problem with minimalism is that it effectively excludes evolution. Either the produce fits perfectly or not at all. Perfectness of the match can be expected only, if the user behaves exactly as expected, which represents nothing else than dogmatism, if not worse. Minimalism in form excludes alternative interpretations and usages, deliberately so, it even has to exclude the possibility for the alternative. How else to get rid of alternatives? Koolhaas rightly got it: by nothingness (minimalism), or by chaos.
3. Urbanism, and Koolhaas.
First, we have of course to make clear that we will be able to provide only a glimpse to the field invoked by this header. Else, our attempts here should not be understood as a proposal to separate architecture from urbanism. Both, regarding theory and implementation they more and more overlap. When Koolhaas explains the special situation of the Casa do Musica in Porto, he refers to processes like continuation of certain properties and impressions from the surround to be continued inside of the building. Inversely, any building, even any persistent object in a city shifts the qualities of its urban surround.
Rem Koolhaas, once journalist, then architect, now for more than a decade additionally someone doing comparative studies on cities has performatively demonstrated—by means of his writings such as “S,M,L,XL”, “Generic City” or “Junkspace”—that a serious engagement about the city can’t be practiced as a disciplinary endeavor. Human culture moved irrevocably into a phase where culture largely means urban culture. Urbanists may be seen as a vanishing species that became impossible due to the generality of the field. “Culturalist” is neither a proper domain nor a suitable label. Or perhaps they moult into organizers of research in urban contexts, similarly as architects are largely organizers for creating buildings. Yet, there is an important difference: Architects may still believe that they externalize something. Such a belief is impossible for urbanists, because they are part of the culture. It is thus questionable, if a project like the “Future Cities Laboratory” should indeed be called such. It is perhaps only possible to do so in Singapore, but that’s the subject of one of the next essays.
Rem Koolhaas wrote “Delirious New York” before turning to architecture and urbanism as a practitioner. There, he praised its diversity and manifoldness that, in or by means of his dreams, added up to the deliriousness of Manhattan, and probably also of his own.
Without any doubt, the particular quality of Manhattan is its empowering density, which is not actualizing as the identical, but rather as heterotopia, as divergence. In some way, Manhattan may be conceived as the urban precursor of the internet , built first in steel, glass and concrete. Vera Bühlmann writes:
Manhattan space is, if not yet everywhere, so at least in the internet potentially everywhere, and additionally not limited to three, probably even spatial dimensions.4
Urbanism is in urgent demand of an advanced theory that refers to the power of networks. It was perhaps this “network process” that brought Koolhaas to explore the anti-thesis of the wall and the plane, the absolute horizontal and vertical separation. I say anti-thesis, because Delirious New York itself behaves quite ambiguously, half-way between the Hegelian, (post-)structuralist dialectics and utopia on the one side and an affirmation of heterotopias on the other hand as a more advanced level of conceptualization alienating processes, which always are also processes of selection and individuation into both directions, the medium and the “individual”. Earlier scholars like Aldo Rossi have been too early to go into that direction as networks weren’t recognizable as part of the Form of Life. Even Shane is only implicitly referring to their associative power (he does not refer to complexity as well). And Koolhaas was not either, and probably is still not aware of this problematics.
Recently, I have been proposing one of the possible approaches to build such a theory, the according concepts, terms and practices (for more details see ). It is rather important, to distinguish two very basic forms of networks, logistic and associative networks. Logistic networks are used everywhere in modernist reasoning about cities and culture. Yet, they exclusively refer to the network as a machine, suitable to optimize the transport of anything. Associative networks are completely different. They do not transfer anything, they swallow, assimilate, rearrange, associate and, above all, they learn. Any associative network can learn anything. The challenge is, particularly for modernist attitudes, that it can’t be controlled what exactly an associative network is going to learn. The interesting thing about it is that the concept of associative networks provides a bridge to the area of advanced “machine”-learning and to the Actor-Network-Theory (ANTH) of Bruno Latour. The main contribution of ANTH is its emphasis of agency, even of those mostly mineral material arrangements that are usually believed to have no mental capacity.
It is clear, that an associative network may not be perceived at all under the strictly practiced presupposition of independence, as it is typical for modernism. Upon its implementation, the belief set of modernism tends to destroy the associativity, hence also the almost inevitable associations between the more or less mentally equipped actors in urban environments.
When applied to cities, it breaks up relations, deliberately. Any interaction of high-rise buildings, so typical for Manhattan, is precluded intentionally. Any transfer is optimized just along one single parameter: time, and secondarily, space as a resource. Note that optimization always requires the apriori definition of a single function. As soon as would allow for multiple goals, you would be faced with the necessity of weighting and assigning subjective expectations, which are subjective precisely due to the necessity of interpretation. In order to exclude even the possibility for it, modernists agree hastily to optimize time (as a resource under the assignment of scarcity and physicality), once being understood as a transcendental condition.
As Aldo Rossi remarked already in the 1960ies , the modernist tries to evacuate any presence of time from the city. It is not just that history is cut off and buried, largely under false premises and wrong conclusions, reducing history just to institutional traditions (remember, there is no interpretation for a modernist!). In some way, it would have been even easy to predict Koolhaas’ Junkspace already in the end of the 19th century. Well, the Futurologists did it, semi-paradoxically, though. Quite stringent, Futurism was only a short phase within modernism. This neglect of time in modernism is by no means a “value” or an intention. It is a direct logical consequence of the presupposed belief set, particularly independence, logification and the implied neglect of context.
Dis-assembling the associative networks of a city results inevitably in the modernist urban conceptual dust, ruled by the paradigm of scarce time and the blindness against interpretation, patterns and non-representational coherence. This is in a nutshell, what I would like to propose as the deep grammar of the Junkspace, as it has been described by Koolhaas. Modernism did nothing else than to build and to actualize it conceptual dust. We may call it tertiary chaos, which has been—in its primary form—equal to the initial state of indiscernability concerning the cosmos as a whole. Yet, this time it has been dictated by modernists. Tertiary chaos thus can be set equal to the attempt to make any condition for the possibility of discernability vanishing.
Modernists may not be aware that there is not only already a theory of discernability, which equals to the Peircean theory of the sign, there is also an adaptation and application to urbanism and architecture. Urbanists probably may know about the name “Venturi”, but I seriously doubt that semiotics is on their radar. If modernists talk about semiotics at all, they usually refer to the structuralist caricature of it, as it has been put forward by de Saussure, establishing a closed version of the sign as a “triangle”. Peircean signs—and these have been used by Venturi—establish as an interpretive situation. They do not refer to objects, but just to other signs. Their reference to the world is provided through instances of abstract models and a process of symbolification, which includes learning as an ability that precedes knowledge. (more detail here in this earlier essay) Unfortunately, Venturi’s concept have scarcely been updated, except perhaps in the context of media facades . Yet, media facades are mostly and often vastly misunderstood as the possibility to display adverts. There are good arguments supporting the view that there is more about them .
Modernists, including Koolhaas employ a strange image of evolution. For him (them), evolution is pure arbitrariness, both regarding the observable entities and processes as well as regarding the future development. He supposes to detect “zero loyalty-and zero tolerance-toward configuration“ ( p.182). In the same passage he simultaneously and contradictory misses the „”original” condition“ and blames history for its corruptive influence: „History corrupts, absolute history corrupts absolutely.“ All of that is put into the context of a supposedly “”permanent evolution.”“ (his quot. marks). Most remarkably, even biologists as S.J. Gould, pretending to be evolutionary biologist, claims that evolution is absolutely arbitrary. Well, the only way out of the contrasting fact that there is life in the form we know about it is to assume some active divine involvement. Precisely this was the stance of Gould. People like Gould(and perhaps Koolhaas) commit the representationalist fault, which excludes them from recognizing (i) the structural tendency of any evolution towards more general solutions, and (ii) the there is an evolution of evolutionarity. The modernist attitude towards evolution can again be traced back to the belief into metaphysical independence of objects, but our interest here is different.
Understanding evolution as a concept has only little to do with biology and the biological model that is called “natural evolution”. Natural evolution is just an instance of evolution into physico-chemical and then biological matter. Bergson has been the first who addressed evolution as a concept , notably in the context of abstract memory. In a previous essay we formalized that approach and related it to biology and machine-learning. At its basics, it requires a strict non-representational approach. Species and organisms are expressed in terms of probability. Our conclusion was that in a physical world evolution inevitably takes place if there at least two different kinds or scales of memory. Only on that abstract level we can adopt the concept of evolution into urbanism, that is, into any cultural context.
Memory can’t be equated to tradition, institutions or even the concrete left-overs of history, of course. They are just instances of memory. It is of utmost importance here, not to contaminate the concept of memory again with representationalism. This memory is constructive. Memory that is not constructive, is not memory, but a stock, a warehouse (although these are also kinds of storage and contribute as such to memory). Memory is inherently active and associative. Such memory is the basic, non-representative element of a generally applicable evolutionary theory.
Memory can not be “deposited” into almost geological layers of sediments, quite in contrast to the suggestions of Eisenman, whom Rajchman follows closely in his “Constructions”.
The claim of “storable memory” is even more disastrous than the the claim that information could be stored. These are not objects and items that are independent of an interpretation, they are the processes of constructive of guided interpretation. Both “storages” would only become equal to the respective immaterial processes under the condition of a strictly deterministic set of commands. Even the concept of the “rule” is already too open to serve the modernist claim of storable memory.
It is immediately clear that the dynamic concept of memory is highly relevant for any theory about urban conditions. It provides a general language to derive particular models and instances of association, stocks and flows, that are not reducible to storage or transfers. We may even expect that whenever we meet kind of material storage in an urban context, we also should expect association. The only condition for that just being that there are no modernists around… Yet, storage without memory, that is, without activity remains dead, much like but even less than a crystal. Cripples in the sand. The real relevance of stocks and flows is visible only in the realm of the non-representational, the non-material, if we conceive it as waves in abstract density, that is as media, conveying the potential for activity as a differential. Physicalists and modernists like Christianse or Hillier will never understand that. Just think of the naïve empirics, calling it cartography, they are performing around the world.
This includes deconstructivism as well. Derrida’s deconstructivism can be read as a defense war against the symbolification of the new, the emerging, the complex, the paradox of sense. His main weapon is the “trail”, of which he explicitly states that it could not be interpreted at all. Such, Derrida as master of logical flatness and modernist dust is the real enemy of progress. Peter Sloterdijk, the prominent contemporary German “philosopher”5, once called Derrida the “Old Egyptian”. Nothing would fit better to Derrida, who lives in the realm of shadows and for whom life is just a short transitory phase, hopefully “survived” without too much injuries. The only metaphor being possible on that basis is titanic geology. Think of some of Eisenman’s or Libeskind’s works.
a: Peter Eisenman, Aronoff Center for Design and Art in Cincinnati (Ohio) (taken from ); the parts of building are treated blocks, whose dislocation reminds to that of geological sediments (or the work of titans).
Here we finish our exploration of generic aspects of the structure of modernist thinking. Hopefully, the sections so far are sufficiently suited to provide some insights about modernism in general, and the struggles Koolhaas is fighting with in “Junkspace”.
4. Redesigning Urbanism
Redesigning urbanism, that is to unlock it from modernist phantasms is probably much more simple than it may look at first sight. Well, not exactly simple, at least for modernists. Everything is about the presuppositions. Dropping the metaphysical believe of independence without getting trapped by esotericism or mysticism might well be the cure.Of course, metaphysical independence need to be removed from any level and any aspect in urbanism, starting from the necessary empirical work, which of course is already an important part of the construction work. We already mentioned that the notion of “empirical analysis” pretends neutrality, objectivity (as independence from the author) and validity. Yet, this is pure illusion. Independence should be abandoned also in its form of searching for originality or uniqueness, trying to set an unconditional mark in the cityscape. By that we don’t refer to morphing software, of course.
The antidote against isolationism, analyticity and logic is already well-known. To provide coherence you have to defy splintering and abjure the believe in (conceptual) dust. The candidate tool for it is story-telling, albeit in a non-representational manner, respecting the difference and heterotopias from the beginning. In turn this also means to abandon utopias and a-topias, but to embrace complexity and a deep concept of prevailing differentiation (in a subsequent essay we will deal with that). As citizens, we are not interested in non-places and deserts of spasmodic uniqueness (anymore) or the mere “solution of problems” either (see Deleuze about the dogmatic image of thought as cited above). Changing the perspective from the primacy of analysis to the primacy story-telling immediately reveals the full complexity of the respective Form of Life, to which we refer here as a respectful philosophical concept.
It is probably pretentious to speak such about urbanism as a totality. There are of course, and always have been, people who engaged in the urban condition based on a completely different set of believes, righteous non-modern. Those people start with the pattern and never tear them apart. Those people are able to distinguish structure, genesis and appearance. In biology, this distinction has been instantiated into the perspectives of the genotype, the phenotype, and, in bio-slang, evo-devo, the compound made from development, growth and evolution. These are tied together (necessarily) by complexity. In philosophy, the respective concepts are immanence, the differential, and the virtual.
For urbanism, take for instance the work of David Shane (“Recombinant Urbanism“). Shane’s work, which draws much on Kelly’s, is a (very) good starting point not only for any further theoretical work, but also for practical work.
As a practitioner, one has to defy the seduction for the totality of a master plan, as the renowned parametricists actualize in Istanbul, Christianse and his office did recently in Zürich at the main station. Both are producing pure awfulness, castles of functional uniformity, because they express the totality of the approach even visually. Even in Singapore’s URA (Urban Development Authority), the master plan has been relativised in favor of a (slightly) more open conceptualization. Designer’s have to learn that not less is more, but rather that partial nothingness is more. Deliberately non-planning, as Koolhaas has repeatedly emphasized. This should not be taken representationally, of course. It does not make any sense to grow “raw nature”, jungles within the city, neither for the city, nor for the “jungle”. Before a crystal can provide soil for real life, it must decay, precisely because it is a closed system (see next figure 3). Adaptive systems replace parts, melt holes to build structures, without decaying at all. We will return to this aspect of differentiation in a later article.
The main question for finding a practicable process therefore is: How to ask, which questions should we address in order to build an analytics under the umbrella of story-telling, that avoids the shortfalls of modernism?
We might again take a look to biology (as a science). As urbanism, biology is also confronted with a totality. We call it life. How to address reasonable, that is fruitful questions to that totality? Biology already found a set of answer, which nevertheless are not respected by the modernist version of this science, mainly expressed as genetics. The first insight was, that “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Which would be the respective question for urbanism? I can’t give an answer here, but it is certainly not independence. This we can know through the lesson told by “Junkspace”. Another, almost ridiculous anti-candidate is sustainability, as far as it is conceived in terms of scarcity of mainly physical resources instead of social complexity. Perhaps we should remember the history of the city beyond its “functionality”. Yet, that would mean to first develop an understanding of (abstract) evolution, to instantiate that, and then to derive a practicable model for urban societies. What does it mean to be social, what does it mean to think, both taken as practice in a context of freedom? Biology then developed a small set of basic contexts along to which any research should be aligned to, without loosing the awareness (hopefully) that there are indeed four of such contexts. These have been clearly stated by Nobel laureate Tinbergen . According to him research in biology is suitably structured by four major perspectives: phylogeny, ontogeny, physiology and behavior. Are there similarly salient dimensions for structuring thought in urbanism, particularly in a putative non-modernist (neither modernist, not post-modernist) version? Particularly interesting are, imho, especially the intersections of such sub-domains.
Perhaps differentiation (as a concept) is indeed a (the) proper candidate for the grand perspective. We will discuss some aspects of this in the next essay: it includes growth and its modes, removal, replacement, deterioration, the problem of the generic, the difference between development and evolution, and a usable concept of complexity. to name but a few. In the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, particularly the Thousand Plateaus, Difference and Repetition and the Fold, we already can find a good deal of theoretical work about he conceptual issues around differentiation. Differentiation includes learning, individually and collectively (I do NOT refer to swarm ideology here, nor to collectivist mysticism either!!!), which in turn would bring in the (abstract) mental into any consideration of urbanism. Yet, wasn’t mankind differentiating and learning all the time? The challenge will be to find a non-materialist interpretation of those in these materialist times.
1. Cited after 
2. Its core principles are the principle of excluded middle (PEM) and the principle of non-contradictivity (PNC). Both principles are equivalent to the concept of macroscopic objects, albeit only in a realist perspective, i.e. under the presupposition that objects are primary against relations. This is, of course, quite problematic, as it excludes an appropriate conceptualisation of information.
Both, the PEM and PNC allow for the construction of paradoxes like the Taylor Paradox. Such paradoxes may be conceived as “Language Game Colliders”, that is as conceptual devices which commit a mistake concerning the application of the grammar of language games. Usually, the bring countability and the sign for non-countability into conflict. First, it is a fault to compare a claim with a sign, second, it is stupid to claim contradicting proposals. Note, that here we are allowed to speak of “contradiction”, because we are following the PNC as it is suggested by the PNC claim. The Taylor-Paradox is of course, like any other paradox, a pseudo-problem. It appears only due to an inappropriate choice or handling of the conceptual embedding, or due to the dismissal of the concept of the “Language Game”, which mostly results in the implicit claim of the existence of a “Private Language”.
3. Vera Bühlmann, “Articulating quantities, if things depend on whatever can be the case“, lecture held at The Art of Concept, 3rd Conference: CONJUNCTURE — A Series of Symposia on 21st Century Philosophy, Politics, and Aesthetics, organized by Nathan Brown and Petar Milat, Multimedia Institute MAMA in Zagreb, Kroatia, June 15-17 2012.
4. German orig.: “Manhattan Space ist, wenn schon nicht überall, so doch im Internet potentiell überall, und zudem nicht mehr auf drei vielleicht gar noch räumliche Dimensionen beschränkt.”
5. Peter Sloterdjik does not like to be called a philosopher
-  Michel Foucault, Archaeology of Knowledge. Routledge 2002 .
-  Vera Bühlmann, Printed Physics, de Gruyter, forthcoming.
-  Rem Koolhaas (2002). Junkspace. October, Vol. 100, “Obsolescence”, pp. 175-190. MIT Press
-  Michael Hansmeyer, his website about these columns.
-  “Pseudopodia. Prolegomena to a Discourse of Design”. In: Vera Bühlmann and Martin Wiedmer . pre-specifics. Some Comparatistic Investigations on Research in Art and Design. JRP| Ringier Press, Zurich 2008. p. 21-80 (English edition). available online;
-  Wesley C. Salmon, Causality and Explanation. Oxford University Press, Oxford 1998.
-  Michael Epperson (2009). Quantum Mechanics and Relational Realism: Logical Causality and Wave Function Collapse. Process Studies, 38(2): 339-366.
-  Alan Hájek (2007). The Reference Class Problem is Your Problem Too. Synthese 156 (3):563-585.
-  W.v.O. Quine (1951), Two Dogmas of Empiricism. The Philosophical Review 60: 20-43.
-  Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition. Columbia University Press, New York 1994 .
-  Vera Bühlmann, inhabiting media. Thesis, University of Basel (CH), 2009.
-  Klaus Wassermann (2010). SOMcity: Networks, Probability, the City, and its Context. eCAADe 2010, Zürich. September 15-18, 2010. (pdf)
-  Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City. MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1982 .
-  Christoph Kronhagel (ed.), Mediatecture, Springer, Wien 2010. pp.334-345.
-  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
-  Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory. (Matière et Mémoire 1896) transl. N.M. Paul & W.S. Palmer. Zone Books 1990.
-  Theodore Dobzhansky, Genetics and the Origin of Species, Columbia University Press, New York 1951 (3rd ed.) .
-  Niko Tinbergen (1963). On Aims and Methods in Ethology, Z. Tierpsych., (20): 410–433.
July 16, 2012 § Leave a comment
Some years after “The Generic City” Koolhaas published
a further essay on the problematic field of identity: “Junkspace” (JS). I think it is a good idea to introduce both of them and to relate them before discussing the issues of this field by ourselves.
Unlike “The Generic City” (TGC), which was constructed as kind of a report about a film script, JS is more like a “documentary manifesto,” certainly provocative (for thought?), but also not a theory. “Junkspace” throws a concept in/out, according to its message, one could say. As in TGC, Koolhaas tries to densify and to enhance contrasts in order to render the invisible visible. Its language thus should not be misunderstood as “apocalyptic” or the like, or as a reference to actual “facts”. We else must consider that even documentations are inevitably equipped with theories and models, intentions and expectations. The biggest difference between the two essays is probably the fact that in JS Koolhaas does not try to keep distance through the formal construction of the writing. Hence, it may be legitimate to read his essay indeed as kind of a seriously taken diagnosis.
In many ways, JS reads as a critique of modernism and of post-modernism, not just as attitudes in architecture, but rather concerning the whole culture, ending in a state where the “cosmetic is the new cosmic.” Albeit critique is not made (too) explicit, trying to avoid bringing in explicit value statements, the tone of JS appears negative. Yet, it does so only upon the reader’s interpretation. “Junkspace is a low-grade purgatory.” In Christian mythology, everybody had to pass it, the good ones and the evil ones, except the bravest saints, perhaps. Failure is expressed, but by referring to a certain otherworldliness: “We do not leave pyramids.”
The style of JS is ambiguous itself, presumably intentionally so. On the one hand, it reminds to mathematical, formal series of sentences. Sections often start with existential proposals: “Junkspace is …”. Together, as a series, or a hive, these imply unspoken axioms. On the other hand it seems as if Koolhaas hesitates to use the figure of logic, or accordingly of cause and effect, with regard to the Junkspace itself. Such, Koolhaas exhibits performatively a clear-cut non-modern, or should we say “meta-modern”, attitude. By no means this should be taken as kind of some irrationality, though. We just find lines of historical developments, often even only historizing contrasts. This formal structure is anything but a self-righteous rhetoric game, it’s more like a necessary means to maintain some distance to modernism. The style of JS could be considered as (empty) rhetoric only from within a modernist attitude.
Before we deal further with modernism (below, and more extensively here), I first want to list my selection of core passages. The sections in Koolhaas’ text are neither enumerated nor divided by headlines (no hierarchies! many “…”! a Junkspace…), so I provide the page numbers in order to facilitate reference. Additionally, I enumerated the pieces for referencing them from within our own writing.
Here is the extract from Junkspace; it is of course hard to do such a selection—even if we allow for a total of 59 passages—, as JS is rather densely written. Koolhaas begins with some definitions before turning to its properties, readings and implications:
Précis of “Junkspace”
1. “Identity” is the new junk food for the dispossessed, globalization’s fodder for the disenfranchised … […] Junk-Space is the residue mankind leaves on the planet. The built […] product of modernization is not modern architecture but Junkspace. Junkspace is what remains after modernization has run its course, or, more precisely, what coagulates while modernization is in progress, its fallout. Modernization had a rational program: to share the blessings of science, universally. Junkspace is its apotheosis, or meltdown.
3. It was a mistake to invent modern architecture for the twentieth century. Architecture disappeared in the twentieth century; we have been reading a footnote under a microscope hoping it would turn into a novel;
4. […] our concern for the masses has blinded us to People’s Architecture. Junkspace seems an aberration, but it is the essence, the main thing. the product of an encounter between escalator and air-conditioning.
7. Junkspace is a Bermuda Triangle of concepts, an abandoned petri dish: it cancels distinctions, undermines resolve, confuses intention with realization. It replaces hierarchy with accumulation, composition with addition. […] A fuzzy empire of blur, it […] offer[s] a seamless patchwork of the permanently disjointed. […] Junkspace is additive, layered, and lightweight, not articulated in different parts but subdivided, […].
20. Instead of development, it offers entropy.
21. Change has been divorced from the idea of improvement. There is no progress; like a crab on LSD, culture staggers endlessly sideways …
22. Everywhere in Junkspace there are seating arrangements, ranges of modular chairs, even couches, as if the experience Junkspace offers its consumers is significantly more exhausting than any previous spatial sensation;
23. Junkspace is fanatically maintained, the night shift undoing the damage of the day shift in an endless Sisyphean replay. As you recover from Junkspace, Junkspace recovers from you.
24. Traditionally, typology implies demarcation, the definition of a singular model that excludes other arrangements. Junkspace represents a reverse typology of cumulative, approximative identity, less about kind than about quantity. But formlessness is still form, the formless also a typology.
25. Junkspace can either be absolutely chaotic or frighteningly aseptic-like a best-seller-overdetermined and indeterminate at the same time.
26. Junkspace is often described as a space of flows, but that is a misnomer; flows depend on disciplined movement, bodies that cohere. Junkspace is a web without a spider; […] It is a space of collision, a container of atoms, busy, not dense …
27. Junkspace features the tyranny of the oblivious: sometimes an entire Junkspace comes unstuck through the nonconformity of one of its members; a single citizen of an another culture-a refugee, a mother-can destabilize an entire Junkspace, […]
28. Flows in Junkspace lead to disaster: department stores at the beginning of sales; the stampedes triggered by warring compartments of soccer fans;
29. Traffic is Junkspace, from airspace to the subway; the entire highway system is Junkspace […]
30. Aging in Junkspace is nonexistent or catastrophic; sometimes an entire Junkspace—a department store, a nightclub, a bachelor pad-turns into a slum overnight without warning.
31. Corridors no longer simply link A to B, but have become “destinations.” Their tenant life tends to be short: the most stagnant windows, the most perfunctory dresses, the most implausible flowers. All perspective is gone, as in a rainforest (itself disappearing, they keep saying … ).
32. Trajectories are launched as ramp, turn horizontal without any warning, intersect, fold down, suddenly emerge on a vertiginous balcony above a large void. Fascism minus dictator.
33. There is zero loyalty—and zero tolerance—toward configuration, no “original” condition; architecture has turned into a time-lapse sequence to reveal a “permanent evolution.” … The only certainty is conversion-continuous-followed, in rare cases, by “restoration,” the process that claims ever new sections of history as extensions of Junkspace.
34. History corrupts, absolute history corrupts absolutely. Color and matter are eliminated from these bloodless grafts.
35. Sometimes not overload but its opposite, an absolute absence of detail, generates Junkspace. A voided condition of frightening sparseness, shocking proof that so much can be organized by so little.
36. The curse of public space: latent fascism safely smothered in signage, stools, sympathy … Junkspace is postexistential; it makes you uncertain where you are, obscures where you go, undoes where you were. Who do you think you are? Who do you want to be? (Note to architects: You thought that you could ignore Junkspace, visit it surreptitiously, treat it with condescending contempt or enjoy it vicariously … because you could not understand it, you’ve thrown away the keys … But now your own architecture is infected, has become equally smooth, all-inclusive, continuous, warped, busy, atrium-ridden …)
37. Restore, rearrange, reassemble, revamp, renovate, revise, recover, redesign, return-the Parthenon marbles-redo, respect, rent: verbs that start with re-produce Junkspace …
38. Junkspace will be our tomb.
39. Junkspace is political: It depends on the central removal of the critical faculty in the name of comfort and pleasure.
40. Not exactly “anything goes”; in fact, the secret of Junkspace is that it is both promiscuous and repressive: as the formless proliferates, the formal withers, and with it all rules, regulations, recourse …
41. Junkspace […] is the interior of Big Brother’s belly. It preempts people’s sensations. […] it blatantly proclaims how it wants to be read. Junkspace pretends to unite, but it actually splinters. It creates communities not out of shared interest or free association, but out of identical statistics and unavoidable demographics, an opportunistic weave of vested interests.
42. God is dead, the author is dead, history is dead, only the architect is left standing … an insulting evolutionary joke … A shortage of masters has not stopped a proliferation of masterpieces. “Masterpiece” has become a definitive sanction, a semantic space that saves the object from criticism, leaves its qualities unproven, its performance untested, its motives unquestioned.
43. Junkspace reduces what is urban to urbanity. Instead of public life, Public SpaceTM: what remains of the city once the unpredictable has been removed …
44. Inevitably, the death of God (and the author) has spawned orphaned space; Junkspace is authorless, yet surprisingly authoritarian … At the moment of its greatest emancipation, humankind is subjected to the most dictatorial scripts.: […] The chosen theater of megalomania—the dictatorial—is no longer politics, but entertainment.
45. Why can’t we tolerate stronger sensations? Dissonance? Awkwardness? Genius? Anarchy? … Junkspace heals, or at least that is the assumption of many hospitals.
46. Often heroic in size, planned with the last adrenaline of modernism’s grand inspiration, we have made them (too) human;
47. Junkspace is space as vacation;
48. Junkspace features the office as the urban home, a meeting-boudoir. […] Espace becomes E-space.
49. Globalization turns language into Junkspace. […] Through the retrofitting of language, there are too few plausible words left; our most creative hypotheses will never be formulated, discoveries will remain unmade, concepts unlaunched, philosophies muffled, nuances miscarried … We inhabit sumptuous Potemkin suburbs of weasel terminologies. Aberrant linguistic ecologies sustain virtual subjects in their claim to legitimacy, help them survive … Language is no longer used to explore, define, express, or to confront but to fudge, blur, obfuscate, apologize, and comfort … it stakes claims, assigns victimhood, preempts debate, admits guilt, fosters consensus. […] a Satanic orchestration of the meaningless …
50. Intended for the interior, Junkspace can easily engulf a whole city.
51. Seemingly at the opposite end of Junkspace, the golf course is, in fact, its conceptual double: empty, serene, free of commercial debris. The relative evacuation of the golf course is achieved by the further charging of Junkspace. The methods of their design and realization are similar: erasure, tabula rasa, reconfiguration. Junkspace turns into biojunk; ecology turns into ecospace. Ecology and economy have bonded in Junkspace as ecolomy.
52. Junkspace can be airborne, bring malaria to Sussex;
53. Deprivation can be caused by overdose or shortage; both conditions happen in Junkspace (often at the same time). Minimum is the ultimate ornament, a self-righteous crime, the contemporary Baroque.
54. It does not signify beauty, but guilt.
55. Outside, in the real world, the “art planner” spreads Junkspace’s fundamental incoherence by assigning defunct mythologies to residual surfaces and plotting three-dimensional works in leftover emptiness. Scouting for authenticity, his or her touch seals the fate of what was real, taps it for incorporation in Junkspace.
56. The only legitimate discourse is loss; art replenishes Junkspace in direct proportion to its own morbidity.
57. […] maybe the origins of Junkspace go back to the kindergarten …
58. Will Junkspace invade the body? Through the vibes of the cell phone? Has it already? Through Botox injections? […] Is each of us a mini-construction site? […]
59. Is it [m: mankind] a repertoire of reconfiguration that facilitates the intromission of a new species into its self-made Junksphere? The cosmetic is the new cosmic… ◊
JS is about the consequences of modernism for architecture and for urbanism. Koolhaas does not hesitate to explicate it: Modernization, modernism ends in a “meltdown”. As an alternative he offers the “apotheosis”, a particular quality as a Golden Calf of modernization. Within the context of urban life and architectural activities, this outcome shows up as “Junkspace”. The essence of it is emptiness, isolation, splintering, arbitrariness. Its “victory” is named by its offer, entropy, and its essence is continuity. Probably it is meant as kind of a tertiary chaos, vanishing any condition for the possibility of discernability, unfortunately as the final point attractor. We will see.
Koolhaas describes Junkspace as an unintended outcome of a global collective activity. Obviously, Koolhaas is struggling with that, or with the unintendedness of the effect, in other words with emergence and self-organization. Emergence and self-organization can be understood exclusively in the wider context of complexity as we have outlined it previously (see this piece). The concept of complexity as we have constructed it is by no means anti-scientific in a fundamental sense. Yet, it is a severe challenge to scientism as it is practiced today, as our concept explicitly refers to a reflected conceptual embedding, something that is still excluded from natural science today. Anyway, complexity as an explicated concept must be considered as a necessary part of architectural theory, if we take Koolhaas and his writings such as “Junkspace” serious. Without it, we could not make sense of the difference between standardization and homogenization, between uniqueness and singularity, between history and identity, between development and evolution, or between randomness and heterotopia.
Modernism and its effects is the not so hidden agenda of JS. We have to be clear about this concept—at least concerning its foundations, albeit we will not find space enough here for discussing or even just listing its branches that reach not only till Marcuse’s office in Frankfurt—if we want to understand neo-leftist interpretations of JS as that by Jameson (“Future City” ), and the not so hidden irony expressed by the resonating label “Future Cities Lab” that denotes the urbanism project of the Department of Architecture (one of the biggest in Europe) of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETHZ). It is also the name of a joint venture between National University of Singapore (NUS) and ETHZ. Yes, they indeed call it Lab(oratory), a place usually producing hives of “petri dishes,” either abandoned (see 7. above) or “containing” the city itself (see section 8.1. of “The Generic City”), and at the same time still, and partially contradictory to its practices, an oratory of modernism. Perhaps. (more about that later).
Latest here we have to address the question:
What is the problem with modernism?
This will be the topic of the next post.
-  Rem Koolhaas (2002). Junkspace. October, Vol. 100, “Obsolescence”, pp. 175-190. MIT Press. available here
-  Fredric Jameson, Future City, New Left Review NLR 21, May-June 2003, pp. 65-79. available here
July 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
Before we are going to discuss “The Generic City”
we want to provide a selection of its most salient sentences, (almost) without any further comment.
“The Generic City” (TGC) is organized into 17 sections, each comprising one further level of enumerated subsections, consisting often just of a single sentence. This structure and the diction of the piece reminds a bit to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, albeit this resemblance is not substantial to any regards. The status of the writing qua its style is problematic, as we will see later in the dedicated essay. It is probably appropriate to read it just as kind of a dramatization, without much explicit theoretical attitude (despite many perceive it as theoretical work). For instance, a film or a story may have an end, if we consider them as an event, but a theory certainly does not.
Here I provide all headings and a selection of proposals that can be found in TGC, because I think that it has to be taken as an entirety. This may even be intended by the formal structure. Usually, only single proposals are cited from TGC. I consider this practice as quite problematic. Nobody would cite a single scene from a film of Godard in an attempt to describe Godard’s work. Quite to the contrast, any scene in any film created by Godard may be interpreted only by taking into account all, or at least many, of his films. Such is the quality of the oeuvre of a filmmaker. Extracting a single scene leads almost inevitably to serious misunderstanding. Approaching Koolhaas we have (to try) to respect (t)his particular pragmatics.
The headings of the 17 main sections are:
1. Introduction 2. Statistics 3. General 4. Airport 5. Population 6. Urbanism 7. Politics 8. Sociology 9. Quarters 10. Program 11. Architecture 12. Geography 13. Identity 14. History 15. Infrastructure 16. Culture 17. End.
1.1. Is the contemporary city like the contemporary airport—”all the same”? Is it possible to theorize this convergence? And if so, to what ultimate configuration is it aspiring? Convergence is possible only at the price of shedding identity. That is usually seen as a loss. But at the scale at which it occurs, it must mean something. What are the disadvantages of identity, and conversely, what are the advantages of blankness? What if this seemingly accidental—and usually regretted—homogenization were an intentional process, a conscious movement away from difference toward similarity? What if we are witnessing a global liberation movement: “down with character!” What is left after identity is stripped? The Generic?
1.6. The Generic City is the city liberated from the captivity of the center, from the straitjacket of identity.
3.1. The Generic City is what is left after large section of urban life crossed over to cyberspace. […] This pervasive lack of urgency and insistence acts like a potent drug: it induces a hallicunation of the normal.
3.2. The serenity of the Generic City is achieved by the evacuation of the public realm, as in an emergency fire drill. […] The urban plane now only accommodates necessary movement, fundamentally the car. […] What is new about this locomotive public realm is that it cannot be measured in dimensions.
3.3. The Generic City is fractal, an endless repetition of the same simple structural module.
3.4. Golf courses are all that is left of otherness.
3.6. Its main attraction is its anomic.
4.4. Airports come in two sizes: too big and too small. Yet their size has no influence on their performance.
5.1. The Generic City is seriously multiracial, on average …
5.2. The Generic City is always founded by people on the move, poised to move on. This explains the insubstantiality of their foundations.
6.1. The great originality of the Generic City is simply to abandon what does not work. […] In that sense, the Generic City accommodates both the primordial and the futuristic – in fact, only these two.
6.2. The Generic City is held together […] by the residual. Supremely inorganic, the organic is the Generic City’s strongest myth.
6.3. The street is dead. […] Public art is everywhere—as if two deaths make a life.
6.4. The Generic city is on its way from horizontality to verticality.[…] All Generic Cities issue from tabula rasa; if there was nothing, now they are there.
6.5. The Generic City is the apotheosis of the multiple-choice concept: all boxes crossed, an anthology of all the options. […] an arbitrary gene pool that sometimes produces amazing results.
6.9. The writing of the city may be indecipherable, flawed, but that does not mean that there is no writing; it may simply be that we developed a new illiteracy, a new blindness.
6.10. The best definition of the aesthetic of the Generic City is “free style”.
6.11. The roads are only for cars.
6.15. The Generic City presents the final death of planning. […] its most dangerous and most exhilarating discovery is that planning makes no difference whatsoever. […] In this apotheosis of multiple choice it will never be possible again to reconstruct cause and effect. They work—that is all .
7.1. The Generic City has a (sometimes distant) relationship with a more or less authoritarian regime – local or national.
8.1. The Generic City is sociology, happening. Each Generic City is a petri dish.
9.2. The Generic City had a past, once.
9.3. The In spite of its absence, history is the major preoccupation, even industry, of the Generic City.
9.4. Instead of specific memories, the associations the Generic City mobilizes are general memories, memories of memories: […] a déjà vu that never ends […]
9.8. Each Generic City has a waterfront, not necessarily with water—it can also be with desert, for instance—but at least an edge where it meets another condition […]
10.2. The only activity is shopping.
10.3. Hotels are becoming the generic accommodation of the Generic City, its most common building block. […] they are closest we have to urban existence.
10.4. The hotel now implies imprisonment.
11.2. The architecture of the Generic City is by definition beautiful.
11.4. Like everything else in the Generic City, its architecture is […] an epidemic of yielding no longer through the application of principle but through the systematic application of the unprincipled.
11.5. The Generic City elevates mediocrity to a higher level.
11.10. The style of choice is postmodern, and will always remain so. Postmodernism is the only movement that has succeeded in connecting the practice of architecture with the practice of panic. Postmodernism is not a doctrine […] but a method […]. […] it creates unconsciousness.
11.12. Is there a connection between the predominance of mirror in the Generic City […] and the “gifts” that […] were supposed to be the most efficient prsent for savages?
11.13. the infinite variety of the Generic City comes close […] to making variety normal [m: if not boring]: banalized, in a reversal of expectation, it is repetition that has become unusual, therefore, potentially, daring, exhilarating.
13.1. There is a calculated (?) redundancy in the iconography that the Generic City adopts.
14.1. Regret about history’s absence is a tiresome reflex. It exposes an unspoken consensus that history’s presence is desirable. […] A city is a plane inhabited in the most efficient way by people and processes, […] the presence of history only drags down its performance.
14.2. History present obstructs the pure exploitation of its theoretical value as absence.
14.3. The Generic City, like a sketch which is never elaborated, is not improved but abandoned. The idea of layering, intensification, completion are alien to it. it has no layers.
15.1. Instead of network and organism, the new infrastructure creates enclave and impasse: no longer the grand récit but the parasitic swerve.
15.2. Infrastructure is no longer a […] response to a […] need but a strategic weapon, a prediction.
16.1. Only the redundant counts.
17.1. Imagine a Hollywood movie about the bible. […] Market scene: […] Now switch off the sound […] and reverse the film. The […] men and women stumble backward; the viewer no longer registers only humans but begins to note spaces between them. The center empties. […] Silence is now reinforced by emptiness. Relief …it’s over. That is the story of the city. The city is no longer. We can leave the theater now. ◊
Well, that’s it. I think it would be a misunderstanding to ask whether Koolhaas praises the advent of the Generic City or lament about it. It is also quite clear that this piece is not a theoretical work, despite the second sentence in the first paragraph (1.1.). It looks more like a script, or even a report about an unexplicated script of a not yet realized film. Actually, it is somehow very surprising that people indeed take this piece literally, whether they praise it or complain about it, as if it would describe obvious empirical “facts”!
If we take it as a script, or the report about such, the “genericity” of the theme spills over to the plot and the performance of the report and creates (dis-)harmonically breaking echoes. A script is generic with respect to the film. The report, however, treats it as a “fact”.
How could the explicated script look like? The first narrative level of that putative film would be some love story or crime story, or both together, like in Godard’s Alphaville, yet presumably in the back-office of a rhizomatic hotel, which spreads unpredictably above and beneath the “surface”. The castle, update version 7.004.
The second narrative level could be imagined as directed towards a hypothetical or phantastic Form of Life (Lebensform) in the near future, not so much different from our own. The third level of the narration would reflect the core concepts of “The Generic City”, demonstrating their implications to the unfolding of human social and political activities. A potential forth level could demonstrate the emergent result of those activities, as emergence in the spectators minds, triggered by the film: Junkspace.
My point being here, that the genericity as it is implied by TGC requires a lot of work in order to find some actualization by constructing an instantiation. Neglecting or overlooking this necessity is not only an abundant trait in our contemporary society. It is even essential part of the whole program of modernism. We will discuss this in much more detail over here. Some years later, in the essay “Junkspace” (which we introduce in the sequel), Koolhaas critizes the modernist attitude more distinctly and visibly, on a more representational level.
To put it more directly: imho, it amounts to a drastic misunderstanding to regard the description from TGC as a description or even prescription of an actual city. It would be the same as to regard Gotham City, Alphaville or Blade Runner’s Los Angeles as actual cities. This misunderstanding can be comprehended as a response provoked by the typical belief set of modernism. It is funny to see that Koolhaas triggered that response apparently as an intended effect, perhaps fostered by the seemingly representational or even analytic-looking series of headings.
As the cinema film, whether produced in Hollywood or as “independent”, provides the possibility for processes of symbolization, TGC does as well. It exaggerates, densifies, draws in black and white what otherwise would remain fuzzy, unsayable, and unspoken. In some way, Koolhaas is a perhaps close relative of Jaques Tati, and TGC then would be the most recent sibling of “Play Time“. Even the title is already multi-faceted, invoking relations from Wittgenstein to the kindergarten.
The obvious reference to the genre of films opens a further important line of interpretation, a whole problematic field: time. Usually, time is not treated as a topic of its own significance in architecture, it is just a parameter, often even not mentioned at all. In the film, however, and historically at first in the cinema, time is not only shown through kinetics (moving bodies). Instead, cinema invented an image of time itself, as Deleuze has been demonstrating so lucidly . Hence, Koolhaas’ writing “The Generic City” could be interpreted also as an implicit critique of “timeless” architecture or urbanism. Such, he would follow Aldo Rossi in his critique of modernism regarding the role of time .
Quite obviously, current conceptions of change in the city, or more general, of urban arrangements, follow the representational image of time, a kinetic image. At best, one would have to add, as urbanism can’t deal appropriately with shrinking cities, and what is called urban waste. It is rather telling that it is not called “urban fallow”, as in agriculture, where the fallow is part of a culture of change and cultivation. To put it directly: urbanism is lacking a theory of change, differenciation and differentiation.
This way, Koolhaas sails as an ex-static ex-modern replicate of Odysseus in the mare praespecificum, where the stars are projected to the sky each night in different constellations, where one could expect only islands of stability, inhabited by deceivingly hospitable syrenes.
This article has been created on July 14th, 2012, and has been republished in an extended form on July 26th, 2012.
-  Rem Koolhaas, “The Generic City”. in: O.M.A., Rem Koolhaas, Bruce Mau (eds.), S, M, L, XL. Monacelli Press, 1995, p.1248-1264. available here
-  Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2 – The Time Image. Athlone Press, London 1989.
-  Aldo Rossi, The Architecture of the City. MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.) 1982 .
February 17, 2012 § Leave a comment
The status of self-referential things is a very particular one.
They can be described only by referring to the concept of the “self.”
Of course, self-referential things are not without conditions, just as any other thing, too. It is, however, not possible to describe self-referential things completely just by means of those conditions, or dependencies. Logically, there is an explanatory gap regarding their inward-directed dependencies. The second peculiarity with self-referential things is that there are some families of configurations for which they become generative.
For strongly singular terms no possible justification exists. Nevertheless, they are there, we even use them, which means that the strong singularity does not imply isolation at all. The question then is about how we can/do achieve such an embedding, and which are the consequences of that.
Despite the fact that there is no entry point which could by apriori be taken as a justified or even salient one we still have to make a choice which one actually to take. We suppose that there is indeed such a choice. It is a particular one though. We do not assume that the first choice is actually directed to an already identified entity as this would mean that there already would have been a lot of other choices in advance. We would have to select methods and atoms to fix, i.e. select and choose the subject of a concrete choice, and so on.
The choice we propose to take is neither directed to an actual entity, nor is it itself a actual entity. We are talking about a virtual choice. Practically, we start with the assumption of choosability.
Actually, Zermelo performed the same move when trying to provide a sound basis for set theory  after the idealistic foundation developed by Frege and others had failed so dramatically, leading into the foundational crisis of formal sciences . Zermelo’s move was to introduce choosability as an axiom, called the axiom of choice.
For Zermelo’s set theory the starting point, or if you prefer, the anchor point, lies completely outside the realm of the concept that is headed for. The same holds for our conceptualization of formalization. This outside is the structure of pragmatic act of choice itself. This choice is a choice qua factum, it is not important that we choose from a set from identified entities.
The choice itself proposes by its mere performance that it is possible to think of relations and transformations; it is the unitary element of any further formalization. In Wittgenstein’s terms, it is part of the abstract life form. In accordance to Wittgenstein’s critique of Moore’s problems1, we can also say that it is not reasonable, or more precise: it is without any sense, to doubt on the act of choosing something, even if we did not think about anything particular. The mere executive aspect of any type of activity is sufficient for any a posteriori reasoning that a choice has been performed.
Notably, the axiom of choice implies the underlying assumption of intensive relatedness between yet undetermined entities. In doing so, this position represents a fundamental opposite to the attitude of Frege, Russell and any modernist in general, who always start with the assumption of the isolated particle. For these reasons we regard the axiom of choice as one of the most interesting items in mathematics!
The choice thus is a Deleuzean double-articulation , closely related to his concept of the transcendental status of difference; we also could say that the choice has a transcendental dualistic characteristics. On the one hand there is nothing to justify. It is mere movement, or more abstract, a pure mapping or transformation, just as a matter of fact. On the other hand, it provides us with the possibility of just being enabled to conceive mere movement as such a mapping transformation; it enables us to think the unit before any identification. Transformation comes first; Deleuze’s philosophy similarly puts the difference into the salient transcendental position. To put it still different, it is the choice, or the selection, that is inevitably linked to actualization. Actualization and choice/selection are co-extensive.
Just another Game
So, let us summarize briefly the achievements. First, we may hold that similarly to language, there is no justification for formalization. Second, as soon as we use language, we also use symbols. Symbols on the other hand take, as we have seen, a double-articulated position between language and form. We characterized formalization as a way to give a complicated thing a symbolic form that lives within a system of other forms. We can’t conceive of forms without symbols. Language hence always implies, to some degree, formalization. It is only a matter of intensity, or likewise, a matter of formalizing the formalization, to proceed from language to mathematics. Third, both language and formalization belong to particular class of terms, that we characterized as strongly singular terms. These terms may be well put together with an abstract version of Kant’s organon.
From those three points follows that concepts that are denoted by strongly singular terms, such as formalization, creativity, or “I”, have to be conceived, as we do with language, as particular types of games.
In short, all these games are being embedded in the life form of or as a particular (sub-)culture. As such, they are not themselves language games in the original sense as proposed by Wittgenstein.
These games are different from the language game, of course, mainly because the underlying mechanisms as well as embedding landscape of purposes is different. These differences become clearly visible if we try to map those games into the choreostemic space. There, they will appear as different choreostemic styles. Despite the differences, we guess that the main properties of the language game apply also to the formalization game. This concerns the setup, the performance of such games, their role, their evaluation etc.etc., despite the effective mechanisms might be slightly different; for instance, Brandom’s principle of the “making it explicit” that serves well in the case of language is almost for sure differently parameterized for the formalizatin or the creativity game. Of course, this guess has to be subject of more detailed investigations.
As there are different natural languages that all share the same basement of enabling or hosting the possibility of language games, we could infer—based on the shared membership to the family of strongly singular terms— that there are different forms of formalization. Any of course, everybody knows at least two of such different forms of formalization: music and mathematics. Yet, once found the glasses that allow us to see the multitude of games, we easily find others. Take for instance the notations in contemporary choreography, that have been developed throughout the 20ieth century. Or the various formalizations that human cultures impose onto themselves as traditions.
Taken together it is quite obvious that language games are not a singularity. There are other contexts like formalization, modeling or the “I-reflexivity” that exist for the same reason and are similarly structured, although their dynamics may be strikingly different. In order to characterize any possible such game we could abstract from the individual species by proceeding to the -ability. Cultures then could be described precisely as the languagability of their members.
Based on the concept of strongly singular terms we first proof that we have to conceive of formalization (and symbol based creativity) in a similar way as we do for language. Both are embedded into a life form (in the Wittgensteinian sense). Thus it makes sense to propose to transfer the structure of the “game” from the domain of natural language to other areas that are arranged around strongly singular terms, such as formalization or creativity in the symbolic domain. As a nice side effect this brought us to the proper generalization of the Wittgensteinian language games.
Yet, there is still more about creativity that we have to clarify before we can relate it to other “games” like formalization and to proof the “beauty” of this particular combination. For instance, we have to become clear about the differences of systemic creativity, which can be observed in quasi-material arrangements (m-creativity), e.g. as self-organization, and the creativity that is at home in the realm of the symbolic (s-creativity).
The next step is thus to investigate the issue of expressibility.
1. In an objection to Wittgenstein, Moore raised the skeptic question about the status of certain doubts: Can I doubt that this hand belongs to me? Wittgenstein denied the reasonability of such kind of questions.
-  Zermelo, Set theory
-  Hahn, Grundlagenkrise
-  Deleuze & Guattari, Milles Plateaus
February 13, 2012 § Leave a comment
Thought is always abstract thought,
so thought is always opposed to work involving hands. Isn’t it? It is generally agreed that there are things like theory and practice, which are believed to belong to different realms. Well, we think that this perspective is inappropriate and misleading. Deeply linked to this first problem is a second one, the distinction between model and theory. Indeed, there are ongoing discussions in current philosophy of science about those concepts.
Frequently one can meet the claim that theories are about predictions. It is indeed the received view. In this essay we try to reject precisely this received view. As an alternative, we offer a Wittgensteinian perspective on the concept of theory, with some Deleuzean, dedicatedly post-Kantian influences. This perspective we could call a theory about theory. It will turn out that this perspective not only is radically different from the received view, it also provides some important otherwise unachievable benefits, or (in still rather imprecise wording) both concerning “practical” as well as philosophical aspects. But let us start first with some examples.
Even before let me state clearly that there is much more about theory than can be mentioned in a single essay. Actually, this essay is based on a draft for book on the theory of theory that comprises some 500 pages…
The motivation to think about theory derives from several hot spots. Firstly, it is directly and intrinsically implied by the main focus of the first “part” of this blog on the issue of (the possibility for a) machine-based episteme. We as humans only can know because we can willingly take part in a game that could be appropriately described as mutual and conscious theorizing-modeling induction. If machines ever should develop the capability for their own episteme, for their autonomous capability to know, they necessarily have to be able to build theories.
A second strain of motivation comes from the the field of complexity. There are countless publications stating that it is not possible to derive a consistent notion of complexity, ranging from Niklas Luhmann  to Hermann Haken  (see ), leading either to a rejection of the idea that it is a generally applicable concept, or to an empty generalization, or to a reduction. Obviously, people are stating that there is no possibility for a theory about complexity. On the other hand, complexity is more and more accepted as a serious explanatory scheme across disciplines, from material science to biology, sociology and urbanism. Complexity is also increasingly a topic in the field of machine-based episteme, e.g. through the concept of self-organizing maps (SOM). This divergence needs to be clarified, and to be dissolved, of course.
The third thread of motivation is given by another field where theory has been regarded usually as something exotic: urbanism and architecture. Is talking about architecture, e.g. its history, without actually using this talking in the immediate context of organizing and rising a building already “theory”? Are we allowed to talk in this way at all, thereby splitting talking and doing? Another issue in these fields is the strange subject of planning. Plans are neither models nor theory, nor operation, and planning often fails, not only in architecture, but also in the IT-industry. In order to understand the status of plans, we have first to get clear about the abundant parlance that distinguishes “theory” and “practice”.
Quite obviously, a proper theory of theory in general, that is, not just a theory about a particular theory, is also highly relevant what is known as theory about theory change, or in terms used often in the field of Artificial Intelligence, belief revision. If we do not have a proper theory about theory at our disposal, we also will not talk reasonably about what it could mean to change a belief. Actually, the topic about beliefs is so relevant that we will discuss it in a dedicated essay. For the time being, we just want to point out the relevance of our considerations here. Later, we will include a further short remark about it.
For these reasons it is vital in our opinion (and for us) to understand the concept of theory better than it is possible on the basis of current mainstream thinking on the subject.
In line with that mainstream attitude it has been said for instance that Einstein’s theory predicted—or: Einstein predicted from his theory—the phenomenon of gravitational lenses for light. In Einstein’s universe, there is no absoluteness regarding the straightness of a line, because space itself has a curvature that is parametrized. Another example is the so-called Standard Model, or Standard Interpretation in particle physics. Physicists claim that this model is a theory and that it is the best available theory in making correct predictions about the behavior of matter. The core of this theory is given by the relation between two elements, the field and its respective mediating particle, a view, which is a descendant of Einstein’s famous equation about energy, mass and the speed of of light. Yet, the field theory leads to the problem of infinite regress, which they hope to solve in the LHC “experiments” currently performed at the CERN in Geneva. The ultimate particle that also should “explain” gravity is called the Higgs-Boson. The general structure of the Standard Model, however, is a limit process: The resting mass of the particles is thought to become larger and larger, such, the Higgs-Boson is the last possible particle, leaving gravitation and the graviton still unexplained. There is also a pretty arrangement of the basic types of elementary particles that is reminding the periodic table in chemistry. Anyway, by means of that Standard Model it is possible to build computers, or at least logical circuits, where a bit is represented by just some 20 electrons. Else, Einstein’s theory has a direct application in the GPS, where a highly accurate common time base shared between the satellites is essential.
Despite these successes there are still large deficits of the theory. Physicists say that they did not detect gravitational waves so far that are said to be predicted by their theory. Well, physics even does not even offer any insight about the genesis of electric charges and magnetism. These are treated as phenomena, leaving a strange gap between the theory and the macroscopic observations (Note that the Standard Model does NOT allow decoherence into a field, but rather only into particles). Else, physicists do not have even the slightest clue about some mysterious entities in the universe that they call “dark matter” and “dark energy”, except that it exerts positive or negative gravitational force. I personally tend to rate this as one of the largest (bad) jokes of science ever: Building and running the LHC (around 12 billion $ so far) on the one hand and at the same time taking the road back into mythic medieval language serious. We meet also and again meet dark ages in physics, not only dark matter and dark energy.
Traveling Dark Matter in a particular context, reflecting and inducing new theories: The case of Malevich and his holy blackness.1
Anyway, that’s not our main topic here. I cited these examples just to highlight the common usage of the concept of theory, according to which a theory is a more or less mindful collection of proposals that can be used to make predictions about worldly facts.
To be Different, or not to be Different…
But what is then the difference between theories and models? The concept of model is itself an astonishing phenomenon. Today, it is almost ubiquitous, We hardly can imagine anymore that only a few decades ago, back in the 19th century, the concept of model was used mainly by architects. Presumably, it was the progress made in physics in the beginning of the 20th century, together with the foundational crisis in mathematics that initiated the career of the concept of model (for an overview in German language see this collection of pages and references).
One of the usages of the concept of model refers to the “direct” derivation of predictions from empirical observations. We can take some observations about process D, e.g. an illness of the human body, where we know the outcome (cured or not) and then we could try to build an “empiric” model that links the observations to the outcome. Observations can include the treatment(s), of course. It is clear that predictions and diagnoses are almost synonyms.
Where is the theory here? Many claim that there is no theory in modeling in general, and particularly that there is no theory possible in the case of medicine and pharmacology. Statistical techniques are usually regarded as some kind of method. For there is no useful generalization is is believed that a “theory” would not be different from stating that the subject is alive. It is claimed that we are always directly faced with the full complexity of living organisms, thus we have to reduce or perspective. But stop, shouldn’t we take the notion of complexity here already as a theory, should we?
For Darwin’s theory of natural selection it is also not easy to draw a separating line between the concept of models and theories. Darwin indeed argued on a quite abstract level, which led to the situation that people think that his theory can not be readily tested. Some people feel thus inclined to refer to the great designer, or to the Spaghetti monster alike. Others, notably often physicists, chemists or mathematicians, tried to turn Darwin’s theory into a system that actually could be tested. For the time being we leave this as an open issue, but we will return to it later.
Today it is generally acknowledged that measurement always implies a theory. From that we directly can conclude that the same should hold for modeling. Modeling implies a theory, as measurement implies a particular model. In the latter case the model is often actualized by the materiality or the material arrangement of the measurement device. Both, the material aspects together with the immaterial design aspects that mainly concern informational filtering, establish at least implicitly a particular normativity, a set of normative rules that we can call “model.” This aspect of normativity of models (and of theories alike) is quite important, we should keep this in mind.
In the former relation, the implication of theories by modeling, we may expect a similar dependency. Yet, as far as we do not clearly distinguish models and theory, theories would be simply some kind of more general models. If we do not discern them, we would not need both. Actually, precisely this is the current state of affairs, at least in the mainstreams across various disciplines.
Reframing. Into the Practice of Languagability.
It is one of the stances inherited from materialism to pose questions about a particular subject in an existential, or if you like, ontological, manner. Existential questions take the form “What is X?”, where the “is” already claims the possibility of an analytical treatment, implied by the sign for equality. In turn this equality, provoked by the existential parlance, claims that this equation is a lossless representation. We are convinced that this approach destroys any chance for sustainable insights already in the first move. This holds even for the concepts of “model” or “theory” themselves. Nevertheless, the questions “What is a model?” or “What is a theory?” can be frequently met (e.g.  p.278)
The deeper reason for the referred difficulties is that it implies the primacy of the identity relation. Yet, the only possible identity relation is a=a, the tautology, which of course is empirically empty. Despite we can write a=b, it is not an identity relation any more. Either it is a claim, or it is based on empiric arguments, that means, it is always a claim. In any case, one have to give further criteria upon which the identity a=b appears as justified. The selection of those criteria is far outside of the relation itself. It invokes the totality of the respective life form. The only conclusion we can draw from this is that the identity relation is transcendent. Despite its necessity it can not be part of the empirical world. All the same is hence true for logic.
Claiming the identity relation for empirical facts, i.e. for any kind of experience and hence also for any thought, is self-contradictive. It implies a normativity that remains deliberately hidden. We all know about the late and always disastrous consequences of materialism on the societal level, irrespective of choosing the marxist or the capitalist flavor.
There are probably only two ways of rejecting materialism and such also for avoiding its implications. Both of them reject the primacy of the identity relation, yet in slightly different ways. The first one is Deleuze’s transcendental difference, which he developed in his philosophy of the differential (e.g. in Difference & Repetition, or his book about the Fold and Leibniz). The second one is Wittgenstein’s proposal to take logic as a consequence of performance, or more precise, as an applicable quasi-logic, and to conceive of logic as a transcendental entity. Both ways are closely related, though developed independently from each other. Of course, there are common traits shared by Deleuze and Wittgenstein such as rejecting what has been known as “academic philosophy” at their time. All the philosophy had been positioned just as “footnotes to Platon”, Kant or Hegel.
In our reframing of the concept of theory we have been inspired by both, Deleuze and Wittgenstein, yet we follow the Wittgensteinian track more explicitly in the following.
Actually, the move is quite simple. We just have to drop the assumption that entities “exist” independently. Even if we erode that idealistic independence only slightly we are ultimately actually enforced to acknowledge that everything we can say, know or do is mediated by language, or more general by the conditions that imply the capability for language, in short by languagability.
In contrast to so-called “natural languages”—which actually is a revealing term— languagability is not a dualistic, bivalent off-or-on concept. It is applicable to any performing entity, including animals and machines. Hence, languagability is not only the core concept for the foundation of the investigation of the possibility of machine-based episteme. It is essential for any theory.
Following this track, we stop asking ontological questions. We even drop ontology as a whole. Questions like “What is a Theory?”, “What is Language?” etc. are almost free of any possible sense. Instead, it appears much more reasonable to accept the primacy of languagability and to ask about the language game in which a particular concept plays a certain role. The question that promises progress therefore is:
What can we say about the concept of theory as a language game?
To our knowledge, the “linguistic turn” has not been performed in philosophy of science so far, let it even be in disciplines like computer science or architecture. The consequence of which is a considerable mess in the respective disciplines.
Theory as a Language Game
One of the first implications of the turn towards the primacy of languagability is the vanishing of the dualism between theory and practice. Any practice requires rules, which in turn can only be referred to in the space of languagability. Of course, there is more than the rule in rule-following. Speech acts have been stratified first by Austin  into locutionary, illocutionary and perlocutionary parts. There might be even further ones, implying evolutionary issues or the play as story-telling. (Later we we call these aspects “delocutionary”) On the other hand, it is also true that one can not pretend to follow a rule, as Wittgenstein recognized .
It is interesting in this respect that the dualistic, opposing contrast between theory and practice has not been the classical view; not just by chance it appeared as late as in the early 17th century . Originally, theory just meant “to look at, to speculate”, a pairing that is interesting in itself.
Ultimately, rules are embedded in the totality of a life form (“Lebensform” in the Wittgensteinian, non-phenomenological sense), including the complete “system” of norms in charge at a given moment. Yet, most rules are regulated themselves, by more abstract ones, that set the conditions for the less abstract ones. The result is not a perfect hierarchy of course, the collection of rules being active in a Lebensform is not an analytic endeavor. We already mentioned this layered system in another chapter (about “comparing”) and labeled it “orthoregulation” there. Rules are orthoregulated, without orthoregulation rules would not be rules.
This rooting of rules in the Forms of Life (Wittgenstein), the communal aspect (Putnam), the Field of Proposals (“Aussagefeld”, Foucault) or the Plane of Immanence provoked by attempting to think consistently (Deleuze), which are just different labels for closely related aspects, prevents the ultimate justification, the justifiable idea, and the presence of logical truth values or truth functions in actual life.
It is now important to recognize and to keep in mind that rules about rules are not referring to any empiric entity that could be found as material or informational fact! Rules about rules are referring to the regulated rules only. Of course, usually even the meta-rules are embedded into the larger context of valuation, the whole system should work somehow, that is, the whole system should allow to create predictive models. Here we find the link to risk (avoidance) and security.
Taking an empiricist or pragmatic stance also for the “meta”-rules that are part of the orthoregulative layer we could well say that the empiric basis of the ortho-rules are other, less abstract and less general rules.
Now we can apply the principle of orthoregulation to the subject of theory. Several implications are immediately and clearly visible, namely and most important that
- – theories are not about the prediction of empirical “non-normative” phenomena, the subject of Popper’s falsificationism is the model, nor the theory;
- – theories can not be formalized, because they are at least partially normative;
- – facts can’t be “explained” as far as “explanations” are conceived to be non-normative entities;
It is clear that the standard account to the status of scientific theories is not compatible with that (which actually is a compliment). Mathias Frisch  briefly discusses some of the issues. Particularly, he dismisses the stance that
“the content of a theory is exhausted by its mathematical formalism and a mapping function defining the class of its models.” (p.7)
This approach is also shared by the influential Bas van Fraassen, especially his 1980 . In contrast to this claim we definitely reject that there is any necessity consistency between models and the theory from which they have been derived, nor among the family of models that could be associated with a theory. Life forms (Lebensformen) can not and should not be evaluated by means of “consistency”, unless you are a social designer, that for instance has been inventing a variant of idealism practicing in and on Syracuse… The rejection of a formal relationship between theories and models includes the rejection of the set theoretic perspective onto models. Since theories are normative they can’t be formalizable and it is near to scandal to claim (, p.43) that
Any structure which satisfies the axioms of a theory…is called a model of that theory.
The problem here being mainly the claim that theories consist of or contain axioms. Norms never have been and never will be “axiomatic.”
There is a theory about belief revision that has been quite influential for the discipline or field that is called “Artificial Intelligence” (we dismiss this term/name, since it is either empty or misleading). This theory is known under the label AGM theory, where the acronym derives from the initials of the names of three proponents Alchourrón, Gärdenfors, and Makinson . The history of its adoption by computer scientists is a story in itself ; what we can take here is that it is believed by the computer scientists that the AGM theory is relevant for the update of so-called knowledge bases.
Despite its popularity, the AGM theory is seriously flawed, as Neil Tennant has been pointing out  (we will criticize his results in another essay about beliefs (scheduled)). A nasty discussion mainly characterized by mutual accusations started (see  as an example), which is typical for deficient theories.
Within AGM, and similar to Fraassen’s account on the topic, a theory is a equal to a set of beliefs, which in turn is conceived as a logically closed set of sentences. There are several mistakes here. First, they are applying truth-function logic as a foundation. This is not possible, as we have seen elsewhere. Second, a belief is not a belief any more as soon as we conceive it as a preposition, i.e. a statement within logic, i.e. under logical closure. It would be a claim, not a belief. Yet, claims belong to a different kind of game. If one would to express the fact that we can’t know anything precisely, e.g. due to the primacy of interpretation, we simply could take the notion of risk, which is part of a general concept of model. A further defect in AGM theory and any similar approach that is trying to formalize the notion of theory completely is that they conflate propositional content with the form of the proposition. Robert Brandom demonstrates in an extremely thorough way, why this is a mistake, and why we are enforced to the view that propositional content “exists” only as a mutual assignment between entities that talk to each other (chapter 9.3.4 in ). The main underlying reason for this is the primacy of interpretation.
In turn we can conclude that the AGM theory as well as any attempt to formalize theory can be conceived as a viable theory only, if the primacy of interpretation is inadequate. Yet, this creates the problem how we are tied to the world. The only alternative would be to claim that this is going on somehow “directly”. Of course, such claims are either 100% nonsense, or 100% dictatorship.
Regarding the application of the faulty AGM theory to computer science we find another problem: Knowledge can’t be saved to a hard disk, as little as it is possible for information. Only a strongly reductionist perspective, which almost is a caricature of what could be called knowledge, allows to take that route.
We already argued elsewhere that a model neither can contain the conditions of its applicability nor of its actual application. The same applies of course to theories. As a direct consequence of that we have to investigate the role of conditions (we do this in another chapter).
Theories are precisely the “instrument” for organizing the conditions for building models. It is the property of being an instrument about conditions that renders them into an entity that is inevitably embedded into community. We could even bring in Heidegger’s concept of the “Gestell” (scaffold) here, which we coined in the context of his reflections about technology.
The subject of theories are models, not the proposals about the empirical world, as far as we exclude models from the empirical world. The subject of Popper’s falsificationism is the realm of models. In the chapter about modeling we determined models as tools for anticipation given the expectation of weak repeatability. These anticipations can fail, hence they can be tested and confirmed. Inversely, we also can say that every theoretical construct that can be tested is an anticipation, i.e. a model. Theoretical constructs that can not be tested are theories. Mathias Frisch (, p.42) writes, quote:
I want to suggest that in accepting a theory, our commitment is only that the theory allows us to construct successful models of the phenomena in its domain, where part of what it is for a model to be successful is that it represents the phenomenon at issue to whatever degree of accuracy is appropriate in the case at issue. That is, in accepting a theory we are committed to the claim that the theory is reliable, but we are not committed to its literal truth or even just of its empirical consequences.
We agree with him concerning the dismissal of truth or empiric content regarding the theories. Yet, the term “reliable” could still be misleading. One never would say that a norm is reliable. Norms themselves can’t be called reliable, only its following. You not only just obey to a norm, the norm is also something that has been fixed as the result of social process, as a habit of a social group. On a wider perspective, we probably could assign that property, since we tend to expect that a norm supports us in doing so. If norm would not support us, it would not “work,” and in the long run it will be replaced, often in a catastrophically sweeping event. That “working”of a norm is, however, almost unobservable by the individual, since it belongs to the Lebensform. We also should keep in mind that as far as we would refer to such a reliability, it is not directed towards the prediction, at least not directly, it refers just to the possibility to create predictive models.
From safe grounds we now can reject all the attempts that try to formalize theories according to the line Carnap-Sneed-Stegmüller-Moulines [12, 13, 14, 15]. The “intended usage” of a theory (Sneed/Stegmüller) can not be formalized, since it is related to the world, not just to an isolated subject. Scientific languages (Carnap’s enterprise) are hence not possible.
Of course, it is possible to create models about the modeling, i.e. taking models as an empiric subject. Yet, such models are still not a theory, even as they look quite abstract. They are simply models, which imply or require a theory. Here lies the main misunderstanding of the folks cited above.
The turn towards languagability includes the removal of the dualistic contrast between theory and practice. This dualism is replaced by a structural perspective according to which theory and practice are co-extensive. Still, there are activities, that we would not call a practice or an action, so to speak before any rule. Such activities are performances. Not to the least this is also the reason why performance art is… art.
Heinrich Lüber, the Swiss performance artist, standing on-top of a puppet shaped as himself. What is no visible here: He stood there for 8 hours, in the water on shore of the French Atlantic coastline.
Besides performance (art) there are no activities that would be free of rules, or equivalently, free of theory. Particularly modeling is of course a practice, quite in contrast to theory. Another important issue we can derive from our distinction is that any model implies a theory, even if the model just consists of a particular molecule, as it is the case in the perception mechanisms of individual biological cells.
Theories are simply there. Theories denote what can be said about the influence of the general conditions—as present in the embedding “Lebenswelt”—onto the activity of modeling.
Theories thus can be described by the following three properties:
- (1) A theory is the (social) practice of determining the conditions for the actualization of virtuals, the result of which are models.
- (2) A theory acts as a synthesizing milieu, which facilitate the orthoregulated instantiation of models that are anticipatively related to the real world (where the “real world” satisfies the constraints of Wittgensteinian solipsism).
- (3) A theory is a language generating language game.
Theories, Models, and in between
Most of the constructs called “theory” are nothing else than a hopeless mixture of models and theories, committing serious naturalistic fallacies in comparing empiric “facts” with normative conditions. We will give just a few examples for this.
It is generally acknowledged that some of Newton’s formulas constitute his theory of gravitation. Yet, it is not a theory, it is a model. It allows for direct and, in the mesocosmic scale, even for almost lawful predictions about falling objects or astronomical satellites. Newton’s theory, however, is given by his belief in a certain theological cosmology. Due to this theory, which entails absoluteness, Newton was unable to detect relativism.
Similarly the case of Kepler. For a long time (more than 20 years) Kepler’s theory entailed the belief in a pre-established cosmic harmony that could be described by Euclidean geometry, which itself was considered as being a direct link to divine regions at that time. The first model that Kepler constructed to fulfill this theory comprised the inscription of platonic solids into the planetary orbits. But those models failed. Based on better observational data he derived different models, yet still within the same theory. Only when we dropped the role of the geometrical approach in his theory he was able to find his laws about the celestial ellipses. In other words, he dropped most of his theological orthoregulations.
Einstein’s work about relativity finally is clearly a model as there is not only one formula. Einstein’s theory is not related to the space-time structure of the macroscopic universe. Instead, the condition for deriving the quantitative / qualitative predictions are related to certain beliefs in non-randomness of the universe. His conflict with quantum theory is well-known: “God does not play dice.”
The contemporary Standard Model in particle physics is exactly that: a model. Its not a theory. The theory behind the standard model is logical flatness and materialism. It is a considerable misunderstanding of most physicists to accuse proponents of the String theory not to provide predictions. They can not, because they are thinking about a theory. Yet, string theorists themselves do not properly understand the epistemic role of their theory as well.
A particular case is given by Darwin’s theory. Darwin of course did not distinguish perfectly or explicit between models and theories, it was not possible for him at these days. Yet, throughout his writings and the organization of his work we can detect that he implicitly followed that distinction. From Darwin’s writings we know that he was deeply impressed by the non-random manifoldness in the domain of life. Precisely this represented the core of his theory. His formulation about competition, sexual selection or inheritance are just particular models. In our chapter about the abstract structure of evolution we formulated a model about evolutionary processes in a quite abstract way. Yet, it is still a model, within almost the same theory that Darwin once followed.2
There is a quite popular work about the historical dynamics of theory, Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions“, which is not theory, but just a model. For large parts it is not even a model, but just a bad description, which he coined the paradigm of the “paradigm shift”. There is almost no reflection in it. Above all, it is certainly not a theory about theory, nor a theory about the evolution of theories. He had to fail, since he does not distinguish between theories and models to the least extent.
So, leaving these examples, how do relate models and theories practically? Is there a transition between them?
Model of Theory, Theory of Model, and Theory of Theory
I think we can we can derive from these examples a certain relativity regarding the life-cycle of models and theories. Theories can be transformed into models through removal of those parts that refer to the Lebenswelt, while models can be transformed into theories if the orthoregulative part of models gets focused (or extracted from theory-models)
Obviously, what we just did was to describe a mechanism. We proposed a model. In the same way it represents a model to use the concept of the language game for deriving a structure for the concept of theory. Plainly spoken, so far we created a model about theory.
As we have seen, this model also comprises proposals about the transition from model to theory. This transition may take two different routes, according to our model about theory. The first route is taken if a model gets extended by habits and further, mainly socially rooted, orthoregulation, until the original model appears just as a special case. The abstract view might be still only implicit, but it may be derived explicity if the whole family of models is concretely going to be constructed, that are possible within those orthoregulations. The second route draws upon a proceeding abstraction, introducing thereby the necessity of instantiation. It is this necessity that decouples the former model from its capability to predict something.
Both routes, either by adding orthoregulations explicitly or implicitly through abstraction, turn the former model de actio into a milieu-like environment: a theory.
As productive milieus, theories comprise all components that allow the construction and the application of models:
- – families of models as ensembles of virtualized models;
- – rules about observation and perception, including the processes of encoding and decoding;
- – infrastructural elements like alphabets or indices;
- – axiomatically introduced formalizations;
- – procedures of negotiation the procedures of standardization and other orthoregulations up to arbitrary order
The model of model, on the other hand, we already provided here, where we described it as a 6-Tupel, representing different, incommensurable domains. No possible way can be thought of from one domain to one of the other. These six domains are, by their label:
- (1) usage U
- (2) observations O
- (3) featuring assignates F on O
- (4) similarity mapping M
- (5) quasi-logic Q
- (6) procedural aspects of the implementation
or, taken together:
This model of model is probably the most abstract and general model that is not yet a theory. It provides all the docking stations that are required to attach the realm of norms. Such, it would be only a small step to turn this model into a theory. That step towards a theory of model would include statements about two further dimensions: (1) the formal status and (2) the epistemic role of models. The first issue is largely covered by identifying them as a category (in the sense of category theory). The second part is related to the primacy of interpretation, that is, to a world view that is structured by (Peircean) sign processes and transcendental differences (in the Deleuzean sense).
The last twist concerns the theory of theory. There are good reasons to assume that for a theory of theory we need to invoke transcendental categories. Particularly, a theory of theory can’t contain any positive definite proposal, since in this case it would automatically turn into a model. A theory of theory can be formulated only as a self-referential, self-generating structure within transcendental conditions, where this structure can act as a borderless container for any theory about any kind of Lebensform. (This is the work of the chapter about the Choreosteme.)
Remarkably, we thus could not formulate that we could apply a theory to itself, as a theory is a positive definite thing, even if it would contain only proposals about conditions (yet, this is not possible either). Of course, this play between (i) ultimately transcendent conditions, (ii) mere performance that is embedded in a life form and finally (iii) the generation of positivity within this field constitutes a quite peculiar “three-body-problem” of mental life and (proto-)philosophy. We will return to that in the chapter about the choreosteme, where we also will discuss the issue of “images of thoughts” (Gilles Deleuze) or, in slightly different terms, the “idioms of thinking” (Bernhard Waldenfels).
Finally, there should be our cetero censeo, some closing remarks about the issue of machine-based episteme, or even machine-based epistemology. Already in the beginning of this chapter we declared our motivation. But what can we derive and “take home” in terms of constructive principles?
Our general goal is to establish—or to get clear about—some minimal set of necessary conditions that would allow a “machinic substrate” in such a way that we could assign to it the property of “being able to understand” in a fully justified manner.
One of the main results in this respect here was that modeling is nothing that could be thought of as running independently, as algorithm, in such a way that we could regard this modelling as sufficient for ascribing the machine the capability to understand. More precisely, it is not even the machine that is modeling, it is the programmer, or the statistician, the data analyst etc., who switched the machine into the ON-state. For modeling, knowing and theorizing the machine should act autonomously.
On the other hand, performing modeling inevitably implies a theory. We just have to keep this theory somehow “within” the machine, or more precisely, within the sign processes that take place inside the machine. The ability to build theories necessarily implies self-referentiality of the informational processes. Our perspective here is that the macroscopic effects of self-referentiality, such like the ability for building theories, or consciousness, can not be “programmed”, they have to be a consequence of the im-/material design aspects of the processes that make up this aspects…
Another insight is, also not a heavily surprising one, though, that the ability to build theories refers to social norms. Without social norms there is no theorizing. It is not the mathematics or the science that would be necessary it is just the presence and accessibility of social norms. We could call it briefly education. Here we are aligned to theories (i.e. mostly models) that point to the social origins of higher cognitive functions. It is quite obvious that some kind of language is necessary for that.
The road to machine-based episteme thus does not imply a visit in the realms of robotics. There we will meet only insects and …roboters. The road to episteme leads through languagability, and anything that is implied by that, such as metaphors or analogical thinking. These subjects will be the topic of next chapters. Yet, it also defines the programming project accompanying this blog: implementing the ability to understand textual information.
1. The image in the middle of this tryptich shows the situation in the first installation on the exhibition in Petrograd in 1915, arranged by Malevich himself. He put the “Black Square” exactly at the same place where traditionally the christian cross was to be found in Russian living rooms at that time: up in the corner under the ceiling. This way, he invoked a whole range of reflections about the dynamics of symbols and habits.
2. Other components of our theory of evolutionary processes entail the principle of complexity, and the primacy of difference and the primacy of interpretation.
This article has been created on Oct 21st, 2011, and has been republished in a considerably revised form on Feb 13th, 2012.
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