An Evolving Architectural Aesthetics

Gonçalo M. Furtado C. Lopes 1, "Towards an Evolving Architectural Aesthetics: Part A-Today’s Techno-scientific interests, Compelxity and the earlier Enabling of the Emergent" (English trasnlation), in: Arq./a (submitted; to be published in Dec 2007 - Janauary 2008)

In the 1990s, the establishment of a new techno-cultural order - known as the Digital or Post-Post-Modern Society (and which beginnings lay far back in WWII) - occurred. Today we clearly live in it, and it seems necessary to point to an advancement towards evolving architectural aesthetics which acknowledge complexity and the role of time and change.
Much of the recent architecture and its practice has been fully based on and affected by computer and communication technologies, which have enabled the virtual expansion of physical-urban space, the responsiveness of architectural buildings, and the development of new design methodologies that benefit from the multiplicity enabled by parametric-genetic design, Cad-Cams, etc. Progressively, architecture’s technological interests, also led a few architects to advance its interest in new technologies, towards experimentation in such domains as the biotechnological and the nanotechnological, expanding new ways of inhabiting. (For a overview of the formers I suggest, for instance, a look at some texts I produced during the last years, and for the later a focus of the work of Neil Spiller - under which supervision my recent research was conducted in London.2 In addition and out of curiosity, it is interesting and I also would like to highlight, how my idol - Cedric Price - pointed out that his office’s interest, in the pursuit of an anticipatory design, included in 1992 smart materials, fuzzy logic and bio-electronics.3 )
To some extent, architecture’s aforementioned technological interests are linked to its desire for multiplicity and a more evolving environment. It parallels the privileging of a new understanding of architecture by many contemporary professionals. Manuel Gauza, for instance, makes reference to “the new understanding of Architecture, that speaks more about processes than occurrences.” 4 And, in opposition to the ‘neo-rationalist schools’, Gauza’s “…way of understanding architecture is more dynamic in all respects, it’s evolutionary and transformable. That is to say… it potentializes processes that could develop it in new ways… evolutionary ways, combinatorial, or transformable…. Architecture is shifting in direction to a new dynamic logic, that speaks about unstable, unending, undetermined, informal, not formally predetermined, processes.”5
In this connection, it is also noticeable that recent Architecture has clearly fuelled a particular interest in the scientific thoughts of complexity and emergence.


At this point, it should be emphasized that the still ongoing shift in post-modern architecture, to embrace issues of complexity and emergence, was impulsed by the impassiveness and nihilism in which post-modernism itself falls, after decades of engagement with the issues of language and meaning (from the structural appeal of the 1960s to the 1980s’ post-structural trend of Deconstruction) in trying to challenge a stricter Modernist credo largely marked by predetermined aims, linear thought, and static principles-canons. However, it must also be seen as something parallel to the progressive establishment of a new techno-cultural order - the Digital Society - (a post-post-modern moment, in which we find ourselves currently). Digital Society has evolved since the post-war period, and, in many respects (of both conceptual and technological order), has a direct connection with the earlier areas of cybernetics, systems research and computation. In regards to this, I could briefly summarise what I state in my PhD inviting those interested in more depth to take a look at the full work: “Around the mid-1990s, the architectural agenda finally began to refocus itself on the new techno-cultural order of the Information Society and on an aesthetics of complexity and emergence. (...) However, the envisioning of an more evolving character and the current architectural emphasis on a spatiality of emergence open to the diversity brought on by time, has long since matured. This process took place within the seminal exchanges between cybernetics, systems research and computation, which had crucially occurred during [the encounters of three personalities]”5. Those were cybernetician Gordon Pask, architect Cedric Price and architect John Frazer; and of particular significance was the occurrence of two Price’s projects - the Generator project (dated 1976-1980 and later revisited) developed under the Frazers’ consultancy, and the Japan Net Competion Entry (from 1986) developed with Pask. “It is no coincidence that both of these projects pertaining to Cedric Price, from which derived a [philosophical] postmodern questioning concerning architecture’s role in society and the architect’s status. [As it is known,] Price’s production also accepted up-to-date technology and was instrumental in high-tech developments and the like. However, it was never in favour of the mere uniformization and commercialisation that such an approach now permits. On the contrary it was intended simply to enable change to flow. Among Price’s radical productions, the [previously mentioned] Generator and Japan Net projects represented a unique contribution to the contemporary debate about a responsive, informational and evolving design as well as potentially influencing more recent developments in technological and conceptual orientated architecture. It was Price’s acknowledgement of the new ideas and technologies that enabled Frazer and Pask to push forward their research into precise architectural projects. Together - Pask, Price, and Frazer - [...] advanced design towards an evolving environment. They prepared the roots for the current dynamics, and have continued, until today, to offer seminal ground to which one should return to face urgent speculation, on a technical and conceptual level on the subject of future developments at a time when architecture is facing a post-industrial, global, uncertain, and ever-changing world. Instead of trying to reinforce predeterminations in the form of static solutions, architecture could acknowledge the permanent cultural oscillations of society, find ways to help deal with the consequent feedback; and advance towards the conception of design systems creatively open to interaction, adaptation and evolution, as the cultural productions of our civilization - from past knowledge to future technology - allows.”6

Gonçalo M. Furtado C. Lopes 1, "Towards an Evolving Architectural Aesthetics: Part A-Today’s Techno-scientific interests, Compelxity and the earlier Enabling of the Emergent" (English trasnlation), in: Arq./a (submitted; to be published in Dec 2007 - Janauary 2008)

1 Gonçalo M. Furtado C. Lopes (gmfcl@hotmail.com) is graduated in Architecture (Oporto University, Portugal), Master in Architecture (Universidad Politecnica da Catalunha, Spain), and PhD in Theory and History of Architecture (University College of London, England).
2 This article is based in an extract from the text produced while frequenting the PhD Program of UCL. The PhD dissertation focuses on the encounters of the British professionals - Gordon Pask, Cedric Price and John Frazer - and provides a complete account of two outstanding architectural projects related to systems and computation - Generator and Japan Net. The research and PhD was supported by Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia (Programa de Bolsas de Doutoramento - Cofinanciamento do Programa Operacional da Ciência e Inovação 2010 e do fundo social Europeu).
3 See my books: “Notes on the space of digital technique” (Oporto: Mimesis, 2002), “Marcos Cruz: Unpredictable bodies (Oporto: Mimesis, 2004), “Off fourm: Postglobal city and marginal design discourses” (Bogota: Pei, 2004), “Interferencias: Conformação, implementação e futuro da cultura digital” (Oporto, 2005), “The construction of the critical project” (Bogota: Pei, 2005), “Architecture: machine and body” (Oporto: FaupEditorial, 2006) .
4 “Constant updating of information and data held by the office becomes an internal design exercise in its own right. This process helps towards maintaining the efficacy of the office’s prime approach to architecture which is one of continuous Anticipatory Design. Architecture is too slow in its realisation to be a ‘problem solver. Thus C.P. office sees its particular product (buildings) as the readily recognisable parts of its continuous design process…. Current particular interests are… smart materials, Fuzzy logic (the quantification of vagueness), Bio-electronics….”
Cedric Price, “Architecture and Technology” [Summary of speech given in Delft, 1992], in: Hans-Ulrich Obrist and alts (eds.), Re:CP , Basel: Birkhauser Verlag AG, 2003, p.136.
5 See: Gonçalo M. Furtado C. Lopes, “Envisioning an Evolving Environment: The Encounters of Gordon Pask, Cedric Price and John Frazer” (PhD Dissertation; Supervised by Neil Spiller and Iain Borden), Bartlett-University College of London, 2007.
6 Ibid.
- I would also like to express my gratitude to several people: to Terence Riley for the interview we titled “Mediatization and Vanguard” (published in [W] Art, N.1, Oporto: Mimesis, 2003, pp.97-103); to Christian Larsen for his help during my visit to MoMA’s archives; to the Portuguese Ordem dos Arquitectos for their invitation to made a presentation about MoMA’s (2002) The Changing of the Avant-garde exhibition and the Metabolists at the Serralves Museum in 2003; to Howard Schubert and Anne Marie Sigouin for their help during my visits to C.C.A. archives in 2005; to Vitor Silva for his commentary on my paper “Notes on Systemic and Cybernetic Thought in Architectural Representation, and the Enquiring into Notions of Authorship and Disciplinary Authority in Price…” submitted to PSIAX in 2004; and to Jonathan Hill for his commentaries on my presentation at Bartlett “Enabling Architecture and Technological Responsivity in Cedric Price … post-WW II architectural discourses” (2005). I am grateful to Oporto University’s FAUP for their support for the realisation of the documents “Towards a Responsive Architecture: Cedric Price’s Generator and Systems Research” (FAUP, Submitted March 2006) and “Envisioning an Evolving Environment: The Encounters of Gordon Pask, Cedric Price and John Frazer” (FAUP, Submitted February 2007), and to Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia whose scholarship fund made this research possible (Cofinanciamento do Programa Operacional da Ciência e Inovação 2010 e do fundo social Europeu).

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