Life & much, much more

Architecture’s existential crisis pt 4: Timeless frameworks, and where do we go from here?

In part 1: Architecture is not a Profession, I outlined architecture’s distraction with competitive theories rather than acting as a professional discipline and serving society.

In part 2: The Foundations of Architecture, I talked about what architecture is currently based upon, and how to unify these into a governing framework that encompasses all architectural ideologies based off Vitruvius.

In part 3: Goals, ethics, and the people element, I placed the framework within society and introduced aspects of a professional ethical responsibility to serve other people.

In this final conclusion, I talk about future proofing the efforts of an architectural profession, and hint at what where we go from here. What did this (very long) series conclude? Now what have we learned? What can we now set out to tackle?

The final element: Resolving timelessness

The architectural framework has addressed a need for a foundation as well as the need for professional goals. There is still one thing missing: the ability to solve these goals.

The world is complex. As architecture is a justified solution to a predefined problem using the world as its medium, many of architecture’s goals will also be complex.

Complex goals take time to solve. There isn’t much use in introducing a framework to solve larger issues if we don’t have time to solve these issues past a certain number of years or generations. We need time to understand the nuances of the world, test our solutions, and figure out where we went wrong.

This does not suggest that time is all that is needed to work the world out, if that is possible at all. It merely suggests that prolonged effort may be a good thing towards achieving goals.

To support complex goals that may bridge theories and allow us to carefully consider when we choose to advance a theory, I propose a final element to bind the first four. I propose time.

The word time refers not to itself, but its effects. This may be impermanence, permanence, change, conditions and their propagation.

  • It is encompassing. It is based upon time, the flip-side of built form, which is equally a universal constant for all built forms.
  • It is descriptive. It does not dictate an effect of time or a belief of how time works, but simply an awareness of its existence.
  • It is agnostic. As people and built forms all are part of physical phenomena, they are all subject to time, regardless of psychological belief.

Again, many theories have already considered time, such as metabolism, who felt the urgency to adapt, Nazism, who modeled a 100-year Reich after Roman’s “eternal classical architecture”, and sustainable architecture, who thought about future effects. Theories which are neo, post or somehow reactionary or a revival towards an older theory or even future-looking are all addressing issues of time. All consider that time happens.

The reason time binds the first four is because it helps us frame the era where theories are valid. It makes us state exactly how universal our proposals are trying to be. This influences theories to be seen not as standalone items but as part of an ongoing process. This awareness of a larger process helps share traits across theories that tackle the same goals, giving us a little push towards spending longer on a goal before giving up.

Nature of a framework

The final framework: firmness, commodity, delight, ethic and time is nothing new. By definition it has to have existed, been practised and seem blindingly obvious to the profession in order to work. This is the final proof of its validity as a binding force to the profession and to its three outlined characteristics.

Although the framework is presented rather dogmatically, it is designed to be extended and interpreted by its users. The only restriction is in the way it is extended: in the form of theories which state their position on each of the considered elements before elaborating into detail.

If extensions of the five elements are considered, they should be considered being well aware of their goals. For example, this framework differs from the original intentions of Vitruvius, and the later famous extensions by Alberti. Whilst Vitruvius tells how buildings are built, and Alberti tells how buildings are to be built[1], this framework’s goals falls somewhere in between. It is created neither to establish a new discipline or open a new epoch, as Alberti did, nor to be a custodian of tradition, as Vitruvius did. It is a guide between the two to solve an existential crisis.

As a guide, the framework is designed into architectural education. Instead of assuming a guidance of inspiration and genius, a framework provides a rational base. This ensures not only that architects are theorising and building, but join the two in a way that they are in full intellectual command of what they are designing[2].

Current architectural mentality - a timeline of ideologies

The current mentality. A time-focused view with each theory dominating. This model creates periods of existential crises.

A new view based on a framework, where ideologies are linked to society and seen as assets - strategic tools to use.

Architecture’s foundation – a framework to achieve goals. Theories are no longer marked as irrelevant after a certain time period, but may be reapplied depending on the society. Existential crises can no longer exist as long as everything is described against the framework.

Architectural discipline is its true value: as a tool and indicator to help define architectural goals that are larger than individual theories. It converts theoretical argument into a greater synergy across the profession.

A framework is also a declaration. It declares an understanding that we cannot predict the world, but can’t ignore it either. Even if we choose to ignore elements in the framework, it will have to be a conscious decision.

Finally, perhaps the most important nature of a framework is its communicability. Its simplicity allows it to be understood by those outside the profession and quickly empathised by those entering it. This concreteness helps form the basis of any abstractions used in the industry and distils it to useful, beneficial applications. Because we can once again connect to society on disciplined, measured and focused foundation, we can once again serve it as a profession.

Where to from here?

With an army of theories at our command, hundreds of tested implementations, and a framework to generate new ones should we need to, the only thing left is to actually define goals.

The question is, does architecture have a political meaning? The answer is, self-evidently yes. Should architects, like Le Corbusier or anyone else, today, try and change the world? The answer is also yes. Should architects have a blindness to who the client is? The answer is no.

Ricky Burdett, London School of Economics[3]

While the framework cannot prescribe goals, I can propose some as an individual. But what long-term, with high ethical standards, widely recognised, measurable, focused, disciplined, world changing goals are appropriate for the needs of society and the interests of others?

[The eight Millennium Development Goals] form a blueprint agreed to by all the world’s countries and all the world’s leading development institutions.

United Nations[4]

Is it possible? Certainly not at the current state of the industry. Not with focus on theory and undisciplined schisms. Not without foundation. Not without society oriented goals and time to solve them. But perhaps it could be, just perhaps, if we became professionals.

  • [1] Alberti, L. B., Rywert, J, 1988, On the Art of Building in Ten Books, typeset Asco Typsetting, Hong Kong, printed USA.
  • [2] Breitschmid, M, Architecture \& Philosophy: Thoughts on Building, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA
  • [3] Barbican Five Points for An Ethical Architecture, Architecture Foundation London, viewed 4 October 2012, http://vimeo.com/29281095
  • [4] Background, United Nations Millennium Development Goals, viewed 20 October 2012, http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml
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WIPUP.org – aiming small

Today I wanted to talk a bit about the birth and objectives of WIPUP – a subject I haven’t really revealed before. WIPUP, for those who aren’t already familiar with it – is an open-source web application I created which allows people to document, share, track, and critique their works-in-progresses, or in short, WIPs.

The project began quite a while back. I had made relatively significant progress on the ThoughtScore project – my hobby animated film, and I wasn’t content with sharing it on the BlenderArtists forum – it seemed very limited and non-specialised for project documentation. I had also had the VisionBin project – a portfolio-generator webapp – running for a few months. My “finished” renders didn’t fit well there either. VisionBin had been running for some time and it wasn’t doing too well – the concept wasn’t differentiated enough and it didn’t perform its task particularly well either (especially in hindsight). I also hadn’t touched programming for a while and was getting a tad rusty.

That’s right – the time was ripe for a new project.

I evaluated the situation and decided that I needed to make a system dedicated to sharing the in-between. Not the mini-projects and small-time creations which forums, blogs, twitters, deviantarts, etc, were fine for, but also not for massive projects which were kept under wraps until they were unveiled – for everybody to enjoy the finished project but disregard the beautiful, hidden, shunned process behind it. I needed to expose this beautiful process. This was the key behind keeping ThoughtScore alive. Turning the arduous learning process behind an impossibly ambitious project into something to be celebrated. This – yes –  this was WIPUP.

As you can see, WIPUP was a very selfish invention. It was a system for myself. I wasn’t interested in communities or distribution. In fact, the first release on WIPUP wasn’t built on the open-source Kohana framework, but instead on a company-tied solution called CodeIgniter, and that WIPUP release was closed-source.

It was only later when I was frustrated with some of the slowly developed aspects of the CI framework did I have a discussion with the folks in the Kohana channel, and WIPUP was half-built did I begin the Eadrax project. The Eadrax project was the open-source rewrite of the then alpha-quality WIPUP under Kohana. That was the time I decided to share this system – and guest WIPs and user accounts were added to the system

During the development of Eadrax, I was exposed to similar projects such as Dribbble, the *bins (temporary WIP hosting), and various others I can’t recall right now. They still didn’t suit me – they lacked flexibility and organisation. For flexibility – most were very oriented towards a very specific format – an image snapshot, a sound upload, etc. None offered the flexibility to have an update to be a simple as a Tweet to the complexity of embedded video and multiple image attachments. I worked on a huge variety of projects and just supporting one but excluding others wasn’t good enough for me. Similarly, for organisation, none seemed to offer any form of proper project categorisation. I needed a way to separate out my work into projects – view my progress as a whole and split within projects. That was how projects in WIPUP were introduced (they were also taken from VisionBin)

Finally – I needed my data to be free. I didn’t want my careful documentation of my personal projects to be lost to a third-party, forever bound within the constraints of their system. I needed to be able to retrieve it however I wanted and format it as I liked. None of those systems were open-source or offered any form of security. WIPUP then turned open-source, and implemented the Open Collaboration Services API, and is now looking towards project export capabilities.

Much more interesting than these dissatisfactions was the realisation that my needs were – perhaps sadly – a rarity. Count the number of people you know who has a hobby where they create stuff which can be shared. Now within that group of people, count the number whose hobbies have sufficiently long-term work-in-progress periods such that it makes sense to document the process. Already we have a very small number of people, if any. Then, out of the remaining few, pick out those who have multiple concurrent projects of varying nature and characteristics. Almost nobody? Perhaps one or two? Finally, single out those who actually want to or can share this process. That’s the killer. Most can’t. Most don’t want to. Perhaps they’re restricted by a group project or by a company. Perhaps it’s such an amazing project they believe it should be kept completely secret. Perhaps they don’t see the point. Perhaps they don’t have time, or are too focused on the finished product.

I then followed through this realisation by testing out if there really were people in everyday life that thought like me. I took the idea brought about by Atlassian – the idea that once in a while, you have a day where a group of people can do whatever they want – hobbies, work, personal, family, whatever – with the single restriction that at the end of the day they shared what they did alongside an enjoyable, informal dinner. They discovered that this 20-80 ruled production and sharing period was mindblowingly useful. So useful until Google took up the same system and did similar with their employees.

So I took the attitude that whatever I did, I should be proud of it. There isn’t any use in doing something you aren’t proud of. I’m not proud of killing time, and so I made it known to people. I worked on what I loved. And then I shared what I loved. Sadly the feedback was less than favourable. People didn’t share the same interest I did in just hearing about things people love – irregardless of field or industry. Extrapolating that – I didn’t find people who wanted to be proud of what they did. They were content with just living. Perhaps I was searching in the wrong place, perhaps I was searching at the wrong time, perhaps I was searching for the wrong signals.

Slowly digesting this information – I realised more and more that WIPUP is built for almost nobody. It was designed for such a niche that the euphemism of the word “niche” (ie. most people simply don’t care) doesn’t apply any more. This brings up a very important thing to consider – what do I want to achieve for WIPUP outside my personal wants and needs?

In WIPUP’s current state, most of the previous users have moved on. Despite being online for a couple years, WIPUP is only home to 150 user accounts, only a handful of which are active (ie. can be counted on your hand), and of those which are active, the majority are people I have known for some time online. There are no advertisments, no total filesize restrictions, completely for free, and recently it seems as though some idiot has written a bot to register an account and insert updates with spam links in them. Development has stalled due to almost all of the features I wanted to include already implemented.

So what exactly, then, is WIPUP’s current objective?

I’m hunting, folks. I’m hunting. More to come.