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Architecture’s existential crisis pt 2: The foundations of architecture

In part 1, I outlined architecture’s distraction with competitive theories rather than acting as a professional discipline and serving society. In this part, I will talk a bit about the categories of architectural theories and styles, and how we can unify these.

Why theories and styles are inappropriate

Goals and foundation are equally important to a functioning profession. However, although we have plenty of candidates for goals as offered by theories over the years, we only have a few candidates for architecture’s foundation. As of now, we seem to mainly compete over architectural theories and architectural styles. These become our two initial foundational candidates.

An architectural style describes the physical characteristics of an era. This may be as specific as pointed arches in Gothic architecture, or as vague as chaotic forms in Deconstructivist architecture.

An architectural theory is a set of ideas that outline an approach towards architecture. These ideas are non-arbitrary, which may be implemented in one or more architectural styles. For example, modernism’s “form follows function” is a theoretical approach towards architecture, and one stylistic implementation is by removing ornamentation from a building.

Creating this distinction between style and theory is important as it reveals that styles are insignificant. They are merely a single manifestation of an idea that people copied. They are fleeting, superficial, and aesthetically subjective–but more importantly, they represent a lack of understanding of the discipline behind a building (This has been identified in the second group of the architectural schism.). These are not hallmarks of a good foundation to base the architectural profession upon.

In contrast, an architectural theory is normally based on the religious, political, social, technological and ethical ideas of the time. This encompasses more aspects of our total experience of the world and thus makes it a better candidate for an architectural foundation.

Theories have been described as that which identifies the practices, production and related challenges of architecture. They re-evaluate architecture’s intentions and relevance\cite{newagenda_. Although it shares the same intentions as a foundation, the fact remains that theories die and have a short-lived existence compared to architecture’s full lifespan.

If theories and styles are both inappropriate, a third route is to consider that theories are simply strategies executed underneath a global and timeless architectural framework. The theory is not the foundation of architecture, but an instance which tackles the issues that the framework proposes. This is in the same way that a style is an instance which tackles the issues that a theory proposes. Identifying this global and timeless architectural framework, and in turn, foundation, is the first step to resolving architecture’s crisis.

Characteristics of a framework

A framework is a basic structure underlying a system or concept. Rather than attempt to elaborate on this phrase, I will instead immediately present an architectural framework:

[in Architecture, an operative art] the end must direct the operation. The end is to build well.

Well [an ideal] building hath three conditions: firmness [sturdy], commodity [useful], and delight [beautiful].

-Vitruvius[1]

For a quote which has survived more than 2000 years, it seems to remain relevant and encompasses all architectural theories. No matter how different each theory is, each theory first prioritises these three elements, and then prescribes a strategy to showcase their prioritisation. For example, Gothic architecture may be seen as prioritising firmness and delight, or Modernism may prioritise firmness (technology) and commodity. Some believe all are equal (Vitruvius), but all theories form a stance in relation to these three.

We also notice that the framework’s elements are neither prescriptive, proscriptive, affirmative or critical of anything. It is a listing of attributes which must be considered for a building, but offers no more guidance. It is a description, not an arguing point.

These elements are also agnostic. They do not rely on a culture, religion or belief. All physical forms have an element of structure (firmness). All living beings all have an intent (commodity). And when living beings are put together with structure, we give an aesthetic judgement (delight). This characteristic has given it a timeless nature.

These three characteristics (encompassing, descriptive, and agnostic) upheld by three elements (firmness, commodity, and delight) form an unquestionable architectural framework. Architects are now free to juggle different theories as strategies governed by the framework, but must consider all elements of the framework. They are also still free to implement a theory as an architectural style. Each style considers a theory, and each theory considers the framework.

A new hierarchy of Framework > Theory > Style shifts the focus of architecture away from the details of theories towards a set of commonalities. This allows us to treat theories as just another item in our toolkit towards solving bigger problems. It’s no longer about getting caught up in the details and their changing natures, it’s about selecting the right tool for the job.

This means that theories can be marketed as what they truly are: an approach towards a defined society, not a law unto itself. This helps prevent arguments about details and encourages speculation over the elements in the architectural framework as a root for theoretical strategies.

A resulting increased emphasis on society as a specific audience per theory allows us to be more aware of society’s needs. This allows us to tackle multiple types of societies simultaneously with each theoretical solution tailored towards their interests. This satisfies the professional requirement of working for the benefit of society.

Because of the framework’s characteristics, it may always be applied in all situations at all times without prescribing goals–a simple, agreeable outline that has always affected what we had done in the past, without restricting what we do in the future.

In part 3, I will explain how this architectural framework is incomplete without a compass to guide its application, and introduce the question of architectural ethics.

  • [1] Wotton, H, 1651, The elements of architecture (translated from De Architectura, Vitruvius), Thomas Maxey, London, UK
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If you have 48 people at a bar and they rotate…

I have a math question. I’m typing this out at an ungodly hour with my favourite homebrew of cocoa (with a secret blend of other ingredients, but mainly involving sugar) and I’m presented with an interesting math problem. I’m not the smartest mathematician out there and only know so much as my highschool syllabus (no, I’m not a university student yet). A combination of these factors makes me not able to answer this question. Here I am asking anybody interested if they could share their train of thought.

You have a room full of 48 people. You have 8 tables. They are divided into equal groups, thus 6 people sit at each table. They each have a discussion for the same length of time. After they finish, everybody on each table, save for one, will move to another table to have another discussion with a new group of people. This one person will stay at their initial table throughout the entire process. So in effect for each “round”, 5 people from each table will move to another. So in total there will be 8 rounds of discussions. They are not allowed to move to a table they have sat at previously. How do you determine the optimum movements such that the moving people mix with as many different people as possible?

… and of course, you must be able to prove that it is indeed the optimum movement. I did manage to come up with a solution, though I cannot say that it’s the optimum. My result was that every person would meet 28 new people (obviously they will meet at least 8 – those who stay at each table) in total throughout all the rounds – but perhaps somebody can tell me how to really tackle this problem?

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How to solve the big Internet problem.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Internet is full of trash.

When I say trash, I don’t just refer to websites and data, I mean people. The Internet has a startlingly similar effect to drugs – its addictive and makes people act like idiots. As you’ve probably already guessed from the title, these two are the “big internet problem(s)”.

Addiction is one that is easily fixed and is progressively being fixed. As we integrate technology and the Internet more and more into our daily lives addiction will be disguised as a lifestyle. If you can’t see the problem anymore, you don’t try to solve it. Not because it’s the right or wrong thing to do, it’s because most people are lazy arses (I once misspelt “lazy” as “lady” in a chat conversation, big mistake) and so the tackling the fundamental problem becomes quite futile.

The second is that people start acting like idiots. The reasons for this falls neatly into two categories: 1) they were idiots to begin with, and 2) they interacted too much with real idiots and so acculturated accordingly. Removing the first category kills two birds with one stone, which is what I shall accomplish in my lovely plan which I’ll write about in a bit.

In a bit.

Here’s the plan. You let evolution take its course. You simply remove the Internet. For a year or two. The issue lies with the fact that you can’t punch somebody through a computer screen. Once you remove the Internet, idiots cannot hide behind aliases and are forced to be idiots to real, live people.

These innocent people will be suddenly exposed to a huge influx of stupidity and will involuntarily resort to their instincts – to vent out their frustration in the most effective way possible. The most effective way is also normally proportional to the amount of pain the idiot experiences.

A year or two of this shock treatment should be enough to weed out the majority of this problem. We then put the Internet back up and purge any website that isn’t visited within the first couple of days. The people hosting these websites that get purged which represent more than 30% of the total amount of folks they host will be suspended for manual interrogation.

This one to two year absence of the internet will also remove Internet addiction. It should be ample time for people to redevelop a lifestyle that doesn’t revolve around the constant communication the Internet provides.

We’d also save on a crapload of energy costs for those two years. This has major environmental advantages. We’d also shutdown a good percentage of our industry with labourers with non-transferrable skills, not to mention seriously harm the backbone of many other businesses. However this will also allow us to look with a fresh vision on whatever stupid economic system we’ve got in place today. This is the jolt we all need to start restructuring our societies, not with visionaries spouting their optimism to closed ears but an actual realisable event.

Ok. I promise I’ll do a real post when I’m next due.