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
Life & much, much more

Architecture’s existential crisis pt 3: Goals, ethics, and the people element

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 this part, I will extend the framework to hint at the goals and responsibilities of a professional discipline.

The role of a framework in determining goals

Whilst outlining the framework gives us a foundation as a profession, it says nothing about the precedence of welfare, health and safety of the community as needed in a profession. To do this, we need to refine the architectural framework to pinpoint goals in society.

I use the phrase “pinpoint in society” because a framework does not prescribe goals. It is descriptive. It doesn’t claim that the profession knows everything about the world and is authorised to make decisions for it. However, by outlining elemental considerations when people decide on a goal, it is able to influence these goals (This is still the case even if an element is marked as unimportant.).

The current framework has three elements: structure/firmness, commodity/function, and delight/design/beauty. The first tackles built form itself whereas the latter two tackles community reactions towards built form. Whilst these latter two elements may tackle some aspects of the welfare, health and safety of the community, I believe the addition (Unlike previous attempts to extend Vitruvius’ statement[1], this adds a new element rather than providing detail about existing elements. This is because providing detail converts the framework into a theory.) of a fourth community element may pinpoint this.

A new element: People are as important as built form

Architecture is a discipline where it is impossible to escape values. It’s radically value-laden. I think it’s possible that you can become an architect and see it as somewhat autonomous and not as a political act, which is incredibly naive. I try to make students aware of the radical, political, cultural, social nature of our work and how it’s impossible to escape those responsibilities.

-Thom Mayne, Morphosis

The element outlined above comes in the form of values and responsibilities. What governs our values and how to respond to these responsibilities are ethics (Ethics, morality and ethos (original Greek) can be used interchangeably.). As ethics also fits the requirements of a framework, I propose for ethics to be added as a fourth element:

  • It is encompassing. It is based upon people, which is a universal constant for all built forms. Whilst Vitruvius already targets the aesthetic judgement (when people react to firmness), the moral judgement (when people react to commodity) is left unconsidered. Whether or not we are consciously making decisions based on ethics, it will have effects nonetheless.
  • It is descriptive. It does not dictate the alignment of the moral compass but instead just highlights its presence as a quality of an architecture.
  • It is agnostic. All cultures have a moral compass, and as such, applies to all cultures. Ethics also covers the relation between groups and individuals, which won’t exclude individualistic cultures or the third architectural body who does what they please.

To further prove ethics as an element, we can list some theories who highlight their consideration to ethics: sustainability, where the primary value is that our decisions should not inhibit the opportunities of the future, modernism, where the moral value of truth was translated into an aesthetic quality, and then post-modernism, where the populist ethic was rejected[2]. As for older examples of theories, any theory governed by religious or political ideas has by definition shown consideration of ethics.

Ethics is also a useful addition as it fills a gap left by the original three elements (Vitruvius did mention aspects of ethics[3], such as relationships between men, politics, and precepts, but treats it in the form of a prescribed theory, not a framework). The original three elements either consider the built form itself or the relations between people and built form. Noticeably missing is people themselves. A recognition of people themselves is needed to highlight the distinction between the roles buildings play and the roles people play. Ethics covers both people themselves and the relationships to built form.

This coverage of people themselves and relationships to architecture cover societal aspects: aspects such as politics, environment / sustainability, humanitarian needs, urban planning, right down to individual clients. Including ethics as an element clearly strengthens the link to the welfare, health and safety of the community – one step closer to an architectural profession.

All architects have two clients whenever they work – one is the person that actually pays the bills, and the other is society in general. I think an architect that doesn’t see they are working for society in general doesn’t know his job.

-Joseph Rykwert, Architectural Historian[4]

Understanding of the interests of society is a prerequisite for ethics to be considered. This means that adding ethics as an element helps encourage consideration of our actions in the interests of others.

Although it is not the job of a framework to govern the application of its elements, it’s important to make sure that it can be applied in the first place. ie. to ensure that ethics is not “good in theory but not in practice”. This allows the element to be carried into architectural theories, and then implemented in architectural styles. We can prove this by citing religion, as well as agnostic hierarchies of ethical systems[5]. This practical side of the element means not only can it seed theories, it can fulfil the frameworks goals as a measurement tool.

Ethics is also complex. The inability to create a set of non-conflicting simple rules to govern ethics[5] over humanity’s history suggests a NP-complete nature. This means not only can it be applied in practice, it can also take many different forms that will continue to change over time.

This consideration of the interests of others, nature, welfare, health, and safety changes Vitruvius’ framework into a professional framework, ie. a framework pinpointed in society. We now have a framework consisting of firmness, commodity, delight, and ethics.

  • [1] Watkin, D, 2005, A History of Western Architecture, Laurence King Publishing, London, UK
  • [2] Boje, D. M., Toward a Narrative Ethics for Modern and Postmodern Organization Science, viewed 10 October 2012, http://business.nmsu.edu/~dboje/papers/toward_a_narrative_ethics_for_mo.htm
  • [3] Wotton, H, 1651, The elements of architecture (translated from De Architectura, Vitruvius), Thomas Maxey, London, UK
  • [4] Barbican Five Points for An Ethical Architecture, Architecture Foundation London, viewed 4 October 2012, http://vimeo.com/29281095
  • [5] Singer, P, 2011, Practical Ethics, Cambridge University Press, New York, USA
Life & much, much more

WIPUP sightings!

Was happy today to find this mention of WIPUP by a Latino by the name of Gnosis VonDark – he had found WIPUP from the openDesktop submission and gave his thoughts on the bigger picture behind WIPUP on his blog. It’s in Spanish so you might want to run it through a translator.

It discusses the similarity behind libre software and the scientific community, specifically on the scale, the want for freedom and the reliance on community participation. WIPUP is a system to bridge the gap between developers and users. As explained numerous times before, there is so much behind the scenes that users are missing out on simply because of this communicative barrier – WIPUP aims to make it easy to share progress on even the most complex of projects in society-friendly chunks.

Creative or technical works are increasingly becoming more mainstream as applications are developed which makes Joe able to create professional quality work. I view this as the first of two main steps between the merging of these two communities – the first is when both parties are capable of the same, given the same amount of time with little exceptions (which is progressing at the moment), and the second is when the infrastructure exists for fully compatible transfer of works, critique of works, and participation in work.

WIPUP is interesting in a way in that it is unique to target small-scale or even individual work, a completely free platform reliant on the users’ choice of format, and yet tries to detract attention away from collaboration. In other words, WIPUP is not project management, neither is it a portfolio – it’s a snapshot. It’s not for looking at the past creations. It’s not for planning future achievements. It’s for viewing what’s current.

It is through this ideology that I wish to bridge the gap. Creative or technical works are not any different from other industries or hobbies because they have a wealth of accomplishments and academic milestones behind them, nor that they are reaching for the stars – it’s that they are actually identical to all other industries and hobbies because they consist of ongoing processes. Not many can relate to a mass of past knowledge – because it is the result of the combined intelligence of many contributors! Not many can relate to a goal – because it hasn’t been achieved! Anybody, however, can relate to a process, and especially a small scale, individual process.

Well, verbosity is a sin, and especially one full of brainfart. It’s time to stop writing.

Despite the lack of blog posts, I have been doing a couple things, which can be seen on my WIPUP profile.

Uncategorized

I find life hilarious, really.

This isn’t the first time I’ve made that outrageous claim but I really, really do. I do so much that I want to write about it.

A random stroll down the street at 6AM each morning reveals yet another lovely little detail that our crazy synergy has produced. The reason that detail exists? Because we’re often too caught up with trying to comply with these imaginary rules that so-called society has imposed on us. Completely forgetting we’re what defines society we act certain ways around people, do little things for love and big things for money, and often forget who paid for the ticket to the joyride in the first place.

Taking a step back and realising just how comical it is for all these people to comply really opens up a lovely new perspective on things.

To use an example I’d like to talk about a daily (well, weekdays) activity – walking to school. I’m awake sharp at 6AM each day and up even sharper at 6:07AM. I leave at 6:40AM and begin the walk at 6:45AM most of the time. That’s about the point when I stop measuring things in terms of time (yes, it’s amazing not having a watch) and start measuring things in accomplishments and experiences.

It usually begins with trying to get my headphones out and plugging them into my phone. Occasionally I listen to a talk or music but most of the time it’s so that people don’t stare when I start playing the air-drum/guitar/trumpet in the middle of the street. Salute the guards at the guardhouse, tell them my schedule for the morning (you know, they’re paid to just sit there), and wink at the drivers having a chat downstairs. Pass the Japanese mothers and their little children confused between hyperactivity and morning sleepiness and then remember something I forgot to put in my bag.

Screw what I forgot, take a run down the road as a warmup and play chicken with the cars at the first junction (quite an easy feat, not many cars at that time). Exchange nods (and the occasional high five) with Azif the street cleaner and watch the stream of workers miling down the path. Try only to step on the red bricks and check how late (or even early, occasionally!) the bus driver is this morning – use the time until the streetlights extinguish since I don’t have a watch. By this time I’m about the chorus section in the piece of variable genre I’ve made up since winking at the drivers. By that time I’m also by the stretch of road that leads to the Plaza, an area with a few shops and a ridiculous architect who decided spurting water from a leak in the ground was somehow better than a magestic fountain and pond. More about that later, perhaps.

This stretch of road is great – it has everything. It’s got the sleepy 7/11 workers who accidentally set off their own motorcycle alarms, the rhythmic beat of the beginnings of a construction day (say, they have a legal start time don’t they?), the stray dog, the forest (well, close enough if you squint) to the right (lovely split image of nature/urban), the clouds saying hello to a new day, the taxi driver whom I’ve never seen in a taxi, the guard having a smoke behind the voltage box, and the cars realising they no longer need their headlamps. Oh, and the birds too, but they’re more noise than anything. and it’s a bahdum-tsh! Baam bah bah aahhhhh – it’s the climax of the song by the end of it.

Unless of course I see my business teacher walking to school too just ahead of me with his children. Then I just scare them silly by stalking them.

By this time we’re at the Plaza. Now we’re around people we can really have a laugh. You’d find at least a couple people sitting in the most unimaginably uncomfortable positions (well, they look uncomfortable, but you never know) in deep, deep sleep. You should walk through the McDonalds without fail each morning, not to buy anything, but simply because it’s half a minute faster walking through than around (I know, I timed it long ago). You want to know why the first hash brown of the day tastes like the sort of deep-friend chicken skin somebody’s left overnight? Want to know why the free newspapers pile is always empty? Want to know why McDonalds switched from ketchup packets to a self-service watchamathing? It’s hilarious.

Then you leap down the wrong escalator (they haven’t been started yet) and meet that security guard I’m almost sure is gay. It’s hard to tell because they don’t speak English very well (neither do I, apparently I’m told), and like most guards he spends most of his time loitering. Loitering with a purpose. However when you shake hands each day and he holds your hand for a bit too long and a bit too close you worry sometimes. But it’s ok because he knows my schedule better than I do at times and a walking agenda is a great tradeoff.

At this stage you get to the set of traffic lights where all the cars who realise that going around the back of the Plaza gets you to where you want at least 3 times faster than the only route that existed before which went for a lovely 3KM loop-the-loop just to get 500 meters away. Not to mention 2 more traffic lights. (honestly, what were they thinking?) Funnily enough you get parents dropping off children here because then you can skip another loop-the-loop when driving back. You also get your physics teacher’s retired husband taking his brisk walk around here. He talks to anybody else who’s white and about his age, and I don’t exactly fit that as far as I know.

The next stretch of road is great, because it features the 13 years consecutive winner of worst-traffic-jam award of the year. It’s great because you’re walking. It also means that in about 2-3 minutes you’ve got to end your piece because you’re about to arrive. In fact, now is the perfect time for an impulse run, to make people think you’ve actually run all the way from home in formal office-wear (and sometimes a green bow-tie, for that matter). (Note: this run may happen for any duration, and may start as early as 6:45) That doesn’t mean the fun’s over though, in fact it’s just begun. Stuffing 1000 adolescents with a P.E. teacher at the head in a school is a recipe for the perfect all-night comedy show.

Guys (and girls), keep ’em coming. You make my day, every day.