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1999.04.25     1999.04.30     1999.05.02

virtual participation

In a condition characterized by this material disintegration how should the discipline of architecture respond?

The so-called "material disintegration" propagated by digital media is not an extreme phenomenon. The day-to-day world remains soundly material despite the emergence of virtual realms such as the Internet and environmental simulations. Indeed, in capitalist terms, the materiality of consumerism appears to continually grow as omnipresence. Until the day when digital media is able to disintegrate the mammoth waste and trash compiled daily on a global scale, lets not celebrate or bemoan an otherwise relatively small [meta]physical event.
It is not within the realm of digital media's power to render materiality unnecessary or obsolete, except within the realm of [tele]communications. It is precisely through its power to easily and instantaneously communicate at a distance that digital media generates new senses of place.
The word "should" in the question: "In a condition characterized by this material disintegration how should the discipline of architecture respond?" implies some sort of moral or ethical imperative. Architecture, or more precisely individual architects can respond to digital media in whichever way they choose to do so. There is no absolute correct response except perhaps to say the discipline of architecture should respond metabolically, i.e., with both a constructive and destructive imagination.
Digital media substantially enhances the number of architectural choices rather than further limit them.
Digital media has spawned a multitude of new dexterities for architects. Unfortunately, however, it is exactly the abundance of new dexterity that the "discipline of architecture" has thus far failed to fully recognize, let alone understand.
The discipline of architecture should focus heavily upon cataloguing and describing the nimiety of humanity's new digital media enhanced dexterity.
All reality is relative to the vastness of its container, and digital media has greatly expanded the container of architecture. Grasping the limits of architecture's new container, is the same as grasping architecture's new reality.

How does architecture and its discourses adapt to and incorporate the new media?

See -- a place to virtually explore architecture's new limits.

What other conceptual translations are possible or already at work?

Humanity begins the third millennium with two overriding operative modes of imagination: there is the intense assimilating imagination best exemplified by the minds of scientific researches, and there is the metabolic imagination which employs the minds of many different people including capitalists, political leaders, artists, and even some architects. By the end of the third millennium, the two predominant operative modes of human imagination will be the electromagnetic imagination and the osmotic imagination. The point being that the impact of digital media on architecture, although formidable, is nonetheless relatively insignificant when viewed against the wider ranging notions of assimilating architectures, metabolic architectures, electromagnetic architectures, and osmotic architectures. The understanding of these architectures resides far above even the question of materiality versus immateriality.

The easy opposition of physical and virtual, the concept of fold, flow, and rhizome has each offered path along which the new paradigm has evolved.

The concept of the virtual has been intrinsic to architecture from the start. Virtual architecture(s) and virtual places are nothing new. Nevertheless, the virtual and virtuality are prominent turn-of-the-millennium topics because of digital media. An understanding of virtuality's concomitant history with architecture, however, delivers the best understanding of virtuality's role today.
Relative to digital media, the concepts of fold, flow, and rhizome are nothing more than applied masks. Fold, flow, and rhizome patently disguise the real virtuality of digital media. (Lets hope most architects come to realize that dropping masks is nowhere near as fatal as decapitation.)

By what modes does architecture and its discourses adapt to and incorporate the new media?

See -- a place to virtually explore architecture's new limits.

With what latent materiality has architecture negotiated the realm of data fields, information networks and media where immaterial matrices and controls appear to be omnipresent?

Good design in architecture most often reflects a composite manifestations of good decisions. Architects would do themselves a gross injustice if they did not maintain design prerogatives when negotiating the realm of data fields and information networks and media.
Although digital media is the (by)product of humanity's currently operative intense assimilating imagination, it nonetheless produces effects that are largely metabolic, i.e., both creative and destructive in their nature. Perhaps then it is most appropriate for architects to utilize the metabolic imagination, which is humanity's other currently operative mode of imagination.
Good architecture, no matter how digital or how material, will always reflect design in control.

Should architecture be immaterialized, shedding its corporeality for pure simulation?

First of all, architecture as a whole cannot be immaterialized, and thus the question as to whether architecture should be immaterialized is null. Digital media, however, does provide architecture the potential to shed its "corporeality" to some degree, but not to any extreme.
The notion of "pure simulation," on the other hand, is not only oxymoronic, but also a gross redundancy relative to architecture. To a very large extent, architecture has always been a form of simulation, and the digital simulation of architecture is only a continuance of architecture's long mimetic tradition. If architects choose to utilize digital media architecturally, then the quest for creating something other than what already exists is the most effective.

How might new processes of construction and modes of production invoke new kinds of translations, from animated diagrams, virtual prototypes, novel and composite materials, robotic assembly, and mass customization, to hybrid forms of collaboration among participants previously in contention?

Breaking an old mold in order to create a new mold is precisely what the metabolic imagination is all about.

The Digital Translations symposium did not fulfill my expectations, nor, I assume, is it likely to have fulfilled the expectations of those involved. The late cancellation of three key participants, Kwinter, Lynn, and Rashid, plus the sparse attendance was surely unexpected, and these factors alone diminished the event's "virtual" impact. Even though I have listened to many architects lecture within the auditorium of Meyerson Hall, this was my first return to Meyerson Hall in many years, and indeed my first attendance at an academic architectural symposium in twenty years. Except for some new finishes and new seats within the auditorium, not much else, including the way architectural symposia are run, seems to have changed over the decades.
To put it succinctly, I was disappointed. None of the speakers dealt with the notion of "digital translations" directly, nor did they address the questions raised by the symposium itself. Instead, most of the architects (Dubbeldam, Kolatan, Lang, Rahim) at the podium presented their latest work, assuming that what they were doing (with design and computers) was au courant and therefore important. No doubt the work was new, but I saw little in terms investigating "material disintegration," or the "opposition of material and virtual," although there were some "animated diagrams." The other presenters (Boyer, Braham, Cache, Delanda), who did not present their own design work, were actually the more interesting, although they too did not address "digital translation." As a group, it was hard to discern cohesion, and here the moderator, John Rajchman, may be to blame since he did little more than introduce each speaker with about two dozen words. What I probably witnessed overall was a diluted version of Columbia University's School of Architecture's current agenda brought to Philadelphia for the weekend.
I did not come out of the symposium empty handed (or empty minded), however. I tape recorded Terence Riley's key note address, "Complex Geometries: Plotting a Course." The tape lay dormant for two months before I listened to (and consequently transcribed) it. Riley essentially gave a very good synopsis of architecture's current position relative to the perspective of MoMA. Being the institution that it is, any opinions emanating from MoMA carry a certain weight, and the more importance one personally attaches to MoMA, the more important it becomes to read what Riley said. For me though, Riley's talk is unwittingly the harbinger of its own antithesis. While being both destructively and constructively critical of the present architectural profession and education system, Riley nonetheless remains within the "aesthetic" bounds that the architectural field has consciously or unconsciously set up for itself. These aesthetic bounds comprise part hermeticism and part "ivory towerism" -- the latter being not all too surprising considering Riley's position at MoMA. After going though the speech word for word, I arrived at the conclusion that the biggest mistake within the field of architecture today is its own non-realization that the notion of total design and, moreover, the notion of total control of design are both basically a myth, albeit a myth with many believers. If architecture's faith in total design truly reflects a reality, then our planet would be one big, beautiful place. A self evidence look at all our planet's built environments is the only proof to the contrary needed.
Most architects are well trained in the design of design and in the practice of design, yet I seriously wonder how good they are at seeing the obvious and hence designing with the implications of the obvious in mind.

1999.05.24 11:24
interview 1
Most recently, I have become fond of the notion that "space" within cyberspace is always readily abundant, and, via hyperlinks, movement and circulation from "space" to "space" is easily facilitated. Moreover, hyperlink transitions within cyberspace offer the same abundant possibilities as the "space" itself since any channel or passage is instantly creatable. Because of this abundance, I do not regret cyberspace's basic lack of the third dimension. Indeed, generating a real cyber space and a real virtual place utilizing only two dimensions is our time's greatest architectural challenge.
The quest for a real two-dimensional architecture sheds new light upon the work of G.B. Piranesi, whose two-dimensional architectural oeuvre vastly outnumbers his three-dimensional manifestations. Nonetheless, Piranesi was a master of both two-dimensional and three-dimensional architectures. It is, however, Piranesi's two-dimensional work that is particularly poignant today -- albeit non-digital, all of Piranesi's architectural engravings reflect the work of the first consummate virtual architect. Above all, Piranesi's Carceri (Prisons) reveal the "torture" that a quest for real two-dimensional architecture engenders.

1999.09.10 09:53
Is the "cyberspace" of the Internet computer network a physical or non-physical place?
3. cyberspace begins with pure virtuality, i.e., the potential to be something, then becomes a "place" when people participate, and ends, after the participation, to be again pure virtuality.
4. I like cyberspace because of its otherness. The more I participate in cyberspace, the more I realize that I now inhabit two realms, the real world and the world of cyberspace. Moreover, I plainly see that the cyberspace world will never be the same as or replace the real world, nor do I wish cyberspace to be "physical" in the real world sense.
5. Cyberspace as a place completely other is its greatest attribute. Those that view or want to make cyberspace and the real world the same are really only defeating the "real" nature of cyberspace. Could it be that we as humans just can't easily deal with a parallel(?), other reality in addition to the reality we already have?

1999.09.15 12:37
architecture in cyberspace?
First, I said, "I'd hate to see the virtual merely become a reflection of the real." This means I'd hate to see architects/designers/theorists neglect an investigation of the inherent qualities of the virtual/cyber realm, where they can find virtual/cyber's own "natural" order. For example, one huge difference between architecture in the real world and architecture in cyberspace is that in cyberspace actual buildings are redundant, indeed a real auction house that does what eBay does couldn't even be built. Another difference between real architecture and cyber architecture is that one goes to real architecture whereas cyber architecture comes to you. It may simply be that "real" architects have to begin also thinking about what it means to design architectures that go to people.
On a personal level, I like that is a museum of architecture that is not a building, and, moreover, a museum of architecture that goes all over our planet.
Perhaps the purest architectures of cyberspace are precisely those architectures that can't be built [except in cyberspace].

2000.01.16 14:14
Re: architecting
Real scale deals primarily with physical limits and the coordinated representation/manifestation of those limits, while in virtual scale limits are 'fluid' and/or 'meandering' and/or 'oscillating' and/or 'undulating', etc..
It would seem then that the difference between real scale and virtual scale is in how each scale respectively treats and/or renders limits. Real scale and virtual scale do not treat or render different realities, however, because all reality is relative to the limit of its container.

2000.02.12 14:25
beyond the envelop (sketch)?
John inquires:
Weren't Polshek, Goldberger and Futter adorable on Charlie Rose last night? Such happiness and glee. The envelope sketch! How whitewashy.
Steve replies:
I particularly liked the momentary, almost imperceptible awkwardness that arose when the Natural Sciences' likewise new virtual museum (i.e., all the continually updated scientific data that will be available on the museum's website) was being described by Futter as something much beyond the new Polshek building.
I'm now wondering if all the built environment of our planet is 'progressing' towards becoming a global (virtual) theme park, while cyberspace becomes the place where 'actual' 'real' data takes up residence.

2000.02.16 12:32
Re: reasons why not to worry
Rarely is any architect able to readily execute his or her designs and intentions immediately and/or of their own volition, and if such a favorable condition is at hand, then it is most likely because of independent wealth or being in a politically powerful position. The cyberspace of the Internet has made self-made, readily executed architecture possible. The closest comparison I can think of in our time and in the real world is Philip Johnson's estate in New Canaan, where each of the buildings there is of Johnson's own designs and for his own use, and where each building is a design experiment--essentially Johnson created an open air museum of Philip Johnson architecture, while at the same time 'practicing' and' researching' architecture.
Because of the world-wide-web, any architect can now 'virtually' do the same thing; architects anywhere can now practice and research architecture in cyberspace. Unfortunately, it seems most architects are not even aware of this potential, and really not every architect has the physical means to engage and design within cyberspace.

2000.08.04 22:49
Re: Alex Galloway, Rhizome Editor, Reports on Siggraph 2000
Galloway wrote:
Most of the activity at last week's SIGGRAPH 2000, held this year in New Orleans, boiled down to a single fetish: the search for the perfect simulation.
Albeit a minority viewpoint, I nonetheless believe that "virtual reality" would more fulfill its potential by offering something other than a "perfect simulation" of what already exists. For example, "virtual reality" could possibly let us experience what a completely abstract reality is like, or perhaps what a completely inside-out reality is like -- basically allowing us to experience some "other" realities.
Then again, cloning will be a big part of this millennium, so cloned realities might just be the norm as well.



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