Mixing Politics with (dis)Pleasure: Patrick Geddes, Architecture, Evolution and the New Right

The American right’s current infatuation with the writings of Ayn Rand raises, once again, the Medusa’s head of Malthusian “social Darwinism.”  Rand’s writings themselves are an odd conflation of Emersonian self-determination and social-Darwinist “principles” (if they can be considered such), that negate the inherent populism of American transcendentalism, and tellingly avoid the shaky sociological appropriation of Darwinian evolution evinced in Malthus’s work.  The latter not only bears traces of a nascent eugenic philosophy of inherent racial and class-based superiority (similar to the Nazi interpretation of eugenics), but also pervert’s both Darwin’s findings and the traditional interpretation of free-market capitalism, as expressed in Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.  To compound her intellectual intransigence, Rand also provided one of the more malignant models of the architect-as-misunderstood genius that the world has yet endured; a prototype unfortunately appropriated by many architects whose works and ideas neither reflect nor embody either good architecture or genius – more often than not resulting in an almost comedic transposition of self-important mediocrity.

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Morphogenetic Metaphors in Architecture – The Quixotic Contributions of Conrad Waddington

For historians and theorists interested in the intersection of biology and architecture, the work of the British developmental embryologist Conrad Waddington is the physical equivalent of a black hole; important, yet allusive – better known through its affects, than from direct observation.  His name appears, here and there, now and then, mentioned, for example in Mark Wigley’s now iconic Network Fever, without much of an explanation as to why it appears at all.  It’s inclusion retains an aura of mystery, mired in a sort of off-handed acknowledgement of his implied importance to mid-century architectural discourse; but rarely explored in any depth.

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Posted in architecture, Art, biology, Buckminster Fuller, cybernetics, ecology, infrastructure, parametric design, technology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Learning from Las Vegas & the Demise of Utopian Architecture

There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning….

            And that, I think, was the handle – that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil.  Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that.  Our energy would prevail.  There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs.  We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave….

            So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1971

This has been a technical studio.  We re evolving new tools:  analytical tools for understanding new space and form, and graphic tools for representing them.  Don’t bug us for lack of social concern; we are trying to train ourselves to offer socially relevant skills.

- Student Notes, “Commercial Values and Commercial Methods,” Learning from Las Vegas, 1972

[Las Vegas] is already beginning to fade, as energy becomes more expensive and the architecture less inventive.  It won’t blow away in the night, but you begin to wish it might, because it will never make noble ruins, and it will never discover how to fade away gracefully.

- Reynar Banham, Scenes in America Deserta, 1982

The first time I visited Las Vegas was on business.  It also happened to be my birthday.  Coworkers, family and friends made much of this seemingly fortuitous coincidence; slyly congratulating me on the cosmic conspiracy that sent a young New York twenty-something to a city famous for sun and sin on business on his birthday.  “Whatever happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.”  In truth, not only was this my first time visiting Las Vegas, but it was also the first time that I would travel west of Cleveland; the first time that I would experience, even if only in derivative form, the great deserts of the American Southwest.

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Architectural Cyborgs – Nanotechnology and the Potential for Living Architecture

The real destiny of the machine [is] to merge itself with natural organisms.

-       Jack Burnham, Beyond Modern Sculpture, 1968


In 1928, R. Buckminster Fuller presented the design for his Dymaxion House to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in St. Louis.  Fuller’s proposal revealed a fully industrialized, aluminum and polymer-based housing unit, highly efficient in its utilization of natural resources and easily deployable in almost any environment.  In response to Fuller’s presentation, the president of the AIA published an article titled “Against all Standardization,” in which he passionately attacked the effects of standardization on architecture, and emphatically rejected the very kinds of systems that Fuller had proposed[1].

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Posted in architecture, biology, Buckminster Fuller, cybernetics, ecological design, ecology, environmental design, environmentalism, Geodesics, infrastructure, modernism, nanotechnology, organicism, technology, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Function Follows Form: Rethinking the ‘Function’ of ‘Form’ in Architecture

“[Life] is a property of form, not matter, a result of the organization of matter rather than something that inheres in the matter itself.

-        Christopher Langton, Artificial Life, p. 41

“There is… a well-defined difference between the magical and the scientific imitation of life.  The former copies external appearances; the latter is concerned with performance and behavior.”

-        Grey Walter, The Living Brain, p. 115

The importance of form is perhaps one of the most contentiously debated subjects in contemporary architectural discourse.  However, the conceptual divide between those (like the author of this essay) who question the validity of “formalist” architecture, and those who embrace form as a fundamental aspect of architectural production, need not (and should not) represent the equivalent of an ideological impasse.  For both, form matters; what is in question is how and why it matters.

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The Crisis of Architecture and the New Imaginary

Architecture is in crisis, but this is nothing new; architects and architectural historians and theoreticians have been proclaiming the crisis of architecture now for over a century.  Essays, books, courses and projects have all focused, in one way or another, on the crisis of architecture, and yet little meaningful work has been done on resolving this crisis.  Perhaps this is because the perpetual crisis of architecture provides its practitioners with the latitude to produce provocative work premised on the crisis itself; the crisis has become the other without which architects can no longer critically assess their production; the acknowledgement of crisis has become the base condition to enact an unending critique, and finding meaningful responses to this crisis would deprive architects of an essential attribute of their practice.

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Domes, Films and Toys: The Role of Education in the Works of Bucky Fuller and Charles and Ray Eames

In Architecture or Techno-utopia:  Politics After Modernism, Felicity Scott maps the migration of military technologies into the popular imagination, focusing specifically on how these technologies became potent tools for the counterculture of the 1960s.  Not surprisingly, her lens is focused on the geodesic domes that Buckminster Fuller designed for America’s early warning air defense system, and the development of LSD as a tool for psychological warfare.  However, if the geodesic dome was transformed, through its application in environments like Drop City, into a symbol of countercultural zeitgeist, then the mind-expansion that many countercultural figures, like Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and Aldous Huxley, premised upon the ingestion of psychedelics, finds similar resonance in attempts to re-conceptualize systems of learning and behavior that were rooted, not only in the work of radical psychologists, like R.D. Laing, but also in attempts by both Buckminster Fuller and Charles and Ray Eames to develop a new educational paradigm.

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