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On Dogmas, Styles, Progress, History and Ecology
Patrik Schumacher interviewed by Mario Coppola, London 2012
Italian translation published in: BLOOM 15, theoretical organ of the Architecture Faculty of the University of Naples
Mario Coppola - LC stated the famous "5 points" of Modernism: almost no one of the architects that followed those dogmas captured the spirit of LC's architecture. As Giulio Carlo Argan wrote, this was about the restoration, purification and representation of the traditional values of the Western society, expressed in the figure of the Athen's Parthenon, with its harmonic proportions, the trilithic structure and orthogonality as the main features of composition. In the "Parametricism Manifesto" you have also stated a list of linguistic taboos and dogmas about the new style you are proposing: do you think that simply following those grammar and syntax rules would allow a talented architect to design a good avant-garde architecture?
Patrik Schumacher - Well, first of all I don't call the principles I have formulated ‘linguistic’ principles. They are heuristic principles that guide the design process. So they give an operational definition of Parametricism. My formulation of these principles is based on observations. So I looked at what we and a lot of other architects have done for the last ten to fifteen years, what students are doing globally, and I analyzed what general features and values these efforts share. And “heuristics” means rules/guidelines of how to progress a project, what to avoid in order not to fall back into old ways, to have a clear demarcation against older styles, and how to approach the project and advance it via specific design steps. So in order to set up a clear research hypothesis, you need to clearly negate some ways of working, for example avoid rigid platonic figures like the cube, the cylinder ….
Not only is it important for a design researcher to work in a principled, coherent (“dogmatic”) way, but it is important for the progress of the discipline that there is a convergence of efforts within a community of design researchers. In order for research to be cumulative it is necessary that design research principles become dogmas, at least for the length of time required to make some real progress. Movements need ‘dogmas and taboos’. However, my theory about the realty and necessity of dogmas is itself not dogmatic at all.
MC - The risk here is that we are saying: “Try to do this, don’t do that”, but are we sure the spirit of the new is just inside dogmas and taboos?
PS - Well, of course, using the terms ‘dogmas and taboos’ is a kind of provocation, just to emphasize the actual pervasiveness of these rules in our design community. I also use these terms to recognize that you don’t have to critically re-think, re-formulate, with every new project, what your values and principles are. There is a moment of critical thinking, of critical evaluation of different options and ways of going forward, and then, once you have settled for some principles, you go to work by relying on them without questioning them again and again. They become de facto dogmas. For most architects there is not even a conscious decision to rely on these principles, but a kind of collective filtering and selecting of certain ways of working, out of experimentation. There was also the influence of reading the works of Deleuze & Guattarì, Derrida and the interest in natural systems and complexity theory. These intellectual engagements were an inspiration for the formation of parametricism.
Out of that emerges a way of working in which, when you step back and describe it, you can see what the taboos are, what is no longer admissible, what the dogmas are, in the sense of what is always being expected and attempted.
That’s why I use these terms: ‘taboos and dogmas’. Can you guarantee good work in this way? No, but these heuristic principles become a necessary (rather than sufficient) condition of pertinent work, well adapted to contemporary, dynamic, complex network society. And also it becomes a necessary condition, not a guarantee, to participate in an exciting collective movement. There is no other original movement in architecture. I am saying this: if you hesitate, if you want to keep yourself outside, if your individuality doesn’t allow you to follow a collective movement, you are condemned to remain marginal. Lots of people instinctively won’t consider to be “categorized” and would like to remain free, unencumbered by categorization. I think this is perhaps understandable from a psychological point of view, because they want to feel open and flexible, but if they are really honest, they’ll recognize that they are in fact following a collective movement already. I am just describing what happens and say: let’s own up to what is going on and lets make this explicit. There’s no other progressive way where there are real innovations, originality. There’s only one new movement. What I deliver is a retrospective description and a post-factum validation. I am also explaining why our intuitive investments have been worthwhile, rational, and superior to all prior styles. We have been discussing and theorizing this, but fifteen years ago we did not know that fifteen years later we would still be doing the same, just more deep, more intense, dealing with large scale programs and now we should realize that this has become a kind of new paradigm which gathers more and more momentum, and it’s actually quite powerful, quite productive. It can solve complex problems, compellingly more interesting, more versatile, more fit to the context, generating more affiliations, more correlations, more connections, more interactions. This style has matured to be a state of the art best practice in our discipline, well adapted to the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century, well adapted to the demands of postfordist network society.
So these are the advantages. As for the disadvantages, for example that it is difficult or hard to build, these are disappearing because architects, engineers and contractors have invested into new technologies that can cope with the required levels of differentiation and complexity. In both design and fabrication the cost difference between repetition and variation is diminishing. We can draw a continuously differentiated array as quick as a repetitive array of elements.
To summarize: these are heuristic principles, they are formulated in retrospective. It’s an empirical statement: they are the dogmas and taboos of the contemporary generation of architecture. There is only one new, original, promising game in town. We can also say that this is so for a reason, because this work has a superior capacity to order and articulate the increasing complexity of societal life processes. Parametricism is more versatile and adaptive than all prior styles. That means that the descriptive statement turns into a normative statement. We do this and we should do this. To some extent I would even say: the fact that the principles of parametricism have become nearly uncritically accepted by many, at this mature stage, is itself a good thing. Its good that you don’t have to re-criticize valid principles every Monday morning, with every new project, wondering what you should be doing. A lot of people just follow the wave. But this wave has a strong momentum for a good reason: these principles and the results they make possible have a superior rationality, well adapted to contemporary society. But for all those who have a critical mind there are my theories and writings to consult. If you want to look at the arguments, if you want to analyse the quality of the results, understand the pros and cons, you can find them in my writings or in others’ writings, e.g. the writings of Greg Lynn, Jeff Kipnis, Jesse Reiser etc.
MC - People outside your style or paradigm say there is a sacrum, an idea of sacrum inside architecture. It is inside the trilithic structure of the Athen’s Parthenon, the real origin of architecture. This sacrum is the expression of western society, of its culture and identity, and if you do something completely different it is not architecture at all.
PS - This is an attitude that I’d call fetishistic, you make a fetish of history and in that way you have no possibility to talk about the vital needs of contemporary life, what makes our lives more productive, more free. Architecture is not a metaphysical representation, it is a dynamic layer of a multi-layered society. These layers are co-evolving.
MC - But they say it has to be mainly a representation of that sacrum, of the original western architecture, as it was in modern European architecture. Instead, if I am right in reading you, you are talking about another sacrum, that of life.
PS - Exactly. I don’t believe it is productive anymore to talk about western culture. Is the west still to be distinguished from the east? I think anyway we are living in a global world society in which all continents and peoples are participating. As Homi Bhabha pointed out: contemporary culture is marked by an inextricable hybridity. Every contemporary culture, including so called western culture has integrated so many foreign influences that the concept should be given up. This concept of western culture produces unnecessary and unproductive resistance to the full diffusion of global best practices. We are all working for a world architecture, a global architectural discourse, where everything and everybody, from China to Iran to India, is participating. Through internet, every young architect is connected to the rest of the world. Any design anybody puts anywhere on the web becomes a potential point of influence in the global network of disciplinary communications that I call the autopoiesis of architecture and design.
MC - That’s what Edgar Morin has said about the internet that it has created a sort of conscious world out of the global one.
PS- Yes. Everything is influencing everything else.
MC - Now the second question. At page 114 of "The autopoiesis of architecture", in writing about "the structure of scientific revolutions" by Kuhn, you write: "within architecture the succession of paradigms can be identified with the succession of architectural styles."
Starting from this assumption, in the "Manifesto of Parametricism" you propose, in synthesis, the following "popperian" sequence in styles/paradigms: Classicism - Modernism - Parametricism.
What you call "parametricism" is about a post-deconstructivist auto-creation, an auto-creative and perpetual production that has nothing to do with the representation of the Parthenon's figure which is the basis for the trilithic and orthogonal structures of Modernism. Don't you think that there is a bigger distance between parametricism and modernism than between modernism and classicism?
PS - Yes, I agree with that, there is a much bigger difference. The sequence of styles started with the gothic. The gothic represents the transition from tradition bound building to architecture proper. The first true architecture is Renaissance architecture, and then follow the styles of Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassicism, and then Historicism. I mean gothic is the transition from vernacular to architecture. Medieval Romanesque architecture is not a real style, it is like a vernacular. I distinguish epochal styles from transitional styles and from subsidiary styles. So for instance, between the epochal styles of the Renaissance and the Baroque there was the transitional style of Mannerism, and the Baroque had a subsidiary style, namely Rococo. The 19° century Historicism includes a lot of subsidiary styles, namely Neo-gothic, Neo-baroque, Neo-renaissance and even eclectic mixtures of historical styles, i.e. Ecclecticism. The transition from the epochal style of Historicism to the epochal style of Modernism moved through the transitional styles of Art Nouveau and Expressionism. Modernism had many subsidiary styles, such as white modern, rationalism, brutalism, metabolism, high-tech etc.
MC - Yes, but I don't see just one popperian evolution: what I see is that there are different fluxes and streams of evolution. One of them brings Baroque and Organic architecture. Baroque is not "after" Renaissance, it's just in another evolutionary stream and among them, the different streams, there’s a sort of circular movement, one is dominant and the other becomes just residual…
PS – This idea is based on an old, ahistorical, cyclical concept of time. Such ideas were proposed in the 19th century: the eternal play of opposites, e.g. the Apollonian versus the Dionysian principle. I think cultural historiography has moved beyond such ideas.
Of course, you can trace non-linear influences. People now look back and find affiliations to the Baroque, so you can also say that inside Modernism there is a sort of organic trend, you have Sharoun, you have Niemeyer and Wright, and so on. But I rather focus on what is historically new in each era, and if I look at precursors I ask why did some of these early precursors (e.g. Sharoun) remain exceptions during their time, and what allows a somehow similar tendency become pervasive now.
MC - But Niemeyer is just bringing forward Le Corbusier’s “objets a réaction poetique”, and it is just about a sculpture that is closed.. He is not influenced by the external world. What you are doing now is just interfacing…
PS – Yes, none of these precursors are really Parametricist. We can always emphasize what is radically new in our approach. Nevertheless, similarities can be identified. I mentioned Niemeyer because he indeed influenced some of our works, because he sometimes built up an artificial ground topography, He used curves and ‘free forms’, but his curves are always arcs and his ‘free forms’ are built up from arcs and straight lines. There are also strong anticipations even in Le Corbusier’s work, for example in the Algiers project. That’s not a typical Modernist tabula rasa project but anticipates our idea of integrating building with land formation, as if conceived via an associative logic.
MC - Infact Le Corbusier was a genius just jumping from a paradigm to the other...
PS - In the Algiers project he is moving into the topography with his slabs and his elevated roads, following the contour lines of the topography. However, these moves point beyond Modernism. You have to distinguish two discourses: one is about cross references and influences, but this is not the primary issue. My primary question is: what are the dominant features and principles that really defined an epochal style. What, for instance, was the essential logic of Modernism that delivered its rationality and power in the 20th century? Even if there are some sub-trends, like Frank Lloyd Wright and Sharoun, We need to grasp the essential core of a style. There are always multiple tendencies. Even under the paradigm of Newtonian mechanics, there has been alchemy, and Newton himself was religious. Nevertheless, we describe the essence of this era as enlightened rationality. The purpose of my analysis is to understand and show how, in each historical era, the built environment adapts to the particular, prevalent mode of socio-economic life process. For instance, the principles of Modernism – separation, specialization and repetition - are congenial to the modes of societal organization of the Fordist society of mechanical mass production.
If you look at my lectures online you can see how I am trying to describe why the Baroque superseded the Renaissance, analyzing what were the advantages of the Baroque, why the Baroque was better equipped to articulate the grander needs of large nation states, while the Renaissance was sufficient for smaller city-states. The compositional repertoire of the Baroque can organize and articulate much larger unities, via its curves and its deep reliefs for distant views. The dynamic asymmetry of its parts was able to support much more powerful global symmetries in comparison to the additive compositions of the Renaissance, where every part rests in itself, with its own symmetry.
What I am saying is not contradicted by what you are saying about multiple stands. What you are describing can co-exist with my description, I am just talking about what are the major paradigms which become dominant because they are well adapted to the particular era, like modernism was well adapted to the industrial age of mass reproduction, with a uniform working class participating in the results of industrial mass production. This creates a mass repetition society, the idea of serial reproduction. The principles of modernism, i.e. separation of urban functions, the optimization a universal function-type for every function and the endless repetition of this single type, are no longer adequate for a much more diversified and dynamic society. That’s why modernism experienced a severe crisis and cannot be resurrected.
MC - This is what I can recognize inside the cartesian way of thinking about the separation of subject and object. So it is Deleuze’s work to reconnect these elements. The third question is about this:
Behind the concept of the folding by Deleuze, there is a re-connection of the cartesian and aristotelic splitting and separation of subject and object, that was first indicated by Husserl in 1936 in “The Crisis of European Sciences”. Deleuze moves towards a complex, dynamic and circular conception of subject/object, very close to the one that Edgar Morin is bringing forward in his theory about complexity (cum-plexus). It seems to me that our time is characterized by this effort to recompose the fragmented individuals, Deleuze and Guattari's Oedipus. It may be the foundation of a new cultural paradigm or simply the becoming dominant of an already existent paradigm, in fact Deleuze in “The Fold” refers to Leibniz and the Baroque, like Giulio Carlo Argan refers to Wright, as precursors in the this change in terms of cultural paradigms. In the second case, my thesis, the one that is going now, is that we could put in the same cultural paradigm as successive design research programs, classicism, neoclassicism, modernism and minimalism, and in another cultural paradigm roman, baroque, organic architecture and our current style.
Avant-guard architecture and especially your practice seems to have taken the concept of seamlessness inside its DNA, and it may seem that parametricism is just about the tools we use, not about the real and deep meaning of this style. If we just look at your heuristics, they are exactly the same that Michelangelo Buonarroti used for his fortification project in the 1500.
If you do not define as parametric most of Foster's work or all the architecture just designed via parametric software, why do you still prefer the label "parametric" to "organic" or just "complex" architecture?
PS - Well, because if I would call it organic I will be following you and your thinking as if there was a kind of nearly eternal strand of research, which is an outmoded way to look at history. What you are saying is a like the idea of a permanent oscillation back and forth between apollonian and dionysian ideas. So you can say yes, there was the apollonian renaissance, followed by the dionysian countertendency of the baroque, assuming that there is always a back and forth. As we have said before, this is a cyclical, ahistoriacal notion of history, because it moves in circles, between two poles, back and forth. There is also this dualism in Greek culture between the earlier classical and the later hellenistic. Or we have the tripartite distinction of Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic. It is sometimes discussed in terms of archaic beginnings, classical maturity and then decadent degeneration/exaggeration. It seems plausible to some, but I don’t support this kind of “theory” at all, because it misses the point about the historical evolution which produces something unprecedented, new in each stage.
MC - I am saying that there is a progress but not just in a single course, there are different and simultaneous progressive developments in different paradigms.
PS - If you say that, then I would also have to say that there is progress from classicism to modernism, to minimalism and that this one could be a progress in parallel to our research…
MC - And it is what is happening, you are winning more than minimalists because at this moment your style is becoming dominant, but there are people that are still working inside the classicism-minimalism paradigm…
PS - I don’t believe there is going to be the return to the simple in the next iterations. I don’t see it this way, I see it more in terms of a real evolution, in the sense of new levels in the stages of evolution which are unprecedented despite the precursors and influences you might be able to trace the new ideas back to. In retrospect you can identify early anticipations and influences and you couldn’t have predicted their influence, i.e. you could not have foreseen the radically new phenomena that emerged. You shouldn’t over-emphasize the similitudes between the baroque and what we are doing now, because there are radical differences.
MC - But I think of what Michelangelo did in his fortifications project, that actually takes its shape just from the trajectories of the weapons, or just what Wright did: some of his projects have exactly the same philosophy of your architecture.
PS - Well, I would invite you to make the effort to see what is radically new. Of course you can always find precursors, that anticipated certain aspects of a phenomenon, but I think you should also see that precursors give only a glimpse and that you can only recognize them in retrospect.
MC - I am not denying progress, for sure there are unprecedented things now. I am just saying that there is not just one, linear, progress inside culture, for example inside architecture from ancient Greece to parametricism, but there are different progressive trajectories in different evolutionary streams… and I think that what you call parametricism, for its internal meaning, does or should not belong to the same lineage of modernism. And if we do not search for roots and deep meaning we risk to lose the heart of the discussion and to propose something that, like in the past, has no meaning at all and can be even dangerous...
PS – I agree that there are often multiple competing trajectories, and that each might claim certain historical lineages. I also I admit there are always continuities and influences to be traced, but I want to emphasize the fact that there is always something new, emergent, unprecedented, and that’s why I want to find a term, a new term, which has never been used before and coin a phrase which is also something specific to our time, as "parametricism". So that is my intention with parametricism. This is my emphasis. I would not deny the fact that there are some similitudes, influences, sympathies, inspirations which come from a kind of prior trajectories, I do not deny this, but I wouldn’t overemphasize them, because there is also this aspect, that each historical era has new needs and if there were prior strands, marginal strands, they didn’t have a chance to flourish at that time, for a reason. Your description seems to me to have too many unchanging elements. Rather than assuming that there are several long strands of development that coexist in a drawn out antagonism across the centuries – like the classical versus the organic - I believe that each new era poses new questions and initially spawns different attempts to cope with these new challenges. These initial attempts are the short-lived transitional styles. For instance the transition from Modernism to Parametricism spawned two competing transitional styles: Postmodernism and Deconstructivism. Each can be traced back to a prior lineage: Postmodernism can be traced back to Historicism/Ecclecticism and Deconstructivism can be traced back to Russian Constructivism. However, I think that these identification miss the radical newness of both Postmodernism and Deconstructivism. In fact philosophically Postmodernism and Deconstructivism share more with each other than with their supposed lineages: They both build on Post-structuralism, and share a philosophical relativism and ideological nihilism and irony that is utterlt alien in comparison with either Historicism/Ecclecticism or Constructivism.
MC - Yes but for example the network or the interrelation of your architecture seems to be more deep like a name. When we invented the pencil we didn’t name architecture “pencilism”...
PS - That is a point of view. What name would you propose?.
MC - Well, I think that network architecture or interrelation architecture, for example, could describe it better.
PS - I could even agree with you, but you might have the problem that maybe a lot of older architects would claim that they do that as well. It seems too general a term… Anyway I think it is better to accept that “a name is just a name”. There could be a debate about terminology, but that is not very important for our discussion. And perhaps it is too late for that already. The term Parametricism is already strongly in circulation. There is already a Wikipedia entry on Parametricism.
MC - If we see in this re-composition of the Oedipus society's fragments the main fulcrum of the current cultural paradigm, of course we will have to consider the deep, dynamic and continuous interrelations as the main feature of the spirit of our post-fordist network society. There is a strong new ethics inside this conception, as we can claim that the first separation to be recomposed is the one between mankind and the rest of the Earth's ecosystem. Proceeding this way implicates that the themes we should develop inside our avant-garde architectural research are mainly the openness of the spaces, the grounding-attachment to the ground, the interdependence and interconnection of the spaces among them and between them and the site.
The MAXXI, the Landscape Formation One, the Cagliari's Nuragic museum and many other amazing projects of your office talk about this crux and about these themes: in my opinion, they are the best current expression of the post-deconstructivist paradigm. On the opposite, the Phaeno museum, that sinisterly detaches from the ground, the Rabat grand theatre with its close loop, the Vilnius Guggenheim and others seem to be closed and complete mega-objects that are not related to the context, not connected with the ground; in general they do not tell the same post-deconstructivist story.
They seem to belong to the pre-deconstructivist paradigm as, beyond the complex grammar and syntax, they display detachment, separation, isolation, enclosure. How do you respond to this criticism?
PS - I understand the contrast between field-projects like MAXXI which are site-embedded and the object-like projects, but with a closer reading of these objects you can feel the ambition to adapt, affiliate and correlate with their surrounding context, not by direct connection but by action at a distance (like gravity acts across a distance). Just look at the shape of the Wolfsburg project and the way this shape is cut off and shaped by the surroundings, and the way it creates a kind of topography underneath that responds to the urban flows. Clearly, none of these projects are about landing a modernist space-ship. The dogmas and taboos of parametricism have been adhered to here too.
MC - There is the landscape that is trying to do this, but…
PS - Yes, here you can see the methodology of searching for affiliations, for embeddings. There is also a bridge connection which cut through the building. You can say the field projects are more paradigmatic, but you can certainly find embeddings and connections in our object buildings. You might study our Guang Zhou opera house, the way the two objects interlock without touching each other, the way they resonate with the landscape-like plinths whithin which they are embedded etc. Everywhere you find the attempt to establish formal relations which try to overcome what maybe an initial impression of "objectness".
If you put these projects next to one of those metabolist monsters or megastructures of the 60s and 70s you can see the difference: the difference is in the attempt to intensify relations within the complex and between the complex and its surrounding. I can demonstrate via a close description that these more object-like projects are still operating within the parametricist paradigm.
MC - Now the last question.
The power of Wright's Guggenheim is that, inside, you feel part of a whole, part of mankind and part of the ecosystem, as it reminds us of a shell. There is a very strong communication: you can flow inside this space without any barrier, you can always see art and the other people: everything is part of the experience, of the communication. The meaning is deeply ethic: it is spurring you to feel as an organic part of the Earth, inspiring the feeling of connectedness, seamlessness among people, and between them and Nature.
Inside MAXXI I perceived exactly the same meaning, besides the feeling about the dynamism and the interdependence of life in its complex network of interrelations. Both MAXXI and Guggenheim, like even the Saarinen terminal at the JFK, are just made of concrete, even if they are curved. I find it extremely ethic as their beauty has nothing to do with the cost of an expensive, fashionable double-curved material but only with the shape of the space. Instead, many of your recent buildings are covered by double curvature panels, or display other very expensive features, in terms of money and energy behind the construction process, to gain a very fashionable and attractive effect. It may seem a linguistic habit, a whim just derived from commercial issues more than a deep and real necessity. Don't you think the edgy declination of your style would be much more ethic, at our frugal time of economic and environmental crisis?
PS - Well, first of all I accept that the ecological challenge needs to be taken up. There is an external pressure on architecture and I am happy to meet this challenge. I think that our parametric paradigm is the style best equipped to take up the ecological challenge because of its inherent capacity to adapt via the transcoding of environmental data (like sun-exposure maps) into morphological adaptations. When it comes to the issue embodied energy and costs my position is that these are engineering issues. The engineers’ responsibility is to make efficient machines below the ground and to advise the architects with respect to the energy efficiency of various passive, morphology-dependent systems. The engineers are responsible for the physical comfort of our physical bodies via temperature, humidity, fresh air etc. The architect’s responsibility and core competency is to create pleasant and socially productive environments that are well adapted to our requirements as social actors. Architects design a well-ordered, legible system of spaces that orders social processes by allowing socialized users to find each other and gather in specific constellations for specific communicative interactions and events. The initially environmentally motivated spatial morphologies must finally be instrumentalized to articulate and characterize the different spaces and their relations. Fenestration, shading elements, roof overhangs and the like – initialy environmentally motivated - become means of architectural articulation. Their physical functioning is ultimately an engineering responsibility. Their social (communicative) functioning is the architect’s responsibility. That implies that the architect has to closely collaborate with engineers to find these serendipitous synergies that turn engineering logics into a grammar of articulation. Within the style of parametricism there is a powerful congeniality and synergy between the interest in continuous morphological differentiations (to order a continuously differentiated social life process) on the one side and the requirement and opportunity of continuous morphological differentiations due to a nuanced environmental adaptation made possible by contemporary, computationally supported engineering on the other side.
MC - Yes, but we know that if we do "blobs" and totally curved shapes, nowadays the processes are more and more expensive in terms of embodied energy.
PS - No, I think that’s why we have to distinguish between avant-garde and mainstream. I think because in the avant- garde we need additional resources, someone must be investing in these avant-garde projects, in these manifesto projects. However, the more contractors are investing in new, computationally supported manufacturing technologies, the more will the cost differential for complexity come down. I love fair-faced concrete and an exposed structure, and understand its aesthetic appeal, its sense of purity. But I am not shying away from a more complex curvature, from intricate, smooth transitions, and super organic details, because they are clarifying our spaces perceptually. If you build complexity and you just add things together without transitioning, without articulating continuities, the visual field quickly becomes visual chaos. To build more complex, information-rich scenes, which offer more events - without losing legibility - it is necessary to increase the complex play of surface curvature. A more complex surface can tell a more complex story.
MC - It’s better in terms of communication, I agree with you.
PS - So it’s not just the trendiness, it is all about the legibility of complex social scenarios. This is the difference between architecture and engineering. They care about physical performance. We care about visual performance as an orientation system as a crucial aspect of social performance.
MC - So you say that this is more important than energy…
PS – It is certainly more important for us as design architects. This is our task. A well-ordered, complex, legible environment is needed to sustain an ever richer and denser social communication process. The progress of society depends on this advancement of architecture as much as it depends on an advancing science, a progressive political system etc. The need to save energy is an important constraint, but not an ultimate purpose. As architects we try to turn this constrain into an opportunity of articulation. So, somebody has to work on how to design the most communicative and thus the most productive spaces. It is about ordering and reducing the visual complexity of a complex system, otherwise you are just adding disparate parts and solutions together like an engineer, producing an ugly mess, or o be more polite: disorientation.
MC - But the edgy style I was talking about is not about just putting post-modern elements together, it is just finding another language for complexity, as Plasma Studio or Tom Wiscombe do.
PS - I know this work and we have designed like this too, but it becomes limited if you have to add further complexity, add more and more details and spaces that need to work together. Here, when you work with straight walls rather than curves, the user does not get any sense which spaces are larger. They wouldn’t even know if they are on the inside or on the outside of a wall, because it is just flat. Instead the curvilinear design allows users to perceive the difference between the convexity and the concavity of the wall as an indication of outside versus inside. In a system with straight lines, angles and corners lose orientation if the space is very complex. With curves users perceive the difference between continuities and discontinuities and thus can identify relevant functional units or territories. In the edgy style where corners proliferate unities and continuities fall apart, and complex functional unities and relations can no longer be perceived. So what I am saying this: if the edgy style wants to become more complex, it becomes a disarticulated, disorienting visual chaos, where no identities and functional continuities can be recognized.
Try to make something as complex, or more complex, like MAXXI or our BMW project in Leipzig, and take away all the curves. You know, without curves it will be disorienting.
MC - There are just single-curvature surfaces in the BMW project or in the MAXXI. I am talking about the double curvature surfaces.
PS – MAXXI and BMW have been designed 10 years ago. Now we want more. Sometimes you might want to interconnect and establish continuity in section. If you try to do it in both plan and section at the same time you end up with double curvature.
MC - You have the right to try this because you are bringing forward the avant-garde research.
PS – Consider this: We should invest into our collective future and this is a small investment in the global expense of the world. These experimental investments are not large but they are well worth it because you develop our capacity, our capability and technology. Then, the efficiency comes ten years down the line. It already starts to happen now. In the largest and commercial projects, you can actually be more cost effective because you can use parametric BIM models. When you have a parametric model you can spin out all the unfolded panels just with one clic. So the cost differential you were talking about is coming down to the point where it is five or ten percent. Maybe it is still fifteen percent, but its coming down with every new investment. So that’s where I am coming from.
I think you need to understand our core competency as architect. As avant-garde architects we need to innovate and advance the discipline in line with the general progress of our civilization.
Read an article called “Parametric City”, where I am focusing my discussion on what is most important, namely the quality and social productivity of our environment. If you say that it is all about saving energy you miss the point. We must first aspire to advance the quality of the built environment for the sake of the quality and productivity of our societal life process. Then you can ask how this quality can be achieved with the smallest carbon footprint, without sacrificing the most essential qualities we need to make the next step in our civilization. We can only solve our global environmental sustainability if we can increase and intensify societal communication, because science, politics etc. have to progress to save us. They can only progress in a progressive environment.
MC - Thank you very much, Patrik.
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