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forward to PRODUCTIVE PATTERNS - Part 2
Patrik Schumacher 1997
Published In: architect's bulletin, Operativity, Volume 135 - 136, Slovenia and in: architect's bulletin, Volume 137 - 138, Slovenia German: Produktive Ordnungen
Published In: ARCH+ 136, Your Office Is Where You Are, Berlin
Productive Patterns - Part 1
The 'architecture' of business-organization is liquefying. The classical modern strategies of rationalization
based on the vertical
integration of work into clearcut functional hierarchies is failing today in respect to
the complexity and dynamism of the overall
socio-economic process. The ongoing socio-economic restructuring
is being theorized under the key notion of"Post-Fordism".
The recent ideas about modes of spatial organization as elaborated by 'deconstructivism' and developed
further in the latest trends
towards a "new architecture of folding"(1) are related to the new ideas
in organization- and management-theory
(de-hierarchization, matrix- and network-organization, flexible specialization, loose and multiple
Although the parallels between the two discourses - "post-fordism" and
"new architecture" - are striking, they remain unexplored.
This is thus the aim of this text, to "ground" the new architecture in post-fordism and "redeem"
it through its conscious and critical
involvement with the progressive aspects of current socio-economic restructuring, with specific focus on
in business organization and organization theory.(2)
The convergence of recent architectural and managerial vocabularies offers the opportunity to prove that the new ideas and
graphic spaces are more than fashion fads and have a degree of profundity. The degree, specificy and operationability of
this convergence will be the criterion for the vitality and relevance of the new architecture, i.e. its ability to contribute
to the ongoing socio-economic restructuring. The task posed is to identify those progressive realities in which the proposed
new spatialities could fulfill their "architectural effects" and performative promises, beyond the iconographic symbolism at
which a lot of the work is resting and earning its premature laurels. The brief has already been written in the call for the new
"synergetic technopoles"(3), business clusters and no-longer-corporate office-scapes of the industries spearheading postfordism.
What will become evident is the striking "pre-established harmony" of terms between the two discourses, i.e. between the latest
conceptions of socio-economic restructuring and business organisation on the one hand and the latest ideas about spatial
organisation on the other. The possibility to compare (and exchange) the conceptual tools of architecture and organisation
theory resides in the mediating language of formal (configurational) analysis. In organisation theory - as much as in
architecture - the drawing (or rather the diagram) plays an important role in enabling (as well as limiting) conceptualization.
The "organigramme" is a standard tool of management consultancy. Both - architecture and management theory - encounter the
limits of the line and experiment with graphic tools beyond traditional hard edge delineations.
The diagram, or rather the repertoire of diagrams is the key resource of architectural speculation. It is more than a representational device. It is a key resource of registering, of thinking through and manipulating the programmatic and social relationships before they can become the brief for a built architecture. "Architecture" in this sense is always already at work.(4) But this 'primordial' dialectic between (the conceptions of) social and spatial order is far from guaranteeing the convergence of their most recent anticipatory formulations. E.g. the recent return to minimalism and purism in architecture seems to cling to precisely those formal orders that the logic of socio-economic and institutional development has identified as its incarcerating fetters. In a period of crisis and intensified restructuring such (conservative) aesthetic investment is bound to decline into a stance of defensiveness and self-victimization. This purist sensibility will suffer and reject all that which becomes operational, vibrant and vital in the current transformations. The vocabulary developed by the New Architecture seems much more in tune with those transformations. But the suspension of aesthetic judgement is here also good advice. Aesthetic judgement only becomes productive when it can serve as the intuitive short-circuiting of accumulated experience or analytical insight into the operational qualities of form which remain the ultimate criterion of any architecture's historical prospect. This experience has yet to be gathered and analysed before aesthetic investment aquires a degree of reliability.
Just another import?
The suggested exchange between the realm of socio-economic analysis and management theory on the one hand and architecture
and architectural theory on the other hand, might appear to be just one more attempt to cross-fertilise disciplines, to open
just another source realm for the import of new terms, metaphors and analogies into architecture along the line of previous and
recent imports from literary criticism, chaos theory and biology. Without diminishing the fertility of those previous exchanges
and imports, it has to be stated that something else is at stake in the alignment with socio-economic organisation: the
relationship is not analogical but real and direct and always already operational. An architectural effect might be inspired
by certain phenomena in the animal kingdom but its effectiveness takes off or perishes with its participation and alignment with
the organization of social reproduction.
A profession in Transition
One of the underlying hypotheses of this paper is also that the business of architectural consultancy might itself be one of
those realms of production prone to postfordist restructuring: there seems to be evidence that this process is gathering pace.
The professional restructuring of the architectural profession is therefore reflected as the most immediate chance for the
architectural avant gardes to redeem its speculations through contact with the realities of social reproduction. In a reverse
move the profession might thus utilize its own disciplinary advances of the organisational imagination to optimize its professional
The current identity crisis of the architectural profession - expounded by endless editorials in the organs of the professional bodies - is to be analysed in the context of the accelerated global economic restructuring affecting the building industry (and the organisation of architectural production) as much as every other sphere of production. The open question here, as everywhere, is how the challenge of an increasingly differentiated and fluid market can be met, i.e. which forms of work organisation (division or intergration of labour) will be able to deliver under the evolving market conditions and within the progressing technological framework. Although these forms will indeed be manifold, there is no guarantee that the professional office, as we know it, figureheaded by the architect, will survive this restructuring process.
1. Postmodernity ( and Post-Fordism )
The forceful emergence of Postmodern architecture in the late seventies - sweeping the market like an avalanche in the
eighties - represented much more than a new aesthetic sensibility. It heralded a new and distinct phase of capitalist
development. Post-modern aesthetics - the (unheard of) rejection of the aesthetic values of homogeneity, coherence and
completeness - and the celebration of diversity, collage and fragmentation signal the departure from the regime of
bureaucratically organized mass-production. Deconstructivism and Folding are in this respect extensions of this fundamental break
with modernism rather than signifying a further break.
Post-modern architecture found its market in the rediscovery and "detournement" (5) of the historical city as business hot house,
catering for the privatised and highly differentiated demand for offices, retail, gastronomy and housing. The new enterprise and
yuppie culture could not flourish in suburbia or on secluded green field sites.The wave of "young" architectural offices pushing
POMO and quickly claiming serious ground from the established modernist corporations were typifying this new enterprise culture
within the field of the architectural profession and were themselves spearheading the re-inhabitation of the historic centre in
Like the early modernists, those who would become the new leaders of the profession, were prepared to suspend dogma and
learn from the new realities: Venturi "learning from Las Vegas" and Koolhaas writing a "retro-active manifesto for Manhattan".
More recently Koolhaas derived his most compelling spatial innovation - the suspended voids of the Paris National Library
project- by making explicite and extrapolating the already vastly proliferating reality of a new building type first produced
by John Portman. Koolhaas recent written manifesto, promoting "Bigness" as a new category in architecture to be consciously engaged,
is thus as retro-active as his previous "Delirious New York".
That the raison d'Ítre of Postmodernism is to be identified in the "epoch-making transformation" (6) of the structure of
(world-)production became clear as the socio-economic changes that accumulated since the mid-seventies started to delineate
the contours of a new system, a system that by the late eighties had found its canonical theoretical elaboration in (Marxist)
social theory under the name of "Post-fordism"(7). Simultaneously bourgeois organization theory reflected this process
in its implications for corporate structures and business gurus produced a flood of "revolutionary" management literature that
was proclaiming a paradigm change in business organization for the "post-industrial information society".
Recent macro-level analysis of (international) restructuring proceeds from two (related) explanatory schemes: Postfordism and
Globalization. These references are crucial to establish the conditions and prospects of architectural production - concerning
its output as much as its organizational structure.
Postfordism emerges from the mutually enhancing but also contradictory interaction of technological and political developments
and the related dynamics of the world market which together brought the post-war "economic miracle" of stable, extended growth and
the whole paradigm of the "Social Welfare State" (State-Capitalism) into crisis. The first recession occurred in 1966/67, followed
by the political struggles of 1968, the oil-crisis in 1973, the breakdown of the international exchange-rate system, and a
deepening of the recession in 1974. The former growth-rates could not be regenerated during the whole decade. The stabilizing
remedy of anti-cyclical debt-financed state-investment lead to inflation without growth ("stag-flation"). By the end of the
seventies it became clear that the recession had to be seen as a structural (systemic) crisis that called for new political
strategies (UNIDO 1979, OECD 1983)(8).
Thatcherism and Reaganomics launched the neo-liberal offensive that to this day continues to break down the post-war social order.
Post-fordism as an analytical category that goes beyond market turbulences and political strategies to the basis of the economic
process, the dialectic between the forces and relations of production, is of distinctively Marxist provenance. The underlying
notion of "Fordism", originally put forward by Gramsci, characterises the epoch of Corporate- and State capitalism since
World War I (and coming into its own fully after World War II) in reference to its production system: the new paradigm of the
assembly line as pioneered by Henry Ford. This notion of Fordism was systematically developed by the French Regulation School of
(Marxist) economic analysis, initiated with Aglietta's "A Theory of Capitalist Regulation"(9). Aglietta attempts to reconceptualize
and systematize Marxist conceptions of the stages of capitalist development (free market-, monopoly-, state-capitalism) by
organizing their procession around the following dimensions:
1. the production process - the techno-industrial paradigm
2. the circulation/growth cycle of capital - the regime of accumulation
3. the social and political institutional framework - the mode of regulation
Each particular stage of capitalist development is defined by the systemic cohesion of those three dimensions of total social
reproduction. Following Althusser, Aglietta asserts that those dimensions are engaged in a dialectic that grants each a status
of semi-autonomy, although in the long run the developement of the forces of production remains "determining in the last instance".
A structural crisis arises if one or more of those dimensions breaks out of this synchronized ensemble. An extended period of
crisis and intensified class-struggle creates revolutionary potentials for a solution beyond capitalism, or a new regime might
crystallise and allow the stabilization of a new stage of developement within capitalism.
2.The specific structure of fordism and its manifestation in architectural production.
Fordism is based on the assembly line, i.e. large scale, long term fixed capital investment into a single purpose operation.
Fordism, as a socio-economic rather than a merely technological paradigm, presupposed the social revolutions that - in the
aftermath of Word War I - tore down 19th century class-societies and established the working masses and their representatives
as an organised political force demanding participation in the results of industrial productivity and thus constituting themselves,
for the first time, as the primary market for industrial consumer products.
According to Aglietta the distinctive advance of Fordism was the qualitative shift in the ability of industry to make the workers'
consumption goods the object of comprehensive industrialization.(10) Fordism signifies the progressing industrialisation and
comodification of all the necessities of the reproduction of labour (textile, food-processing, transport, household:
washing machine, fridge etc.). This amounts to a shift from absolute to relative surplus-production as the cost of labour could
be reduced by means of rationalizing it's reproduction rather than by deprivation. Aglietta calls this the transformation of
extensive into intensive accumulation as accumulation finds its dynamic within itself, generating its own market as basis for
further accumulation. A virtuous circle emerged where capitalist investment in industrial mass production was breeding its own
safe market as industry- and nation-wide collective bargaining with the trade unions guaranteed a general and stable wage level
and consumption standard. This level was regularly rising, thus generating a predictably growing market as a basis for
capitalist expansion, while the equally predictable ability to increase productivity through further economies of scale and the
extension of the assembly-line technology to ever more areas of material reproduction, made sure that the rising level of wages
did not diminish profits. Any residual turbulences and recessions were bridged by the keynesian social welfare state which secured
income and demand during recessionary unemployment and evened out the flow of investment via an anti-cyclical state-investment
This regime of stable growth became possible as the working class - through the mediation of social democracy - gained a degree of
power-sharing after World War I . This meant that the masses became, for the first time in history, the client of
architecture. This also implied a revolution in the leadership of the architectural profession. The academically educated,
stately stylists of the imperial institutions were replaced by self-educated architects (Behrens, Gropius, Corb, Mies)
re-inventing the discipline by identifying in the mundane ( mass-housing, mass-furniture, factories) the worthy and urgent
tasks for a modern architecture. The social democratic municipalities constituted the planning bureaux through which modern
urbanism was produced. Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg , Rotterdam, Vienna etc. were represented by figures like Taut, May, Schumacher,
Oud, Wagner etc. Theses institutions had no longer much in common with the ateliers of a Wallot or Theophil Hansen (11).The task
posed was the developement of a new typology, of establishing standards: the house for the "Existenzminimum" which became
the universal receptacle for a whole series of mass consumer durables like the living room set, dining set, (Frankfurt-)kitchen,
bathroom fittings, washing machine, and later the fridge, television and automobile.The new paradigm of Functionalism implied an
objectification of design in analogy to science. Engineering based on calculation replaced the traditional proportional guarantees
and the atelier transformed into the modern architectural office that increasingly distinguished a series of specialists within
The art (of architecture) was transformed into a technical discipline. This process was carried furthest in the Soviet Union
where all artistic pretensions of individualist expression where weeded out under the slogan of "productivism". Productivism
knows no artist-architects. What once was called art is mere formal/ material study as propedeutic for industrial design and
production. Art and architecture were to dissolve into the scientific and bureaucratically collectivised construction of the
new urban system centred around the factory. The economic potential for large scale operations was reached only in the thirties.
West European protagonists like May, Meyer and Schmidt got involved and the American expertise was imported as exemplified by the
enormous commissions secured by the office of Albert Kahn, who virtually became the Soviet state architect to realize
(e.g.in Magnitogorsk) the ultimate fordist urbanism. Albert Kahn's Detroit architectural office represents the ultimate fordist
corporation in the field of architecture, able to deliver a complete standard industrial city.
The fact that the most rigorous extrapolations of the logic of the fordist stage of capitalist developement were possible only
beyond the capitalist system is also born out by the fact of the unheard of growth rates the Soviet Union was able to achieve
in the thirties and forties whereas the capitalist West was only achieving similar rates in the fifties as State-capitalist
arrangements allowed for an economic planning closer in character to the socialist "regime of accumulation".
The techno-industrial paradigm of fordism is the assembly-line as pioneered by Ford. Its strength lies in the
cheap mass-fabrication of standard mass-products. Early attempts to gear architectural production to such industrialisation are
to be found, on the one hand, in the attempt to define a universal standard - the house for the 'Existenz-minimum' - and on
the other, in the attempts to device a modular system of fabrication (panel-systems) as pioneered by Gropius in 1920ies.
An early record in mass housing construction was set in Germany already in the late twenties by Ph.Holzmann PLC, constructing,
on a site in Leipzig, 1018 flats in 46 weeks, averaging at 2,1 hours construction time per flat.
Even if most of the early modernist 'Siedlungen' were not yet produced on a fordist assembly-line, they certainly exemplify
the emergence of a social consumption standard, while their seriality is the direct aesthetic expression of the logic of fordist
mass-production, which became a full-blown operative reality in the post-war reconstruction boom.
The larger the mass of products to be produced the more it pays to analyse and break down the production process into separate
parts and to develope optimized single purpose equipment. This logic is mirrored inmodern architecture when the structure
is separated from the skin, each being optimized according to their respective task to be explored by respective experts, or in
the organisation of the building via the separation of functions into specialized and separately optimized volumes.
(The Dessau Bauhaus is paradigmatic in this respect: Residential, administrative and workshop functions are separately articulated,
allowing for depth, height and facade to be optimized for each respective programme independently. In turn the interior functional
distribution is easily read of the exterior.)
In the factory this process of extreme technical division of labour offers economies of scale which derive from the ability of
fine-tuning and optimizing the proportions between the various integrated types of labour through large numbers of workers
(while the multiplication of individual producers would not make much economic sense.) This possibility to exploit economies
of scale thus leads via horizontal integration (mergers) to colossal corporations approaching monopoly status. The stability and
predictability of this system of accumulation also fosters the comprehensive vertical integration of production, as it were,
the integration of all the processes that feed into the making of a final commodity (the car, the house) into a single
"assembly line"- from the extraction of raw-materials, to manufacture, transport and distribution or in the case of the building
industry the integration of all trades and consultancy services in the design&built corporation. (12) (This process which is
a general tendency of capitalist development since the emergence of manufacture, extended and fulfilled in Fordism, is for the
first time being systematically reversed in the current restructuring.)
The internal organizational regime of the large (horizontally and vertically integrated) fordist corporation is
fiercely hierarchical and bureaucratic. The extensive system of labour-division allocates to everybody a clear and
repetitive task within the overall machinery. The integration of all the different activities into one meaningful operation under
the administrative command of a single capital is organized via an extensive bureaucratic hierarchy that itself operates - on
each successive hierarchical level - according to the principle of separation and specialisation. Departmentalisation
and sub-departmentalisation - the perfect examples of Deleuzian "territorialization" - are the structural principles of the
bureaucratic mode of organisation. The hierarchical tree guarantees the single line of command. Every administrator
(as well as operator) has a clear superior and a definite number of inferiors. Everybody finds a clearly fixed position
and rigid job-description within this machine. Each individual administrative task is as far as possible routinized (mechanised).
The intelligence of the bureaucratic sytem lies in its overall design. The precondition of its efficiency is the stability of its
environment, .i.e. the repetitiveness of its task. The post-war boom was such an environment, also for the construction industry.
Standard building types were developed for all institutions. Prefabrication gained considerable ground. The hegemony of the
modernist international style remained unchallenged. The large corporate architectural offices - like S.O.M. or
C.F.Murphy - typify the essence of the epoch in architectural production as well as organisation. Skidmore, Owings and
Merrill (S.O.M.), founded in Chicago in 1939, became the biggest and most proliferous US architectural office in the fifties.
Its organizational diagram from 1957 exhibits a rigid departmentalisation distinguishing 27 formalized departments
(e.g. Accounting, Personnel, Research, Contracts, Master Planing, Building Design, Civil Engineering, Structural Engineering,
Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Construction Management...) organized under the four main categories of administration,
design, production, and construction (13) - an archetypal fordist bureaucracy.
forward to PRODUCTIVE PATTERNS - Part 2