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forward to PRODUCTIVE PATTERNS - Part 3
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 2
3. From Fordism to Postfordism
In the late sixties the Fordist system of assembly-line mass production, corporate concentration, collectively bargained consumption standards and macro-economic state-regulation was challenged along all its dimensions.
The foundation of the bureaucratic mode of operation, the stability and predictability of its environment, was fractured.
Drifting Markets: The Modernist housing standard ("Existenzminimum") became the very thing everybody wanted to escape from. The standard family upon which it was premised was in a state of dissolution. Postmodernism started to cater for this differentiating market.
With the overall growing complexity of the division of labour and the proliferation of white-collar labour salaries started to stratify. In a related move, and with generally growing affluence beyond the saturation of the most basic needs, markets started to diversify, allowing for status and identity consumption to initiate an acceleration of aesthetically motivated product-cycles. These developments placed a reward on innovation and flexibility rather than the lowest price achieved through optimized mechanization and economies of scale. The house as the main site of consumption, soon became itself drawn into the logic of differential identity and income.
But Late-20th-Century market differentiation complicates beyond a simple stratification along the single scale of income. This is reflected in the proliferation of classificatory matrices employed by market researchers trying to comprehend and strategize the field of consumption. Translated into the terms of cultural politics, these developments engendered a complex web of identities reflected in the discourse of Identity Politics. (This discourse abounds with spatial metaphors like territory, positionality, dislocation, displacement, nomadism etc.) Most recent formulations of identity politics dissolve the very category of identity through its re-conceptualization via notions of irreducible ambivalence and hybridity. (14) Identities are constructed as intersections of multiple dimensions of differentiation, involving overdetermination, multiplicity, hybridisation and a dynamic that implies a logic of differance, rather than mere difference, i.e. an economy, where every new investment into a given network of mutually dependent terms shifts the whole topology of differences through which these terms are always only provisionally defined. Post-structuralism emerges as the epistemology or meta-language of those new political discourses and makes a new and sophisticated logic - intertextuality, differance - available to other disciplines, not least to architecture. (One of the insights/impacts of post-structuralism is the dissolution of disciplinary boundaries. This is also reflected in the increasing uncertainty regarding the "proper" professional as well as academic territory of Architecture. Those uncertainties had a profound impact on architectural education: the total dissolution of any sense of a definitory curriculum.)
The first wave of appropriation of (post)-structuralist semiotics by Postmodern Architecture (Venturi, Rossi, Jencks)remained oblivious to the radical challenge structuralism posed to the naiv understanding of how meaning is constituted.(15) POMO dealt in banal symbolisms, ascribed meanings and loud surface operations, revealing a crude conception of the economy between sign and signified. That an effective semiotic speculation about the emerging universe of fluid and multiple identities required new spatialities rather than mere surface manipulations, i.e. that the organizing spatial structure is dialectically involved with signifying operations irreducible to the immediate presence of a sign or symbol, was beyond the grasp of POMO. Deconstructivist Architecture - with the active intervention of Derrida - started to elaborate a discourse involving space and the invention of new spatialities in sophisticated semiotic - but not only semiotic - operations (subversions, displacements, re-contextualizing juxta-positions, superimpositions etc.).(16)
Flexible Production: New computer-based production technologies developed the ability to offer product diversity (small runs) without the enormous relative cost of handicraft production that had previously limited deviations from the mass-product to the realm of luxury. This is the crucial material factor in the whole process: the micro-electronic revolution offering a productivity leap in the production of the desired economies of scope (rather than scale).
Theses technological possibilities (CAD-CAM)) soon became available also in the building- and interior fit-out industry, allowing a greater formal and stylistic diversity of expression. Flexible specialization became a technological possibility, making inroads into the monopolized mass-product market and thus eroding the predictability of the economic environment and implying an overall liquefaction of production networks. The dislocation of traditional work and management arrangements became an economic necessity.
The ongoing globalization of the division of labour tends towards the transfer of the typical fordist factory production to the developing countries (Asia, South-amerika and now Eastern Europe) while in the centres of the 1st World we witness a shift of balance towards research&developement, management&finance, consultancy, the culture industry etc. - productive activities less prone to standardization and bureaucratization. Postfordist production concentrates in the 1st world metropolitan centres whereas elsewhere something that looks more like a mixture of Manchester Capitalism and Fordism is still on the ascendance. Geographically uneven development and globalization engage in positive feedback loops.
Vanishing State-regulation: As products and markets differentiate, economies of scale are recuperated through international expansion. The resultant Globalization has the effect to erode the macro-economic competence of the nation state, i.e. its ability to anti-cyclically smooth out the dangers and disturbances of the business-cycle to stabilize the economic environment within its national boundaries. Globalization means international economic integration and interdependency. The 1973 oil-price shock suddenly shifted the import- and export dependency of most national economies. The more national markets became international markets, the less was it economically feasible and sustainable to sponsor national demand that would invite foreign suppliers while burdening solely the national producers, thus enchroaching upon their competitive ability abroad or even on the very home market they are sponsoring. As those policies became increasingly unsustainable and state finance went into crisis, a withdrawal from Keynesian macro-economic regulation in general and a systematic dismantlement of the social welfare state is engendered - a process that continuous to this day. Living standards are in a state of flux, downward as well as upward.
Bureaucracies are rigid single purpose machines that can be re-geared only very slowly - too slowly to capture the flux that leaves them stranded. The fordist giants of optimized efficiency become the mal-adapted dinosaurs, doomed because unfit to float within the new fluidity of markets. The poles of class-society are re-polarized while simultaneously the space between is filled with a field of continuous variation.
Exploding Labour relations:
A positive feedback loop in the liquefaction of relations between supply/capital and demand/labour has gathered pace: The volatility of markets tears on the institutions of collective bargaining (of the conditions of employment). This in turn makes markets even more unpredictable. Employment contracts become shorter. Mobility increases. Regular employment is replaced by "casual labour" and "self-employment".
4. Paradigm change in organization- and management theory
A superficial glance at the expanding sections of business and management literature in any highstreet bookshop will suffice to capture the ongoing frenzy of restructuring: Titles (and subtitles) as the following abound: "Welcome to the Revolution", "The new Paradigm for Business", "Disorganisation for Nanosecond Nineties", "The Postmodern Organisation", "Deconstructing Organisations", "Catching the wave", "The One Minute Manager", "Thriving on Chaos" etc.(17)
In order to make sense of the historical rift those slogans proclaim, previous landmarks in the development of organisation- and management-theory need to be sketched out. A closer look at the history reveals that, what might finally appear as an abrupt break, has been prepared by a series of drifts, each offering interesting points of connection to various problematics within architectural discourse.
a) The mechanistic paradigm - the organisation as machine
Organisation theory as a separate formalized science (systematically gathering evidence and formulating laws and principles) emerges in the early 20th Century, at the time of intense corporate concentration (most extreme in the U.S. and Germany). One of the first systematic elaborations was Henri Fayol's "General and Industrial, Management" (first published in French in 1916). The "principles of management " Fayol puts forward - later critically referred to as mechanistic and bureaucratic - have become the embodiment of classical management theory. Indeed, those principles are requiring from the corporation (in Fayol's French coinage "corps social") a degree of regularity and precision equal to the machine-system it is supposed to administer. Classical Management theory synthesises and codifies a combination of military and engineering principles. The reformation of the Prussian army in the 18th Century produced the prototype of the mechanistic organisation: the hallmarks of the reform were the introduction of ranks and uniforms, the formalisation of rules, the creation of a command language, and the specialization and standardization of tasks and equipment. At the same time the development of manufacture in England discovered similar modes of organisation, which were sharpened with the ascendance of the factory system in the 19th Century. Already in 1835 the factory could be described as "a vast automaton, composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs, acting in uninterrupted concert for the production of a common object, all of them being subordinate to a self-regulated moving force."(18) Marx describes how the making of the commodity is segmented, mechanized, the workers integrated as appendages moving to the rhythm of the machine, only to be replaced by further mechanization. At the end of the century the administrative apparatus is going through an analogical development. This mechanization process of the 'body corporate' found its most extreme, exhaustive and notorious formulation in Taylorism, where detailed time-motion studies of each task and sub-task where part of a systematic effort to subject any work to scientific control. The "first principle" of F.W.Taylor's "Scientific Management" identifies the implied transferral of the intelligence from the individual worker into the structure of their combination as the conscious task to be assumed by scientific management:"the gathering in on the part of those on the managenent's side of all the great mass of traditional knowledge, which in the past has been in the heads of the workmen, and in the physical skills and the knack of the workmen, ..., recording it, tabulating it, ..., finally reducing it to laws, rules and even mathematical formulae."(19) (The 19th Century is the Century of mechanization. This includes architecture - or at least should have in the view of the early 20th Century - as is demonstrated by Siegfrid Gidion's "Mechanization takes command".) Whereas Taylor goes into the minute details, the classical exposition of overall structural principles is found in Fayol(20). He lists 14 principles. Here are the most crucial ones as he introduces them:
"1.Division of Work: ... results in specialization of functions and separation of powers.... As society grows, so new organs develop destined to replace the single one performing all functions in the primitive state." (Progress as progressive functional segmentation.)
"2.Authority and Responsibility: Authority is the right to give orders and the power to exact obedience. ... Wheresoever authority is exercised responsibility arises."
"3.Discipline: ... Sanctions (penalties) must be judiciously applied."
"4.Unity of Command ... For any action whatsoever, an employee should receive orders from one superior only. ... Should this be violated, authority is undermined, discipline is in jeopardy, order disturbed and stability threatened."
"5.Unity of Direction: ... One plan for a group of activities having the same objective."
"8.Centralization: like the division of work, centralization belongs to the natural order; this turns on the fact that in every organism, animal or social, sensations converge towards the directive part, and from the brain or directive part orders are sent out which set all parts of the organism in movement."(The analogical reference to organisms does not put into question the mechanistic character of Fayol's system. It rather exposes his mechanistic conception of organic life. The point of this lengthy quote is to show how fundamental and unquestionable those principles are in the classical formulation.)
"9.Scalar Chain: The scalar chain is the chain of superiors ranging from the ultimate authority to the lowest ranks. The line of authority is the route followed - via every link in the chain - by all communications which start from or go to the ultimate authority." Lateral communication is excluded. This principle describes precisely the tree-structure which - according to Christopher Alexander's critical analysis - is the fundamental structure of the modernist planned city. Everything is connected unambiguously over the centre via a single succession of subcentral nodes. Lateral connections are excluded. (21)
"10.Order: ... in the case of material things:'A place for everything and everything in its place'. The formula is the same for human order: 'A place for everyone and everyone in his place'. ... For social order to prevail in a concern there must, in accordance with the definition, be an appointed place for every employee."
"12. Stability of tenure of Personnel: ... Instability of tenure is at one and the same time cause and effect of bad running."
These principles describe the ideal organisation of the fordist corporation.
The same set of principles could have been extracted from Max Weber's famous and detailed analysis of the modern administrative state bureaucracies (also written in 1916): Monocratic hierarchical subordination, specialization, and formalization, i.e. jurisdictional, abstract and impersonal competency, executed according to general, exhaustive and stable rules(22). The structure of hierarchical departmentalization is obviously endemic within architecture (estate - building - room). The single line of command translates as the linear mode of access via a sequence of controlled entrances.
The 'mechanistic' or 'bureaucratic' form of organization deserves such a lengthy and explicit exposition as this form entails the founding and defining principles of the very notion of organization (and order). Any attempt to elaborate other, more complex and dynamic forms of organization will inevitably relate back to the founding form as its complication, dynamization, temporary suspension, distortion, subversion etc. This is borne out by the evidence of the subsequent literature. Classical organization theory remains the general backdrop of reference, including the latest extremes of anti-organization.
b.) The organismic paradigm - organisation as organism
I will base my discussion of what has been called the 'organismic approach' largely on the work of T. Burns (and G.M. Stalker)(23), who, in the early sixties, explicitly introduced the distinction between "mechanistic" and "organismic" organization as a lever for organizational innovation. I will argue that the proposed innovations do not yet cross the threshold from a fordist to a post-fordist form.(24) (The metaphor of the organism obviously does not pre-determine the conceptual logic it enters into. As with Fayol, so within the modern movement, e.g. with Hugo Häring, the metaphor of the organism ("organic architecture") ends up referencing the same set of functionalist principles as the metaphor of the "house as machine". We will see below how - through the same metaphorical reference to organic life - logics evolve which I would locate beyond the threshold.)
Burns point of departure is the recognition that the "new, more insecure relationship with the consumer... in the Affluent Society" creates problems for the industrial bureaucracies. Burns defines "two 'ideal types' of working organizations, the one mechanistic, adapted to relatively stable conditions, the other, 'organismic', adapted to conditions of change." He explains: " ... when new and unfamiliar problems and requirements continually arise ... definitive and enduring demarcations of functions becomes impossible." So far the result is negative. In positive terms the consequences are that "responsibilities and functions, and even methods and powers, have to be constantly redefined ... Interaction runs laterally as much as vertically, and communication of people with different rank tends to resemble 'lateral' consultation rather than 'vertical' command." In this account responsibility and function remain indispensable categories. Their definition is not suspended, only their distribution is dynamised. The important "configurational" new principle is the shift from vertical to lateral communication. But although this shift seems to have direct consequences for architecture - Burns cites the example of a dynamic electronic concern operating with two thousand people within a single-storeyed building - the shift implied is not so much configurational or structural as it is 'social': the abolition of authoritarian tone and the de-emphasising of hierarchical status etc. The logic of functional segmentation and functional hierarchy remains intact. It is merely more frequently re-defined. Therefore the need for social softening, i.e. to avoid resistance and loss of face etc. which would get in the way if positions would still carry so much social investment. All this does not yet imply real structural change of the kind promoted later. Even a formulation like - "any individual's job should be as little defined as possible, so that it would 'shape itself' to his special abilities and initiative"- lowers only the degree of definition, and this only initially, still presupposing a definite shape to work towards. Although Burns also offers other progressive formulations which e.g. imply a higher degree of dissemination of knowledge within the corporation, to a certain degree even anticipating the recent slogan of group work, I choose to follow a conservative reading of Burns rather than reading the latest discourse into his formulations, because he again exposes his inability to break with classical management categories when he discusses what he callspathological forms. In identifying in the "super-personal committee system" a pathology Burns exposes his unpreparedness for the internal democratization called for. The second pathology is the "ambiguous figure system", i.e. one of the paradigms of post-structuralist discourse, and the very principle which Colin Rowe promotes - under the name of "phenomenal transparency"(25) - as an exciting architectural possibility. Burns "pathological ambiguous figure system", i.e. the blurring of the line of command through multiple allegiances, is soon systematized into a clearly regulated ambiguity in the so called matrix organization, where each employee belongs to two organizing systems simultaneously: departmental- and project-division. This principle, which becomes a standard in organization theory (and practise) in the seventies, finds its architectural pendent in the pathbreakingly explicit introduction of superimposition (of multiple spatial structures in one plane) in Tschumi's award winning La Vilette project in 1983.
forward to PRODUCTIVE PATTERNS - Part 3