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Productive Patterns
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 3

c) From systems approach to the eco-system paradigm
System Theory (and the management approach derived from it) formalizes Burns' distinction between mechanistic and organismic organizations - aiming to understand the structural conditions of adaptability - via the elaboration of the distinction between "closed" and "open" systems. According to the systems approach, classical management theory treated the corporation as a closed system, preoccupied with principles of internal design, in the absence of any relevant notion of context. System theory is expanding the conceptual repertoire, also concerning internal relations and operations. The fundamental point here is - and this is what makes system theory so attractive to management discourse in the late sixties - that all these new concepts are geared towards the comprehension of systems in responsive relation to (dynamic) environments: homeostasis (steady-state exchanges), requisite variety (internal differentiation matching the environment's (relevant) differentiation), equifinality (allowing for different ways of arriving at a given end state), and most fundamentally the concept of negative and positive feedback loops.

(These conceptual tools originate from contemporary approaches in biological science (also referred to as organismic as against mechanistic biology), from the theory and technology of cybernetics (producing a new generation of self-regulating automata), as well as from computer- and information science. The social sciences are quick to follow and "General Systems Theory"(26) attempts to abstract/construct an overarching logic for the new sciences. This period also witnesses the proliferation of explicite system-theoretical approaches to urban analysis and urban planning. System theory offers to architecture the conceptualization of sytem-effects and system-dependency upon environment as a model to conceive the building as a system (rather than mere agglomeration) of spaces and to think through the buildings relation to context as well as to programme.)

The system-theoretical notion of feed-back involves more than simple reciprocal interaction between variables (as some vulgarizing presentations seem to imply). It goes beyond a direct response mechanism (e.g. the reflex arcs of behaviorism). "The behavior of complex, open systems is not a simple and direct function of impinging external forces, as is the case with ... gravitational systems. Rather, as open systems become more complex there develop within them more and more complex mediating processes that intervene between external forces and behavior. At higher levels these mediating processes become more and more independent or autonomous, and more determinative of behavior."(27) What "emerges" here is some degree of self-regulation. (The notions of "self-organization" and"emergence" originate in sixties' system theory, preceding chaos-theory.)
The system-theoretical notion (of feedback) implies the notions of an underlying "internal" or internally ascertained "function", "purpose" or "direction", internal parameters defining or bracketing "goal-states".

These are the (previously irreducable) hallmarks that seem to distinguish higher order organizations like organisms, corporations, cities, societies etc. from physical systems. System theory claims to explain the phenomenon of seemingly goal-oriented behavior by reducing to "efficient" causes, operating here and now, what was previously understood in reference to teleological (meta-physical) notions of "final causes". Feedback is analysed as a mechanism through which the "orientation" of the system can be explicated as being embodied in the complex configurational relations of the system itself (rather than hovering above, e.g. in the intense will of a corporation's CEO).

(System theory thus offers itself to architecture as an invitation to elaborate a more sophisticated and effective understanding of the "function" and "meaning" of a building, beyond the commonplace notion that buildings passively receive both function and meaning from an external and pre-established consciousness - man in his original identity - as "final cause". What I am pointing at here is what E. Soja calls "the socio-spatial dialectic". Following H.Lefebvre and D.Harvey, he recognises "spatiality as simultaneously a social product (or outcome) and a shaping force (or medium) in social life.")(28)

The simplest case of a (cybernetic) open system, is the case of a steady-state (morphostasis) being maintained in a changing environment via negative feedback mechanisms. In the limit case the internal order is reproduced identically. In more complex scenarios a system undergoes directional (systematic) evolution. Generally open systems , according to W.Buckley, are defined through the following 4 definitory requirements:

1. bracketing of internal criterion variables
2. selective sensitivity, or mapped relationship to environment
3. ability to distinguish deviations of the system's internal states from goal-states
4. negative or positive feedback, reducing or increasing the deviation of the system from its goal-states or criterion limits.

Without grasping that allowing the second option under point 4 in effect opens a (yet) unbridgeable conceptual abyss within system theory, Buckley goes on to distinguish between morphostasis and morphogenesis and complains that "these (former) conserving, deviation-counterbalancing processes have come to be emphasized in the literature at the expense of structure-elaborating, deviation-promoting processes that are central to an understanding of higher level systems such as the sociocultural."(29) Buckley seems to point at development even beyond the dynamic teleology of a directed goal-state evolution and thus touches the black hole which Derrida is conquering that very year.(30) But Buckley's 'systems theory' is not equal to the task. His notion of a system of progessive deviation can maintain the definitory goal-state only as a metaphysical entity: as the goal's operational life fades away (via deviation), its ghost must take over, presiding over the measurement of deviation. Steeped in aristotelian logic, systems theory can not survive its ambition to comprehend 20th Century's socio-cultural dynamic. (Trying to tackle the hitherto uncharted issues of morphogenesis in biology, meterology, and cosmology, it shifted gear (and name) to turn into Chaos- and Catastrophe-theory.(31)) The rather rigid character of the system theory framework restricts its application to rather trivial problems - trivial compared to the problem of post-fordist survival. The rigidity of the conceptual apparatus turns into metaphysics in the face of a discussion that calls for dialectic conceptual movements. For instance: The principle of requisite variety - demands that the internal differentiation of a system matches the differentiation of its environment. The environment (e.g. the global economy) has necessarily a (vastly) higher variety than the system (e.g. the corporation). It can obviously only be a matter of matching the relevant environmental variety. And this relevant environmental variety (e.g. of the particular niche-market adressed by the corporation), being defined only in reference to the very system (the corporation) it is supposed to measure and determine, can not, therefore, count as an independent and prior measure or parameter. The Aristotelian idea of matching collapses here into tautology. The phenomenon of the dialectical reactive-constructive relationship between (post-fordist) marketing and market escapes the formalizations offered within the system theory framework.

The same limits are placed upon the notion of an internally (pre-)set parameter. Again the notion cuts into substances and identities what can only emerge from an interdependency of terms. At the end of the 20thCentury - under conditions of rapid and 'catastrophic cultural morphogenesis' - the language of system theory can no longer describe e.g. how a family (system) is moving into a new flat (environment). To do this with a degree of effectiveness - worthy of an effective architectural design-speculation - requires a language beyond systems analysis (and structuralism).

Nevertheless, system theory has been applied to managerial problems. In its most rigorous form - operations analysis - it was also confined to the most trivial scope of problem, e.g. small logistical subsystems of organizations. There also have been attempts to employ the vocabulary to the overall problem of corporate organization in relation to types of environment. A good example , combining the introduction of concepts with case-study-analysis, is given in P.R.Lawrence & J.W.Lorch "High performing Organizations in Three Environments", relating "organizational states and environmental demands"(32). Although a lot of insights have been channeled through this paradigm in the sixties, its rigidities and limitations were soon critisized within organizational discourse. The undialectical presupposition of a given environment (differentiated or dynamic) was questioned and challenged by a "concept for organizational ecology"(33), allowing for mutual rather than one-way determination between environment and organization and actively promoting new forms of interorganizational relations interactional field). This new paradigm of the business-eco-system gained currency in the second half of the seventies. Recently it has been restated referring to "the death of competition"(34) and insisting on the inevitability of co-evolution. Competition is not vanishing, rather the logic of competiotion is transformed from efficiency (price-competition ) within a market to a competition around the creation of new markets. This has consequences for corporate organization since major innovation and the creation of new markets involves the co-evolution of a whole techno-economic and cultural field. This requires a network of multiple contributers, the blurring of corporate identity/integrety. Operators in one (not yet established) market, who might have been conceived as competitors according to older conceptions, are now often depending upon each others survival. The eco-system approach realises that a new product category distorts a whole subsystem of commodities. As example might serve the abrupt 'revaluation of all (architectural) values' effected by POMO (which also involved the co-evolution of new building technologies). Another example - although confined to the realm of architectural (avant-garde) culture rather than operating in the economy at large - is the impact of Zaha Hadid's Hong Kong Peak entry which - in a flash - relegated the competion between Graves, Krier, and Ungers irrelevant, all appearing equally outdated. The most efficient competitor perishes with his field of competition.

The move from the system to the eco-system - from evolution/coexistence to co-evolution - implies a shift from the passive adaptation to markets to the active creation of markets. The product becomes pro-creative, function seems to follow form. Markets are no longer conceived, as according to the neo-classical ideal of perfect competition, to be beyond the influence of any single corporation. The stage seemed set for a game-theoretical approach to business organization. Whereas system theory - like neoclassical economics - aggregates competitors into the impersonal force of the market, game theory allows the players to reckon with competitors as equally strategizing players. The next chapter will show how this prima facie paradigmatic advance collapses under the load of unmanageable complexity, producing another brand of metaphysics in an attempt to uphold an ultimately inadequate vocabulary.(34)

d) Beyond structuralism

Sixties (Anglo-saxon) system theory and (French) Structuralism (Durkheim, de Sassure, Levi-Strauss) are analogous paradigms. (In their respective disciplines - biology, cybernetics and organization on the one side and sociology, linguistic and anthropology on the other side - both approaches are able to understand certain 'higher order' phenomena - 'life', 'goal-orientation', 'successful firm', 'the individual', 'function' - as system-effects, or respectively as properties of structures configured from lower order elements. Bill Hillier is operating in this tradition when he is trying to explicate such elusive concepts as 'urbanity' via configurational analysis.)(35) The intellectual break-through of structuralism was achieved by Sassure via the deliberate departure from "historical linguistics", i.e. in deliberate abstraction from change. He defines his science of language as synchronic, as "static linguistics". Precisely this lever of progress becomes - since the end of the sixties - structuralism's weakness, when the acceleration of change in technology, culture and language called for a new logic and meta-language: post-structuralism.

From a materialist perspective it is not a miracle that management- and organization-theory, exposed to the same stresses of 'liquefaction', had, by the mid-seventies, independently, without any reference to the respective French writers, in effect made its own move from structuralism to post-structuralism. Even if less sophisticated and self-reflective, and without the same pervasiveness, organizational "post-structuralism", not known by this name(36), is equally driven to paradoxical formulations (e.g."Technology of Foolishness", "productive self-deception", "friutful misunderstanding"). Before entering this discourse I briefly present an example of the game-theoretical approach as a mediating link from system- to 'post-system theory: M.Crozier's 'Comparing structures and comparing games' (37) from 1976 critisizes the systems-approach as too "deterministic" to be "adequate for a phenomenon of high-order complexity as organization." (This formulation already exposes his framework as oblivious to history, essentializing organizational 'high-order complexity'.) "The dominant paradigm revolved around the basic question concerning structure: how contextual variables determine the basic structural features of an organization and how these features command the behavior of the members and the performances of the organization. The new paradigm first emerges around the idea that the contextual features should not be considered as variables determining the structure, but as problems to be solved. ... There is , then, a second kind of theoretical orientation, which is the consideration of an organization as a system of games for solving the problems raised by the contextual constraints, and not only as social system who's activities are finalized."

Although Crozier is here certainly on the move towards further liquefaction, he has not crossed the threshold of structuralism. He still relies on the notion of system (system of games) and only objects to activities being finalized, while still assuming stable goals. Games are defined by rules, players have goals, and choose between strategies. All these notions become questions pointing beyond structuralism. Crozier is not yet trying to come to terms with paradoxes like 'un-systematic systems', 'inconsistent strategies' and 'shifting goals' - realities of the seventies' calling for a post-structuralist logic of différance. Indeed, the formal organisational hierarchies and specialized competencies (i.e. the formal system) were increasingly hollowed out by actual 'adhocracies'; and strategy formulation turned increasingly into the post-rationalization of the latest contingencies.

Sophisticated and explicite arguments beyond structuralism are developed in J.G.March and J.P.Olsen 'Ambiguity and Choice in Organizations" (1976) - a devastating critique of engrained notions of choice, decision, goal, reason, rule, experience, history etc. The whole logos of Western rationality is challenged in a text with no direct philosophical ambitions. From within management discourse, brought forward in the form of a critique of formal decision analysis (the peak of modern rationality), the whole edifice of Western philosophy is brought down, involving formulations that could have been cut straight out of the major texts of Derrida; and may easily be read as a challenge of engrained assumptions about architecture, architectural history, the plan, planning, and the design process.

Within most of the Western world individuals and organizations see themselves as making choices. March & Olsen start their argument by analysing what is presupposed in the concept of choice and identify the following three underlying assumptions: the pre-existence of purpose, the necessity of consistency, and the primacy of rationality. Those ideas, deeply embedded in modern society, are made the explicite axioms of decision theory. "It is fundamental to those theories that thinking should precede action; that action should serve a purpose; that purpose should be defined in terms of a consistent set of pre-existenting goals; and that choice should be based on a consistent theory of the relation between action and its consequences. Every tool of management decision that is currently part of management science, operations research or decision theory assumes the prior existence of a set of consistent goals. Almost the entire structure of micro-economic theory builds on the assumption that there exists a well-defined stable, and consistent preference ordering." (March&Olsen)

How could it be otherwise, how could one not start the building with the foundations?

What decision theory and the ideology of choice can only ignore or conceive of as deficiency - the reality of "the fluidity and ambiguity of objectives"(M.&O.) - needs to be 'redeemed' within a new and more complex understanding of rationality. The whole economy of rationality involving the network of concepts like freedom, coercion, identity and progress will be deconstructed/reconstructed. "Goals are thrust upon the intelligent man. We ask that he act in the name of goals. We ask that he keeps his goals consistent." (Just as function is thrust upon form in architecture.) Intentionality is seen to be the defining moment of human consciousness, in its individual as well as colllective (organized) existence. March does not indulge in an abstract negation of goal-oriented rationality, he proposes its sublation into "more complicated forms of consistency", i.e. a more complex rationality which allows for degrees of temporary laxity, able to offer procedures ("plans") for the discovery/construction of new goals and values. The current reality of shifting goals seems to force us to "choose now in terms of the unknown set of values we will have at some future time. ... This violates severely our sense of temporal order."(M.&O.) Such a "choice" is, according to the "ideology of choice", utterly non-sensical. The hypothesis here is that the latter (ideology) has to be challenged, not the former (reality) exorcized. Late eighties' design-process experiments in architectural education had precisely this warped time structure: 'choose' now, 'motivate' later. The aleatoric process was endemic in London architectural schools in the second half of the eighties. This process or method involves the radical suspension of everything usually associated with "design" as deliberate purpose-lead activity. This was reflected in the reversal of the order of programme and form in the slogan "Form to Progamme"(39) Freedom and progress are here mediated through coercion in the sense of the designers (temporary) submission to an arbitrary determination. ("Coercion is not necessarily an assault on individual autonomy. It can be a device for stimulating individuality."(M.&O.)) In the aleatoric design method the formal process is running amok and programme (life) is read into it a posteriori, allowing for an innovative (re-)alignment of both new form and new function - the perfect strategy to create new markets instead of competing in old ones. The aleatoric "play" is an instrument of intelligence, not a pure negation or substitute. March comes to the same conclusion in relation to business strategy: "Playfulness is the deliberate, temporary relaxation of rules in order to explore the possibilities of alternative rules. When we are playful we challenge the necessity of consistency. In effect, we announce - in advance - our rejection of usual objections to behavior that does not fit the standart model of intelligence. Playfulness allows experimentation. At the same time, it acknowledges reason. It accepts that at one point ... it will be integrated into the structure of intelligence." In further reversals and re-valuations March proposes to treat 'goals as hypotheses', 'intuition as real', 'hypocracy as transitional'(somebody experimenting with new ideals), 'memory as enemy', and 'experience as theory' - hitting at a fundamental Derridian insight. March: "Experience can be changed retrospectively. By changing our interpretive concepts now, we modify what we learned earlier. Thus we expose the possibility of experimenting with alternative histories. ... Personal histories, and national histories, need to be rewritten continuously as a base for the retrospective learning of new self-conceptions. ... Planning in organizations has many virtues, but a plan can often be more effective as an interpretation of past decisions than as a program for future ones. ... In an organization that wants to continue to develope new objectives, a manager needs to be relatively tolerant of the idea that he will discover the meaning of yesterday's action in the experiences and interpretations of today."(M.&O.)

(This is a real life example of the very phenomenon Derrida's central notion of differance (40) - the combination of difference and deferrence - points at: The fact that, always already (but only now accelerated into visibility), language (and thinking) is a system of differences that continuously defers its resolution via its permanent retro-active re-writing of all its terms. Derrida: "... all is not to be thought at one go ... "(41) and this has bewitching consequences: A thought might no longer speak the language of its own beginning. Below we will start to speculate about an architecture of differance.)

March realizes that "play" is not necessarily constricted to the domain of the individual. "Organizations can be playful even when the particpants in them are not."(M.&O.) How does the (anti-)structure of such an organization look like? How can get architecture involved? What kind of spatialities would this suggest?

A new architecture beyond structuralism might offer itself to inhabitation as an aleatoric field, anticipating and actively prefacing its own detournment. The late sixties "soft rooms" and toy-like environments may have been the moment architecture got closest to such an ambition. The "Bürolandschaft" (office landscape) of the seventies was, in a far more serious context, also already pointing to such a potential, as demonstrated in the extrapolating projections of Archizoom. An aleatoric field is always a specific field and offers more (and less) than the abstract freedom of blank neutrality. The abstract freedom of neutrality forces the inhabitants to fall back and rely on the pre-conceptions they bring to such a space. Such a space is reproductive rather than generative. A generative and liberating architecture can only work via a degree of coercion. It becomes a generative force via resistance rather than offering the path of least resistance. Laxity as an active force is proposed to substitute the ideas of abstract openess on the one hand and passive flexibility on the other. Laxity implies a productive imprecision not always associated with flexibility (which mostly offers a choice between clear cut options). Laxity also involves a degree of stiffness (its definitory other with which it shares a scale) (42), a productive 'anexact' coercion. This side of the dialectic seems underdeveloped in the foregrounding of "deformation", "weakness", and "submissiveness" of the new "compliant" strategies of "Folding". The framework of e.g. Greg Lynn's "Architectural Curvilinearity" is too easily misread as still operating within the conceptual economy of system theory, when he emphasizes time and again "complex deformations in response to ... contextual influences", or the "incorporation of external influences into a pliant system".(43) What remains unexamined is what the pliant system brings into the exchange. This question can not be answered in the abstract. Laxity has always to be bracketed with a degree of specificity. We know what it is no longer: a matrix of hard-edged zones and sub-zones, based on precedent and type. When Lynn is criticizing the notion of an ideal type he is certainly not resting with its pure negation. He sublates type into "internal force", participating in a "zone of co-present forces: both internal and external". Inspired by D'Arcy Thompson he proposes an "alternative type ... capable of both bending under external forces and folding those forces internally. These transformations develope through discontinuous involution rather than continuous evolution."(44) The emphasis and effort is again directed towards allowing for the incorporation of contingencies rather than focussing on the particular modes, limits and specific resistances to incorporation (and easy appropriation). What is also left out is the deformation suffered by the external force , and more profoundly, the fact that what might or might not count as an external force depends on the internal logic that receives it. Lynn's "curvelinear logic seeks to internalise cultural and contextual forces within form"(45). The strategy of Laxity views architectural space as a (lax) subject in the strong sense that a cultural force can no longer be referred to as a priori given, prior to and independent of the architecture it enters into. Concerning e.g. the question of cultural identity: architecture is, together with all the other paraphernalia of every day life, always already involved in the construction of (the system of differential) identity. And this not only as a part of the 'system of objects' or 'fashion system', but more profoundly in the teritorializing matrices in which those systems operate. Architecture operates as a gigantic sorting machine, that has you always already sorted (even if within rather wide brackets at times). If architecture can incarcerate (Bataille, Foucault, Lefebvre), it can become the site of a liberating inflection. Every new building has a lever upon the total structure and can initiate a chain-reaction of subversion (creating a new "market"). Laxity is emphasizing this demiurgic power of architecture. This power is not inherent, it operates like certain eastern martial arts, relying on the force of "typical" architecture and the tensions building up within it. One strategy could be to play surface-significations against spatial order - a strategy analogous to surrealist painting(46) (and another argument to forget the abstract strictures against reference Kipnis is suggesting). It seems as if the amorphous, facetted fields, first identified as "New Architecture", are not only semantically empty, but also spatially too blank, too abstract, leaping too far into the realm of the unknown and alien, too unmediated to be able to carry all the sophisticated effects that the carefully calibrated algebra of new words ascribes to them as their ambition. Multiple affiliation, deformation, morphing, field organization, intensive coherence, pliancy, smoothness etc. are certainly timely tropes for a new architecture. Ignoring for a moment that we are supposedly moving from a Derridian to a Deleuzian discourse (Kipnis), I would agree with Derrida that one has to put the received forms to work, because "to claim to do away immediately with previous marks and to cross over, by decree, by a simple leap ... is, apart from the risk of engaging in an interminable "negative theology", to forget that these ... have never constituted a given system, a sort of ahistorical thoroughly homogenous table, but rather a dissymmetric, hierarchical space whose closure is constantly being traversed by the forces, and worked by the exteriority, that it represses; that is, expels and, which amounts to the same, internalizes as one of its moments."(47) It seems we are always already within "curvilinearity" - folded into a logic of differance.

forward to PRODUCTIVE PATTERNS - Part 4