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The Stages of Capitalism and the Styles of Architecture
Patrik Schumacher, London 2016
Published in: ASA web-magazine & (forthcoming): UED (Urban Environment Design) Magazine – International Edition, Beijing
Those of us who feel responsible for the discipline need to gather the competence and confidence to lead, ideally by both theoretical instruction and practical example. In a theory-led discourse-practice like architecture theoretical work is vital but remains a contested and evolving field. Yet, a measure of convergence towards an updated, shared theoretical outlook is required for any concerted (rather than self-impeding) impact of the discipline and thus must be consciously strived for by any would-be leader or leading protagonist of the field. This meta-discursive premise should be an uncontested starting point. There is a second premise one would hope to be incontestable: Any theory of architecture which aims for an encompassing responsibility must be grounded in a comprehensive, contemporary theory of society. We cannot expect that architects or architectural theorists develop their own original account of society but what we must expect from our leading theorists is a sufficient grasp of contemporary social theory that allows them/us to identify a relevant theoretical framework that in turn allows us to frame and update our discipline’s societal function and responsibility within society’s overarching developmental prospect and trajectory. Within my theory of architecture I have identified Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory as a relevant, comprehensive sociological theory of society that can serve architectural theory at its grounding framework. My treatise ‘The Autopoiesis of Architecture’1 (AoA) builds explicitly on Luhmann’s theoretical system. However, a full account of all the relevant contemporary societal conditions, challenges and opportunities requires me to draw further social theory resources into my discourse, namely the Marxist ‘post-fordism’ discourse and Anarcho-capitalist political theory based on Austrian political economy.Architecture and Politics Revisited: Embracing the Politicization of Architecture
The relationship between architecture and politics requires renewed clarification at a time when political and moral issues are increasingly being drawn into our debates at architectural conferences, schools and biennials. Political and moral issues also start to dominate architectural criticism as well as the awarding of architecture prizes. This is problematic as it threatens to swamp our discourse, overburden our specific competency and distract us from our genuine societal responsibility.
Despite this sceptical assessment, I now regard it to be unavoidable to engage in this politicizing debate. This strategy represents a revision of my discursive strategy in comparison to my prior position explicated in ‘Architecture and Politics’, part 9 of Volume 2 of my theoretical treatise ‘The Autopoiesis of Architecture’ (AoA) published in 2012. Up to now, and in accordance with my 2012 published position, I have resisted the temptation to engage directly and substantively in political debate within architectural contexts (although I have increasingly become engaged in political debates elsewhere). Thus, while my theoretical explication and normative position with respect to architecture’s proper, viable, professional, real-life relation to politics remains unaltered, the strategic conclusions that I draw from my theoretical premises have evolved and are finally being explicitly revised here, due to the current historical conjuncture which makes a head on substantive political engagement with those who politicize architecture from an anti-capitalist position more and more urgent.
Therefore I regard it to be unavoidable to engage in this politicizing debate with a triple strategy:
I. To define the proper relationship between architecture and politics in order to set out the premises and the scope for a viable and productive architectural engagement with politics, argued for from within the framework of a comprehensive theory of society (social systems theory). This entails the task to define and defend a space for an autonomous architectural expert discourse and theory-led architectural design research and innovation - the autopoiesis of architecture which co-evolves with rather than being instructed by politics - and the repudiation of “political architecture” which attempts to pursue architectural design as an activist-critical political practice.
II. To engage in the current politicizing architectural debate and repudiate what I consider a regressive and unproductive (explicit or implicit) anti-capitalist bias in most of the political and moral positions drawn into architecture by architectural academics and critics, and to confront these critics with a defense of capitalism, pointing to the prosperity its recent invigoration had made possible.
III. To outline my own political position (libertarianism) and how it relates to my architectural position (parametricism): I venture to speculate about the way forward beyond the current post 2008 economic and political stalemate with an alternative political hypothesis that pulls away from the current mainstream by putting forward the hypothesis and political programme of anarcho-capitalism, positing the privatization of everything, including cities with all their infrastructures, public spaces, streets and urban management systems.
In short, I insist that current economic and political conditions are viable enough to allow some of us to concentrate on our architectural tasks, that we must defend our work against misguided moralizing ant-capitalist common places, and that we might speculate about a possible future architecture for a society that radicalizes rather than reverses the unleashing of the new market dynamics that propels our globally networked civilization forward.
The historical background for this increasing politicization of our discipline is twofold: First we have been witnessing a long term secular politicization of all aspects of society, in the context of an ever increasing capacity for society-wide communication. Secondly, we are witnessing a marked acceleration of society’s politicization since the 2008 financial crisis, the ensuing great recession and the European sovereign debt crisis with related austerity programs. These events had various political repercussions like the occupy movement, the ‘Arab spring’, and the upheavals in Europe’s political landscape. In this historical context the politicization of our discipline must be seen as a perhaps inevitable moment in the politicization of all aspect and domains of societal life, implying that any further attempt to deny, resist or repudiate this is futile. However, what we must not accept as inevitable is the pretentious dilettante quality of this debate and its consequently regressive nature. We must repudiate the all too often automatic anti-capitalist and anti-business bias that informs most contributions to the politicized architectural discourse.
Even if the politicization of our discipline has progressed to a point where political engagement becomes inevitable, there must remain a space for an architectural discourse that discusses and evaluates the best architectural solutions to societal requirements as they are posed today under current political and societal conditions, however questionable they might seem from certain political perspectives, i.e. the show must go on and our discourse must not be totally swamped and dominated by political contentions.
Architecture’s politicization has reached a pervasiveness and intensification that can no longer be ignored, contained, or rolled back merely via meta-arguments about architecture’s proper domain of competency. Indeed, my trans-disciplinary intellectual curiosity and learning (and indeed my own life-long political fervor and self-education) welcomes the widening of the discipline’s intellectual horizon and its desire to engage the larger questions of society’s constitution and development. So I am simultaneously thrilled and dismayed by what we are witnessing in architecture’s discourse today.
My initial resistance stemmed from the adverse (and indeed deleterious) effect this politicization has had on the advancement of parametricism - which I continue to consider to be architecture’s most innovative and potent movement and sole candidate to become architecture’s next mainstream epochal style and global best practice paradigm, i.e. architecture’s best answer to the challenges and opportunities of contemporary civilization. This adverse effect was the strongest in the schools of architecture, including the AA and Columbia’s GSAPP who had been the crucial early incubators of parametricism. The work and hard won achievements of several generations of innovators of the last 20 years is in danger of being lost to the current student generation when design studios formerly based on new theory-led design methodologies and advanced skills are converted into dilettante political debating clubs with an output that has more in common with the provocations of concept art than with design projects. So my resistance to this recently ever more prevalent tendency was not based on an inherently anti-political attitude which has been falsely ascribed to me. In fact, I have a keen life-long interest in politics, sociology, economics and history and have always insisted that architecture has to be theorized in its relation to society’s evolution, in the context of a significant and relevant contemporary theory of society, as I have demonstrated in AoA (where I have embedded my theory of architecture within Luhmann’s theory of society). I have been (and so far unfortunately remain) the one and only theorist within the movement of parametricism who has consistently and explicitly argued for parametricism’s historical societal pertinence with respect to the socio-economic transformations of recent decades towards a more dynamic post-fordist network society. However, until the 2008 crisis these arguments could be put forward without engendering too much political antipathy. Since 2008 these socio-economic transformations – and in particular their neo-liberal political pendent - have been associated with the crisis and subjected to a hostile backlash due to the recent spreading of anti-capitalism. My attempt to keep this political tide at bay within architecture failed and I have come to realize that my best bet now is to engage head-on in political argument (and education) also within the discursive arenas of architecture. This is not only necessary but also viable due to my life-long education in political economy. It is further motivated by my own political radicalization since 2008, leading me more and more towards Austrian political economy and anarcho-capitalism, a political stance that is in principal compatible with Niklas Luhmann’s social systems theory which remains my overarching theoretical framework.
According to Niklas Luhmann (1927 - 1998) it is the general shift in the predominant mode of societal differentiation from stratified differentiation to functional differentiation that marks the epochal transition to modernity. Luhmann distinguishes the following modes of social differentiation: segmentation, centre-periphery differentiation, stratification and functional differentiation. While all forms of social differentiation occur across all historical stages, Luhmann suggests that the major epochs of societal development can be identified by their respective primary mode of differentiation. The primary ‘mode of differentiation’ within a society is thus Luhmann’s principle of epochal distinction and periodization. Archaic societies were marked by segmentation, the ancient city states embodied a centre-periphery differentiation, and for all further civilizations, until the advent of modernity, stratification was the primary mode of differentiation. However, the fact that functional differentiation is now society’s primary mode of differentiation does not spell the total disappearance of stratification or of the older modes of differentiation. Segmentation, centre-periphery differentiation and stratification still play a (subordinate) role in many domains of contemporary social life, e.g. the segmentation of the economy’s sectors into competing firms, and the stratification (hierarchical structure) of business firms.
Within modern society it is functional differentiation that becomes the pervasive and predominant mode of societal differentiation. The most striking manifestation of this general tendency is the emergence of the great ‘function systems’ as the major subsystems of modern society: the economy, the political system, the legal system, science, art, the education system, and the mass media are distinct systems of communication that have differentiated according to the indispensable societal functions they perform. Luhmann has analysed these function systems in a set of parallel monographs that form an overall account of society which culminates is his key stone work ‘Theory of Society’.2 My AoA added another monograph to his system thus including architecture to Luhmann’s list of function systems. (Luhmann had committed the anachronism of subsuming architecture under the art system.) These ‘function systems’ are professional discourse-practices that now assume exclusive responsibility for the fulfilment of the respective societal functions they have taken on. This is the result of a long historical process of societal differentiation whereby societal exigencies or functions had acted as evolutionary attractors for system-differentiation since the dawn of modernity. An important consequence of this societal order is that contemporary society has no longer any control centre the way stratified society had at its apex integrating all aspects of societal life in a single unified decision making process. Instead we are faced with the co-evolution of operationally autonomous, self-referentially enclosed societal subsystems that adapt to each other – each in their own way - without any overarching dictate. Luhmann speaks of ‘autopoietic’ systems. The political system is no overarching control centre, but just one of those co-evolving autopoietic subsystem, incapable of dictating the result or even the direction of the overall development. Modern politics responds to and tries to constrain - in its own way - the economy, science, architecture, the media etc. but cannot determine the contributions that are developed within these domains.
Niklas Luhmann’s theory of society poses a central question with respect to each of these major autopoietic subsystems of society: which important societal function lies at the heart of each respective subsystem? What is, in each case, the respective raison d’être of its emergence as distinct system and its continuous, autonomous existence? Luhmann has answered this question with respect to those function systems he had analysed (as listed above). I have proposed an answer to the same question with respect to the autopoietic function system of architecture.
How then should we define the unique societal function of architecture and thus its core competency? As a preliminary premise, architecture must be defined in terms that cut across any potential confusion with engineering. While engineering is exclusively concerned with issues of technical feasibility, architecture is (should be) primarily (exclusively) concerned with social functionality. While architects are always invested in the formal resolution of the project and place value in aesthetic concerns, engineers lack this concern. This is an indication of the fact that architects are prone to reflect their designs with respect to their impact on users understood as sentient, socialized actors, while engineers consider the safety and comfort of users understood only as physical or biological bodies. This implies that the essential function or contribution of (the discipline of) architecture is no longer the provision of physical shelter; this is now the responsibility of the engineering disciplines. To grasp the unique contribution of architecture we must understand another, less obvious but more profound contribution of the built environment to the evolution of society.
Society can only evolve with the simultaneous ordering of space. Social order requires spatial order. The gradual build-up of a social system must go hand in hand with the gradual build-up of an artificial spatial order. The social process needs the built environment as a plane of inscription where it can set up boundaries as distinctions and leave traces that then serve to build-up and stabilize social structures. The result is the gradual build-up of a spatio-morphological ordering frame and system of signification. Thus emerges a semantically charged built environment that provides a differentiated system of settings that help social actors orient themselves with respect to the different communicative situations that constitute the social life-process of society. The system of social settings as a system of distinctions and relations uses both the positional identification of places (spatial position) and the morphological identification of places (ornamental marking) as props for the social communication process. On the basis of these observations and reflections we can now answer the question concerning architecture’s societal function. The answer can be condensed into the following formulation: The societal function of architecture is to frame communicative interaction.
Every society needs to utilize articulated spatial relations to frame, order and stabilize social communication. The autopoietic system of architecture within modern functionally differentiated society has taken up this societal function: to frame social communication, or, more precisely, to continuously adapt and re-order society via contributing to the continuous provision and innovation of the built environment as a framing system of organized and articulated spatial relations.
Luhmann’s social system theory is taking communications rather than human beings as the base elements of his theoretical system. On the basis of this flat ontology society is theorized as the totality of communications (rather than the totality of all people) ordered into systems of communications (rather than social groups). My decision in AoA to theorize all design artefacts (including buildings, urban and architectural spaces) as communications implies that architecture belongs to society’s ontological base, i.e. all products of architecture/design are part of the social substance and thus involved in the constitution of society. Indeed all spaces and designed artefacts serve as interfaces of communication in multi-modal systems of communications. There are virtually no communications that are not framed by designed spaces and artefacts, and these spatio-morphological framings are always involved in the definitions of the social situation and thus participate in the meaning of the interactions and communications exchanged.
The life process of society is a communication process structured by an ever more complex and richly diversified matrix of institutions and communicative situations. The myriad communications that make up society are structured through a complex web of social institutions. Institutions are the rules or scripts that coordinate interactions to allow for the emergence of the productive cooperative processes that reproduce and advance society. The ordering of society’s panoply of communicative interactions is achieved via political, legal, economic, and architectural structures, i.e. it is also always the achievement of our semiologically charged built environment. As the spatio-morphological ordering substrate that orients and coordinates all desired life processes, the city (and each building within it) is a matrix of embodied interaction protocols or scripts. It is at the same time a permanent broadcast presenting itself as this matrix. Each space within it is a communication, stage and invitation to join the specific interaction scenario offered within its territory, and a communicated premise of all further communications that take place within it.
Our Post-Fordist network society demands that we continuously browse and scan as much of the social world as possible, in order to remain continuously connected and informed. We cannot afford to withdraw and beaver away in isolation when innovation accelerates all around. We must continuously recalibrate what we are doing in line with what everybody else is doing. We must be networked all the time, so as to continuously ascertain the relevancy of our own efforts. Rapid and effective face-to-face communication remains a crucial component of our daily productivity. The whole built environment must become an interface of multi-modal communication, as the ability to navigate dense and complex urban environments has become a crucial aspect of today’s overall productivity.Marxian Historical Materialism Revisited
Luhmann proposes to conceptualize the life process of society as a communication process rather than as a material (re)production process. This is, of course, a radical abstraction. However, I think this is a rather pertinent and powerful abstraction. More than ever before all problems of society are problems of communication in our post-fordist network/information society. Therefore the focus on communication is a precondition for upgrading architecture’s social efficacy. Total social productivity increases with the density of communication. Luhmann's theoretical abstraction – adopted within the theory of architectural autopoiesis – seems pertinent. It is an abstraction performed by the reality of the social life process itself.
However, behind AoA’s Luhmannian theoretical system still dwells the concept of material productivity as an underlying base concept. I am thus ready to underpin Luhmann’s abstract sociology with a materialist foundation, namely Marxian historical materialism.3 According to Marx “The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.”(1859) However, Luhmann’s abstraction was not alien to Marx either: "Society does not consist of individuals, but expresses the sum of interrelations, the relations within which these individuals stand." (Grundrisse 1858).
Bringing Marx into the theoretical constellation leads us to pose the question of history’s motive force: What is driving the evolution of social systems and societies? According to Luhmann, the most general problem formula for social systems is ‘coping with complexity’. Increasing (self-generated) societal complexity is being coped with via system differentiation and the build-up of internal complexity. However, this formula remains overly abstract. What is the advantage of building up complexity? Marx's answer is that the advantage must be – in the last analysis – the social system's productivity, i.e. its capacity to advance material (re)production. Marx's base category and axiom of productivity provides the immediate plausibility that Luhmann's problem formula is lacking. It directly relates to the material conditions of social life. The concept of productivity4 is posited here as the ultimate evolutionary attractor and therefore deserves to be the ultimate criterion of all societal evaluations.
Marx expounded the materialist premises of his system in 1859: “In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life.” (1859) However, we must be vary of the fallacy of ‘economism’ and not take this to imply a linear, unilateral determination where the economy (understood as technologically based production process) determines all the other subsystems of society. Rather determinations are circular, are co-determinations. Or better still: Instead of determination we should talk about constrains and mutually constraining, co-evolving processes. Social ideas, social relations and material-technological conditions interact. Each aspect is active, creative and capable of advancing possibilities. But none is by itself capable of advancing reality without the other ingredients moving along and being compatible. Evolutionary theory might help: new ideas about possible social relations are the mutations and material productivity acts as selection mechanism. Material success then becomes the great attraction that leads to widespread imitation and adoption of the whole system of life.5 But (chance) technological inventions can also act as 'creative' mutations, as well as experiments in social relations like hippie movement which became an unexpected and advantageous ingredient in the Californian creative software industry.
All sustained cultural development co-evolves with the advancing labour process. All social relations, cultural institutions and patterns of social life are contributing to (or distracting from) the facilitation of productive work and thus matter in the competitive race for productivity. The key category of productivity thus ultimately governs all subsystems, not just the economy, but also all other function systems, including architecture. Progressive architecture must be productivity enhancing architecture, and this implies a new architecture in each newly evolved societal system, in each stage of society, i.e. in each stage of capitalism.
Luhmann’s and Marx’s system can be synthesized by understanding Luhmann’s historical periodization in terms of modes of differentiation - segmentation, centre-periphery differentiation, stratification, functional differentiation - as paralleling and indeed encompassing Marx’s historical periodization of socio-economic epochs or ‘modes of production’ - primitive (tribal) communism, Asiatic mode of production, Feudalism, Capitalism. In this perspective capitalism can be understood as the form the economy typically takes within the era of functional differentiation.
Functionally differentiated society tends to imply the market liberalisation of the economy (capitalism), the democratization of politics (beyond ‘natural’ monarchic rulers), the abandonment of natural law for positivism in the legal system, and in architecture we witness the abandonment of mimesis and fixed (natural) types in favour of understanding architectural design as the abstract configuration of ‘space’(“Raumgestaltung”). We might thus talk of the ‘spatialization’ of architecture. Liberalisation, democratisation, positivisation, spatialization etc. all imply that the respective function systems switch from the stable reproduction of a supposedly natural order to continuous innovation and mutual adaptation within the thus unleashed rapid co-evolution. This evolution of society is moving in stages or through phase transitions rather than in a smooth linear fashion, in analogy to the punctuated equilibria conception of the evolving biological ecosystem.6
Since Luhmann did not develop a systematic schema for breaking down modernity (modern functionally differentiated society) into subsidiary historical stages, I had to look elsewhere for guidance and theoretical resources.7 The Marxist post-fordism debate (that I had absorbed when it emerged in the late eighties and was brought into architecture via David Harvey’s ‘The Condition of Postmodernity’8) delivered the required theoretical resources.9
The underlying notion of "Fordism", originally put forward by Gramsci, characterises the epoch of State-capitalism10 since World War I (and decisively after World War II) in reference to its paradigmatic production system: the assembly line as pioneered by Henry Ford. Fordism implies the mass production of all commodities (including highly complex commodities like automobiles) made viable by long term fixed investments into rigid single purpose technology. These investments were administered through the organisational regime of the Fordist corporation: A minutely planned technical division of labour allocated to everybody a specialised and repetitive task within the overall production process. This system delivered unprecedented overall gains in prosperity as well as an unprecedented equalization of incomes and life styles. The gains were premised on the repetitive mass production of a few products which then became the universal consumption standard for all: a house or apartment connected to utility systems, a car, washing machine, TV, Corn Flakes, packaged vacation. The intelligence of this system lies in its overall top down bureaucratic design. The precondition of its routine-based efficiency was the stability of its environment, i.e. the long term stability of its market, which these corporations themselves collectively constituted via the stable employment they offered. The secret behind the pervasive world-wide proliferation of the ‘American way of life’ in the post war era lies in the enormous advances in productivity achieved by the Fordist regime of socio-economic development.
The 60 core years of Fordism (1920 – 1980) were also the years in which architectural modernism rose the dominance and this was also the golden era of urbanism. During this period the advanced industrial nations urbanized on a massive scale. The state directed and funded much of this urbanisation process via big public investments in infrastructure, social housing, schools, hospitals, universities etc. This made large scale, long term physical planning possible. In Western Europe energy, utilities, broadcasting, railways, as well as many large scale industries had been nationalized. This further enhanced the feasibility of large scale, long term urban planning. The most congenial societal context for modernist urbanism existed within the socialist block with its centrally planned economy. Socialism delivered the logical conclusion of the tendencies of the era, rolling out the technological achievements of the era in a predictable, centrally planned manner, literally delivering the uniform consumption standard made possible by Fordist mass production to every member of society. Consequently, we find the fullest expression of modernist urbanism in the Eastern Block. However, civilization evolved further. Life-style differentiation, globalisation and the micro-electronic revolution in communication and production entered into an accelerating positive feedback loop, spiralling away from the Fordist regime. The crisis of Fordism, Post-fordist restructuring, the neo-liberal turn in economic policy (privatization, deregulation), and the collapse of the Eastern Block system all coincide with the crisis of modernism in architecture and urbanism.
Since the early seventies the foundation of the Fordist mode of operation, the stability and predictability of its environment, was fractured. After a decade of crisis and stagnation features of a new dynamic started to emerge:
Flexible Specialisation: The chain of events that brought the Fordist system into crisis at the same time stirred the search for manufacturing strategies that could respond to the new volatility of markets. A solution was emerging in the possibility to apply the evolving information technology within the manufacturing process and thus establishing the technological underpinning of Post-fordism. The 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 economies of scale). Instead of mass production using specialised machinery and narrowly trained labour, flexible specialisation allows the manufacture of a whole range specialised goods for particular and changing markets using flexible general-purpose machinery, requiring more broadly educated workforce with initiative to contribute to permanent innovation.
Corporate Restructuring: These transformations and new possibilities in the realm of material production impacted the administrative superstructure which is called upon to manage the new dynamic of product development and production. Functions like marketing, research & development, and further consultancy services (IT, financial, legal, managerial) proliferate. The structure and pattern of economic activity in general is assimilated to the processes of research and artistic creation. In this creative ‘knowledge economy’ firms experiment with more fluid organisational forms, internally and within open networks of collaborating firms. Discursive co-operation, rather than command-and-control, is forced upon the capitalist enterprise by the new degree of complexity and flexibility of the total re--production process within which it has to function. The more information-based, the more dependent upon research & development production becomes, the less can it proceed autocratically.
Increasingly the most decisive corporate value resides in the ‘organisational capital’, i.e. in the corporate organisational architectures, collaborative processes and patterns of communication, rather than in its physical capital assets. Those patterns constitute the collective intelligence that transforms information into vital operative knowledge. Knowledge becomes the most precious resource within the organisation. But this resource cannot be bought in from outside like energy or labour. It cannot be acquired readymade. As an organisation shifts from being straightforward manufacturer or provider of a standard service to become a creative innovator, it no longer just utilizes a given knowledge, but needs to operate as original producer of knowledge. The new discipline of knowledge management takes account of this situation. Management theory offers concepts like “the learning organisation” or “the intelligent enterprise”. Here learning, knowledge and intelligence are attributed to organisations rather than individuals. The notion of organisational intelligence might be expanded to include the various spatial systems that structure and facilitate the vital communication processes within the business.
Organisational knowledge resides within the organisational pattern itself, in the corporate (and inter-corporate) system of communication and collaboration, i.e. in the communication mechanisms and modes of interaction between the various knowledge workers. New organisational forms like the matrix organisation allow for the intersection of domains of competency. There is also the conception of blurring the boundaries between domains of competency. There is talk of networks and self-organisation and the embrace of lateral (rather than vertical, hierarchical) patterns of communication. The spatial distribution and the nuanced articulation of territories, boundaries and spatial interfaces plays an important role here. Again those architectural patterns contribute to the constitution of the collective intelligence that transforms information into productive operating knowledge. Architecture’s stylistic evolution via Postmodernism, Deconstructivism, and then Folding and Parametricism was increasingly congenial to these tendencies. The dynamism and complexity of the organisational processes called for new repertoires of spatial organisation, including spatial interpenetration for matrix organisations, gradients for organisations with blurred and fluid domains of competency, and rhizomatic urban spatial patters for network organisations and clusters.
To summarize, Postfordist restructuring comprises three related features of the immediate labour process:
On the consumption, life process and social side this implied a momentous life-style and income differentiation and the break-up of both the universal consumption standard and the stereo-typical nine-to-five routine commuting pattern. This also implied the end of the strict work vs leisure division of activities.
In terms of urbanisation post-fordist restructuring spelled the reversal of the decade long modernist suburbanisation process, and the re-claiming of the historic centres to cater for the much increased need for networking and flexible collaboration and thus spatial proximity. The deconsructivist embrace of collage and e.g. Coop Himmelb(l)au’s gestures of violent insertions of new structures and connections into the historic fabric are congenial with this re-urbanisation process.
Productivity remains the key selection criterion placed upon any expanded societal experiment. Any emancipatory ambition has to reckon with this inescapable fact. Systemic socio-economic change proceeds through the interaction of technological, organisational and political processes. It is crucial to distinguish those aspects that pertain to production and economic progress from those that pertain to the simultaneously evolving political conditions that co-evolve with the economic restructuring, i.e. Post-fordism as a new paradigm of production and exchange attaining new levels of productivity needs to be distinguished from the simultaneous, co-evolving neo-liberal political re-framing.
Post-fordist restructuring took place in the context of an accelerated trajectory of globalization with a thus much intensified competition. The political arrangements of the Fordist era in the advanced countries with their large state sector, state administered welfare and social security systems, rigid labour markets, regime of trade restrictions etc. were challenged by both the external pressures of globalisation and the internal dynamism of technological and organisational innovation. Relative to the potential productivity advances of post-fordist flexibilisation the State-capitalist political arrangements appeared as so many fetters. These fetters had to be burst or at least loosened in order to realize the potential opportunities for economic gain that became more and more visible. It took a deep recession (especially harsh in the UK) to unlock the political stalemate and inaugurate the neo-liberal revolution (by Thatcher and Reagan) as the political system’s adaptive response to the new opportunities. Based on the new watchwords of privatization and deregulation the 1980s delivered a decade of revitalized economic growth and Thatcher’s example inspired market orientation everywhere (although Europe’s political reform process was much slower) including China and the Eastern Block countries, inclusive of the Soviet Union. The Scandinavian countries hung onto the social democratic regime for a bit longer but succumbed to the inevitable after they had their crisis in the early 1990s. The whole socialist block disintegrated politically and re-formed along neo-liberal lines. The neo-liberal revolution was world politics’ answer to post-fordism and in turn facilitated and accelerated its technological and economic proliferation. No doubt, this process – like all processes of accelerated evolution – brought social upheaval, challenges and as nearly as many losers and enemies as winners and advocates. There can be however no doubt that privatization and deregulation and the shift from government planning to entrepreneurial initiatives and market processes was not only theoretically the answer to the newly unleashed dynamism of permanent, computationally empowered productive innovation but that it delivered another new level of overall global prosperity. However, while incomes were rising overall, their ‘distribution’ became much more unequal. These effects and the resistance of those who lost (or fear to lose) government employment, subsidies, guarantees and employment protections imply that the neo-liberal revolution got stuck in a political stand-off rather than being able to proceed further along its path. State capitalism has softened but is not finished. Its stifling interventionist stranglehold on entrepreneurial creativity and competitive market rationality is preventing the further extension of the prosperity potentials of our contemporary post-fordist network society.
The political ideology and programme of Anarcho-capitalism envisages the radicalisation of the neo-liberal roll back of the state. The key intellectual and political force behind anarcho-capitalism was the economist, scholar and political activist Murray Rothbard (1926 - 1995), the founder of the Libertarian Party and a disciple of Ludwig von Mises. Rothbard was also involved in the founding of the Ludwig von Mises Institute which remains a key centre for political economy research and advocacy for anarcho-capitalism as the most uncompromising libertarian tendency. As a special form of anarchism based on private property and society’s most basic institution, its call for the extension of entrepreneurial freedom and competitive market rationality pushes to the point where the scope for private enterprise is all-encompassing and leaves no space for state action whatsoever. Private entrepreneurial production and voluntary market exchange are contrasted with political imposition and appropriation by the force of the state. While I agree that this distinction is important, I do not subscribe to Rothbard’s natural rights approach to political theory and prefer an evolutionary grounding that remains open to institutional experimentation and utilitarian pragmatic appraisal. Like the anarcho-capitalists I have lost faith in “real existing” representative-democracy and its centralized decision making - which fails in its promises and is bound to fail more and more in the face of global interconnectedness and which can no longer cope with contemporary complexities - even if elected officials had the most selfless and noble of intentions. Instead contemporary society is probably better off betting on decentralized decision-making and an unleashed entrepreneurial creativity – a system where new products, services or institutions can be tried out and weeded out right away without first having to convince the majority. There should be no imposition of one-fits-all constrains on free contracting. One-fits-all schemas are an anachronism in contradiction with post-fordism.
I have come to believe not only that market processes have a compelling rationality in the current historical situation, but also that perhaps they should never have been undermined to the extent they have been during the era of Fordism (although such counterfactual historical arguments are hard to make). State-capitalism was certainly compatible with Fordism and this era delivered indeed phenomenal productivity and prosperity advances. However, it also delivered the horrendous setback of WW2 and largely failed in its modernisation efforts in the developing world which was only in some parts - the parts most open to market reforms - partially able to catch up since the neo-liberal revolution. Therefore the hypothesis might be ventured that the world would have been able to advance further if the Marxist, socialist and interventionis-progressivist ideologies would have had less sway and classical liberalism had maintained it’s ideological and political dominance throughout. So while both socialism and state interventionism correlated with economic growth during parts of the 20th century, the world could probably have seen much faster growth and far less bloodshed if Mises and Hayek had been more influential than Lenin and Keynes. Two hints to back this up:
1. Real existing socialism remained economically inferior to western capitalism.
2. When social-democratic interventionism was ramped up in the mid-sixties, the self-defeating dynamics of interventionism predicted by Mises and Hayek drove our economies into a hopeless crisis by the mid-seventies which made a continuation along this path impossible. (Thatcher and Reagan delivered a necessary turn-around, inspired by the writings of Hayek who had been dismissed as crying wolf for over 40 years.)
In the light of this hypothesis it might be pertinent to advance a set of general abstract insights and arguments about the logic and power of the market system (before going back to the historical embedding of these general insights). These arguments have been most trenchantly put forward and defended by Ludwig von Mises (1881 – 1973) and Friedrich von Hayek (1899–1992), the key 20th century protagonists of Austrian Political Economy.The Political Economy of Mises and Hayek
Most of us remain perplexed and suspicious of money and profit. But profit earned (as well as money in general) is – as long as it is earned in voluntary market exchanges rather than acquired via political means - a certificate of service and an expression of society’s aggregated hierarchy of needs. To earn a profit implies that the product created is more valuable than the resources combined in its production. A loss signals that the product turned out to be less valuable (than other uses of) these resources and thus constitutes a relative waste of these resources. That’s why the profit & loss system must be allowed to function in order to steer resources to their most valued uses. (This also includes land resources, and labour resources.) Making a loss implies wasting capital, land and labour. Money - and the price-system it allows to emerge in a liberal society - is a momentous evolutionary achievement and evolutionary accelerator. Money allows for an otherwise unimaginable expansion of social cooperation, encompassing millions of people, unknown to each other, without the presupposition of shared purposes and without the need for collective, binding decisions. The price system equilibrates the often only tacit knowledge of myriads of local, dispersed actors in myriads of choices and bidding processes. The ubiquitous interplay of supply and demand shapes all prices within an interconnected network of prices. This price system is a powerful and parsimonious tele-communication and information processing system that gives (and takes from) all participants just the amount of relevant information that allows each to fit their divergent plans into an overall, coherent pattern of resource allocation. This was Friedrich von Hayek’s profound insight.11
As Hayek points out the dispersed knowledge integrated by the market process can never be centralized, not only because there is far too much information but because much of the underlying knowledge is not explicit and can therefore not be conveyed at all. The other obvious problem for any authority: the very attempt to call in and solicit information for the sake of central resource allocation leads to systematic, deliberate mis-information on the part of local economic agents. Monetary market prices are the basis of economic calculation an thus allow market participants to compare and select the most cost-effective production processes, even for the most complex and expansive infrastructure projects with myriad divers inputs. Cost calculation in terms of prices, indicating opportunity costs, allows everybody to select those production processes with those resource mixes that least compromise all the other needs/plans that want to be accommodated simultaneously. This was Ludwig von Mises’ key point, which has momentous implications for the feasibility of socialism.12 In a planned economy with nationalized means of production, i.e. without labour markets and without markets for means of production, money loses its crucial information processing and coordinating function. Planners could stipulate consumer product prices and wages, but there would be no price formation for means of production. This implies that there could be no economic calculation. Without cost accounting, planners would be groping the dark when deciding which of the many technically possible production processes to use. They could not economize, neither in terms of land, material capital, nor in terms of human capital, i.e. they could not economize at all. Therefore the very concept of a ‘socialist economy’ or a ‘centrally planned economy’ is an oxymoron, a contradictio in adjecto. This was Mises’ stunning but compelling insight. This tragic truth was not immediately obvious under real existing socialism because the socialist planners could use the world commodity prices discovered by the capitalist world markets surrounding them. However, any further steps toward the goal of world communism would have undermined the indispensable crutches of world market prices and their profit-based rationality.
The higher the profit, the higher the benefit to society. High profits in a free market are due to successful innovation and this benefit is always spread across society as very voluntary exchange is a win-win (mutually beneficial) interaction - otherwise it would not take place. A high profit in a certain industry attracts additional investment and generalises the benefits further, as more of the desired product is produced. This also lowers the prices and profits earned, i.e. benefits are spread yet further. However, there are a lot of government interventions that allow too high (unmerited) profits to exist due to government protection, subsidy, patent protections, bail outs etc. Therefore, the current degree on income inequality is partly a product of government intervention, on top of the inevitable multiplication effects that benefit innovations that can spread now globally and allow some of these gains to flow back to those who participated in these innovations.
The disadvantages of state regulated capitalism and the potential advantages of a radicalized anarcho-capitalism are much more pronounced now – in the era of a computationally empowered post-fordist network society - than they were during the era of Fordism, i.e. the era of mechanical mass production. Socialism – a centrally planned economy with a strong commitment to income equality – was to some extent compatible with the utilization of the opportunities of mechanical mass production. But it is incompatible with the full utilization of contemporary post-fordist opportunities which require much more dynamic and intricate forms of social cooperation. This assessment is coherent with the gist of both Luhmann’s and Hayek’s understanding of society and its modern history.
The philosophical and methodological underpinnings of Austrian political economy - action theory and non-reductive methodological individualism - are compatible with Luhmann's approach and theory. Especially Hayek and Luhmann are congenial with respect to the shared intellectual paradigm of complexity theory. They concur in their general emphasis on self-organisation, emergence, evolution and information processing. In particular they concur in the assertion that modern societies have evolved to a point that an insurmountable complexity barrier stands in the way of any attempt to rationally direct societal development via central political control, and that any such attempt implies a regressive blunting of society's highly evolved complexity and information processing capacity, with detrimental consequences for prosperity. Thus freedom (mutation) and competition (selection) are the evolutionary mechanisms that need to be given space to operate.
Market Forces deliver a Coup De Grace for Moribund Urban Planning
The public planning process becomes more and more an embarrassment and obstacle to urban and economic flourishing. It’s a relic of a bygone era. The high point of urban planning was the post-war era of socialist planning and construction of the built environment. With respect to this period we can speak about physical or perhaps ‘positive planning’, in the sense of formulating concrete plans and designs about what to build. This era has long gone as society evolved beyond the simple fordist society of mechanical mass production to our current post-fordist network society. At that time, when a few basic standards were functionally separated, optimized and endlessly repeated, central planning could still cope. Current construction requirements are far too multi-faceted, complex and dynamic to be entrusted to a central planning agency. The old model broke apart at this complexity barrier. The decentralised information processing of the market had to take over all positive decisions.
Since there is no longer any significant public investment in construction, public planning was reduced to setting constraints, i.e. it became ‘negative planning’ via restrictions and veto powers without any power to make positive decisions. Zoning restrictions can be imposed and then planners can wait and see if positive investments come forward. No investments might come forward. This might be politically intended. Or, if this was not intended, restrictions can be reset, to see what comes forward under the adjusted restrictions. In theory, such a trial and error process might allow planners to find a set of restrictions that just about attract some investment that is willing to accept the imposed restrictions in use-type and density and that avoids developments considered politically undesirable by the officials in power. However, this process is too slow, and prevents the exploitation of myriad opportunities. This development process based on negative planning is inherently conservative, compared to an unhampered market driven process of land use allocation. The restrictions spell urban stagnation. Where planners are assuming discretionary powers rather than operating via strict rules the situation is even worse due to the paralysing uncertainty this creates. (To give permission is politically often riskier than to refuse permission.) Another problem is that changes in the rules create problematic windfalls and losses. The planning process turns the urban development process into a gamble and in less developed countries the officials’ powers are treated as fiefdoms for the extraction of bribes.
We are witnessing a sustained drive towards urban concentration in global hub cities like London. Within contemporary network society one’s productivity depends on being plugged into urban professional and cultural networks that exist only in the big cities. What each of us is doing needs to be continuously re-calibrated with what everybody else is doing. That’s what all further productivity gains depend on. This requires a new level of communicative density that is only available in the metropolis. This underlies what economists measure as ‘agglomeration economies’. In the provinces you are cut off and thus unproductive. We all feel this and that’s why we rightly pile into the city, and the more central we can locate, the better. Since the neat division into work and leisure has disappeared and we feel the vital urge to remain plugged into the network 24/7 it is as important for us to live in the city as it is inevitable for us to work in the city. Everything presses into the centre, the more the better. This spells a new desire for an unprecedented degree of urban intensification and mixity, a desire which is currently frustrated by outmoded planning restrictions. This new urban dynamic is not only a fascinating challenge and task for architects but first of all requires new degrees of freedom for urban entrepreneurs who need this freedom to experiment, discover and create the best ways to weave the new urban texture and to garner the potential synergies through new intricate programmatic juxtapositions. Only an unhampered market process can be such a discovery process and has the information processing capacity and agility to weave a viable complex variegated urban programmatic order for this new dynamic societal context. The planning brakes have to be released in terms of land use and density restrictions. Urban development has to escape from the paralysing politics of Nannyism and Nimbyism.
The value maximizing programmatic ordering and the prevention of value-destroying juxtapositions we usually expect from urban planning might be better and much more flexibly provided by a combination of universal property rights (unencumbered rights of land use or programming, rights of light, rights of access, generic protection from noise, pollution etc.) and free markets for the exchange of such rights (markets in land, development rights, rights of light etc.). Where more long term coordination and collective action seems to be called for we can expect private planning and curation via land owner association or by large land holdings (after the model of London’s great estates). A tendency for land ownership consolidation into large integrated development parcels or even whole urban districts is well under way. A free market will also be able to generate vibrant urban districts bottom up, letting small entrepreneurs experiment with and discover the vital ingredients and synergies of urban juxtapositions. And there will be development at all parcel sizes between large development zones and infill slivers. It’s better to let diverse approaches compete rather than to impose a one-size-fits-all solution a priori. Of course rules are required. But they need to be as general and abstract as possible (in distinction to the concrete numerical impositions of planning rules). Abstract rules can be best expressed as property rights which then can be traded in markets. Property rights are abstract enough to remain super open to yet unforeseen future possibilities and they are stable enough to allow for entrepreneurial planning. Bottom up districts will compete side by side with large curated districts evolving via the guiding hand of private planning agencies who have a vital incentive to get the synergies right and who are inherently more agile and adaptive to new trends than the planners who’s incentives are remote if they exist at all. Government planners are shielded from the adverse economic effects of their decisions. They are not exposed to the unmistakeably clear profit and loss signals that would continuously check and fine tune the relative optimality of space allocation decisions, ascertaining each day anew that all spaces are allocated to their most productive and most urgently desired uses. In the absence of exposure to such feedback planners can persist in their misallocations, or rather in their restrictions forcing misallocations. Current sky-high London land prices reflect artificial supply/density restrictions as much as they reflect the vital historical tendency of urban concentration within major global communication hubs. The extra-ordinary price differentials between land parcels zoned for residential use versus those zoned for commercial use - in many areas reaching a four-fold value multiple for residential land - also reflect the long persistence of artificial zoning restrictions. An unhampered land market would differentiate between locations (on the basis of centrality) but not between land uses. Adjacent parcels would cost the same, independent of their use. The four-fold multiple of land zoned for residential use implies a great unmet demand for living in the city. (This implies a massive misallocation of land resources and makes all of us poorer.) What gives the planners the right to frustrate this desire? They talk about “milieu protection”. But this is pure conservatism, and begs the question: Where do the planners get their confidence to impose that urban uses that are far less valued should remain entrenched in places where other uses are much more urgently desired? Planners talk a lot about “social justice”. But one might ask: what is “just” in protecting the monopoly position of those who happen to be the lucky owners of land already zoned for residential use, delivering huge artificial windfalls to them? “Gentrification” is supposedly a morally suspect process, but it’s really just another name for development: urban upgrading, urban intensification, enhanced land utilisation. Resistance here is not different from any other resistance to progress, it’s like the Luddite smashing of machines. Planners become the tool for such rear-guard action.
To Summarize: All top down bureaucratic attempts to order the built environment are bankrupt. All political attempts to intervene in spontaneous urban development processes lead to wasteful distortions, delays, underutilization, shortages and inflated real estate prices. Only unrestrained market processes can be agile and adaptive enough to garner potential synergies and utilize the opportunities afforded by our complex and dynamic post-fordist socio-economic era and continuously deliver land and real estate resources to their most productive and most desired uses.
Luhmann’s theory of co-evolving autopoietic societal subsystems (function systems) suggests that it should be possible to find - in each epoch of society’s overall evolution - complementarities between the architectural subsystem on the one hand and the economic and political subsystems on the other hand, in short it should be possible to align the styles of architecture with the stages of capitalism, and thus to ground and explicate the familiar stages of architectural history with reference to the stages of society’s historical evolution. This can here be no more than a very rough sketch giving hints that might be elaborated in further historical research and more detailed theoretical reconstructions. The sketch in summary reads like this: As society’s political economy evolved through the various stages of capitalism – early capitalism, absolutist mercantilism, laissez faire capitalism, fordist state capitalism – the discipline of architecture coevolved via a sequence of epochal styles that roughly align with the above stages of capitalism: Renaissance, Baroque, Historicism, Modernism. The onset of the current stage of neo-liberal post-fordism spelled the demise of modernism and spawned a flurry of diverging architectural responses: postmodernism, neo-historicism, deconstructivism, minimalism, parametricism. It is my contention that parametricism is architecture’s most congenial answer to postfordism.
In order to begin with fleshing out this sketch, the first key distinction to be put forward here is the distinction between vernacular, tradition bound building and a built environment that is (initially only in its most prominent sites) evolving under the guidance of architecture as theory-led expert discourse and professional practice distinct from and operating prior to construction. Architecture and urban design in this sense starts only in the Renaissance. This big bang of architecture coincides with the beginning of modernity as signalled by the emergence of (early) capitalism and the beginning of the emancipation of knowledge via science.
Before the dawn of architecture the evolution of the built environment did proceed haphazardly, via trial and error, like a quasi-biological, material process. The simple early aggregative accumulation of shelters in clusters and the proliferation of such settlement clusters across space follow initially the logic of segmentary differentiation. As soon as one of those clusters/tribes grows to prominence and assumes overarching functions for the society as a whole centre-periphery differentiation becomes a possible developmental trajectory. In these early stages of societal evolution the social order can be readily read off the tangible spatial order, and its emergence and maintenance depends on this legible spatial order. (This still holds true today.) However, there are no prior conceptions or plans guiding the development process. Enclosures tend to be circular because any other shape is less efficient and less stable. Medieval fortresses became the circular nuclei for cities by way of concentric extension. Another self-asserting geometry is the geometry of rectilinear cells, best suited for the tight packing of differently sized enclosures. No intelligent insight needs to be assumed to explain the patterns exhibited by pre-architectural environments. Stable performance criteria, trial, error and time suffice to account for all architectural ‘prehistory’. The evolution of the built environment progressed very slowly. Stable reproduction was a precondition of incremental improvements. The medieval, so-called Romanesque style is only a passive style, i.e. it is a style only according to retrospective classification by later outside observers. The Romanesque period is still locked in the pattern of tradition-bound building. The Gothic style can be interpreted as a first major step from tradition-bound building towards architecture. The medieval city and the built environment of the era of Feudalism was characterized by a stratified order. Here the built environment was segregated according to the order of the estates: the nobility’s castle or palace, the clergy’s churches and monasteries, the burgher’s walled city and the farmer’s village. The ideological apparatus operating here is the idea of a fixed god given order. All aspects of society - the political, economical, juridical, educational and architectural - were concentrated at the apex of the stratified pyramid.
Starting with the Renaissance (modernity), the stratified order started to evolve into modern, functionally differentiated society. Functional differentiation (rather than segmentation or stratification) slowly became the primary mode of societal differentiation. It was in the Renaissance, at first only in the city states of Northern Italy, that architecture differentiated out and established itself as a separate expertise in distinction from the building crafts, via the creation of its own unique medium of communication – the system of drawing complete with visual simulation through perspective rendering – and via its own discourse and literature which spelled the beginning of its eventual emancipation from both political power and religious control, in parallel to the beginning emancipation of learning and knowledge as science. The possibility of fully designed, illustrated and argued for innovative design proposals was a unique new capacity, which also extended to the design for whole new ‘ideal’ cities. At the same time the economy emancipated itself and flourished with its own unique medium of money, enhanced via the new institution of credit via banks. This was the socio-economic era of ‘early capitalism’, aligned with the first architectural style proper: the Renaissance. The Renaissance is the first active (but not yet reflective) style13 of architecture (beyond tradition-bound building) due to its conscious pursuit of innovation, fully designed and visualized in a set of projective drawings and perspectives and argued for in theoretical writings, both put forward and published by confident architect authors. This is the discipline we still inhabit today. (The Gothic was a transitional phenomenon transitioning from tradition bound building to architecture proper.)
The next stage in the socio-economic development of the burgeoning functionally differentiated society of modernity was the emergence of the mercantilist, absolutist nation state, best exemplified by France, but also by Prussia, Russia, and indeed became the dominant political form in Europe in the 17th and 18th century. The mercantilist absolute state was the first state in the modern sense, ideologically argued for by the early political theories of absolute sovereignty, most notably in Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan (1651). The economic system of these societies was mercantilism, an early form of highly controlled capitalism, whereby the state controlled import and export, and allocated trading and production monopolies. The key protagonists and ideologues of mercantilism were Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Josia Child and Thomas Mun, especially with his treatise ‘Treasure by Foreign Trade’(1664).
This society found its pertinent architectural expression in the Baroque style and most paradigmatically in Louis XiV’s Palace of Versailles. The palace was designed and executed in several phases from 1661 to 1715, involving a sequence of architects. It was begun by Louis Le Vau, continued by his assistant, François d'Orbay. Charles Le Brun designed the elaborate interiors, and André Le Nôtre authored the elaborate garden architecture. Later additions were added by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart.
While the architectural order of the ideal city of the Renaissance stopped at the city walls. Beyond the city walls was still the mostly amorphous, wild, medieval hinterland. The Baroque style projected the architectural order of the city beyond the confines of the city, staking the claim for territorial control by the absolute sovereign, symbolizing the integration of the land into a single, unified state territory. Only with the advent of the Baroque style, did the architectural order stretch all the way to the horizon, brought under the controlling gaze of monumental, panoramic perspectives. Further, roads – measured by milestones – and canals were cut through the landscape. State boundaries were precisely defined and maps surveyed the state territory. A unified currency was imposed. At the same time, large administrative complexes had to be built, much larger than anything hitherto required or known. The Palace of Versailles shows off the power of Baroque architecture in line with the power of the absolutist sovereign and his administration. Louis XIV’s palace demonstrates the Baroque's capacity to unify large building complexes via the Baroque’s specific stylistic innovations. The main device here is to make the parts of an overall monumental composition asymmetrical, turning them into radicals that demand a resolution in the overall symmetry of the global complex. In contrast, all parts of a Renaissance composition rest symmetrically within themselves. They are self-sufficient and do not call for resolution within a larger whole, i.e., they are not inflected towards the centre of the composition. The use of curvature, and the alternation of convex and concave surfaces are further unifying devices. Features like colossal orders, and the enhanced plasticity and the utilization of light and shadow via deep relief also feed into the articulation of a large scale unity by enhancing the perceptual palpability and legibility of the composition from distant views imposed by the scale of the compositions.
The next epochal style that needs to be accounted for is Neo-Classicism leading to Historicism. This style is aligned with Classical bourgeois capitalism and the nation states of the 19th century, most paradigmatically with Napoleon's post-revolutionary France, an era marked by a challenging variety of societal demands both in terms of the variety of building types and in terms of the individual variations that had to be accommodated in each design project. The architect and architectural theorist JNL Durand devised and propagated a new, versatile method of composing diverse plan configurations. In terms of plan organization, Durand's innovative system of the combinatorial composition of classical motifs (conceived as deployable modules) over a grid of axes implies a massive expansion of the repertoire and thus versatility of architecture. Neo-Classicism is a bourgeois style in its decisive differentiation against the Baroque style of the Ancien Régime and against the subsidiary Rococo style that was associated with aristocratic frivolity. The austere simplicity of Neo-Classicism expressed bourgeois virtues and was associated with the civic values of republican Rome. Neo-Classicism was also the first stage of the more general phenomenon of Historicism, i.e. tapping into the large reservoir of prior historical styles to build up a rich repertoire of stylistic expression to cope with the increasingly extensive task domain of architecture. The diversity of function-types that had to be accommodated had grown significantly. During the era of absolutism, architecture was still confined to palaces and churches. Now there was a new set of public institutions to be designed. Typical alignments emerged between certain function-types and specific historical styles. Law courts, banks and central government buildings were biased towards the Neo-Grecian style. Churches and town halls were biased towards the Neo-Gothic style. Private villas and townhouses were biased towards the Neo-Renaissance style. Thus a loose system emerged that had a larger capacity to articulate the institutional variety of society. Architects working and thinking in terms of Historicism include all major architects (and theoreticians) of this era: Schinkel, Klenze, Soane, Barry, Pugin, Semper, Labrouste, Garnier etc. Historicism was dominant across most of Western Europe in the 19th Century, a century of accelerated innovation under the spell of increasing individual freedoms, including economic and career choices. This correlates with economic liberalism, i.e. laissez fair capitalism, under the political auspices of republics or constitutional monarchies. The ideological-theoretical underpinnings for liberal capitalism were elaborated by Adam Smith, Jean-Baptiste Say, and Frédéric Bastiat a.o., arguing for free trade and unrestrained competition. These writers were a crucial factor in the ideological battle against the restrictions of mercantilism.
The next great transition was from Historicism to Modernism. Compared with all prior styles, Modernism is distinguished by a marked increase in its compositional versatility made possible by its formal openness. This openness is achieved on the basis of the radical abstraction afforded by the concept of space in contrast to the mimetic boundedness of all prior architecture. It is this new level of abstraction – afforded by the idea of architectural design as the configuration of space – that gives Modern architecture its much - increased innovative prowess and that allows it to take on the massively increased scope of its task domain. However, this relative level of innovative openness and versatility of Modernism – when compared with all prior architecture – is at the same time subject to very specific formal constraints and compositional principles that become clear when compared with the later stylistic development beyond Modernism. The Modernist repertoire had unleashed itself from the classical impositions of symmetry, proportion and completeness. It is committed to orthogonality and hierarchical organization on the basis of the principles of separation, specialization and repetition. These formal constraints and compositional principles are well adapted to the industrial era of Fordist mass production (explicated above which is at the same time the era of social democracy where the masses become the client of architecture, and built environment and the world of artefacts. The Modernist city delivered the first full blown urban expression of modern, functionally differentiated society. The city was differentiated according to the following basic function types: Production, administration, consumption, recreation, habitation. For each of these function-types (types of social interaction) the Modernist architects and urbanists developed functionally specialized urban typologies, instantiated as distinct, separate, specialized, repetitive zones. This approach is explicit in Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse, a generic design for the ideal modernist (functionalist) city. The Modernist principles of separation, specialisation and repetition are clearly demonstrated. Zones are distinct and sharply set apart.
Fordism and Modernism were historically aligned with the politics of democracy, socialism and fascism (in Italy). The ideological underpinnings of social-democratically governed state capitalism and real existing, totalitarian socialism/communism originated from Fabianism and Keynesianism on the state capitalist side, and Marxism-Leninism on the communist side.
During the 1970s and 1980s this stage of development transmuted into the post-fordist, neo-liberal era architecture has to work within today, however reluctantly. The ideological basis for the neo-liberal political adaptation to the new socio-economic forces of postfordism was emerging from the rediscovery of the work of Mises and Hayek who had been cast to the margin of economic and political thinking for over 40 years. While Mises had died in 1973, Hayek lived to enjoy this unexpected renaissance of this thought and influence. He received the nobel prize in economics in 1974 and became the main inspirational reference for the Thatcher-Reagan neo-liberal revolution kicking off 1979 and 1980 respectively. Thatcher famously held up Hayek’s ‘Constitution of Liberty’14 with the words “This is what we believe in.”
The modernist recipes of strictly planned and zoned suburbanisation had supported a certain level of societal development that now could no longer be contained in these same formulas. Perhaps worse, these recipes along with the increasingly heavy interventionist political framing of Fordist economic development produced problematic unintended side effects that induced their increasing rejection. Architectural modernism was as “bankrupt” as communism and the social-democratic welfare state and its Keynesian theory. The crisis of modernism spawned a rapid, searching sequence of styles: post-modernism, neo-historicism, neo-raionalism, deconstructivism, folding, minimalism. Of these only deconstructivism and folding were uncompromisingly future oriented and bore the seeds of parametricism, architecture’s only viable candidate epochal style for the post-fordist 21st century.
For me there is no doubt that parametricism is architecture’s answer to contemporary, computationally empowered civilization, both in terms of technical functionality and (more importantly) in terms of social functionality. This is not the occasion to rehearse once more in detail all the original concepts, spatio-formal repertoires and advanced form-finding and simulation capacities that parametricism brings to the societal task of architecture. Instead just one summary statement of its ambitions must suffice here: Parametricism aims to deliver the dense, complex, variegated, dynamic, information-rich and legible urban order post-fordist network society needs to thrive.
Current market driven urbanization processes deliver desired programmatic mixity and synergy. However, under current stylistic plurality this programmatic order remains largely invisible and confronts us as ugly visual chaos that prevents the emergence of legible urban identities. One important (more recent) claim of mine in this respect is that a generalized parametricism could reconcile the wide-spread, vital desire for urban order, identity and legibility, and do so, counter-intuitively, by harnessing the seemingly uncontrollable, market driven processes of contemporary urbanisation. The claim is that freedom and order beyond the bounds of planning can emerge via the discursive convergence of the discipline towards parametricism as new epochal style.
Order was progressively eroded in all prior adaptive style-shifts of architecture. However, his long trend of the negative correlation of freedom and order can be reversed under the auspices of Parametricism. Its radical ontological and methodological innovations translate into a massive leap in both freedom and order; it entails an unprecedented expansion of architecture’s compositional freedom and ordering capacity through the deployment of algorithms and via new compositional rules such as affiliations, gradients and associative logics.15 The idea here is that the new ordering capacities of parametricism would be used in each and every project to articulate the programmatic synergies and affiliations that emerge from the unhampered entrepreneurial land use and synergy maximization. The ethos, aesthetic values and computational design capacities of parametricism would steer the development of the urban environment towards the articulation of continuities and towards the path-dependent, bottom up formation of unique local identities, without the aid of overarching planning impositions. This prospect and project of regaining and enhancing urban articulation by maintaining legibility and orientation in the face of increasing societal complexity, is manifestly guided by the insight into architecture’s unique and enduring societal function: the communicative spatial framing of social interaction. It is only now that this most profound contribution and societal function of architecture has been distilled from the profession’s traditionally more encompassing responsibilities, as its core competency.
This conception and prospect of a market-based urban order clearly indicates the conceptual congeniality of parametricism with a market-based socio-economic order that relies on bottom up processes of self-organisation and self-regulation rather than on top down command and control. This conceptual congeniality also points towards the potential alignment between parametricism with the radical political project of anarcho-captitalism, as the generalisation and political radicalisation of the neo-liberal revolution of recent decades. While I am an enthusiastic student of libertarian and anarcho-capitalist political theory and find the idea of the privatization and competitive commodification of everything from public spaces, streets and city management to policing, courts and competing systems of law intellectually incredibly stimulating and in fact increasingly plausible, I cannot and will not – and certainly do not have to – tie the plausibility and prospect of parametricism to the anarcho-capitalist political project. I am and remain an architect and architectural theorist who is intensely aware of and invested in the autopoietic autonomy of architecture as co-evolving subsystem of society. Parametricism is and remains architecture’s answer to our contemporary, post-fordist and computationally empowered civilization, even if the political system does not evolve and progress in the way hypothesized and promoted by the libertarian movement. Architecture is not the arena in which these political debates and struggles will be decided. It is its own arena with its own unique tasks and decisions that have to be addressed in the full awareness of political realities (rather than mere political potentialities). That’s why political debates might be reflected within its discourse, but what must be avoided is that it becomes swamped by politics to the point that it fails in its own responsibilities to advance the built environment’s adaptive upgrading.
Avant-garde architectural speculation might attempt to extrapolate from current political realities via reference to advancing political trends and tendencies without collapsing into fruitless utopian speculation. This is what I am trying to do in my recent speculations about the pospects of an unleashed parametric urbanism under the auspices of a radical anarcho-capitalist societal order. It is of course a subjective judgement call to what extent this kind of speculation is fruitful. In my judgement such speculations are pertinent not only if the realisation of anarcho-capitalism is a realistic prospect, but due to the fact that it extrapolizes current tendencies and is thus informative even for current conditions or more modest movements in the hypothesized direction.
In contrast to left inspired architectural speculations that imagine the reversal of the process of market liberalization of recent decades, harking back to 1970s, an anarcho-capitalist inspired architectural speculation radicalizes manifest tendencies. I would argue that this is not only more realistic but also potentially a more fertile engine of architectural invention because it allows us to project into uncharted territory. The architectural competition for Liberland offers a stimulating opportunity in this respect.
While such speculative design research is (both politically and architecturally) stimulating, the primary task I have set for myself for the time being is to push parametricism into the mainstream, within the current political context, a task that is as eminently feasible as it is increasingly urgent for the thriving of our urban civilisation.
1 Patrik Schumacher, The Autopoiesis of Architecture, Volume 1, A New Framework for Architecture, published by John Wiley & Sons, 2010
Patrik Schumacher, The Autopoiesis of Architecture, Volume 2, A New Agenda for Architecture, published by John Wiley & Sons, 2012
2 Niklas Luhmann, Theory of Society, 2 Volumes, Stanford University Press, 2013
3 This materialist underpinning of the theoretical edifice is revealed in the epilogue of AoA Volume2.
4 This concept of productivity cannot be narrowly defined in terms of the production of material plenty. Two further factors have to be incorporated in an updated concept of productivity: working conditions and ecological sustainability.
5 In this and no other sense should we understand the Marxist dictum that the forces of production are ‘determining in the final analysis’.
6 Eldredge, Niles and S. J. Gould (1972). "Punctuated equilibria: an alternative to phyletic gradualism" In T.J.M. Schopf, ed., Models in Paleobiology. San Francisco: Freeman Cooper. pp. 82-115. Reprinted in N. Eldredge Time frames. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1985, pp. 193-223.
7 The elaboration of original social theory lies beyond the scope of architectural theory.
8 David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, Wiley 1989
9 Ash Amin, p.1, Introduction to "Post-Fordism - A Reader", Oxford / Cambridge MA.
Robin Murray, Fordism and Postfordism, in S. Hall & M.Jacques, New Times, London 1989
W. Ruigrok & R. van Tulder, The Logic of International Restructuring, London, New York 1995
Hirst,P. & Zeitlin,J., Flexible Specialization versus post-Fordism, London 1991
Alain Lipietz (Spring 1997). "The Post Fordist World: Labor Relations, International Hierarchy and Global Ecology". Review of International Political Economy: 1–41.
10 I use the term State-capitalism to encompass both the strongly interventionist form of capitalism of mid-20th century social democracies as well as the ‘socialist’ countries of that time.
11 See: F.A. Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society, American Economic Review, XXXV, No.4, September 1945, 519-30; also: F.A. Hayek, Competition as a Discovery Procedure, in: F.A. Hayek, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, Routledge 1978
12 Ludwig von Mises, Socialism – An Economic and Sociological Analysis, London 1936, original German publication: Die Gemeinwirtschaft: Untersuchungen ueber den Sozialismus, Jena 1922, 2nd edition 1932.
13 See my theory of styles in: 3.6 Architectural Styles, The Autopoiesis of Architecture: A New Framework for Architecture, Vol. 1, John Wiley and Sons, p. 241.
14 Hayek, Friedrich, The Constitution of Liberty, London and Chicago, 1960
15 This argument will be further elaborated in the author’s forthcoming article ‘Hegemonic Parametricism Delivers Market-based Urban Order’, to be published in AD Parametricism 2.0 – Rethinking Architecture’s Agenda for the 21st Century, guest-edited by Patrik Schumacher, Wiley, London 2016
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