Re-asking the question of architecture after speculation

"I am an imposter. They told me so… finally… it's out… What am I to do now with the life of agreeable fakery that binds me, in claimed feebleness, to things and to people, to suspect humanity. We could wonder about this…, and wander… together… as if it were some new territory to discover… a blank map, some terra incognita… a Moby Dick on the move with Gregory Peck clutching at the ropes of the Harpoon, dead yet still alive at the same time… Step right up, Boys, Girls, and Androgynes, you'll get your money's worth… Log is so cheap… let yourself by what you're not, too, slip into a shizophrenic zone, a thick soup of contradictory desires emerging from the clay like the hydrocephalic Golem-Golum… that way you, too, can naively elude our unpredictable and irreducible conflicts, which are part and parcel of domination and slavery, destruction and the new, fusions of ugliness and beauty, obstacles and possibilities, garbage and fresh blooms, threats and various forms of protection, technicist prowess and forces of nature… Here everything comes together and interlocks…" writes LOG's guest-editor François Roche for the 25th issue Reclaim Resi[lience]stance //… R2.

(Science) fiction, or speculation — I will continue using both these terms — as tool for writing stories, or, say, architectural conjectures, to open architecture into time and… as a means of interrogating future. Last week I read a very interesting post in m.ammoth about futurism and architecture. m.ammoth's text reminded me this long editorial that François Roche wrote for the 25th issue of LOG Journal of architecture. The text is too long to be posted here, so if you have a chance, read it.
In this article, m.ammoth wonders whether or not the landscape-architect-urbanist is a very bad futurist. m.ammoth reacts to Studio-X blog's recent post about an article published in this new science magazine Nautilus (it is also an enjoyable occasion to discover this blog). In this article How to tell the Future(s), Adam Frank discussed what the integration of scenario planning as tool can bring to urban ecological research. He opens his article quoting this book The Limit to Growth, written in 1972 by Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers and William W. Behrens III. I haven't had yet the chance to read the book. I will merely depict this book in one sentence: The Limit to Growth develops a set of predictions to explore how exponential growth interact finite resources. This could be a great opportunity to read this scenarios-based research dealing with how human system adapts to finite resources.
As Adam Frank notes, this is the long-term-future that is at play. Indeed, in an era of climate change and natural resource shortage, to limit to these two challenges, the landscape-architecture-urbanism badly needs an upgraded approach to city-making: "For the boots-on-the-ground folks — urban planners must start planning and building now — something very different is needed", he writes. What this statement unfolds is that adaptation, envisaged as vital strategy, to these shifting conditions, as have been said at length, requires a new business model that takes into account this set of concepts, say, uncertainty, speculation, indeterminacy and contingency — notions that talk about fiction and speculation. A new, or at least another, approach that envisions differently contingent character of future. Frank and m.ammoth's respective articles raise a series of questions that can be summarized into speculative practice or scenarios-based practice. Both will lead on to territories that convoke a set of questions not very far from their articles.

Can the landscape-architect-urbanist predict future? Given the complexities of future, the question should be how to cope with an unpredictable future. Firstly, prediction can be defined as: "human mind can determine what will happen beforehand qualitatively and quantitatively." Prediction talks about determinism. Determinism talks about prediction. Classical science talks about determinism. Determinism talks about classical science. Without this capacity of predicting future based on past events, how humans would have adapted to cyclic or contingent events over centuries? Obviously, genetics offers us many responses. But not only: we would not have been able to build the world we live now. Put it simply, what happened in the past — cyclic changes, and so on — can happen in the future — even far-future. Indeed, as written in Arc 1.4 Forever Alone Drone, "we have accumulated a vast repository of imagined futures past." This vast repository of imagined futures past helps us to adapt to existing but weird, more and more uncontrollable situations. This is why humans, as dominant life-form on this planet, have been developing specific adaptive capacities to monitor ever-changing cycles and cataclysmic events ranging from diseases, wars, climatological and environmental transformation, population expansion, urbanization, cultural, economic and social evolution, to technology, and politics. Remember that "history is the means by which we wake up", Bruce Sterling states in Shaping Thing.
We learn from the past. We are not born just storysteller, we are ingenious, intelligent, self-aware, as geologist Jan Zalasiewicz and journalist Annalee Newitz state in their respective book. The landscape-architecture-urbanism owes the capacity to problem-form, dissect, assimilate past events and transformation that have been animating human race over centuries; how, we, humans respond to shifting conditions and situations, man-made disequilibrium, and contingently natural disequilibrium to build the modern world. In face of 21st century perspectives , say, population expansion, energy and water shortage, global warming and resource exhaustion, to limit to these examples, we, however, are aware of the fact that we are no more capable of problem-solving. If that's the case, why not abandon future? We could merely do with existing conditions, with the instant. We however must admit that what we solve today generates future (or even far-future) problems — some may object that this idea of every action has consequences is not fair if not contestable. A solved problem creates a set of new but more intricate problems, as problems usually feed themselves from data collected from preceding problems. Thus, for example: designing cities with green spaces, cycling paths, eco-buildings, limited car-access to cities (or fabrication of electric cars) might have impact in the short term but won't make urban and non-urban areas more resilient since global warming and resource exhaustion are too complex, too unstable to be entirely forecasted. This explains why a large number of observers in the field of science now admit that we can merely predict things we do not understand, or better or worse, it all depends, we will never understand. Otherwise, we do not have the required tools for solving future issues. Global warming, sea-level rising, ice-melting are previsible but what about their magnitude, their impact on humans and non-humans? Too dauntingly complex to forecast. Some will be preserved but not the whole. Traces of past life (our existence included) in the form of decaying buildings and infrastructures, drowned cities, or whatsoever will be treated as precious data by far-future visitors to indicate how we lived, what made humanity as dominant life-form, what made us vulnerable to externalities, and, finally, what destroyed us — if our civilization entirely disappear. In face of these complexities, we, our civilization, can no longer forecast future with our existing, limited — at least to cope with unpredictability — tools and methods. We obviously have a global idea of problems but not details or, worse, their magnitude. Hence scenario-based strategies as possible solutions? As Frank mentioned, many experts from the military, economics, to science, biology, and geology — the landscape-architecture-urbanism not included —, have been already using scenario-based strategies to forecast future events. They use simulation to design future issues and adaptive capacities to respond to these issues — note that simulation is now occupying a growing place in architecture.
Observatory of UV and dark adaptation | The Building Which Never Dies, Austria + France, Les Andelys, 2009-11 || Image courtesy of © R&Sie(n)

Our current system resides in the question of problem-solving. As Jeremy Till writes in Architecture depends, the landscape-architecture-urbanism "legitimized itself within problem-solving". With a practice relying on problem-solving, future issues however are misunderstood or simply ignored. It seems that m.ammoth and Adam Frank indirectly pose concerns the role of the landscape-architect-urbanist as expert, as solver. One would no doubt be confronted with the status and the role of the landscape-architect-urbanist as expert or solver in the question of changing issues. The question is how to free from solving-centered approach to endorse a new status, yet undefined, — can it be an interface or enabler? Indeed problem-solving has revealed its limits toward future-forecasting since, given a complex network of issues, future become too unpredictable. This however raises the major problem for the landscape-architecture-urbanism whose function depends on problem-solving. This shifting role forces us to accept that future is contingent as well as we, human beings, are contingent; objects we produce are contingent. In this context a building is contingent. Global warming, as an hyperobject, is contingent. So is nuclear-disaster. So is the landscape-architecture-urbanism.
Things which necrose, Denmark, 2009, Sweden, 2010 || Image courtesy of © R&Sie(n)

A scenario-based strategy requires a specific format. A speculative approach allows, enhances a new form of creativity, innovation. Some architects use speculation as methodology and scenarios as an operative tool in accordance with this related ambition to what Adam Frank pointedly says, "we need to begin thinking in terms of 'scenarios.'" This raises a question: how can scenario provide room for the landscape-architecture-urbanism to problem-forming future events and, to a large extent, as new form of engagement with the modern world?
Toxic ı The garden so fearthly delights, Lopud, Croatia || Image courtesy of © R&Sie(n)
Sublimation ı script, Lopud, Croatia || Image courtesy of © R&Sie(n)

French architecture firm New Territories/R&Sie(n) articulates three principles: Fiction as practice, practice as fiction; Research as speculations; and Practice as Lifespan. An example of a scenario-based project is this project IveHeardAbout for Le Musée d'Art Modern de la Ville de Paris, in 2005, entirely constructed as a (science-)fiction-based scenario. The focus is not on the story itself. Story constitutes the basis or the starting point to the project: "We don't consider the story, it's a fragment of the story. So we need to construct the story for before and after the construction of the building," he says to Geoff Manaugh and Warren Ellis. The scenario is a very crucial instrument to movie and theater. In speculative architecture, it also occupies a very specific position and role, we will see, in re-articulating knowledge. Contemporary artist, critic and curator Liam Gillick denotes this instrument as:
What's the scenario? A constantly mutating sequence of possibilities. Add a morsel of a difference and the result slips out of control, shift the location for action and everything is different. There is a fundamental gap between societies that base their development on scenarios and those that base their development on planning.
A scenario is a complex process capable of identifying moments of change, as Liam Gillick writes. 
It, then, constitutes a first phase of a script. Script as practice. Script as producing or reorganizing knowledge. Script as fiction-making: "In the script — we talk about scripting, we talk about following the scripts — it's very weak compared to your script. And if we want to force the complexity of our script we need a lot of knowledge," François Roche says. A script offers compilation, storage, and reconfiguration of data. Let's convoke a theorist whose forms of writing have been (or let's say contain) considered as fictional, or storytelling. Keller Easterling regularly uses the notion of script in her research. With a background in theater, she has long demonstrated how active or performative — in opposition with normative architecture —, architecture can be within the articulation of script, action with infrastructure and architecture can make architecture active or performative. In Enduring Innocence: Global Architecture and its Political Masquerades, Easterling writes "[a]rchitecture has often adopted those cybernetic scripts that focus on recursivity and predictability in complexity, as well as those Deleuzian scripts that, drained of their politics, reinforce the preexisting attraction to geometry." New Territories/R&Sie(n) displayed a still intriguing scenario-based, unstable, scalable urban-typed biostructure IveHeardAbout that "no longer depends on the arbitrary decisions or control over its emergence exercised by a few, but rather the ensemble of its individual contingencies. It simultaneously subsumes premises, consequences and the ensemble of induced perturbations, in a ceaseless interaction. Its laws are consubstantial with the place itself, with no work of memory." The structure displayed in the museum was controlled by collectively reprogrammable Viabs by means of a set of growth scripts, open algorithms and human contingencies and modes of occupation, allowing adaptive behaviors of the habitable organism. As Keller Easterling writes in The Action is the Form, a script contains data collected for the project, use or application of an object: site, building, infrastructure — how the building functions, what it is doing. Easterling goes on: "[Bruno] Latour argues that this interaction between script and technology is indeterminate, like a flow of information or a flow of water." A script is indeterminist, unstable; it is fictional, questionable.

_an architecture des humeurs, Paris, 2010 | Image courtesy of © R&Sie(n)

New Territories/R&Sie(n) has integrated the notion of contingency into architecture — human contingency, contingent architecture, contingent future, contingent ecology and on and on — to unfold negotiation between objects — humans and non-humans — in real time. François Roche denotes contingency as follows: "there is a design, but the certainty with which it will be executed is questionable. There is a great fragility to the process." Contingency talks about speculation. Speculation offers the possibility for architecture to explore, reveal, even transform its contingent character.
The search for a new format reveals a profound desire of redefining or upgrading the discipline, that is, a redefinition of the paradigm of architecture that could take into account that future can no longer be understood with current human intelligence: "Like in science-fiction, you need to identify a format of something, the format is always different" or questionable, or contingent. Architecture as as a format must be questionable, never static, always mutable, active, or let's say, soft as Lydia Kallipoliti rightfully says. A normative format in search for stability, solutions to constraints is a static form that denies any sudden internal and external tensions. A scalable and contingent format, on the contrary, is a format that offers more room for expertise to stimulate innovation and to push as far as possible its boundary towards new territories. For Roche, this is also the case for other architects who use fiction as tool, fiction is seen as the adequate instrument for that matter: "Science (fiction) has shifted neither forward nor rearward, but into the here and now. The unfolding scenarios it follows to manipulate our reality are becoming true transformation tools and paradoxically strategic levers to grasp the wobbling of our post-digital societies: our choked mass-media culture." Future as well as present, or instant as operative tools to explore, problem-form, manipulate or transform. To a certain extent François Roche answers to our initial question: should we abandon future? Or to reborrow m.ammoth's question "are [landscape-]architect[-urbanist] bad futurists?": "We have to negotiate with the fold of the instant, the invagination of the thought of the future, and live in a present that is like an asymptotic bend in time, between back to the future and tomorrow now, between dream time and the day after." It is obvious that future forecasting is an urgent task to develop adaptive structures for us, now, but also for future human minds but as we have now integrated that our production are shorter than a human life, maybe we should address the instant while imagining the future.
_an architecture des humeurs, Paris, 2010 || image courtesy of © R&Sie(n) 

The whole ontological dimension of the question of the discipline of architecture has been cast into new light with the integration of speculative strategies. This is not necessarily thinking of realization but of knowledge. Indeed New Territories/R&Sie(n) is concerned with the accumulation of knowledge and the integration of new forms of knowledge, produced by uncertainty, material conditions of human existence, and increases of external and internal conditions to understand coexistence between human and humans, humans and its environment, human and space, and so on. All these projects and research New Territories/R&Sie(n) has been developing illustrate this engagement in re-organizing knowledge with (science) fiction.
One would no doubt state that, just like mathematics or science a speculative architecture believes in the state of becoming, that it is an ongoing process. It is thinking future throughout the instant, the present, the becoming, the here and now as François Roche states: "Recognizing the new principles of reality, it is a space of confrontation, ceaselessly investing itself in new procedures for the reprogramming and rescripting of existence, here and now." This format, New Territories/R&Sie(n) establishes, generates a series of apparatuses that the agency articulates with scenarios. Stochastic apparatus associated with Olzweg; Testosterone apparatus associated with HybridMuscle; Darwinism and parasiting apparatuses associated with Broomwich; or Bacteriological apparatus associated with ImlostinParis. For New Territories/R&Sie(n), apparatuses "have to be considered as a few paradigms to approach and touch narrative and subjective protocols." Thus the speculative _an architecture des humeurs (2010), creates:
A kind of alphabet book of apparatuses, of knowledge strategies, to protocolise a counterproposal. It cannot be developed without re-evaluating all the tools, strategies, processes and the very raison d'être of technologies. As it navigates, it drifts from the psycho-methodology of collecting desires to the mathematics that interpret them as relationships, set-belonging situations, from psycho-chemistry to the logic of aggregation, from the physio-morpological computation of the multitude to C++ operators for structural optimisation as an artefact of a logic of discovery, from bio-knit physicality for the operation of a nonlinear geometry to a robotic design and G-code algorithms for automated manufacture.
_an architecture des humeurs ambitions to explore the notion of space, the articulation of body, structure and space by unfolding human contingencies, human negotiations with space and structure, in few words, "as a way to generate multiple singularities, a polyphony,
as a way to generate multiple singularities, a polyphony of multiplicity, a multitude, where architecture engages and generates empathy, sympathy and, naturally, antipathy as a factor in relationships, a transactional operator, a vector of negotiation between each of us and others to bring back together the 'elsewhere' and the 'here, and yet', the 'near and far,' stability and nomadism, the 'village' as secure sensation, a whispering Heimat, and at the same time to hear the scream of its intrinsic forces of transformation as it vitality overflows. (Roche, Next-Door Instructions, AD The New Pastorialism, May/June 2013).
Recorded in nanotechnology, _an architecture des humeurs detects physiological data from participants "to prepare and model the foundations of an architecture in permanent mutation, modelled by our unconscious." The biostructure reminds (of) IveHeardAbout, a project François Roche presents as the second leg — IveHeardAbout being the first leg — of a fictional architectural voyage "federating the skills of scientists from a host of disciplines (mathematics, physics, neurobiology, computations, scripts, nanotechnologies, robotics).
I've Heard About, Paris, 2005 || Image courtesy of R&Sie(n)

What New Territories/R&Sie(n)'s projects highlight — this may be an evidence for many — is: 1) The discipline of architecture needs to be seen as a carrier of "speculations;" 2) Speculative architecture facilitates, if not encourages, interdisciplinary network ranging from computation, genetics, mathematics, and micro-biology, to science, robotics and nanotechnology; 3) Speculative architecture embraces this idea that mathematics = ontology as ontology = mathematics, and that architecture = ontology as ontology = architecture, as many defenders of speculative realism claim. For instance, mathematics for New Territories/R&Sie(n), precisely algorithms and scripting, allow of exploring new forms of relational modes between humans and humans and (I am thinking of other projects such as ImlostinParis, or Spidernethewood) humans and non-humans, to limit to both these examples. 
Mathematical concepts borrowed from set theory and used as a strategic relational tool to extract from these 'misunderstandings,' a morphological potential (attraction, exclusion, touching, repulsion, indifference) as a negotiation of the 'distances' between humans and humans, humans and limits, humans and access that constitute these collective aggregates.
4) Another aspect to speculative architecture concerns what another field has also noticed, say, speculative realism, that is, the possible end of the human domination by exploring existing and new modes of coexistence, of friction, of dependence between humans and non-humans (once again thinking of other projects as for example those mentioned above as well as Broomwich). One will consider a shift into all = hyperobjects and;
Symbiosis' Hood, 2009, Seoul, South Korea || Image courtesy of R&Sie(n)

5) Finally, while developing a fiction as practice, practice as fiction, research as speculation or to put it simply, a speculative practice, while being interesting in the concept of utopia, New Territories/R&Sie(n)'s projects are buildable. However buildable their projects may be, it however seems that their ambition is much dauntingly complex: as have been said, it consists of pushing architecture's boundaries into new territories, territories that problem-form the instant, the existing and a certain future. Future here has nothing to do with fantasies as many science-fiction-type of movies or books depict — Avatar, for instance. Bruce Sterling in Tomorrow Now clearly argues that "science fiction can manage just fine without the future." In fact, what Sterling and New Territories/R&Sie(n) have in common is that they think future throughout the present, the instant. So in that case, should the landscape-architect-urbanist abandon future-forecasting?
Symbiosis' Hood, 2009, Seoul, South Korea || Image courtesy of R&Sie(n)

In a second part of this post, I propose to continue with this question. Our discussion will range over such speculative topics as machine, that is human engineering existence for the future including Unknown Fields Division/Tomorrows Thoughts Today. I'm planning to discuss new forms of threats that might arise within this 21st century. And, if so, this also would be a great occasion to go back to an essay written by Hilary Sample for VERB Crisis about a biomed city, an example of speculative architecture but not as fantasist as one may suppose.

1 comment:

Terrell said...

This is fantastic!

Pageviews last month