Book Review | Bracket [Goes Soft], edited by Lola Sheppard and Neeraj Bhatia

The second volume of Bracket entitled [Goes Soft], a publication co-founded by InfraNet Lab, archinect and Actar Editorial, addresses the topic of Soft Systems, including the contribution of Benjamin Bratton, Geoff Manaugh, Neeraj Bhatia, Philippe Rahm, Jeffrey Inaba, and Lola Sheppard. The publication is organized into six sections: sensing/feedback, interfacing/enveloping, subverting/hijacking, formatting/distributing, contingency/resilience, and diffusing/generating. The common denominator of these essays and research projects resides in their speculative approach — the editors believe “in truth, not the truth, but an unexpected truth”. Bracket [Goes Soft] looks at a series of questions that ranges from obsolete infrastructure to forces that are re-shaping our society: ecological crisis, economic globalization, the digital revolution, climate change, natural resources shortage, population expansion, technological and scientific advances.
Bracket [Goes Soft], cover

The central idea of this volume lies in the notion of 'soft'. Soft means smooth, flexible, agile, malleable, shock absorbing, responsive, non-linear. Unlike hard, soft talks about indeterminacy, performance, contingency, uncertainty, proposition. The legacy of the 1960s, in particular, soft architecture strategies, is relevant in this second volume. Reyner Banham, for example, encouraged postwar architects to look at research including cybernetics, environmental studies, science, technological progress, and disciplines focused on human behavioral systems, as Chris Perry, co-principal of Pneumastudio, convincingly writes in his article Fast Company: Architecture and The Speed of Technology. Today, as illustrated in these projects, architects are engaged in elaborating a new language borrowing from science fiction, robotics, Internet, social networks, information technologies, ecology, specific technologies (neuro-technologies, synthetic biology, genetics, cybernetics).
Bracket [Goes Soft], spread

These projects and essays — including proposals of rvtr (Colin Ripley, Geoffrey Thün, Kathy Velikov), Dan Handel, Bionic, m.ammoth (Stephen Becker and Rob Holmes), Tim Maly and Free Association Design (Brett Milligan), or Mariela de Felix, among many other fascinating proposals —  account for the interconnection of infrastructure, energy economy, politics, and ecology, that ecological system and engineered system are articulate, and that an articulated cohabitation of cultural, social, political, climatic, ecological, energy, economic, and landscape-architectural-urban is required to engage architecture in a society that will be facing a range of uncertainties.
Bracket [Goes Soft], spread

Bruno Latour has convincingly posited a shift from a time of time to a time of space, in his discussion with New Geographies in 2009. The time of time, he said, consists of “you destroy the past and then you have something else” while the time of space implies that “cohabitation of all of things that were supposed to be past are now simultaneously present.”
Bracket [Goes Soft], spread

In this current era of time of space, the shift from site to territory, namely, from a specific field — architecture/ science/ politics/ ecology — to an articulated collective — transdisciplinarity — can be a possible means of problem-forming this avalanche of challenging contexts. Lola Sheppard, in her essay From Site to Territory, posits that “architecture can no longer define its parameters and responsiveness at the scale of its immediate site, but rather, must operate at the scale of the broader territory, a space expanded and thickened with environmental data, competing social and political claims, economic forces, systems of mobility, ecological systems, and urban metabolisms.”
Bracket [Goes Soft], spread

Or, to put this statement more simply, architecture must operate at the scale of an articulated collective, as Neeraj Bhatia states, that supposes to re-evaluate the role of the architect as an active agent, an enabler, as all the authors attempt to demonstrate in this second volume.
Bracket [Goes Soft], spread

All these design proposals ranging from Dredge, Soft Goes Hard, Arctic OpeningAqua_Dermis, to Soft House, Estuary Services Pipeline and Swamp Thing emphasize this paradigmatic shift of architecture as becoming an interface with the environment. Architectural boundaries are becoming flexible, soft.
Now, as Lola Sheppard forthrightly mentions, in the current epoch of globalization, social, ecological and technological changes, the concept of territory, which seems to be more appropriate, more accurate than that of site, «has become the necessity scale required to register and engage the complexity of networks and information at play in a given physical environment».
Enlarging the boundaries of its site allows architecture for a better understanding of, or better, an engagement in the changing world. To say it with Lola Sheppard, «to represent the territory is to understand it, is to operate within it, is to (re)design it» but in the very softest way.

Book: Bracket Goes Soft
Editors: Lola Sheppard and Neeraj Bhatia
Publishers: Actar Editorial

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