Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Architects Can Blither On Aimlessly Too

nordpark-cable-railway2.jpg

Heretofore, you are to be made aware that forms like this will sweep across the world like an architectural nerve gas. Suspension of disbelief necessary before proceeding.

These are always fun. You may have read my point-counterpoint responses to literal tools (of the sprawl industry/status quo) like Randall O'Toole before, but there are a strain of architects out there still wandering down dead ends while the rest of us move down the path towards more logical and coherent cities for the people, rather than bestowed upon them.

The following is over at Architects Journal and is written by Patrik Schumacher, an unfortunate soul who still thinks that style matters. Not coincidentally he toils under Zaha Hadid, unabashed fashion designer as far as the city building world is concerned.

In my Parametricist Manifesto of 2008, I first communicated that a new, profound style has been maturing within the avant-garde segment of architecture during the last 10 years.

Red flag: "We're the avant garde. Therefore you are inferior and must listen to us." This is precisely how they see themselves. It is a dying breed as cities move towards crowd-sourcing based placemaking. The idea of the singular genius has failed miserably. Quit reading the Fountainhead. Unless of course, you suffer from insomnia and desperately are in need of a 200-page soliloquy in place of sheep.

The term ‘parametricism’ has since been gathering momentum within architectural discourse and its critical questioning has strengthened it. So far, knowledge of the new style has remained largely confined within architecture, but I suspect news will spread quickly once it is picked up by the mass media. Outside architectural circles, ‘style’ is virtually the only category through which architecture is observed and recognised. A named style needs to be put forward in order to stake its claim to act in the name of architecture.

Holy patronizing Batman. First of all, an unknown word has been strengthened through criticism. Fair enough, we'll take your word for it. And we should, because he knows that once we are touched with the divinity of his understanding of such a profound concept (of something so superficial as style), it will take over the world and all of the great cities of the world will be replaced with the singularity of his vision.

Not to jump too far ahead of myself, but this really highlights the fundamental problem facing architecture: its disconnection from reality. The willful exclusion of the rest of society to work solely within a select peer group and only FOR that select peer group. Where the goal is to get a building on the cover of Architecture Record rather than a place that nourishes and supports its users, the City.

Can we please bring in REX or OMA again to defile our City? These people despise their customers. They look down upon them. This is the death nail of any profession turned insular.

The concept of style deserves to be defended

Does it?

The concept of style has for a long time been losing traction within architectural discourse. To let this concept wither away would only impoverish the discourse, and a powerful asset for communicating architecture to society would be lost. However, the resuscitation of this drained and battered concept requires conceptual reconstruction in terms that are intellectually credible today.

Perhaps its withering should tell you something. People have grown weary of these "style wars" driven by little more than ideology so utterly disconnected from reality. And their cities have suffered for it.

What stands in the way of this is the tendency to regard style as merely a matter of appearance, as well as the related tendency to confuse styles with superficial, short-lived fashions. Although aesthetic appearance matters enormously in architecture and design, neither architecture nor its styles can be reduced to mere matters of appearance. Neither must the phenomenon of styles be assimilated to the phenomenon of fashion.

Even if, at its absolute, very best, style was a direct response to a timely problem; the physical manifestation of a deeper underlying genome resolving some ill. It is still responding to the issues of that particular time. And times change. Therefore, once again IF (big if) "style" is a response to the needs and demands of the day (should-do rather than can-do), then style would have to adapt to changing times. Perpetually changing. Once again, the idea of timeless "style" is moot. And frankly, irresponsible if not intellectually dishonest.

The concept of style must therefore be sharply distinguished and cleansed of these trivialising and distracting connotations. It denotes the unity of the difference between the architectural epochs of gothic, renaissance, baroque, classicism, historicism and modernism. The historical self-consciousness of architecture demands the revitalisation of the concept of style as a profound historical phenomenon that can be projected into the future. For this purpose I have proposed that architectural styles are best understood as design-research programmes, conceived in analogy to the way paradigms frame scientific research programmes.

Fair enough. It has taken us an awfully long time to get to this point in the article hasn't it?

A new style in architecture and design is akin to a new paradigm in science; it redefines the fundamental categories, purposes and methods of a coherent collective endeavour. Innovation in architecture proceeds via the progression of styles so understood. This implies the alternation between periods of cumulative advancement within a style, and revolutionary periods of transition between styles. Styles represent long, sustained cycles of innovation, gathering design-research efforts into a collective movement so that individual efforts are mutually relevant,spurning and enhancing.

I can't disagree with this either. However, before we get started, let us also understand that adopting one style means the rejection of all others. Although changes in style predates this notion, inherent within "style" is the cynical notion of planned obsolescence. The acceleration of the metabolic rate at which one style devours another to a speed that exceeds all and any response to the world around it. To me, suggests that the pushing of any certain style wouldn't be directly responsive to the needs and demands of the people, but rather the selfish, grandiose visions of those pushing it. If you are really responding to an actual need, just say that and the style (as long as it is beautiful or lovable) should speak for itself.

Parametricism offers a credible, sustainable answer to the crisis of modernism that resulted in 25 years of stylistic searching

OK. Prove it, but I'll say right now that I'm skeptical of any outgrowth of an architectural movement based solely on "out-weirding" each other until a personal stake has been claimed on one particular outcome of ideological experimentation.

From the inside, within architecture, the identification of parametricism demarcates and further galvanises a maturing avant-garde movement, and thus might serve to accelerate its progress and potential hegemony as a collective research and development effort. As a piece of retrospective description and interpretation, the announcement of parametricism seems justified after 10 years of consistent, cumulative design research. Prospectively, the announcement of the style should further consolidate the attained achievements and prepare the transition from avant-garde to mainstream hegemony. Parametricism finally offers a credible, sustainable answer to the drawn-out crisis of modernism that resulted in 25 years of stylistic searching.

But if it goes from avant-garde to mainstream will you immediately reject it like any hipster might the mass adoption of any particular meme?

Parametricism is the great new style after modernism

Declarative. I'll give him that. Despite passive sentence after passive sentence within the text.

Post-modernism and deconstructivism were mere transitional episodes, similar to art nouveau and expressionism as transitions from historicism to modernism. The distinction of epochal styles from transitional styles is important. In a period of transition there might emerge a rapid succession of styles, or even a plurality of simultaneous, competing styles. The crisis and demise of modernism lead to a deep and protracted transitional period, but there is no reason to believe that this pluralism cannot be overcome by the hegemony of a new unified style.

This is all very true. Let me guess, that style will be yours...

The potential for such a unification is indeed what we are witnessing.

Oh for F's sake.

Beyond the modernist paradigm of separation and repetition

The modernist order of separation and repetition is being supplanted by the parametricist order of continuous differentiation and intensive correlation. Within the broad new paradigm of parametricism, many subsidiary styles might be expected to enrich and progress the coming epoch of parametricism.

We need a Jules from Pulp Fiction appearance, "ENGLISH M-Fer! DO YOU SPEAK IT?"

Modernism’s crisis does not mean an end to unified styles

Modernism’s crisis and its architectural aftermath has led many critics to believe we can no longer be expected to forge a unified style. Did the profound developmental role of styles in the history of architecture, as evidenced in the gothic-renaissance baroque historicism- modernism sequence, come to an end? Did history come to an end? Or did it fragment into criss-crossing and contradictory trajectories? Are we to celebrate this fragmentation of efforts under the slogan of pluralism?

Aimless rambling. /irritatingly tapping fingers on desk.

Architecture today is world architecture

Every architectural project is immediately exposed and assessed in comparison to all other projects. Global convergences are possible. This does not mean homogenisation and monotony.

Quickly, he comes to the defense of what he must realize is the obvious weakness in his statement towards a hegemony of style somehow not equating to homogeny. Perhaps, sub-consciously aware of a shift back towards regionalism (sourcing local materials and responsive to local climates and cultures) and away from global architecture where you can't tell whether a building (or more importantly place) is in Dubai or Dallas?

It merely implies a consistency of principles,ambitions and values to build upon so that different efforts add up, are relevant to each other and compete constructively with each other, to establish the conditions for progress rather than pursuing contradictory efforts that battle over fundamentals.

True. I could have said the same thing, which is why I often state that style is irrelevant. So that doesn't define a style.

This is the idea of a unified style;

ummmm...

initially as a unified avant-garde design-research programme, and eventually as a unified system of principles, ambitions and values that constitute global best practice.

Ok, but how is that a style rather than a set of objective criteria or a pattern?

The new generation

The consistency of the style as a collective design-research programme depends upon the unfailing adherence to the strictures and impositions of parametricism. The good news is that a whole generation of young architects is already adhering to this.

obey.

Actually, I see a "whole generation" desiring to be more socially responsible and responsive. I think outside of measurable objective criteria found within urbanism, space syntax, et al., that may be all that is necessary. Once again, let style be as adaptable as your rigid notion of adaptability as style (I peaked ahead).

Many theorists – like Charles Jencks, for example – presume that the demise of modernism ushered in an era of stylistic pluralism.

The biological search engine. This is no different than any other field establishing that the status quo is no longer adequately serving the needs of society and like worker bees we all go off in different directions looking for the new patch of honey. Once we found our particular "honey patch" or style, we come back to the swarm and sing and dance about how great it is. We create a competition between them to find the most useful. Eventually, perhaps after a few wrong turns via overly-convincing shysters, we eventually find the most useful. Until that is no longer useful.

I'm getting the sense that we have a worker bee version of a used car salesman here.

Accordingly, the search for a new, unified style is seen as an anachronism. Any style today – so it seems – can only be one among many other simultaneously operating styles, thus adding one more voice to the prevailing cacophony of voices.

What did I just say?

The idea of a pluralism of styles is just one symptom of the more general trivialisation and denigration of the concept of style. I repudiate the complacent acceptance (and even celebration) of the apparent pluralism of styles as a supposed sign of our times. A unified style has many advantages over a condition of stylistic fragmentation.

The need for pluralism, however is the necessary constant testing of the usefulness of any current paradigm. Therefore it is necessary.

Parametricism aims for hegemony and combats all other styles.

What about all that "not homogenous" talk? My way or the highway. We'll be the judge of that. Of course, you don't want us to be. You want YOU to be. Sorry. I'm afraid that isn't how the world works.

While I agree that there are rules for how cities function, how buildings merely look is related specifically to the aesthetic tastes of ever-changing demographics.

Parametricism’s crucial ability to set up continuities and correspondences across diverse and distant elements relies on its principles holding uninterrupted sway. The admixture of a post-modernist, deconstructivist or minimalist design can only disrupt the penetrating and far-reaching parametricist continuity. The reverse does not hold, because there is no equivalent degree of continuity in post-modernist, deconstructivist or minimalist urbanism.In fact, parametricism can take up vernacular, classical, modernist, post-modernist, deconstructivist and minimalist urban conditions, and forge a new network of affiliations and continuities between and beyond any number of urban fragments and conditions.

I have a headache. Please state how. Please. I can just as easily state that I can leap the tallest buildings (even in Dubai).

Preparing for the style war

What are the current styles that must be combated by parametricism? Is there really still some kind of stylistic pluralism, as posited by Jencks?

Well, you have just spent a thousand words stating that there is. At this point, I would presume so.

In fact, post-modernism has disappeared, and the contributions and advances of deconstructivism have been incorporated within parametricism. The mainstream has, in fact, returned to a form of pragmatic modernism with a slightly enriched palette; a form of eclecticism mixing and matching elements from all modernism’s subsidiary styles. The inability of post-modernism and deconstructivism to formulate a new viable paradigm led to the return of modernism in the guise of minimalism as the only consistent, ideologically stringent style that confronts parametricism today.

So now you're telling me that there isn't a preponderance of competing styles? Why did I just read the last thousand words?

The primary confrontation in the struggle for stylistic hegemony is thus between parametricism and minimalism.

Parametricism claims universal validity.

It cannot be dismissed as eccentric signature work that only fits high-brow cultural icons.

Sounds defensive. I'm guessing that it absolutely can.

Parametricism is able to deliver all the components for a high-performance contemporary life process. All moments of contemporary life become uniquely individuated within a continuous, ordered texture.

HOW?!?!

The latest built works from Zaha Hadid Architects are much more than experimental manifesto projects; they succeed as high performance projects in the real world.

Please tell me how Hadid projects can help the affordable, urban housing crisis in this country? Or this dislocative qualities of unlivable cities perpetuated by hostile transportation systems?

The Nordpark Cable Railway stations in Innsbruck are a good example. No other style could have achieved this coincidence of adaptive variation to the different site conditions with genotypical coherence across those phenotypical variants. Parametricism is ready to go mainstream. The style war has begun.

No, it hasn't. It has always been on-going. Often pointlessly.

Patrik Schumacher is a partner at Zaha Hadid Architects

Ahh. Now I see. This, in fact, IS an entire pointless rambling screen masking its true intentions of advertising to the well-to-do and want-to-be intelligentsia. Of course, it is full of as much doo-doo as my doggie after a long night's sleep.

What is parametricism?

Parametricism implies that all architectural elements and complexes are parametrically malleable. This implies a fundamental ontological shift within the basic, constituent elements of architecture. Instead of classical and modern reliance on rigid geometrical figures – rectangles, cubes, cylinders, pyramids and spheres – the new primitives of parametricism are animate geometrical entities – splines, nurbs and subdivs. These are fundamental geometrical building blocks for dynamical systems like ‘hair’, ‘cloth’, ‘blobs’ and ‘metaballs’ that react to ‘attractors’ and can be made to resonate with each other via scripts.

Parametricism aims to organise and articulate the increasing diversity and complexity of social institutions and life processes within the most advanced centre of post-Fordist network society. It aims to establish a complex variegated spatial order, using scripting to differentiate and correlate all elements and subsystems of a design. The goal is to intensify the internal interdependencies within an architectural design, as well as the external affiliations and continuities within complex, urban contexts.

The avoidance of parametricist taboos and adherence to the dogmas delivers complex order for complex social institutions.

Negative principles (taboos)

  • Avoid rigid forms (lack of malleability)
  • Avoid simple repetition (lack of variety)
  • Avoid collage of isolated, unrelated elements (lack of order)
  • Avoid rigid functional stereotypes
  • Avoid segregative functional zoning

Positive principles (dogmas)

  • All forms must be soft
  • All systems must be differentiated (gradients) and interdependent (correlations)
  • All functions are parametric activity scenarios
  • All activities communicate with each other
While I like the general philosophy behind it, the idea of flexibility and adaptability, perhaps we are taking it a little too literally? Can malleable forms provide predictability? While humans need responsiveness, more often than not they can provide that themselves. Because times change at a slower, more adaptable rate than these malleable building forms can and do.

Humans also demand predictability the psychological necessitation for the permanence of more rigid, stable forms. In many ways an empty box, a building as a shell is a more malleable, usable, stable, and adaptable form than these crazy (and crazy expensive) techniques.