In this article I would like to consider the humble [ctrl c ctrl v] copy paste function, as both an analogy to the practice of architecture and to the process of cognition that allows us to interact, perceive and experience architecture. As designers we quickly realise that the design process is iterative and recursive. It consists of repeating a process with a desired outcome at the end in mind. We like to communicate this process as a linear from A to B to illustrate clarity of thought. However useful it is in explaining ideas to clients and alike (and it would be so much easier if design was like this), it is not a good model to illustrate how design really works.
The repetition in design is cyclic in nature, with new iterations being informed from the lessons learnt from the last. This process as a whole can be seen as a continuous feedback loop: an evolving copy paste function.
This cyclic iterative process never stops. Once a piece of architecture has come into physical reality, the iterative and recursive strategies that bore its inception continue to operate through the acts of cognition and experiences of individuals who use, occupy, and perceive the built work.
Designing no longer resides solely with the architect, but is something that we all do continually beneath our conscious awareness. Our cognitive and perceptive faculties construct our reality in a way akin to design and it happens moment to moment. Each new experience is informed from past experience as we copy paste from memory into the present, thus ‘designing’ our reality to fit with our belief systems, cultural background, preferences and psychological makeup. Gordon Pask illustrated this process in his ‘Conversation Theory’.
“We ‘converse’ [metaphorically] with everything in our environment. We ‘offer our views’ as we act,re-act and think. The environment ‘speaks to us’ in
the sense that we interpret it. We respond to what we hear and see and feel, in an exchange that has the structure of a dialogue in language.” – Paul Pangaro
Seeing Architecture as part of a cognitive conversation presents it as a dynamic and time based phenomenon that relies on the unique construction of the observer. Pask considered architecture as one of the fundamental conversational systems in human culture.
His ideas from cybernetics imply that we are observing beings, who construct our view of the world through interacting with it through conversations. This dialogue is a looping process of iterative and recursive creative cognitive acts.
As architects we design not just isolated buildings but growing, evolving and learning systems that perpetually interact with its inhabitants both serving them and influencing their behaviour. The inhabitants’ behaviour in turn animates and activates the building in a complex reciprocal relationship. Architects now must consider this relationship in their work and include provisions for the evolution of their design through future use.
It was Pask’s desire for architecture to refine this dialogue through technological advances into interactive environments that would engage with their inhabitants, learn about their behaviour and adapt accordingly.
It is also important to consider the interaction between the designer and the system he designs. Pask viewed the architect as controlling the construction of a control system, explaining that design was the ‘control of control’ thus putting the designer in the same role as his system except at a higher level in the organisational hierarchy.
Through recursion and iteration Architecture can be viewed as an enabler of collaboration, where conversation and the interaction between clients, users, builders and architects is highly important and as a time based phenomenon dependant on the unique construction of an observer.
Our friend copy paste is not just a convenient tool on our personal computers, but it is born from our deep cognitive acts of perception that ‘copy paste’ our reality into our experience of the now.