Wednesday, 6 July 2011

[Ctrl C Ctrl V] a Reality

(As featured in Matzine 09)
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’.

The Myth of Design

“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.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Geometric Hypnotism : The Secret life of Eugene Andolsek

I love tales of a lone obsessive secretly and unknowingly creating masterpieces for no other reason than satisfying the desire to make them. I also have a love for artwork that assists facilitating hypnotic modes of consciousness (I think the two generally always go together). So upon discovering the extraordinarily intense, vibrant and trance inducing drawings of Eugene Andolsek I was even more enamoured when I heard the humble story about the production of these stunning images.

Eugene was a discontented stenographer for the Rock Island Railroad who spent over 50 years quietly producing these captivating images of geometric complexity and radiant colour at his kitchen table. His images were never displayed or exhibited to anyone, and Eugene himself did not have any interest in them after the joy of creation had concluded. For years these intricate gateways into altered states lay dormant in Eugene’s closets and draws. As Eugene retired from his working life, failing eyesight and ill health forced to him into the care of a retirement home. It was here a care give, first fell under the spell of Eugene’s visual hallucinogens and quickly brought them to the attention of the director of the Andy Warhol Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Soon after this exposure Eugene’s works were included in the exhibition ‘Obsessive Drawing’ at the American Folk Art Museum New York.

For me the images are cathartic and alchemic. Visually they resonate something primitive, connecting with ancient cultures and indigenous tribes who understood the importance of such images as tools for spiritual growth, wisdom and connection with the divine. The everydayness of their production only adds to their spiritual significance by reminding us ‘that is better to have travelled well than to arrive.’

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Demarcating the Sky.

One of the most awe inspiring sights I’ve ever experienced is a moonless, night sky in the Australian outback. A completely flat uninterrupted landscape turns into 360 degree continuous horizon line and an intense star filled sky completely engulfs your vision. As your eyes adjust to the low light levels over a number of hours, ever more of the vastness of the universe gets projected onto the surface area of your retina.

Completely captivating, it’s hard not to drift into a quiet state of contemplation, wonder and gratitude. As aboriginal folklore reveals, the night sky contains an almost infinite multitude of pictorial stories describing the dreamtime events of creation. Indigenous astronomical observations have shaped entire cultures and the sky has been used as a readily accessible store of knowledge since the dawn of man. Nowadays our everyday observations of the sky are more limited, particularly if living in a city where the delicate point sources of light from distant stars are obscured by the radiant light of modern living. However the sky is still closely observed. Today’s cosmological research is fuelled by the exciting and theories of surreal quantum realities which continue to inspire us to observe the sky and beyond with ever increasing precision and accuracy. The sky is also under close observation to allow the continual orchestration of our aviation industries.

All these modes of viewing and monitoring the heavens have manifested themselves in architecture. From airports to the Nazca Lines man has long sought to make demarcations of the sky into the landscape, either as acts of reverence, tools for navigation or a record of observation. Having spent the last few years labouring on airport master plans, the geometries of apron level taxi lanes, runway configurations and terminal orientations always remind me of the biomorphic Nazca lines which many have speculated are enormous astrological instruments.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Architecture as a time based Art

(as seen in #7 - the hourglass issue
For me the delights of Architectural education have always been the insights that reveal the fluid, dynamic, changing and cyclic nature of Architecture. Lets consider Architecture as a process and as a unique creative act that happens, not only as a part of the architect’s design methodologies but also as a cognitive act that is fundamental to our perception and subjective experience of space. In this light architecture can be seen as a time based art that exists in space like a continual piece of music or a perpetual performance.

When we start to see Architecture not as inert spaces that we occupy but rather spaces created by our occupation, a complex reciprocal relationship between people and space, culture and architecture becomes apparent. Architecture can now be seen as a time based art that is inseparable from the way people perceive and use it. This cyclic relationship between human activity and Architecture sees Architecture as an event or series of events in time much like a performance complete with characters and protagonists both human and architectural.

In representing Architecture the traditional drawing methods employed by Architects transcribe and precisely construct a seemingly clear and scientifically objective representation of the piece of built work to be realised. These modes of representation continually improve with precision as our technology continues to expand. However they serve to reaffirm an assumption of a directly mapped correspondence between drawings and completed built form. This is incredibly useful for the swift translation of an idea into a built work but it will struggle to elucidate the time based nature of architecture.

This is no easy task, but perhaps lessons can be learned from other time based arts such as music and dance where the development of a graphical notation has had a significant effect on the development of these arts. Musical notation can be seen as a representation of space. Crotchets, quavers and semibreves are spatial divisions of a beat that denote rhythm and a passage of notes describes a set of musical intervals in time. Labanotation is a form of graphical notation describing a spatial geometry used in dance. Its originator Rudolph Laban defined a geometry utilising the limits of the of the outstretched body, which mark twenty seven points in space that tilt and rotate with movement.

These systems acknowledge the presence and necessity of a performer in order for the work to exist. This important acknowledgment allows a space for interpretation, indeterminacy, and the unexpected – this is improvisation. Can architectural representation relinquish its assumed Cartesian solidity and allow for a time based architecture to emerge that acknowledges the activity of those who use and perceive it as being its creative impetus?

Digital technologies may provide a possible future for an improvised Architecture that undermines the traditional position of the Architect as originator of the object. Genetic algorithms, self perpetuating systems and other digital drawing systems are being employed and developed that allow for an organic architecture to emerge.

However the attitude we adopt as designers is as a powerful tool. Actors, musicians and performers strive for complicite within a performance. Complicite is a shared sense of unity, heightened awareness and sensitivity to those around you. An architectural complicite can be achieved within creative teams when ideas are given space, where personal ownership is relinquished and personal expression is encouraged. This environment is highly conducive to creativity, spontaneity and can be seen as the opening acts of an architectural event.

The polymath Gordon Pask developed his Conversation Theory to describe the interaction between two or more cognitive systems or distinct perspectives within one individual, and how they engage in a dialog over a given concept and identify differences in how they understand it. Recognising that this intimate relationship of creation exists between people and their environment Pask extended his theory to architecture. He conceived of an architecture that would be in constant conversation and dialogue with its users.
Understanding Architecture as a time based art and representing it through a conversational loop unveils the potential of an exciting and organic architecture of participation, interaction and creation.