Cultural zeitgeist and the syphoning speed of technology have created a new space for architects and designers to inhabit: places that engage in our culture of digital information and expedient ephemeral consumption. This customized and streamlined world allows us to be informed, transparent, connected, and cross-pollinated in a global society more than ever. Facebook connects hoards of people from various nations. Tumblers customize our internet surfing. Viral Videos fleet through the social media we track. Smart Phones have made their way into every age group. Protest for political freedom, economic justice , and human rights spread like wildfire. Anatomical parts are grown and imitated. And artists are connecting music, fashion, sculpture, and events to the masses. These cultural zeitgeist reveal to us the importance of technology, biology, and social media in an era of consumption and immediate digital information.
Expanding on this zeitgeist and highlighting their importance to our culture invokes Richard Linklater’s film Waking Life. In this film there is a scene where University of Texas at Austin’s Chemistry Professor Dr. Eamonn Healy talks about the emerging human:
“If we’re looking at the highlights of human development, you have to look at the evolution of the organism and then at the development of its interaction with the environment. Evolution of the organism will begin with the evolution of life perceived through the hominid coming to the evolution of mankind. Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon man. Now, interestingly, what you’re looking at here are three strings: biological, anthropological — development of the cities — and cultural, which is human expression.
Now, what you’ve seen here is the evolution of populations, not so much the evolution of individuals. And in addition, if you look at the time scales that are involved here — two billion years for life, six million years for the hominid, 100,000 years for mankind as we know it — you’re beginning to see the telescoping nature of the evolutionary paradigm. And then when you get to agricultural, when you get to scientific revolution and industrial revolution, you’re looking at 10,000 years, 400 years, 150 years. You’re seeing a further telescoping of this evolutionary time. What that means is that as we go through the new evolution, it’s gonna telescope to the point we should be able to see it manifest itself within our lifetime, within this generation.
The new evolution stems from information, and it stems from two types of information: digital and analog. The digital is artificial intelligence. The analog results from molecular biology, the cloning of the organism. And you knit the two together with neurobiology. Before on the old evolutionary paradigm, one would die and the other would grow and dominate. But under the new paradigm, they would exist as a mutually supportive, noncompetitive grouping. Okay, independent from the external.
And what is interesting here is that evolution now becomes an individually centered process, emanating from the needs and desires of the individual, and not an external process, a passive process where the individual is just at the whim of the collective. So, you produce a neo-human, okay, with a new individuality and a new consciousness. But that’s only the beginning of the evolutionary cycle because as the next cycle proceeds, the input is now this new intelligence. As intelligence piles on intelligence, as ability piles on ability, the speed changes. Until what? Until we reach a crescendo in a way could be imagined as an enormous instantaneous fulfillment of human and neo-human potential. It could be something totally different. It could be the amplification of the individual, the multiplication of individual existences. Parallel existences now with the individual no longer restricted by time and space.
And the manifestations of this neo-human-type evolution, manifestations could be dramatically counter-intuitive. That’s the interesting part. The old evolution is cold. It’s sterile. It’s efficient, okay? And its manifestations of those social adaptations. We’re talking about parasitism, dominance, morality, okay? War, predation: these would be subject to de-emphasis. These will be subject to de-evolution. The new evolutionary paradigm will give us the human traits of truth, of loyalty, of justice, of freedom. These will be the manifestations of the new evolution. And that is what we would hope to see from this. That would be nice.”
We live in a synthetic, social, and expedient ecology where most of the things in our lives come to us directly such as food delivery or weather notifications on smartphones. However, expediency does not directly yield a strong sense of place. Many of our convenient locations like drive thrus, parking lots, and sprawling neighborhoods are vastly underdeveloped for their commonplace in our cultural landscape and the subsequent social constructs. What happens in these locations for the majority of Americans? How can we begin to merge the biological, anthropological, and human expressive content that is beginning to extend itself through our society?
Buildings that do take advantage of our social constructs such as: OMA’s Seattle Public Library, REX’s Wiley Theater, UN Studio’s Burnham Pavilion, Kivi Sotomaa’s Extraterrain chair, Jorge Pardo’s Prototype, Gregg Lynn’s Embryological house, and countless other projects engaged in our contemporary society. However these constructs are spectacles or diamonds in the rough and commercial architecture seems centuries away from the environment that we would like to imagine the neo-human occupying. These constructs will have to realize that our interactions are social by choice and that human expression is undermined in our society of immediacy and consumption. Take the Burnham Pavillion for example: this project was rediscovered by its visitors revealing the various ways a single surface can be used and post-rationalized. This revealed the relative fertility of an otherwise sterile surface and what it can do for its users.
Nowadays our constructs can be chameleon-like, adjusting to various functions, modifying its skin color and shape accordingly. Our commercial architecture does not have to be urban, suburban, sustainable, or belonging to a specific style. But our commercial architecture needs to agitate, generate, and remake to engage the masses on an unprecedented level. Our urban and suburban fabric has so many dead spots that intervening, reusing, and remapping are the only choices we have left if we are to salvage anything.
The ground must be re-shaped and re-defined. Formal identities must agitate and flourish so that they will be as varied as genres of music and not pretend only one formal sensibility exist. Space and surface must exchange, conflict, and adapt. Infrastructure must be re-routed. Construction costs must plummet and permanence rejected. Various phenomena must be connected and re-connected. Generally, starting from scratch is not an option as cultures and institutions must grow. These broad-spectrum guidelines follow the visual nature of the movie Waking Life, where you begin with the real context and then augment it to develop the main point.
Architects must also learn to contest and convince housing authorities, clients, and entire industries (such as the construction and planning industries) in order to break the stagnation in commercial architecture. For instance, Architecture would prosper if it was like an item of clothing or an application for an iPhone. If this was the case, architecture would simultaneously disintegrate any barriers in its way and flourish like fashion and technology.
Cell phones were able to break the stagnation because it allowed people to connect to each other faster and find information easier. Commercial Architecture seems unable to inhabit this arena because of its strictly accepted definition of permanence, separation, cost, and general lack of expression. Successful solutions may be a place of intervention and installation until we can expediently engage in a visual augmented reality – in the near future, or embrace manufacturing of cheap, adaptable and customizable construction materials and processes. Seasonal-adaptable pre-fabricated building blocks also seem to emerge as a starting point for the consumer.
A larger solution to the character of design that is emerging and how it will infiltrate architecture can be found in cross pollinating various fields and digital platforms. These currently emerging fields that control pop culture and architecture together will then provide avenues to agitate the existing fabric little by little. This solution merits Henri Bergson description of an élan vital, “a universal force that drives living things continually out of phase with themselves in order that they may perpetually discover new configuration and new engagement with a necessarily moving reality.”(Kipnis Mood River).
A more concrete example: what if the consumer could inform construction blocks like the consumer informs iphone applications? Furthermore, what if the Gregg Lynn Embryological House and the basketball shoe designs of Tinker Hatfield could cross pollinate and sprawl like the imitation Tuscan Villa did across the Unites States?
Tinker Hatfield’s shoe designs represent how a cultural embracement of image, figure, technology, and mass production can seasonally be redeveloped, which is something we value highly in our culture. Gregg Lynn’s Embryological House contrastingly represents the emergent possibilities for mass-customization through digital technologies. This house/project opens avenues in a similar way that Nike ID works: you start with the identity of the object primitive (sphere) or advanced (shoe) and input parameters to create oscillating variations.
The most interesting connection between the two designers/architects would be mass-customization and mass production in our viral and seasonal culture, fusing culture and prefabrication together. The Embryological House’s infinite possibilities due to endless parameters are a great example of how figure and form can oscillate connecting the landscape, the site, and a home on a mass-produced scale. Furthermore, animating various inputs, deformations, and/or transformation of an object along a path or in a field is an example of the ephemeral and multifarious formal approach that could emerge as a macro solution to suburban sprawl. However, these forms need to be grafted into our current landscape feeding off of the existing fabric. These homes would adapt and be considered as a whole made of separate parts, not as a perfect object on a tabala rasa.
Cemeteries, schools, and office complexes are also places where repetitive forms reside – in the slight deviations between various similar forms, like stone heads in a cemetery, or the commonality of parts shared in their various functional necessities, like kitchen and restroom casework. This allows parameters to develop that could give trite repetition, innovative and conscious form through animating slight variations between one notation and the next.
The implication of all the above relates strongly with the Etiologies of Beauty by Mark Foster Gage. If mass-customization and culture is to be systematized then a culture of beauty will have to develop that can input unique distinctions and most importantly reside with expressive and connective content to the cultural landscape it occupies. Our contemporary culture of beauty is highlighted in the graphic designs such as “Beibeeees” by Alberto Seveso, where 2D (post-produced) and 3D (photographic) figure become the reinforcement of the woman’s sinuous curves.
The crossover of photography and post-production painting gives a hint at were the culture of beauty in architecture may lead. It is not that the photograph is of a beautiful woman – this does enhance the effect – but that the curves and forms of the face are refocused and exacerbated. Another exclamational example is the architectural work of Frank Stella’s “Severinda” in 1995, where a curved and protruding wall surface seems to emerge from the 2D painting where space seems opposingly flat but where the colors and figures seem to be the originators of the 3D surface it is painted on. These techniques can provide a significant tool for architects as a micro-solution to begin intervening and stirring the periphery until the core transforms on its own.
Furthermore, Mark Gage writes that beauty offers an avenue away from the “programmatic and critical narcissi” of our previous manifestations of architecture. Also, at Gage Clemenceau Architects various product designs, such as the Robotic Tulip Lamps and Bio-Prosthetics, have revealed a bio-technology culture that is emerging varied and similar, simultaneously, which is vital to the human connection to nature, the internet, and technology. Gage calls these influences into inputs of an “effervescing rebirth of beauty”. These effervescing products also connect the biological, anthropological, and cultural zeitgeist of our time that can boil into larger solutions.
As the personalization and affordability of beauty spread across the world with a crescendo, we must continue to flex between the micro and macro solutions to commercial architecture stagnation using various tools inspired by our cultural landscape and social constructs. When we begin to use our tools playfully, like a child relieving the esoteric and strict definition of architecture, we will initiate further stages of growth. Parque de Diagonal Mar by Enric Miralles is a place that catches the essence of this paragraph. The undulating shape of the landscape captures grey-water from the land and also brings it in through a giant free flowing pipe that connects water, ground, body, and sky to the context. This park gives rise to a sense of exploration, quirkiness, and fun, which should be a part of a better answer to architectural issues and human expression.
Another strong alliance in this emerging culture of beauty, mass-produced customization, and bio-technology is animation. Animation has connected form, narrative, and music in our everyday lives. Architectural Visualization and animation are commonly used in convincing clients when typical representational methods do not avail. Further exploration of animation and visualization is also useful in form finding and experimentation.
“The Resonance: appear with a trace” by Heerko Groefsema animation begins to search for the endless expressive content that we need in architecture to connect with the synthetic culture, influenced by mass production, individuality, and ephemeral states of being or expressing oneself. Furthermore, “OFFF 2011 Year Zero” by Onur Senturk shows figure, matter, and time can weave and create an intense form that is created both digital and analog and expressive like an aborigine who has discovered the power to create materials, dyes, and then record the making or expression of the matter for the first time in their tribe.
What type of signs, symbols, and indexing will be created? Something intelligent, alien, passionate, ecstatic, and spectacular, which is reminiscent of the animations previously mentioned. Many of the animations like the two above are a shape shifting, time-warping mixture of heavy and light, transparent and opaque, light and dark, viscous and runny, simultaneous simulation of elements and events. There is no evidence of permanence affecting the object, only ephemeral events which give rise to a multitude of variations and paradoxical affects. For example, in OFF 2011 when a collection of blobs come within close proximity of each other they suddenly rise and change state into a wiry metal-like element that pulsates of plasticity only on its fringes. Then, just when this element holds still and crystallizes, it tears apart like it was made of something more fibrous. This is similar to the Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, around 500 BCE, whose doctrine of the flux claims that everything flows and nothing is left unchanged. According to him permanence is an illusion of the senses. Viral videos may seem trivial to Heraclitus.
Many of the viral videos of our time are so popular and spread so quickly because they are humorous, shocking, silly, and ridiculous. Absurd is exactly what many may initially feel when reading Andreas Ruby’s “Hyper-locality: On the archaeology of the here and now.” However, further reflection reveals that there is merit, such as the Electrostatic curtain wall that collects dust and builds up as the city pollutes itself, displaying a more phenomenological critical regionalism. This criticality is investigative, creative, humorous, and full of so much opportunity and room for development that most critical theory lacks. When cross-referencing this to Peter Zumthor’s St. Benedict Chapel in Sumvitg, Switzerland, or even his Thermal Vals nearby, it seems that the Hyperlocality could play a stronger role than typical critical regionalism in America because of America’s viral culture.
The above influences are inherently multifarious and a cross-pollination of the following influential people –focusing solely on architectural professionals would create a hybrid firm with the right amount of various influences to begin experimenting with the American landscape – the tectonics of Frampton and Peter Zumthor; the environmental control of Phillipe Rahm, or better, Achim Menges; the theoretical framework of Jeffrey Kipnis; the expressive indexing of Peter Eisenman, Gage-Clemenceau, and Hernan Diaz-Alonso; and the narrative of Hejduk, allowing us to connect our constructs to culture, biology, and more expressive content.
The neo-human is approaching our generation and all the people listed above provide a connection to the neo-human but must break the barrier in commercial architecture to bridge the gap between now and then to facilitate a more interesting transition. Jeff Kipnis said in his recent visit to SCI-Arc in October 2011 that “dance, art, music, and literature have had their revolutions but not architecture,” at least not on a mass produced scale. There has been a mass-customization and experimentation of various genres of music but not architecture. Not yet, not until we ascend from the ranks and experiment with this high tech concrete jungle and engage in mass-culturization.