deferred action


In response to a reader’s request, I have posted my 1999 essay Postmodern Permutations to the site. It was good to revisit this nearly decade-old work that came at a crucial moment for me. In the essay I am still concerned first and foremost with architecture. I have not yet begun the move into my broader research emphasis on architecture’s role in urbanism or into computation and networks. But the essay is consciously framed within the context of dot-com Los Angeles. This is already after the demise of Assemblage and the exhaustion of a certain critical project in architecture, but unlike the purveyors of post-criticism (note: when is the last time that term still seemed current?), who largely formulated their project a few years later, my interest lay in complicating matters not simplifying them. 
As my project this year is to continue my work on Network Culture, looking back at that issue, I can see the importance of periodization to me already. I begin the essay by recounting my students’ bafflement at my asking them what period they live in (modern, postmodern or other). To a degree, I misread the signs, arguing that in fact we were postmodern and that stylistic postmodernism could now be dispensed with in favor of a more complex and postmodern relation between architecture and capital. Now, in a sense I was right. The post-critical obsession with capital highlights this. Read in the context of this essay, post-criticism is a last moment of postmodern culture. As readers of my network culture work know, our cultural dominant is the network. Post-criticism now seems adrift against the demands of a new culture emerging from the context of the infomatic realm. My students were already telling me that we were not postmodern and that we were in another time altogether. 
But there’s another dimension to the article.
I don’t have the capacity to incorporate the student work that accompanied the piece. For that you will have to go to the issue of Thresholds itself. But I was able to scan and OCR a small section of that text and reproduce it for you here: 
The SCI-Arc project "Sampling Linux" represented on the opposite page and throughout this article is Rocio Romero’s reaction to the impact of post-Fordist capital on design, and her propositions for other, future forms of design methodology and practice. Inspired by the Utopian possibilities inherent in late capital, Romero proposes a new model for architectural practice. This model explores forms of consumption and production on the Internet for which capital has literally become superfluous, even an impediment. If the Internet can be seen as the furthest elaboration of the Post-Fordist service economy, it can also be seen as an anticipation of a future stage of culture in which capital has withered away. This exploration led to the copyright-free Linux, an "Open Source" version of the UNIX operating system hacked together for personal computers. Linux avoids capital to an even greater extent than the academy, the former, self-proclaimed locus of resistance. Proponents of Open Source software make what they need for themselves and share it. When traditional software companies offer to produce software for Linux, they often find the only way to succeed is to make their software free. This might be the beginning of a new, even more pervasive form of capital, but it could also be the beginning of a new Utopian impulse-one in which capital, pushed to its furthest extreme, becomes pure information.
-Kazys Varnelis
Open source and networks paid off for me. And what of my student? Although she hasn’t ventured back into open source, Rocio instead developed her research with prefab. To be sure, prefab is not the same thing as open source, but nevertheless it is a much more advanced way of thinking about architecuture in that it posits object-oriented thinking over the repetitive redesigning necessitated by animation software. While I haven’t seen her in a few years, I hope to see Rocio this weekend at one of her LV Homes in the greater New York area this weekend. Rocio’s work has been featured in a lengthy piece in the New Yorker by Paul Goldberger, in Dwell, and in many other venues and she’s one of the most succesful students to ever graduate from SCI_Arc. 
It’s fascinating to see where things wind up, years later. 


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Open Source Architecture

Architecture for Humanity's Open Architecture Network is in beta and seems to be off to a flying start. Just a few days after launch hundreds of projects have been uploaded and thousands of members have registered.

This shouldn't be a surprise. Not only does AfH have a great mission, but the idea of open source architecture (the concept, not just the site) is one whose time has come.

Architects constantly re-invent and re-use, but thus far, the archaic cult of the ego leads so many otherwise intelligent young designers to the dead end of "make it new" (but without telling anyone that this phrase is Ezra Pound's), to waste their time with exotic mesh structures that remain more viable (and more interesting) in animation software than in fact.

In the meantime, Christopher Alexander's idea of design patterns—that architecture can be made up of endless combinations of existing solutions—has been taken up by software engineers who actually ARE making the world new (Ward Cunningham designed the first wiki as a repository for pattern languages).

Over a decade ago, one of my students did a thesis on Linux and Open Source architecture at SCI_Arc. Although Rocio didn't wind up pursuing open source per se, she built one of the most successful prefab practices out there and, unlike most of the blob boys, has been profiled in the New Yorker. Her success demonstrates the importance of thinking outside of the box, or rather outside of the blob, and understanding the potential of more flexible ways of thinking about deisgn.

Caught up in a self-validating discourse that is increasingly irrelevant to network culture, design in the academy is falling behind innovators like Architecture for Humanity or Rocio Romero. The Network Architecture Lab is currently working on various open source initiatives. You will be hearing more about these during the next year.

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Second Life Client is Open Source

It seems like the big news of today””?prior to whatever Steve Jobs has cooked up at the Apple keynote””?is the release of Second Life client under the GNU public license. Is this going to give virtual architecture the kick in the pants its always been looking for?

I'm not sure. On the one hand, I think that MMORPGs have tremendous potential. On the other hand, Second Life just never grabbed me whereas World of Warcraft which has virtually no persistence and no ability to create within the virtual world kept me playing to level 60. I suppose that I'm just a more goal-oriented person. But we'll see. This could be interesting.

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Network Architecture Lab Established

Why has this blog been so barren lately? Am I giving up on the Net? No! Far from it. I have, however, been a little busy lately. Now that the project is safely established, we can announce that…

AUDC Establishes Network Architecture Lab

@ Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation

Formed in 2001, AUDC [Architecture Urbanism Design Collaborative] specializes in research as a form of practice. The AUDC Network Architecture Lab is an experimental unit at Columbia University that embraces the studio and the seminar as venues for architectural analysis and speculation, exploring new forms of research through architecture, text, new media design, film production and environment design.

Specifically, the Network Architecture Lab investigates the impact of computation and communications on architecture and urbanism. What opportunities do programming, telematics, and new media offer architecture? How does the network city affect the building? Who is the subject and what is the object in a world of networked things and spaces? How do transformations in communications reflect and affect the broader socioeconomic milieu? The NetLab seeks to both document this emergent condition and to produce new sites of practice and innovative working methods for architecture in the twenty-first century. Using new media technologies, the lab aims to develop new interfaces to both physical and virtual space.

The NetLab is consciously understood as an interdisciplinary unit, establishing collaborative relationships with other centers both at Columbia and at other institutions.

The NetLab begins operations in September 2006.

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Networked Publics Book Draft On-Line

As a culmination to the Networked Publics program, the faculty research group that I have been working at for the last year, we will be publishing a collaboratively written group book with the MIT Press. Three of drafts of our essays are finished (on place, culture, and politics) and available online at the Networked Publics site.

Throughout the Networked Publics program, we have tried to employ collaborative scholarship whereever possible and effective. Readers, colleagues, and friends are invited to to contribute by posting comments at the end of each essay (note that easier to read versions of the essays can be also be downloaded from the appropriate pages). Our hope is to take the comments that we receive and append them to the essay in a virtual symposium to follow each chapter.

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Of Google and Prefab Housing

In case you haven’t seen it, Rocio Romero’s LV Home is worth a look. Rocio was my thesis student in 1998-1999 (with Tom Buresh) and did a thesis on a headquarters (or meshquarters as she called it) for Linux, creating an argument for the use of Open Source in architecture along the way. Even if LV Home isn’t quite Open Source, it’s great to see her continuing her research along those lines.

Regrettably, so many architects seem caught in the trap that if they don’t create an aura through the unique (but with so many post-90s firms creating identical looking products, all topographical curves and squiggles, what is unique anymore?), they won’t get any business. Rocio, who is becoming much more succesful than many of these all-alike pseudo-avant-garde firms, is proving otherwise.

Speaking of prefab. It seems like Google has some ideas of their own.

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