Reconsidering the Architecture of Network Culture

During Monday’s Network Culture class, we are dealing with freedom and control. Much of this class is going to revolve around Deleuze’s essay on control societies and I’ve been pondering something. Maybe I’ve been dead wrong about the lack of significant new architecture in this decade.

Maybe the interminable pursuit of smooth form, which has occupied so much of architecture’s interest during this decade, as well as the interest in autonomous form, produced seemingly without human intervention IS significant.

Maybe my mistake is in thinking of it as "good." Good to me, seems somehow progressive, offering spaces that might resist the space of flows, offering new ways of thinking outside of it or even redirecting it. 

Maybe the problem is that I’ve just misunderstood the point. My thesis: be it an architecture of icon or performance, in its shift to the post-critical, the field has become the handmaiden of Empire? Thus, my problem is one of misrecognition: that I should not expect architecture to advance anything new, but rather only embody the space of Empire. The smoothness of contemporary architectural form, alternatively the product of cynical reason or naïvité, is significant, in that it draws the coils of the serpent ever tighter around us.  

Frankly, I hope to promote even more vehement disagreement than my post asking where the good architecture is. And granted, there are architects who seem to have no interest in smooth form. Let’s excuse them for a minute, but let’s take the globe-trotting proponents of smoothness, the architectural ¥€$ men of our age. So the question that I’m going to pose to my students is: what about this work? How can it be explained except as an affirmation of Empire, as the aesthetic infrastructure of the society of control? Is that the significance of contemporary architecture?

 

During Monday’s Network Culture class, we are dealing with freedom and control. Much of this class is going to revolve around Deleuze’s essay on control societies and I’ve been pondering something. Maybe I’ve been dead wrong about the lack of significant new architecture in this decade.

Maybe the interminable pursuit of smooth form, which has occupied so much of architecture’s interest during this decade, as well as the interest in autonomous form, produced seemingly without human intervention IS significant.

Maybe my mistake is in thinking of it as "good." Good to me, seems somehow progressive, offering spaces that might resist the space of flows, offering new ways of thinking outside of it or even redirecting it. 

Maybe the problem is that I’ve just misunderstood the point. My thesis: be it an architecture of icon or performance, in its shift to the post-critical, the field has become the handmaiden of Empire? Thus, my problem is one of misrecognition: that I should not expect architecture to advance anything new, but rather only embody the space of Empire. The smoothness of contemporary architectural form, alternatively the product of cynical reason or naïvité, is significant, in that it draws the coils of the serpent ever tighter around us.  

Frankly, I hope to promote even more vehement disagreement than my post asking where the good architecture is. And granted, there are architects who seem to have no interest in smooth form. Let’s excuse them for a minute, but let’s take the globe-trotting proponents of smoothness, the architectural ¥€$ men of our age. So the question that I’m going to pose to my students is: what about this work? How can it be explained except as an affirmation of Empire, as the aesthetic infrastructure of the society of control? Is that the significance of contemporary architecture?

 

4 thoughts on “Reconsidering the Architecture of Network Culture

  1. Wind Tunnels and Details
    Excellent re-framing of your question. I am reminded of a lecture from a couple of months ago where Hani Rashid presented a series of exhibition design maquettes and compared his approach to that of scientists working in a wind tunnel. Form-making, he argued, was not unlike the process of chiseling out aerodynamic shapes. Within the confines of a hermetically-sealed space, an architect, much like an aerospace engineer, can dream up a panoply of forms without any regard to what happens outside the tunnel. Here, the architect is in total control of the process. He or she manipulates all variables in service of form.

    This metaphor notwithstanding, Rashid’s refusal to engage with what happens outside the tunnel is very troubling. For example, no one seemed to blink at the fact that the balance of his presentation revolved around Asymptote’s work in Abu Dhabi. It’s not that this type of client represents a certain idea of immeasurable wealth — it’s the fact that form-making is once again implicated in statecraft.

    I wonder if we need to look beyond form and consider other evidence of Empire. I am thinking specifically of Reinhold Martin’s presentation at the Philip Johnson symposium in 2006. Johnson-Burgee’s mullion details became an emblem for architecture’s forever-troubling relationship with what Alfred Chandler famously refereed to the “Visible Hand” of American business.

  2. Just to be clear
    So are you suggesting that the real issue wasn’t that there was not significant architecture but that your previous question was incorrectly stated?
    You incorrectly conflated significant with good and therefore believed that there was no significant architecture.
    No you realize in fact that the very condition of architecture in the last (at least) half century was in fact significant but just not good?

    Based on however you define that term.

    If so i wouldn’t disagree with you.

    1. Yes, but not the last half

      Yes, but not the last half century. The last decade, sure. On the other hand, I suppose that I will agree that there hasn’t been a single architect to hold a candle to Mies, there’s no question in my mind of that.  

  3. Good = progressive?
    Good = progressive? The history of the relationship between
    architecture and power is arguably richer than that of the
    relationship between architecture and resistance, much as we
    might wish it to be otherwise. If you only consider good
    architecture significant, you’re eliminating a lot.

    Empire was, strictly speaking, a vision of globalization that
    never really quite happened. Recall that the book came out in
    2000–before Bush demonstrated just how much influence a single
    state could still exercise and the tech collapse put a stop to
    the New Economy. Networks of capital may now be pervasive enough
    to have caused the global spread the current economic crisis, but
    the response–nationalizing banks, instituting protectionist
    economic policies–pulls back. The last eight years have shown
    that nations, for better or worse, can still challenge Empire. As
    much as the success (such as it is) of UAE, China, etc is
    evidence of Empire, the architectural expressions of that success
    are, as Enrique points out, frequently statecraft (which was
    supposed to be a pre-Empire sort of activity).

    The formal techniques associated with ‘smoothness’ (emergent
    phenomena, self-organizing systems, cellular automata,
    algorithmic design) have roots in the 90s, when they were
    evocative of network technology and the new social order that
    would accompany it. With that vision of digitally-enabled utopia
    now seeming naive at best, these aesthetics are made to sound
    like wind-tunnel experiments, disconnected from reality, to
    distract us from the failure of the culture they were supposed to
    embody to materialize (and the appearance of luxury retailers and
    Middle Eastern oil funds in their stead). In architecture maybe
    the bubble still hasn’t burst, if Enrique’s report is any
    indication.

    One question that’s nagging me now: what’s the relationship
    between Network Culture and Empire?