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April 19, 2008

Reading 19 "Technopoly" by Neil Postman

KEY WORDS


1. Skepticism


"If one is to err, it is better to err on the side of Thamusian skepticism," writes Postman on page 5. What he is essentially asserting is his belief that "a dissenting voice is sometimes needed to moderate the din made by the enthusiastic multitudes." (5) Postman sees in our rapidly changing, technology-embracing world today, there are far too many 'Technophiles,' or advocates of technology who can only see what technology can positively do and not what it will undo. Therefore, a healthy level of skepticism is necessary, according to Postman, to avoid negative effects technology will have on our existing social fabric. He illustrates this point by quoting Sigmund Freud, who first discusses the postive aspects of the railroad on commerce, transporation, and communication, and then discusses the negatives of the railroad causing children to disperse from their hometowns and the separation of loved ones. "The benefits and deficits of a new technology are not distrubuted equally. There are, as it were, winners and losers," he writes on page 9, suggesting such skepticism before the embrace of a new technology.


2. Competition


"New technologies compete with old ones--for time, for attention, for money, for prestige, but mostly for dominance of their world-view," writes postman on page 16. Technology, he further asserts, is "neither additive nor subtractive" (18) but ecological in the sense that one significant change generates total change. New technology often cannot coexist with old technology, as the world of technology is an evolutionary Darwinist world of survival of the fittest; a competition for prominence. The losers in this competiton become obsolete and are replaced in the ecological environment of our technological world. "New technologies alter the structure of our interests: the things we think about. They alter the character of our symbols: the things we think with. And they alter the nature of community: the arena in which thoughts develop." (20)


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS


1. According to the views of Postman, technologies are neither additive nor subtractive, but bring about total change. Have new technologies in architecture, such as CAD and 3-D printers, brought about this "total change" in the architectural arena, as Postman's theories would suggest?


2. "In any case, theological assumptions served as a controlling ideology, and whatever tools were invented had, ultimately, to fit within that ideology," explains Postman of the Middle Ages. Could we replace "theological assumptions" with an equivalent in architecture; something which serves as a controlling ideology that forces tools architects adopt for use to fit into it?

March 29, 2008

Reading 18 "Mathematics and Creativity" by Alfred Adler

KEY WORDS


1. purity


"Mathematics is pure language--the language of science...unique among languages in its ability to provide precise expression for every thought or concept that can be formulated in its terms," writes Adler on the article's first page. He goes on to compare it to the game of chess, in which there is no room for subjective criticism regarding the genius of the player. In a mathematical problem, there exists just one solution and an infinite number of wrong answers.


2. creativity


The mathematical language, according to Adler, "is continually being altered to fit new results, to simplify new techniques." The spoken languages do not allow for the bending of words to denote refinement of their old images. Rather, human thought is bent by the accumulated meanings of words. Mathematics is not held bound by this constraint. Thus, mathematics is creative in nature. Mathematicians are always using their creativity in discovering new techniques and hypothesizing new possibilities; mathematics is always in a state of creative evolutionary flux. "The essential feature of mathematical creativity is the exploration, under the pressure of powerful implosive forces, or difficult problems for whose validity and importance the explorer is eventually held bound by. The reality is the physical world." Thus, like other creative areas of study, including architecture, mathematics allows a great deal of speculative freedom. But at the same time it must be relevant to physical reality.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS


1. "What is more, mathematics generates a momentum, so that any significant result points automatically to another new result, or perhaps to two or three other new results," writes Adler in his concluding paragraph. Does architecture--a field of study akin to mathematics in many ways--also generate such a momentum? What exists that is evidence of such in the built environment?


2. Adler asserts that in mathematical creation, "an assertion, together with a proof" is required. Therefore, to state that the average speed at which an object travels is equal to its displacement divided by the time it takes to travel from point A to point B, a mathematician must prove it with a numerical formula. Does this translate also to architectural design? If so, does it apply in the same way? (Can we, in architecture, prove a design theory in such a simple quantitative way as mathematicians do with their formulas?)

March 24, 2008

Reading 17 "Nature's Numbers" by Ian Stewart

KEY WORDS


order, universals, accidentals


"We live in a universe of patterns," writes Stewart. This universe of patterns, explains Stewart over the course of the reading, is not in place to simply be admired, but to give "vital clues to the rules that govern natural processes." Everything in nature is ordered in some cohesive pattern or arrangement. Some patterns observed in nature are universals that actually mean something of significance. Stewart exemplifies Kepler's discovery of a "very strange pattern relating the orbital period of a planet--the time it takes to go around the Sun--to its distance from the Sun." He also points to the fact that numerological observations of universal patterns were key in Isaac Newton's theory of gravitation. Numerological pattern study doesn't always result in the discovery of scientifically-significant universals, however. "The difficulty lies in distinguishing significant numerical patterns from accidental ones," writes Stewart on page 4. He points to some of Kepler's other pattern studies that resulted in the discovery of accidental patterns which scientifically mean nothing, such as his devising of a "simple and tidy theory for the existence of precisely six planets in our solar system," which was later discovered to be completley untrue.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS


1. How can the observation of patterns in nature--from the most obvious to those existing in the microscopic world--inform architecture in its modern-day quest to design efficiently and environmentally-friendly?


2. "Mathematics is to nature as Sherlock Holmes is to evidence," writes Stewart on page 2. Would it also make sense to say that "Nature is to architecture as mathematics is to nature?" according to Stewart's theories?

March 9, 2008

Reading 15 "Search for Form" by Eliel Saarinen

KEY WORDS:


FORM


Form possesses a functional quality as well as a spiritual function. "Form, then, is not mute. Far from so, for form conveys its inner meaning with finer vibration and deeper expression than can the spoken tongue," writes Saarinen on page 17. Art of man and nature have both gone through a similar evolution of the creation of form: the subsconsious, conscious, and self-conscious stages. Primitive man created original, genuine form out of necessity during the subconscious stage of creation. During the conscious stage, man created original form not out of necessity, but out of curiosity. It is the present state of creation, the self-conscious stage, that sees litlte to no geniuine form created. Man has become civilized and thus dependent upon aesthetic speculation, dogmatic doctrines, and a desire to imitate rather than create.


NATURE


The origin of all form is nature. "It is inconceivable that a truly complete understanding of form can be had unless one goes to those primeval sources where the concept of form was born," writes Saarinen on page 18. Saarinen discusses how, at the beginning of man's existence, he was close to nature. Thus, his forms were genuine manifestations of nature. "Having lost his spiritual communication with nature, man became gradually blind to nature's laws." (page 19) Man reacts to the creative actions of nature. Art of nature, argues Saarinen, is synonymous with art of man, taking its beauty in the same colors, textures, movement, flavor, and sound. Thus, the forms of man are reactions to the forms of nature. He speaks of architecture, on page 47, as being naturally-originating forms that are for man's protection and accommodation.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:


1. "Art is like the plant," writes Saarinen in the preamble. "The characteristics of its (the plant's) form lie concealed in the potential power of the seed. The soil gives it strength to grow. And outer influences decide its shape in the environment." What does this metaphor tell us about how architects and designers in general are to create forms?


2. On page 11, Saarinen begs the question, "is art soulless; or does it have a soul?" He further points out that the answer is obvious, but points out the fact that today "there exists an abundance of forms that are desitute of meaning and yet are regarded as forms of art." Do you agree with his harsh assessment of the modern design scene? Is today's artistic creation "soulless?"

March 2, 2008

Reading 14 "Geometry and the Primacy of Dwelling" by Norman Crowe

KEY WORDS:


1. domicile


According to Crowe, man created the domicile, or dwelling, in order to "fix certain characterisitics among the ever-changing aspects of the natural world and thereby provide a predictable environment." It has certain characteristics of the natural environment, however, because it arose as a paradigmatic creation of it. Crowe outlines how the man-made built environment imitates the paradigmatic creation of the gods and "personalizes" it. The most complex architecture man has ever conceived of, however, arose from the simple domicile; from the first simple home built, in a sort of Laugier "primitive hut" fashion.


2. paradigm


Architecture and the built environment can be traced back to the first simple structures constructed by man in his attempt to imitate nature, and even further to the first geometric forms arising from nature. The first simple architectural structures constructed by man were very close to the natural world. Over time, our dwellings have distanced themselves from the natural paradigmatic roots of our physical world.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:


1. Crowe notes that architect Louis I. Kahn once pointed out that "architecture cannot be reinvented; it must evolve so that...When the work is completed, the beginning must be felt." (page 63) What does this tell us about the roots of architecture and the nature of the built environment?


2. Crowe explores the nature of the "house" on pages 41-42. He cites Gaston Bachelard in proclaiming that "the house is the human being's first world." (41) Crowe goes on to illustrate how the "house" model has shaped all subsequent architecture (the courthouse, the houses of parliament, etc...) In illustrating such, is Crowe advocating a purity in architectural form similar to that advocated by Laugier and the architectural purists of the Greek revival camp of the 17th and 18th Centuries?

Reading 13 "Nature and the Idea of a Man-Made World" by Norman Crowe

KEY WORDS:


1. nature


"Ultimately our understanding of nature configures the way we approach both the environment that we create and the environment in which our creations reside," writes Crowe on page 7. He goes on to say that, "The man-made world is an alternative nature, so to speak, created by artifice and born as a human reflection of the wonder we find in the natural world--the heavens, the seasons, the landscapes and seascapes, plants and animals." Thus, Crowe argues that architecture--the built environment--is the human creation sparked by man's interaction with the natural. Man has been the creator of his own place in nature, his own version of the natural world.


2. balance


Crowe makes the firm argument that, "Each of us, whether we recognize it or not, acts upon a foundation of some concept of nature." Because of this inevitability, we all strive for the ideal balance between the built world and nature. In looking at two extremes--one in which man dominates nature, the other in which nature dominates man--anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss is noted to have concluded that his image of the ideal balance between nature and the built environment existed in his native France "where, in a predominantly agricultural district, towns were dense and compact, taking up as little of the land as they might, yet within them were healthy human communities living in close harmony." (page 9) This balance is found by each person individually, however, notes Crowe. Each person's idea of this harmony is shaped both by direct life experience and by culturally inculcated values.


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:


1. Much in the tradition of the Gothic Revival backlash to the mechanized architecture of the Industrial Revolution, Crowe speaks of the value of craft that is common in all architecture that seeks to possess ideal harmony; that ideal balance between nature and the built environment. Do you view modern architecture, in general, as actively seeking this balance between nature, or rejecting its importance? If it is neglecting this balance that Crowe advocates, how can the profession take steps to seek this ideal harmony?


2. "It is ironic that while science has shown us that we are at best minor actors in the broader natural order, our actions lead us in the opposite direction," writes Crowe on page 22. Which of the actions of mankind have led us in the "opposite direction"?

February 23, 2008

Reading 10 "Mr. Palomar On the Beach" by Italo Calvino

Key Words:


1.Simplification


The key to reducing the world's complexity could be reducing it to its "simplest mechanism," writes Calvino on page 6. When Mr. Palomar struggles to examine a single wave because of its complexity, he narrows the boundaries and breaks the general pattern down into sections that rise and vanish. In doing so, he gets a much more clarified set of images of that individual wave than the single blurred image he was previously receiving.


2. Repression


Calvino demonstrates the fact that many pleasing sensory images are repressed in a "reactionary" attempt to conform to the conventions of society. This is exemplified in Calvino's story of Mr. Palomar passing a woman's naked bosom on the beach. He first sucumbs to societal convention by looking in the opposite direction. He later passes again and finds his first behavior to be unacceptable in that it was too obviously an action of conformity, this time looking straight ahead as if the bosom is part of the landscape. But Mr. Palomar finally passes by again, this time obviously staring at the woman because he has realized his previous two instances of denial of aesthetically pleasing images. The woman is disgusted, demonstrating the limitations that society places on many natural human sensory experiences.


3. Perception


Sensory images are often belonging solely to the beholder of them. "All this is happening not on the sea, not in the sun," thinks Palomar while swimming over a ray of sunlight on the sea, "but inside my head, in the circuits between eyes and brain. I am swimming in my mind; this sword of light exists only there." For centuries, the sun's rays rested on the water before there were eyes capable of perceiving them.


Discussion Questions:


1. "If no eye except the glossy eye of the dead were to open again on the surface of the terraquerous globe, the sword would not gleam anymore," thinks Palomar in Calvino's story of the man's experience with the sword of the sun. Physicists would disagree strongly with this assessment, arguing that the sword of the sun would still exist on a physical level, completely disregarding the human perception of it. Why do design thinkers think more like Mr. Palomar and less like scientists?


2. Mr. Palomar has great difficulty isolating his concentration to one single wave. Why is simplification of our sensory messages important for designers? On the opposite token, why is seeing the big picture equally essential?

Reading 9 "The Image" by Kenneth E. Boulding

Key Words:

1. Image


It is images, rather than knowledge (which implies validity and truth) which governs human behavior, according to Boulding. Images are comprised of sensory messages received by nature or in communication with other human beings. They are not factual, but arbitrary. The image is built up as a result of all unique past experiences of the possessor of the image.


2. Message

Messages are, according to Boulding, information as structured sensory experiences. The meaning of a message is the change which it produces in the image. A message received by the human senses may not affect one's image of the world at all. In fact, most messages "shoot straight through," so to speak. They go in one ear and out the other. Boulding speaks of the construction noise outside his window as he is writing this essay as examples of various messages that are not affecting his image of the world at all. Some messages, on the other hand, do in fact change one's image of the world. They occassionally add to one's image of the world; not refuting or drastically changing it. Others support our existing image of the world, making it more clear. Sometimes, messages refute or disprove our image of the world, changing it in a profound way. This happens infrequently, however.


Discussion Questions:


1. Boulding deductively makes the argument that since all human beings are exposed to roughly the same image of the world, each of us influenced by similar messages, then the value system of all individuals must be approximately the same. Is this argument accurate or are people actually possessing of very unique images of the same world?


2. It is asserted by Boulding that most sensory messages go in one ear and out the other, so to speak. Are many of these largely ignored sensory messages actually processed and taken in by design thinkers at a much greater level than non-design thinkers?

February 10, 2008

Reading 8 "1000 words for design students" by Allan Chochinov

KEY WORDS:
There are many of them for this reading, but the two that stand out the most to me personally are...
inspiration, perspiration

To be a successful designer, argues Chochinov in a rather creative and concise way, you must commit yourself to your studies and your work. "It's not exciting and it's not revelatory, but it really does turn out that the students who work the hardest and commit themselves the fullest end up with the best stuff," writes Chochinov. He encourages students to get the biggest bang for their bucks by utilizing all tools the school has to offer; coming early and staying after class, doing their homework, working on their presentation skills, and documenting all of their work photographically. Collaborating with other students and teachers is also strongly recommended. Chochinov also emphasizes broadening one's knowledge of the workings of the world. To do so, he suggests regularly reading the newspaper and auditing a non-design class for noncredit, which expands your general knowledge of other subject areas without the pressure of grades. He also, interestingly, points out the fact that students should be clear about what they want and need from their teachers, who are actually there because of the students; not the other way around.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1) Chochinov recommends that design students "get off campus," connecting with communities of people who are doing design for a living and a life. How would seeking out an internship or apprenticeship while in school benefit a design student's education in a way that the traditional design school cannot?

2) The importance of presentation skills (public speaking and writing) is illustrated by Chochinov, who argues that no matter how good a designer you are, without a certain level of presentation skills, nobody will ever know. Despite his assertion, there are many (including Dr. Tom Fisher, in his guest lecture) who feel that good design speaks for itself, without the need for written or spoken explanation. Do you agree or disagree with Chochinov's extreme emphasis on presentation skills?

Reading 7 "The Profession and Discipline of Architecture: Practice and Education" by Stanford Anderson

KEY WORDS:
profession, discipline

In his essay, Stanford Anderson examines how architecture as a discipline and architecture as a profession intersect and create the field as a whole. By "discipline," Anderson means a collective body of knowledge that is unique to architecture that is not delimited in time or space. In order to distinguish between the realms of the architecture, he suggests thinking of it as a diagram in which the profession of architecture extends horizontally and is vertically intersected by the discipline of architecture. "Thus the two realms of activity intersect; they are partially but not wholly coincident," writes Anderson. Professional practice, he notes, is primarily concerned with fulfilling commissions to the highest standards; in other words, operating the most successful business. Academic discipline, on the other hand, is projective (highly imaginitive, historical, and creative). The problem, Anderson argues, is that numerous conditions and activities in academic practice and discipline are increasingly moving apart from one another, no longer intersecting at as many points on the diagram. Aspects of architectural tradition survive in discipline but are neglected by practice. By the same token, activities and conditions necessary to the operation of successful professional practice are nowhere to be seen in architectural discipline. "Thus, from the point of view of the profession, we see an appropriate inclusion of concerns that are not intrinsically those of architecture while certain forms of architectural knowledge are strategically excluded," writes Anderson. From a disciplinary standpoint, Anderson states that much of the elements of architectural practice does not result from the unique knowledge pool of architectural discipline. In defining and then discussing the distinct realms of architectural discipline and profession, Anderson is arguing that the intersection of profession and discipline should not be emphasized to the extend of undermining the synthetic activities of the profession that must reach outside the discipline, or, on the other hand, honoring the discipline only if it is of immediate applicability to the practice of architecture. The two must coexist peacefully, in respect for one another's basic principles.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1) Anderson sees discipline as "that which fosters participation in the field by nonprofessionals," such as preservationists, historians, engineers, builders, advocacy groups, and citizens. How important is the contribution of nonprofessionals to the future of architectural discipline (defined as "a collective body of knowledge that is unique to architecture that is not delimited in time or space") and, consequently its effects on professional practice?

2) Anderson cites Julia Robinson's different understanding of "discipline" that "The field of architecture is in the process of evolving from what has been a practice, informed by other disciplines, into a discipline with its own body of knowledge." Do you agree with Robinson's assessment that the field of architecture is naturally becoming more self-sufficient, or do you find that it is becoming more dependent upon other fields?

February 7, 2008

Reading 6 "The Redesign of Practice" by Thomas R. Fisher

KEY WORDS:

expand, reconnect

Tom Fisher's writings make me proud to say that he is the dean of my college! Seriously, his forward-looking analytical breakdown of architecture gives me confidence in the kind of progressive design education I am receiving at the U of M. In "The Redesign of Practice," Fisher comments on the necessity for architects to redesign the practice of architecture---drastically. In fact, he goes so far as to say that architectural practice is a vital design problem facing every firm. Architectural practice has seen a reduction in control, especially over front-end decision making (budgets, schedules, site planning, etc...) and subsequently a reduction in value (i.e. smaller profits, less demand, etc...). Fisher argues that architects need to expand their range of services beyond the traditional/conventional, to redefine the geography of practice to an international scale, and to become more efficient in time management. In addition, he points to the need for architectural education and practice to reconnect. Expanding work-study programs, putting students in real-world practice situations during the academic years is necessary, in Fisher's mind.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1) Fisher notes that one solution to the architecture profession's current dilemma is to expand the profession's traditional boundaries, expanding the discipline itself. How has the profession expanded beyond traditional boundaries? How should the profession expand in ways that it is yet to?

2) Fisher comments on the fact that many firms have redesigned themselves by expanding offered services to include such things as strategic planning, facility analysis, and real estate development. To me, this could pose the threat of "perverting" the purity of a firm's prime focus of creative design. Does this expansion of services distract from a firm's central focus and lessen its value or does it enhance its value by creating multiple foci?

Reading 5 "Design in a World of Flows" by Thomas R. Fisher

KEYWORDS:

flow, evolution

In this powerful piece, Fisher seems to be addressing a sort of state of the profession address about architecture's past, present, and future and its current state of evolution. Along with virtually every other profession, he claims, architectural practice is being forced to evolve with our changing world. As our socioeconomic world is becoming more and more like the natural world, architecture must adapt to the evolving, uncertain, experimental world in which we now live. The world is no longer mechanistic, but one of flows which knows no boundaries. Conventions are being overturned with every passing day. Today's technology revolution is compared by Fisher as being similar to the Industrial Revolution. That's one radically changing world we're living in! Those who adapt to this changing world will be rewarded, but those who don't will eventually fail under the weight of progression. In such an uncharted territory as our changing world is, architects must engage in a primitive sort of survival-of-the-fittest battle with other professionals, such as enginners, planners, and contractors, who are trying to "invade" on their territory. But Fisher points out that this new era won't be detrimental for the future of design, but rather supportive of a broader application of design thinking. "In a world with little respect for traditional structures, almost everything--from the operation of a company to the organization of a community to the order of our physical environment--can be approached as a design problem," writes Fisher. The health of design's future depends, though, warns Fisher, upon the ability of designers to "become counselors to clients" and become more expansive in the teams put together to solve clients problems by working collaboratively with other professions.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1) How has architecture responded recently to the new society of flow that Fisher speaks of?

2) Fisher discusses the importance of designers' collaboration with other professions. Which professions do or should architects collaborate with? How does such collaboration contribute to better design?

Reading 4 "Is Design Political?" by Jennie Winhall


KEYWORDS:

activism, ideology

Design, like politics, is an attempt to challenge the status quo and improve the quality of life for ordinary people. Architecture is no exception. Buildings are designed to serve a specific purpose or set of purposes, with a clear program or set of programs in mind. A building's designer can oppress, liberate, seclude, expose, horrify, or glorify a person. Elements of authoritarian propaganda (Nazi or Soviet buildings, insignias, banners, clothing, etc...) were designed to intimidate and oppress. Churches are designed to welcome and invite. Many newer homes and offices are designed to be environmentally friendly. Like the design of a political program, or platform, design impacts the lives of people. Thus, designers are activists who work to shape society in a certain way. Ideology has been applied through design just as it has through politics. I think Winhall sums it up nicely in saying, "Design is not a neutral value-free process."

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1) Winhall claims that with new ideology comes new design. What are some recent societal ideological shifts that have prompted new design?

2) Winhall leaves it up to debate: Are designers responsible for the consequences of their designs?

Reading 3 "Genius Loci" by Christian Norberg-Schulz

Key Words:

ORIENTATION, IDENTIFICATION

There exist two independent but mutually dependent aspects of human being’s
ability to truly dwell in a place: ORIENTATION and IDENTIFICATION. When a
person dwells in a place, he/she is simultaneously located in space and
exposed to a certain “environmental character,? asserts Norberg-Schulz.
Orientation refers to the requirement in a place for spatial structure and
organization. “The world may be organized around a set of focal points, or
be broken into named regions,? he writes. Man must have a sense of security
in understanding how a place is organized in order to truly dwell in a
particular place and not be lost. It is the familiarity with the nouns
defining a place. Identification refers to “becoming ‘friends’ with a
particular environmental character." The objects of identification are
concrete environmental properties, developed typically during childhood. It
is the familiarity with adjectives definitive of a place. Essentially, it
is the possession of a feeling of belonging in a particular place.

Discussion Questions:

1)Norberg-Schulz asserts on page 23 that “The basic act of architecture is
therefore to understand the ‘vocation’ of the place.? What does this mean
for us as students of architecture, and how has this basic act been central
to the profession historically?

2)Norberg-Schulz claims that architecture has to a high extent lost contact
with the concrete life world, neglecting the unique character of a place in
favor of the creation of character motifs that transpose characters from
one place to another. (page 15) Do you agree with his analysis? Are there
examples of this neglect in modern architecture?