Scape – Part 1

 

Some Implications of Scape

By James Quinton

.pdf here: Scape

Our ultimate gratitude to art.— If we had not welcomed the arts and invented this kind of cult of the untrue, then the realization of general untruth and mendaciousness that now comes to us through science—the realization that delusion and error are conditions of human knowledge and sensation—would be utterly unbearable. Honesty would lead to nausea and suicide. But now there is a counterforce against our honesty that helps us to avoid such consequences: art as the good will to appearance. We do not always keep our eyes from rounding off something and, as it were, finishing the poem: and then it is no longer eternal imperfection that we carry across the river of becoming—then we have the sense of carrying a goddess, and feel proud and childlike as we perform this service.1 Nietzsche, The Gay Science.

 

 

 

Architecture, it is said, is the craft of weaving science and art into built masterpieces.2 Â On the artistic side: aesthetics, representation, symbolism and cultural enrichment. Science: functionality, structural integrity, technical innovation and strong building practise. Conceptual appropriation of science and art by architects, (via the social sciences and philosophy) influence and alter the outcomes of architecture.3 Modernism sought rationality through its belief in the infallibility of science. If, through rationality, society could not be improved, belief in the progress and accomplishment of the scientific method further motivated the modernists to keep trying. Post-modernism rejects the call for the improvement of society through science and rationality; claiming it will merely lead to tyranny.4Perhaps prophetically, Nietzsche foreshadowed the post-modernist claim for reticence toward science. Art continues to move us, because it makes no claims against its fictional disposition. In a post-modern, globalised milieu, science, due to its fallible nature, is incorporated into notions of art.

 

Globalisation, a late twentieth century phenomenon, is a term used to denote the mass proliferation of information, commodities and images across borders, regardless of cultural and racial differences.5Employing the mechanics of the free market economy, the movement of global capital is inhibited only by infrastructural technologies that determine the speed of the goods delivery. The movement of people across the planet are also determined by those infrastructures. Sassen attempts to rarefy globalisation in terms of strategic sites: the places (non-virtual/virtual) where process and links materialise.6 Infrastructural technologies, often invisible, network and link everything. “Nothing escapes the panoptic reach of the new information system that oversees the emergent simultaneity of global cause and effect”7 writes Enwezor.

 

Globalisation, in its early conception, polarised observers.8There were those who believed that globalisation would lead to cultural/architectural homogenisation and gentrification. Others argued that globalisation would have positive effects by way of highlighting differences in local knowledge and sensibilities. There appears to be consensus amongst architectural discourse that globalisation has created the latter. Lootsma, quoting Polo, claims that “we witness an artificial regionalisation, an artificially enhanced nature, where the local flavour becomes synthetic.”9 Given its synthetic nature, identity is solidified, not corroded, by the proliferation of goods and services from certain local cultures.

 

The consequences of globalisation on architecture, landscape and infrastructure are the focus of this discussion. It should be clarified that globalisation maintains an internal set of cause and effect whilst also influencing processes outside of its metaphysical, dynamic self. An example of this difference is the baking of bread in Northern Africa for export to Europe and the resultant shut-down of European bakeries. An external consequence of globalisation is the manifestation of urbanization, a cities attempt to modernise, currently most prevalent in
Asia.

 

Urbanization records the dynamic dispersal and centralisation of people to and from urban centres. Urbanism, an alternative term for town planning, attempts to deal with issues of density and movement (through infrastructure) for populations in detailed relation to their territory. Koolhaas’ polemic: Whatever Happened To Urbanism? laments the demise of urbanism, which might have redirected people away from cities that have grown into metropolises, and in some cases megalopolises. Koolhaas argues, urbanism killed itself by belatedly rediscovering the virtues of the classical city as a model for metropolises10; a kind of grand-scale critical regionalism. Modernist architects, with their insistence on progress, could not accept the notion of returning to an older format for contemporary cities. The role of creating cities was left to modern architects to the exclusion of the expertise of urbanism.

 

Having severed off the expertise of urbanism, the modern architect was then found stranded in the wake of post-modernism. Postmodernism had constructed a theoretical basis for dealing with disunity that modernism had created.11 Modernism failed “to transform quantity into quality through abstraction and repetition…all attempts to make a new beginning have only discredited the idea of a new beginning.”12 Utopianism is flawed.13 Only individuals, not entire societies, it seems, can be rational on their own terms. 14 Bigness, simultaneously grafting ‘frozen music’, stifled the traditional notion of the People’s Architecture.15 The Corbusian megastructure supported urbanization whilst simultaneously killing urbanisms efforts. Bigness, whilst ignoring context, is “a kind of all embracing, all enabling technical support that ultimately questioned the status of the individual building.”16 Massive, continuous structures were possible through air-conditioning. The structures are so large they take on a logic and system of their own. The result is evident in Koolhaas’ most scathing polemic: Junkspace:

 

If space-junk is the human debris that litters the universe, Junkspace is the residue mankind leaves on the planet. The built product of modernization is not modern-architecture but Junkspace. Junkspace is what remains after modernization has run its course or, more precisely, what coagulates while modernization is in progress, its fallout. Modernization had a rational program: to share the blessings of science, universally.17

 

We witness the failings of modernization to pre-empt the technological breakthroughs that have enabled globalisation: a process that potentially avoids ‘Junkspace’. With technology, (informational) infrastructures can avoid the process of urbanisation, because people no longer need to work next to one another, shopping can be done over the internet, goods are held in strategically placed storehouses around the world, not in a single location. What are left are these large, empty, continuous buildings. Nevertheless, these large megastructures give rise to a new sensibility in regards to the landscape. Metaphorically speaking, these buildings become landscapes.

Bigness Taken to the extreme by Stuperstudio

 


 

Bigness, taken to the extreme by Superstudio18

 

Footnotes

1 Nietzsche, F,. 1974. The Gay Science, Vintage Books, New York. §107. See also http://www.geocities.com/thenietzschechannel/diefrohl7c.htm

2 Curl, J, S,. 1999. Dictionary of Architecture, Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 32.

 

3 Ellin, N,. 1996. Post-Modern Urbanism, Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp. 133-135.

 

4 Bullock, A, and Trombley, S,. eds. 2000. The New FontanaDictionary of Modern Thought, Harper Collins Publishers, London. p. 540

5 Ibib, p. 367

6 Sassen, S,. in Davidson, C, ed. 1996. Anywise, MIT Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, London. p. 128.

7 Enwezor, O,. 2003. What Is OMA Considering Rem Koolhaas and the Office of Metropolitan Architecture, NAi Publishers, Rotterdam. p. 108

8 Lootsma, B,. in Corner, J,. ed. 1999. Recovering Landscape: Essays in Contemporary Landscape Architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, New York. p.268.

9 Ibid, p.269.

10 Koolhaas, R,. and Mau, B,. 1998. SMLXL, Monacelli Press, New York. p. 963

11 Ellin, N,. 1996. Post-Modern Urbanism, Blackwell Publishers, Cambridge, Massachusetts. pp. 117.

12 Koolhaas, 1998, 961

13 Inherently on the horizon, utopia remains at a constant distance.

14 Bullock, A, and Trombley, S,. eds. 2000. The New FontanaDictionary of Modern Thought, Harper Collins Publishers, London. p. 540

15 Chuihua Judy Chung,. 2001. HarvardDesignSchool: guide to shopping, Harvard Design School, Cambridge, Mass. p. 408

16 Koolhaas 1998, 504

17 Chuicha, 2001, p. 408

18 Schaik, M.V, and Otakar, Macel,,. (2005) Exit Utopia, Architectural Provocations 1956-76, Prestel Verlag, Muich, London. p.145

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3 thoughts on “Scape – Part 1

  1. Hi, this is a comment made by my friend Lorenz in a private email. He has agreed to have it posted here in a sightly editted format for the purposes of debate.

    James:

    I was particularly impressed with the view of modernity thru the lens of architecture, as opposed to the broader socio-economic lenses. Something always bothered me about Modern architecture and I think you have got something there. I believe the broader sweep of Modernity carries on – I would argue that globalization in many areas IS the spread of Modernity itself around the globe – with the majority of the population of the world consisting of the Chinese and the Indians going for it with great enthusiasm.

    Modern architecture is history though and for good reason, modernity more broadly is alive and well. I think post modernism is only one possible line of development beyond modernism and that there are other possibilities. I do see the relativism that PM has said so much about as often helpful and accurate, but often spoiled by the tendency to nihilism that accompanies it in Western PM literature.

    Buddhism says a lot of the same things in what it calls the ‘relative world’, but also posits an absolute world. While I want to reread and comment on ‘scape’ more precisely at this stage I’d ask if you have ever read Camus’ The Plague – La Peste in French. Existentialism has all the nihilism – the perception that life is absurd that came out of the defeat that Europe experienced in WW2. The Plague is the story of a man who escapes from the absurd – no he actually transcends it – recovers from it non rationally – through endeavor – with a strong physical component. My experience is that the mind can despair, but that the body mind deals with it differently – in a more whole way. Hence the great value of your long walks in the
    wilderness. Bring together what you have in the bush with the intellect and you will have done something extraordinary.

  2. My Responce:

    Hi Lorenz,

    One thing I have realised is that the socio-economic and architectural discourse is inherently intertwined; symbiotic. The notion that formalism as a secondary consideration addresses this nicely and directly. It makes sense for investers to support a building that works and functions before we worry about what it looks like. Functionality and practicality are driven purely by the needs of the users in an abstract way. I say abstract because while most new buildings are constructed on the premise of ‘usage’ or the combination of old buildings, the future use of space needs to be taken on board – both physical and metaphysical space – with the proviso of adapting to new technologies.

    I accept the idea that modernity is alive and well in a broad sense. It would not be modern otherwise. It is alive and well in architecture too.

    No I havent read the Plague. I’ve read most of his other works.

  3. Lorenz’s secondary and partial responce to the Scape article:

    James,

    I’d like to respond in particular to how you talk about science. I hadn’t realized that there was a lively philosophic debate on in this area until I ran into this entry on Normblog:

    According to Don Cupitt, religious believers and people of scientific outlook are all now in the same boat, and that boat is ungrounded faith. One used to be able to believe in God on the basis, supposedly, of ‘the knowledge of transcendent and eternal Being’, but that’s over since Nietzsche, Heidegger and Derrida. Same thing for those of us who think there’s a reality out there, independent of us and capable of being known. For Cupitt, that’s just a different kind of theology.

    The trick he tries to pull off in making this claim is wrapped up in the phrase ‘a belief in one ready-made truth of things’. No, this confuses the ontology and the epistemology. There is a reality out there – and the denial that there is can scarcely be argued for in a coherent, non-self-contradictory way, as the work of Richard Rorty well illustrates. But there is no ready-made truth of things. Enquiry in pursuit of knowledge is a human project, an effort, always difficult, its results always provisional and subject to revision in the light of fresh evidence, new methods and techniques of research, developments in theory.

    Not every reality is, just by virtue of being one, divine; not every belief in the existence of a reality is based merely on faith.

    Permalink”
    http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2007/02/cholera_in_zimb.html

    I’m not as interested or involved as you in the philosophical history and the current debate. If you don’t know Rorty his Wikipedia article says he writes in an accessible fashion. My view of science is that Post Modernism is correct to say it is another construction of the world, but if it gets too much into the idea that it is ‘just’ another construction I think it dismisses science too easily.

    We have struggled too long and too hard to win what knowledge we have from our environment. I’d agree with Norm that there is a reality out there, but with Buddhists and postmodernists who say it is not as simple as that and may not be at all what we ordinarily think it is. But it does matter that we work out that the earth goes around the sun and not the other way around. And all the other little things we have had to work out that makes our computers work – for a start. But we have also learned that matter is not solid. Cognitive science can’t work out at all how we experience something as apparently simple as a cup. I think we have a long way to go and that Norms point about it being an unfinished and probably unfinishable enterprise is probably worth keeping in mind.

    I think a lot of the disillusion with science is because it has gotten enmeshed in politics. When it operates in an area where it can just do its thing it works just fine, but when people start building visions of human progress on it as we did in the 19th and 20th century there are inevitably dillusions and disappointments.

    On TV, medical problems always have cures – in real life medicine always loses the battle in the end. The current debate over global warming is so politicized that I don’t know what to believe. But I recognize that there is a religion that we might call Scientism and that it has its ‘end time myths’ just like Christianity and Marxism. Don’t get me wrong I think that human activity is contributing to global warming but I am astonished by the lack of discussion that distinguishes between what we cause and what is caused by normal climate cycles. I sense the presence of agenda – ie politics driving the science.

    Another example, my mineral Doc makes a good case that drug companies and government have so bought into the paradigm of treating symptoms with drugs that they ostracize him for working with the underlying biochemistry that, if out of balance, produces many of the typical symptoms. The same biochemistry that all the standard medical texts say is fundamental to good health. Pfui. Scientism strikes again.

    I think as long as science was fighting the ‘good fight’ against religion from Galileo to Darwin it was the underdog and didn’t get too corrupt. Now it is the dominant paradigm with all that entails, but remains the major engine of human development regardless of its follies and sell outs. Science and its child applied science and its grand child globalization are going to proceed regardless.

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