Patrik Schumacher, partner at Zaha Hadid Architects and founding director at the AA Design Research Lab, is in Piper tonight for a lecture on "Parametric Order: 21st century architectural order."
[You can see the video online at the GSD's YouTube Channel.]
6:36pm: PSC takes the podium to make introductions. "Rather than address his super-theory frontally, which surely would take too long--if I were even up to the task--I'd like to...reference an earlier argument by Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock on the International Style." [...] "Schumacher says: 'Students today would rather have their hands fall off than draw a straight line. And this may be true; we'll see that for [Schumacher], curves are the first rule.'"
"Like Johnson before, he has staked out a collective project. This is important, this is radical, and I look forward to hearing about it from Schumacher himself."
6:41: PS begins.
"This lecture will be an elaboration of my theoretical treatise, but I'm also a practicing architect, so as a reminder of that I will flip through some of my works, without discussing them." For him, it is a reminder that theory is an attempt to reflect on his own work.
Complex Variegated Order: architecture's task now: organizing & articulating the societal complexity of post-fordist network society.
OK, now several definitions and analyses, with the help of slides:
6:53: PS says [I think] that the traditional architectural environment is not semiotically rich enough.
If you go through the book, you can tell me if there are still questions left unanswered...it is a discourse analysis. ...I have a lot of respect for the accumulated evolution of discourse of our discipline, over decades and centuries...but also [my aim is] to select and turn normative out of this discourse that which [should take precedence].
[Now a bunch of images, real fast, and a video of people moving about...]
So he has a Unified Theory. "That's a longer work...these are the aspects I'm trying to cover."
Quite a list.
He mentions that he'll be talking at Yale on Saturday about the "Death of the Drawing."
"All this implies that architectural theory must be embedded within an updated theory of society." Now he's quoting Marx, describing how in each time a mode of production (industrial stage) is combined with a mode of cooperation (social stage).
"From the mid-90s I have been [drawing on Marxism]. But Marxism has suffered some blows with the disintegration of communism. I've discovered in the mid-90s a new powerful theory, of systems theory: Niklas Luhmann. I've been tying my work to Luhmann's social system theory of a 'modern, functionally differentiated society.' Luhmann is not only looking at the economy, like Marx, but modes of societal differentiation: segmentation, centre-periphery, stratification, functional differentiation."
"In today's world, nothing gets built or produced that isn't influenced by the discourse we are constructing...like in the last century, nothing gets built or produced that isn't influenced by the Bauhaus. Anything that is recognized...is immediately recorded and published and posted to the web."
Now he has an enormous chart that he has developed, called "Comparative Matrix of Societal Function Systems."
He's walking us through the chart, a bit. For example: whereas the task of science is to distinguish between theory and evidence, architecture is charged with giving form to function. "These are fully autonomous discourses." He gives an example of law, and how it doesn't relate to politics or science [!?], and similarly, he claims that architecture, like every other field, works with these binary categories.
For architecture, these binaries are something like:
-not art, not engineering, not science
-form vs. function
-beautiful vs. ugly / useful vs. useless
-framing (innovation of spatial frames)
7:17: "I will now go back into the history and pre-history of architecture..."
"And this is ubiquitous through all societies." Ornamental masks or fashion to engage in particular interactions, navigating social systems through a quick read of visual cues.
"Like a...cell structure," he believes the system in the above plan develops because it is most efficient. A medieval walled town develops in terms of organs. Now he's showing Renaissance centralized plans.
"For the first time, it is out of the self-built vernacular, into [the design by an architect on paper]. So you have drawing as a new medium. ...and to innovate, you need to write. So you have fully designed buildings and cities, visualized with perspectives, which had never happened before. That's why in my theory, architecture starts with the Renaissance; no Medieval cathedral has been fully designed before construction."
Now we're in the Baroque. "I'm trying to understand what are the advantages, what is the superiority of the Baroque over the Renaissance. Why it is a...progressive advance, tied into new demands made on architecture. The sequence of style is not just a...sequence of change."
"This is the kind of analysis we should conduct in looking at epochal styles."
"The next style, so congenial to a totally new era, is Modernism. In between the Baroque and Modernism we have the picturesque. Tafuri explains that the picturesque [has to do with early capitalism]."
"And then [in modernism], you have this kind of order: separation of functions, specialization (not unified, not stuffed into the symmetrical Baroque palace), and their incomplete reconstitution. These are the principles of modernism from the 1920s through the high-tech of the 1970s." The same principles in a modern machine, or in a modern city (example: ville radieuse), industrial design, and modern bureaucratic organization.
"This is an architecture congenial to the principles of a Fordist society, unprecedented in world history." [Most people] have a quality of life higher than that of Louis XIV [!].
7:30: He is still going. He is now in post-modernism. Deconstructivism: interpenetration instead of separation.
"We in Columbia University in 1993, took up collaging these layers, trying to see if these layers could...build up into a texture that has more order and coherence." And this gave us the "first glimpses of parametric order...[albeit] as yet undigested."
7:40: "Everything needs to communicate with everything else." He's showing projects from his office, Zaha Hadid Architects. "In today's post-Fordist network society, we cannot afford to...go down a corridor and isolate ourselves and beaver away...we have to continuously worry about our relevancy and [keep up to date with what others are doing] and there is an intensity of communication on many levels."
"So this is where we are, in retrospect going from unconscious [!] medieval evolution, through the Renaissance, Baroque, Modernism..."
"When I grew up and started architecture in the early 80s, I was faced with shifting agendas; brought up as a hard-core modernist, then post-modernist, then deconstructivist...it seemed that every two or three years, a new style was operating. But since the mid 90s, we have been totally stable...just asking new questions [within the same paradigm]."
.."All subsystems of society [today] are absorbing [the parametric] into their subsystems."
7:47: A definition of parametricism: an "ontological shift" from "ideal rigid/hermetic geometric figures" to "new primitives: splines, blobs, nurbs, particles..." "Instead of drawing inert lines with a ruler on paper, we are setting up [parametric] systems."
"Surfaces are no longer flat inert planes...deformation becomes information...they become pliant and can accumulate information." "You have a genotype which differentiates and you have radically different types within a field."
"How do you work in this manner? What do you avoid...and push?"
"It is important to avoid falling back! We have to deny a lack of variety and not fall back! "No pure difference (no collage of undifferentiated elements!"
"The crisis of modernism meant that there is no longer primitives, repetition." But there is also "no pure difference" (No collaging of form against form.) "I call it the garbage spill...lack of order produces chaos."
"Where we are going is...self-organizing complexity of differentiated order. Not inventing form but finding form or letting it organize on rule-based setup."
"This is what this stuff looks like." [He's flipping through slides of his work, literally at about 5 slides per second.] "Malleable forms are intelligent!"
7:55: Formal principles of parametricism. "More degrees of freedom, more differentiation. The differentiation can be [intelligent], it can [relate to amount of sun on your building envelope]." "Articulation and differentiation...is the core competency of architecture. We can also apply this to urbanism."
"Every action has a reaction." Example of correlated subsystems in the skin of a tower. "You can use software to drive datasets...[for the differentiation]."
8:00: He is still talking super fast.
"Parametricism is real."
8:03: More slides, approx 5 slides per second, sometimes more. I am trying not to look because it is making me nauseous.
"Delivering, I believe, high performance results in all domains. This work is real, I believe, no longer in the stage of a manifesto."
"I am not sure another style could deliver such a...compelling...and richly embedded..event space. ...So you can participate in multiple scenarios and make multiple choices."
8:07: Now he is showing a museum currently under construction at the leisurely pace of about 2 slides per second.
Question from a student: What digital programs do you firm use?
PS: ...Maya, Grasshopper, various scripts embedded in different projects, posted via a Wiki. Processing, Digital Project, Revit, etc.
Preston Scott Cohen: "Patrik, a couple of things. I understand the virtues of the new style. I wanted to ask you about a few things that seem to be holdbacks that you can't surmount. Let's take the towers: you showed us a tower in which all the floors are a different shape. But they are still flat, still accessed through the same straight elevator, and same doors. It is a collage of Fordism with parametricism. That property of flatness never changes."
"The other is--you talked about the garbage heap--but how do you answer for the fact that for all the variation you introduce, it is always relentlessly the same characteristics that are differentiated?"
PS agrees a bit, equivocates a bit. "...I do believe the tower is still a viable model..." "Pushing differentiaton for the sake of differentation is unmotivated...I want to avoid random differentiation...at the same time I want to [have a certain amount of differentiation. But I am not fazed by what you said."
PSC: ..."the only difference is...you are cloaking the tower differently, but the interior is the same. The skyscraper has fundamentally not changed." [They continue to argue about this, with reference to Koolhaas' reading of the Athletic Club.]
PS: "I find it disconcerting that you can't see the difference between what we are doing and [the modernist tower]."
Cameron Wu: "Why are you unwilling to accept [the realities of infrastructure, real estate, etc.]? You should like the garbage spill but you reject it." [I missed most of this question but it is a follow-up to Scott's question, extending the issue out to include externalities.]
Question from Faye Antonia Hays: "I sympathize with this almost megalomaniacal desire to map out all the systems in the world [in order to create a whole theory]...but, as the Bombay mafia-lord in Shantaram suggests, you might possibly do the wrong things for the right reasons. ...You both diagnose the direction of the world's processes and say we should act within it, whereas I would agree with your diagnosis but question whether architecture should be complicit. Where would difference--as a space that allows for criticality--lie in a world of parametricism where differentiation occurs within a dependent system? ...Or, let's say if Deleuze hadn't already killed himself, should he do so tonight?"
PS: "...[Our work is] theory-led, not client led...It is closed [in order to have a more expert response]. It is openness through closure." [He talks for perhaps ten minutes. I cannot, or perhaps I simply will not, type all of it. Near the end he accuses his interlocutor of "fetishizing difference."]
Question from a student: "I came to your lecture interested in parametricism, maybe interested in emulating it...but your whole project is...kind of totalitarian. You have curves that never vary, according to mathematical formulas you have already determined." [etc.]
PS: "I get that criticism a lot." [Long answer. I believe the talk is being recorded and you can watch the video if you want to see it.] At one point, he defends his process because it's difficult, because you have to work to incorporate difference, instead of "simply adding another element." "If you design something with only straight lines and corners, and I design something with curves...and I remind you that a straight line is only a curve with an infinite [radius]. And there is a superiority of curves."
The student is heckling him now. "It's like a video game."
PSC wraps things up.
And thank you for reading, Archinect.
Lectures and exhibitions, life in the trays, happenings around Cambridge...and once in a while, some studio and course work. Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in most cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts. If you have concerns about how you are quoted, please contact me via Archinect's email.