Friday, March 27, 2009

Process and the goals

Jeff Kipnis said during a recent Columbia review, "Process justifies everything these days, and architecture is being pulled away from its goals." I was so glad he said that - it really captures the current state of architectural practices. At the same time I was surprised that it was him who said so, knowing his long "association" with Peter Eisenman.

Eisenman is all about theoretical/formal operations. For him, architecture is linguistic, it can be reduced to grammar - an independent, self-reflective system instead of being connected to the outside. Design starts with basic elements, a square or a grid as a letter or a word in language, then repeat, rotate, shift, superimpose, intersect... The result is traces of processes, a form generated by the manipulation of geometry. Abstract formal transformations dictate everything; the modernist ethics of functionality and social agenda have been marginalized. Architecture herein becomes an autonomous project.

Guardiola House, Peter Eisenman, 1988

As a protégé of Eisenman's, Scott Cohen pushed his mentor's 2D formal processes into perspectives. The end geometry is a projection of a projection of a projection... a highly distorted shape.
Patterns for Head Start Facilities, Preston Scott Cohen, 1994

As those guys were drawing intensely by hand, computer made its entrance into architecture. All of a sudden, reiteration is no longer just a theoretical jargon. Huge amount of data can be processed and visualized rapidly. You don't even need to design - the computer finds the form for you. As in Aranda/Lasch's "Rules of Six" mural, an algorithm sets the rules of formation. The modules grow, combine, assemble, and proliferate across scales. This self-assembly process is clearly the digital extension of Eisenman's autonomous project. The form "finds itself from bottom up..." Sorry, I found this claim rather disturbing. Will the "imposing" architect really "disappear" with the introduction of the computer? Does the emphasis on the "bottom-up" process make the designer a noble fella who despises authorship? C'mon! Who made the rules? Who set the parameters? Who wrote the scripts? There's still the "Hand of God" behind it! The so-called "unauthored" project is actually highly authored. But nobody dares to say "This is what I want" any more... Suddenly, a curve generated by a computer random algorithm becomes more justifiable than a curve drawn by Ellsworth Kelly...

Rules of Six, Aranda/Lasch, 2008

If we say form-finding is a design process, there's another process called construction. A process obsolete as that, is again, fantasized by the computer and catches more attention than the result. Next week, New York Construction will organize a bunch of AIA registered architects and LEED APs to speak about something they are all proud of - the new Yankee Stadium! What? That thing is ugly as hell! You have to pay almost 200 bucks to get in? Oh well, the stadium is a pioneer of the BIM (Building Information Modeling) process. "The industry's next great hope!" Fancy that!

Turner Construction considers the $1.5 billion Yankee Stadium job as its biggest “first generation” BIM projects.

Tschumi said, there are too many "WOWs" in architecture now and very few care about WHAT. HOW has been wowing people and overshadowed WHAT. To me, a more important question is WHY. That sounds like a more legit process. WHY as a process is important because it's a way to get to the results. It's a way of thinking. Whereas HOW only indicates steps of a procedure. Parametric design method is innocent. The problem is how you set the parameters... Currently it's mostly just about how to make forms. Once we can successfully plug in the functional, social, and economical aspects and introduce reasons, it will make more sense. Seems I am getting somewhere... Let me think more about it.

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