Architecture

We are, of course, based at a school of architecture. Our primary foundations of theory are provided by people like Vitruv, Alberti, Palladio, Durand, Semper. And they all have, in their own way, done just that: worked the cultural breeding ground of their day in a differentiated and differentiating way. Naturally, we are also interested in the topologies of Eisenmann, Tschumi, Rossi, Moore, Venturi. Or the geometries of Gehry, Lynn, Libeskind, van Berkel or Hadid. And equally the more earthy positions of Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron, Zumthor and Olgiati. They all settle upon interesting and relevant methods of design, each specific in its own way. But they all keep having to up their artistic stakes and become more and more dramatic, if they want to be seen, heard and built. Only in Koolhaas do we recognise today for the first time a plausible approach to provoking new qualities by way of densification. In this, we see a kind of 'architecture of consistency', which to us appears groundbreaking.

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CAAD Theory. Cultivating Consistencies

Our theoretical undertaking seems unusual, because our intention is to have an effect. In this, we do not aim to establish a new ideological - indeed 'ideologising' - system of meaning, but rather we set out to learn to read our cultural heritage from a reverse angle. Or, as we prefer to express it, to cultivate our culture. In order to do so it will be necessary to also refer back to a point before the regimes of literacy, before their analytical-logical written symbolisms and their machine artifacts came into play. Not because we want to conjure up the romanticism of a new oral culture, but so as to be able to act more adequately within the performance space of contemporary code-culture.

Let's take Peirce and Deleuze seriously! Let's read them in contrast to Saussure and Derrida! We want to learn to better understand the indexability of our current spaces of formal symbolism: how, for example, did the fantastical artistry of the sophists come about during the first enlightenment in Greek antiquity? What seeds were created by Plato, Euclid and Aristotle and what soil, in turn, did they fall on? How were they able to inter-link these sophistic proliferations of the non-committal? How can we learn to gauge the potentialities of a dialectic between topics, rhetoric and logic now on a new plateau? And how would we characterise an analytics that was capable of doing so?

Turbo Analysis

In the Linguistic Turn we see today a new level of acceleration of just those analytical cycles that it is supposed to critique. What is incomprehensible to us is that the fundamental problems pointed out by Gödel in relation to the non-provability of logical consistency, or those pointed out by Wittgenstein in relation to transcendental logic are being largely ignored. Turing's thoughts on the mapping of symbolic systems are read as bare pragmatism. Derrida, in our view, and we do apologise if this sounds drastic, offers a linguistic maelstrom which dissolves any kind of consistency and leaves us - and this is what we criticise - powerless. Habermas, meanwhile, with his postulate that puts practice before theory appears to us curiously clumsy in the way it reflects the pre-scientific approach to objects and people, and describes the 'lifeworld' on which he sees this practice grounded. Consequently, the more concretely Habermas argues, the more does his awkwardness reinforce a pseudo-democratic technocracy. We recognise a somewhat bizarre epitome of this approach in the materialistic hubris of a philosophical, object-orientated ontology, whose argumentation is often more reminiscent of game design than of any practically viable contribution.

In short, we have to find a way out of this unspoken alliance between a carefully cultivated humanist paralysis and technological-cybernetic performance.

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From Critique to Consistency

Theory can no longer be regarded as the making available of processes in a world where systems become communicative, discursive and therefore volatile. Instead, we want to understand theory as a kind of doping, an intentional but enriching disturbance of the structures and systems in which we live. The 'consistencies' of these structures and systems are experienced by most people as binding, even though they cannot be logically proven and therefore can't, in their competition with each other, be understood without interpretation. In other words, we want to gain new criteria from the consistencies we are living, by appreciating their richness and differentiation and by learning to critique them with a view as to how and under which conditions they can be integrated and sustained.

Criteria are gained from economical valuations, which emanate from managing these consistencies. It is from 'housekeeping' and cultivating consistencies that critique can be maintained.

This is why what is needed today for a constructive theory is not primarily critique, but a treatise on consistencies that offers strategies which serve to illustrate and assist in handling the richness and diversity in consistency postulates. Not 'what' is the question, but 'how'. It is not about nailing a recipe, but about creating possibilities and about how these possibilities can be imagined and evolved. Especially if we want to re-enable critique in a positive sense, in a sense which is capable of further differentiating our rich cultural treasures and which is learning to value them in their quantitative as well as qualitative differentiation. Thus we are able to encapsulate our current idealisms, materialisms, functionalisms, imperialisms, structuralisms and constructivisms, and send them into fruitful competition with each other.

Yet in order to do so we have to learn to argue in a differentiated way and are no longer able to build our opinions according to axiomatic principles, on the basis of scarcities and necessities. The argument as to whether theory (classics) or practice (modernity) has primacy over the other needs to be eclipsed once more by a transversal primacy of ethics.

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© ETH Zürich / ITA / CAAD 2011
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