Feedback: Architecture’s New Territories

[InfraNet Lab Winter seminar, University of Toronto. Feedback: Architectures New

[InfraNet Lab Winter seminar, University of Toronto. Feedback: Architectures New Territories.]

Total Design has two meanings: first, what might be called the implosion of design, the focusing of design inward on a single intense point; second, what might be called the explosion of design, the expansion of design out to touch every possible point in the world. - Mark Wigley, from "Whatever Happened to Total Design?"

This past Winter, I taught a seminar at the University of Toronto called Architecture’s New Territories [PDF]. In the coming weeks, I will be posting some of the research the students conducted during that term, which coincided with various readings and discussions. The position of the course began with a few key observations. ++ The idea of architecture as a self-reflexive, isolated, and willful internal wrangling of formal preoccupations does not have the ability (alone) to address and re-dress the opportunities and challenges in our contemporary design climate. ++ Architecture operating as a singular act on a singular site overlooks its capacity as a large feedback machine extending increasingly beyond itself. Its footprint, always already, is wide and complex. ++ Architecture’s potential, today, lies as much in its functioning as a surface, conduit, and container for ephemeral flows of resources, cultures, and energy as it does in its symbolic cultural and formal capacities. However this potential is increasingly hijacked by a "good practice" sustainable agenda often reducing it to efficiency and performance. How architecture gets its power, economy, materials, and labour, among others, is as essential to understanding the future role and operational capacities of a building on its site. In many ways this paradigm shift suggests a natural (economic) evolution in building culture toward privileging operational costs over capital costs. In short, the building response to its future time is valued as much as, if not more than, the building at its inception. 

[Rosalind Krauss, Sculpture in the Expanded Field, 1979.]

[Rosalind Krauss, Sculpture in the Expanded Field, 1979.]

In Rosalind Krauss’s 1979 essay on sculpture’s expanded field, Krauss observed the practice of sculpture had been obscured and could only qualify itself in opposition to architecture and landscape. Using a Klein group structure, Krauss identifies three additional practices of sculpture that sculpture had been recently burdened with, and names them site-construction, marked sites, and axiomatic structures. Similarly, Architecture is in need of a range of situational qualifiers to establish its position amongst the rapidly expanding disciplinary terrain of landscape architecture and within the fractured and troubled territory of urbanism. But marking the expanded field in architecture can also be productive toward addressing new functions for architecture as a conduit, transmitter, and receiver for opportunities found within local and regional networks. To do so, we have removed architecture from the original Kraussian diagram and replaced with the problematic term "infrastructure." The resulting terms are: productive surface, civic conduit, and spatial container. Arguably architecture can now be any of these as a result of the pairings.

[InfraNet Lab, Architecture in the Expanded Field, 2009.]

[InfraNet Lab, Architecture in the Expanded Field, 2009.]

This seminar will pose the simple question of: Now what? How might architecture fruitfully capitalize on its expanded territory and how might we characterize its development? The seminar will be preoccupied with the airspace that architecture operates within and the logistics that support and influence it. Its immediate climate and larger environment, with those terms stripped of their dominant sustainability overtones, will provoke an understanding of architecture’s performance as a design act equivalent to other acts of design.

[InfraNet Lab, Architecture in the Expanded Field, 2009.]

[InfraNet Lab, Architecture in the Expanded Field, 2009.]

The seminar discussed architecture’s expanding operational opportunity and impact. Or, in short, an expanded understanding of architecture’s wider territory. This is in reaction to a burgeoning disciplinary loophole between economy, geography, ecology, landscape, urbanism, and architecture, a loophole in which architecture seems most primed to lead.

[FEEDBACK sections / readings.]

[FEEDBACK sections / readings.]

The course was structured around five territories: flows, velocities, ecologies, economies, and energies. Flows will look at questions of scale within architecture’s operation? Where is the end of a building’s envelope? How does it extend or how might it extend? And where does the site end and building begin? Velocities will look at the territory of mobility and its influence on architecture. will look at the territory of mobility and its influence on architecture. How could architecture engage directly its condition as a hub within a larger network? Ecologies will look at the question of architecture’s culpability within larger complex industrial and natural ecologies. How does architecture participate in urban (infrastructural) ecologies? How does or might architecture participate in natural ecologies? Economies will look at the influence of our global economies on architecture. What is economic influence beyond merely a design budget? How do economies produce architectural typologies? Energies will look at the opportunity of resources and climate in the formation of architecture. How does architecture address its airspace? How is architecture culpable in the production of energy beyond itself? 

[FEEDBACK structure.]

[FEEDBACK structure.]

Students were asked to investigate and document a "space of abundance, excess, or inundation and tracks its relevant flows." These spaces would be considered typological of forms of urbanism as informed by globalization. It was argued in the course that these types of spaces are superlatives, but have been forgotten by design and architecture and, like an unmonitored species, have flourished to dominate the built landscape. In the coming weeks, we will share the projects of the students in a series of guest posts.

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InfraNet Lab

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