Wednesday, 27 February 2013

An architecture of predators and monuments

Mario Carpo’s, in his essay “Alphabet and Algorithm”, tells the story how Alberti invented the modern architect. He managed to invent plans which allowed the architect to stay away from the actual work, concentrate on the plan, yet keep all the fame. All of this in the best intention to foster collaboration and nurture the crafts. Many software (and particularly enterprise) architects see themselves in this tradition - unfortunately only the planning part. But Carpo goes on and explains how modern algorithms sorta turned the Renaissance around, bringing back participatory authorship into real-world architecture. While identity and idiosyncrasy become less important, the remix, versatility and sustainability in terms of longevity come back to architecture.

The rupture of individualism in architecture can be linked to the megastructure movements of the late 60ies. As Annette Urban points out in “Mythos Monument”, the very concepts which wanted to turn cities into moveable, flexible, flowing structures became the megastructures par excellance. By neglecting centralization, the city planners effectively turned themselves and their structures into the center. When Haussmann tore apart the arrondissements of Paris to allow industrialization and military vantage, rather than introducing the “service bus”, he froze the versatility. In realization that any structure is totalitarian or at least aristocracy, and thus can never provide actual needs for citizens, Architects like Superstudio began ironically playing with monuments and city limits. From them we learn that planning always ends in itself.

Courtesy: Archivio Superstudio, Firenze via Megastructure Reloaded

However, this reminds me of a story from Emergence. When W. Daniel Hillis's self-emerging AI algorithms showed signs of perfect structures, but less-than-optimal local maxima, he introduced predators. By doing so, he encouraged the algorithms to develop in the right direction, becoming stronger, and eventually near-optimal. The lesson for architects is: Become a predator, one that collaborates just like Alberti did.