Involution, Ambience, and Architecture

24Feb14

Emmanuel Petit, September 2013. @ Anyone Corporation

While generalizations are reductive by definition, it is nevertheless important to identify trends: one of the more noticeable trends in recent architecture is the turn from metaphysics to immanence. Whereas postmodern architects thought of buildings and cities as fragments of an expansive texture or fabric, contemporary spaces are mostly involuted and introverted. The turn to immanence takes on different forms in current architectural practice. The resulting architecture in no way encodes the design process in the contours of indexical form, but sublimates it into asignifying, involuted worlds for which new theoretical concepts are just starting to emerge.

The introduction of digital design culture in architecture, and the ubiquitous availability of information with the launch of the World Wide Web in the early 1990s were two of the biggest determining factors for this shift. The trust in the generative self-sufficiency of codes (in algorithmic and parametric processes and in the collection of big data) largely proceeded without any detours through the questions of formal meaning that played such a central role in the preceding decades. This strand of autopoetic form in architecture is exemplified by Zaha Hadid’s Galaxy Soho in Beijing and by Toyo Ito’s Serpentine Gallery pavilion and Taichung Metropolitan Opera House–projects to be seen as milieus rather than spaces, in that all aspects of the design are fluctuations of the same homogeneous morphology. The effectiveness of these milieus hinges on a certain density and repetition of spatial forms in order to foreground “variation” over the meaning of the source code, which in all three examples is exceedingly simple if not simplistic. The temporary rise of Deleuzianism throughout the second half of the 1990s in conceptually minded circles (foremost Assemblage and ANY, with Sanford Kwinter and John Rajchman as two of its pivotal advocates) played an important role as the conceptual precedent for the synthetic morphology that characterizes these projects. It was Deleuze who dug out the formalisms of Parmenides, Spinoza, and Leibniz as alternatives to the very cultural-historical mindsets of Heidegger and Derrida–arguably the two most influential philosophers for postmodern architects. It was also Deleuze who offered architects the notion of “signifying form” and “affect” (including the complicated relationship between affect and affection–affectus and affectio) to replace the previous construal of form as signifying text. These ideas participated in a generalized affective turn of the humanities beginning at the turn of the millennium, which, Patricia Clough writes, built on “a dynamism immanent to bodily matter and matter generally–matter’s capacity for self-organization.” Mario Carpo recently illustrated how the mathematical axioms of calculus underlie the ideology of formal variation, in which “objects” are subordinate to the function of the “objectile.” Within such a conceptual universe, the ontology of space no longer relies on emptiness, void, and the distance that separates incongruous systems, but on a tightly packed milieu permeated with morphological variants of simple autopoetic source codes. Although the cerebral analysis of the code yields nothing, these milieus hinge on their affective density.

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