RUPTURED BANNERS, AWKWARD PAUSES:
A RESPONSE TO HYPERSURFACE ARCHITECTURE

Thursday, October 25, 2007


The Shasta High School Football Team runs through a banner Friday night while entering Thompson Field. The Wolves won their first River Bowl 42-6, ending 11 years of frustration.

Of the many journals that covered the dialogue on emerging digital design techniques in the 1990’s, two in particular stand out as the most influential elements of that dialogue as it affects us in our present conception of computation in architecture. Greg Lynn’s Folding in Architecture, published in 1993, laid the foundations for the theoretical inclusion of digital techniques in architecture, and Stephen Perrella’s Hypersurface Architecture, released in 1998, provides a response one half-decade later. While it is Folding that introduces the potentials of the digital into architecture, and is theoretically more substantial, with the inclusion of commentary from Gilles Deleuze, Jaques Derrida, Peter Eisenman, Greg Lynn and Jeff Kipnis, Hypersurface Architecture is perhaps more compelling since it confronts the many theoretical conundrums of the techniques that Folding inspired. Perrella’s edition, including essays by Brian Massumi, Michael Speaks, and Perrella himself, intends to address the issues of hypersurface theory, a term devised by Perrella to describe the condition of a material surface imbued with the meta-quality of time and motion, most likely inspired by the developments of technological media and information exchange prevalent at the time of publication. Inadvertently, however, in its discussion of the role of motion in built-form, Hypersurface Architecture frames a current and ongoing debate about the role of dynamics and time-based modeling techniques in architectural design.

In Perrella’s opening essay he sets the tone of Hypersurface with a conceptual construct about the interrelated role of signage and surface, or what he calls the “pixel” and the “topological.” “The topologizing of architectural form,” he explains, “may be taken as a state of preparation for the reception of the flow of data as it overspills from contemporary cultural activities. A main effect of this transformation entails interconnectivity and continuity among previously systematized categories of architectural technics and production…While the two impulses – pixel and topological architecture – have been separated categorically, at this juncture overlaps are emerging as a result of repetitive deterritorialisations.” This interest in the deterritorialization between built-form and flexible media not only dates the piece to a specific era in time, but it establishes a set of connective threads between then and the current era, where we are dealing less with the fascination with a new set of media tools brought about by electronic media and more with the subjugation of mores that were established at the time of their onset. Take Perrella’s example of the city bus that is painted with a product advertisement, which is both a moving body and a dynamic interface where two surficial conditions morph in response to each other; the advertisement conforms to the shape of the bus, and the bus sacrifices parts of its identity to the advertisement. The interest in this kind tension has evolved. The animation of surface is no longer a matter of combining distinct media, such as the pixel and the topographical. It is now a matter of embedding animation into the surface’s material articulation. Interestingly, Perrella foreshadows this by describing the human body as a hypersurface, wherein flesh and faciality both bound the animation of our internal flows while translating them into the liveliness of our everyday motion and expression. It is perhaps not surprising that topology (and its internal variation) later became wedded to anthropomorphic form in the guise of more complex surface machinations, such as the eventual shift to subdivision surface.

Massumi, meanwhile, focuses his discussion on animate form within the architectural design process. His interest is to dissect the philosophical meaning of incorporating animation within a process that has a specified fixity as its end-goal, and he begins this investigation by defining a teleological shift in the starting and ending medium of design. Whereas form was originally origin and telos, the raw origin in the animate process is now defined as deformation. Form is merely the resultant. But how can we be sure of such a shift as this? Let us turn to Le Corbusier for an answer:

Conception is, in effect, an operation of the mind which foreshadows the general look of the artwork…Possessed of a method whose elements are like the words of a language, the creator chooses among these words those that he will group together to create a symphony…One comes logically to the necessity of a logical choice of themes, and the necessity of their association not by deformation but by formation.

We must assume, however, that for Massumi, and for Perrella for that matter, deformation and formation are one in the same in the process of animate form. In fact, it is their coincidence that potentially indicates the appropriate stoppage point for the process, and can only be measure, according to Massumi, by intuition and a careful sense of arbitrarity. And yet, still a problem remains, this time pertaining to the process’ capacity to actualize the virtual:

If the idea is to yield virtuality and bring it out, where is the virtuality in the final product? Precisely what trace of it is left in the concrete form it deposits as its residue? What of emergence is left in the emerged? If the end form is a sign that does not signify, then what does it do and how does it do it? What is the relation of the asignifying sign to its event?

For this, we make a quick detour to Deleuze. The virtual, according to the philosopher (by way of Massumi), gives form, but itself has none. “Although the virtual…cannot itself be seen or felt, it cannot be seen or felt as other than itself.” What Deleuze means is that the generative process of animate form leaves traces of transitional nature, but it itself never aspires to be transitional. The end, we should recall, is what instigated animation in the first place, and it is perhaps that we aspire to an acutely complex degree of formal homeostasis that led us to animation in the beginning.

Still, we are left to wonder what it is about homeostasis that is so encouraging. Why seek a balance of flows and significance with context when it is often the prerogative of design (and oftentimes form) to provoke? Michael Speaks uses this question in revisiting the pedagogy set forth in Folding, analyzing its perseverance and pitfalls since the volume’s release in 1995. He manages his critique by confronting none other than the central pedagogue, Greg Lynn. Speaks connects Lynn’s work to the problem of homeostasis through the issue of symmetry. Lynn’s work, he explains, aspires to a supple relationship with its context, because by breaking symmetry, the project reveals a sense of stability with regards to external forces from context. At the time, this was done through the use of animation scenarios that showed the building reacting to literal force, and yet they did not answer to the question of potentially ever being fixed objects. At the Anywise conference, Jeff Kipnis asked Lynn to explain his position:

Kipnis: Let me hold you accountable to [this] question, Greg. Because you say at the level of dynamic animation, we could be fascinated by what we see, but because you do not resolve it as a fixed static object with materials, structure and construction, at which point we see its real consequences, we’re left fetishizing the video rather than really understanding its design consequences. Is this true or not?

Lynn: I want to resist answering that question. In other situations in which I have shown material like this, the response has been, ‘Well are you saying architecture has to move in order for this to be an interesting design approach?’ I would say no.

Kipnis: You say no, but you do not show us what happens when you take the motion away.

Unlike Massumi, Lynn at this time could not traverse the border of animation; the seduction of movement was enough to prevent him from making the leap to the meaning of form after it is frozen, which as we have established is the end-goal that generates its beginning.

Meanwhile, Speaks establishes two further critiques – which I will not explain in depth here, but will only list for future directions in my work. The first critique addresses the homeostatic complexity aspired to in Lynn’s work, amongst others. The process, he argues, inevitably results in complex form and complex articulation of surface, yet it almost never results in a complex spatial organization. The second critique comes from a detailed comparison Speaks makes between Lynn and Eisenman, in which he outlines Eisenman’s critique of the architectural “new.” According to Lynn’s predecessor, the new is led by a covert coherence to humanism and is rarely advanced by systems from within. Eisenman contends that architecture should do the latter and should never attempt to innovate beyond its own interiority. Strong things to consider.

Next up is Zaera-Polo’s Operative Topographies in Quaderns, and then the big push for the review on Monday. Wish me luck, give me thoughts, pull my finger.

1 Comments:

Blogger chris shusta said...

dammit josh, dont do my thesis for me...

i think i need to read that book.

October 26, 2007 at 6:48 AM  

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