Text Selected: “Buoyancy as an architectural image of the transition between the age of printing and the culture of cyberspace”
The Evolution of the Metaphysical Age
Printing Press to Digital
The Media Environment
Deconstruction of Conceptual Polarities
Classical to Deconstructive Architecture
Art and Fashion
The Phenomenological Stance of Man
The term ‘buoyancy’ as referenced in Lerner’s article on Buoyancy as an architectural image of the transition between the age of printing and the culture of cyberspacerepresents a paradigm shift in perception of the “physics of experience from a physical world of forces and weight towards metaphysical, weightless virtual realities”. This Metaphysical Age is reflected in the advancement of society in response to “emergent technologies”, the deconstruction of conceptual polarities, visual bias and the inherent phenomenological stance of man; resulting in virtual representations and innovative architectural forms (Lerner, 2008).
THE EVOLUTION OF THE METAPHYSICAL AGE
The Industrial Age started with the mass replication of the printed word via the printing press, this had a radical impact on the world’s distribution of knowledge and according to Carpo “printing from moveable types is probably the means of communication that most profoundly influenced the civilisation to which we still belong” (Carpo, 2001). The media environment expanded with the printed word since “technology improved accessibility” with the mass production of literature (Lerner, 2008). However, these improvements have all but nearly replaced handcrafted material goods with economical replications. Christine Boyer, in her text CyberCities, notes that humans are becoming less necessary as machines no longer require a disciplined labour force, some without human interaction all together and we are currently “inhabiting what is known as a space of flows defined by global networks of computers” (Boyer, 1996, p. 18).
Photorealistic images, computer-aided-design software and social media not only extends our representational abilities but allows humans’ arguably most successful trait, communication, a platform to develop. Therefore, the reason that “two-dimensional drawings are no longer the dominant mode of producing representations of architectural concepts and ideas is because machine intelligence significantly extends our representational ability”; allowing more realistic images to sell the client on a design (Lerner, 2008). The software now used such as CAD (computer-aided-design) and Revit can result in manipulations to form and viewing the deconstructed elements, potentially giving rise to Deconstructivism. A digital morphogenesis has occurred from the printing press to three-dimensional printing making physical models directly from virtual models in a fraction of the time. Genetic algorithms and motion kinematics are being used as a generative tool with a shift in focus from creating the form to choosing the form from a range of computer-generated possibilities. This is the immediate future of architecture (Kolarevic, 2003).
DECONSTRUCTION OF CONCEPTUAL POLARITIES
Planes of vertical and horizontal dispositions, amalgamated with proportional ideals were an “inherent Western bias of architectural discourse and design”. The current architectural age as described by Lerner (2008) expresses the deconstruction of conceptual polarities and the accretion of Deconstructivism. This fundamental shift in focus of art, fashion and architecture from realistic (using human proportions) to parataxis (deconstructed), can be felt throughout changing culture.
Deconstructive architects such as Zara Hadid and Daniel Libeskind have created powerful forms bringing avant garde culture to where they inhabit. Libeskind’s most well-known building the Jewish Museum in Berlin, has redefined how architecture can be phenomenological instead of just appealing to the senses (Rattenbury, et al., 2004).
Planes which were initially explored in art by the Roman’s “crude examples of vanishing-point perspective”. As the digital environment matured so did artistic perspectives. In contrast to the linear vanishing point style of showing perspective, the fundamental perception of a Pointillism image is “constructed by the juxtaposition of elements” appearing simply as “superficial content”. Pointillism artworks such as Seurats’ paved the way to digital pixels being used in TV screens and created a relationship between vision and the digital age (Lerner, 2008). Boyer notes that the reduction of an image to pixels highlights the “revolutionary potentials of the photograph and the cinema” which have evolved to take a place in everyday life (Boyer, 1996, p. 53).
THE PHENOMENOLOGICAL STANCE OF MAN
Entasis, arguably evoked on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece in 447BC, the application of which on the Parthenon counteracted the concave appearance of straight edges in perspective (Britannica, 2018). Subsequently the deception of vision has taken many forms, commonly in scale and lightness, where building materials and superficial cladding have affected the phenomenological reaction to a space. In terms of art, the “subliminal visual bias inherent in the groundwork of the phonetic alphabet and the printing press” resulted in the focus on vanishing-point perspective between the renaissance and 19thcentury modernity (Lerner, 2008).
A key example of visual bias, architect Rafael Viñoly’s façade design on the ‘Walkie Talkie’ skyscraper in London, was blamed for reflecting an intense beam of light which has melted parts of nearby parked cars (BBC, 2013). In Fry’s text Art in a machine age he writes that there is a struggle within an architect between functionality for social needs and a less worldly solution (Fry, 1969). In Viñoly’s case, although the façade satisfied the dominant sense of vision, the neglected functionality has resulted in an uneconomical redesign.
The phenomenological stance of man was fundamentally altered with the creation of reading and writing as it “fostered an ‘abstract ability’” and allowed for specialisation and deeper thought (Lerner, 2008). However, catalogues of standardised architectural information such as EXAMPLE may have resulted in “repetition of what is known and expected” typically in civic buildings such as schools and libraries which foster similar demands. This invokes “a diminishing measure of emotional response” within a lifeless formula that replaces the delight people should feel when experiencing a structure to placidity (Fry, 1969).
Phenomenological transparency can be seen throughout social media not as representations but as re-representations; “real-time images of us and our context” the style of which may be influenced by society and popular culture. Social networks such as Instagram have relied solely on the fact that “images are a speedier and more efficient means of imparting information” and seem to have “eclipsed the need for language in our digital machines” (Boyer, 1996). An expansion of which is an individual’s ability to video call which is essentially “an extension of visual senses without the effect of space/ distance” allowing us to further the reach of the human nervous system and brain to locations and events which we have not visited (Lerner, 2008).
The term “global village” coined by communication theorist Marshall McLuhan aptly describes New York City where “the physical world of traditional architecture, the age of mechanical reproduction of representations and buildings” has been replaced by “electronic public spaces where digital images are projected across large screens”. The result being an augmented reality experience which populates our environment with “interconnected intelligent modules” (Lerner, 2008). However, some including Michael Heim suggest that more communication potential results in a diminished sense of community (Heim, 1993). The populous of cities globally has grown to approximately 3.5 billion people living in parallel with the persuasive influence of media in everyday life (Arup, 2016).
This level of augmented reality is only growing, reaching from streets into our homes where we can view live TV or spaces watched by CCTV (closed circuit television) which are “amplifying our presence by means of extending awareness”. Metaphysical rooms such as those created by augmented and virtual reality data are increasingly used i.e. the open university and online forums. In these spaces “physical beings are translated into metaphysical digital images, or sensory ‘presentations’, and not representations of themselves or objects in the real world” (Lerner, 2008). This disengagement from reality into cybernetic representations is a direct consequence of us failing as a race to distinguish between “experience and a reality that has been manipulated by media images” to the extent that images can replace tangible experience (Boyer, 1996).
“In our present networked context of distributive computing and interactive communications” we witness the emergence of ‘Imagineering’. This is the space of digital simulacrum which McLuhan notes that “technologies will facilitate the extension, or engineering of consciousness itself” (McLuhan, 1994). Such advancements can already be witnessed in increased home automation and the continued interest in A.I which technology experts such as Elon Musk has described as “an immortal dictator from which we would never escape” (The Washington Post, 2018). However, Negroponte argues that a partnership between man and machine would be of two colleagues instead of a master and slave with both parties seeking self-improvement (Negroponte, 1970). These stages between human and A.I are getting increasingly blurred as the human body seems disposable; human memory can be downloaded into computer programs and organs are replaced by prosthetic devices (Boyer, 1996, p. 11). For now, the mind’s creativity keeps architectural offices out of reach of A.I but it would be naïve to assume that this will always be the case.
To summarise, Lerner’s text discusses a relationship in flux between emerging technologies and architectural form, the result being structures that satisfy a “perceptual bias for phenomenological transparency” whilst recognising that reality is increasingly immaterial (Lerner, 2008). Furthermore, architects such as Hadid and Libeskind demonstrate a cognitive attunement to the culture of cyberspace and importance of communication hence the success of their respective buildings in communicating their functionality and form (Boyer, 1996). The advancements in communication that have seen the printing press metamorphosis into artificial intelligence will be the salvation or downfall of future architects.
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