Possible Futures of Architecture
A Short Essay on the position of Architecture
in Contemporary and Future Culture


There is a growing feeling that it is impossible to have any new ideas on architecture - that architecture is in a desperate state. From a modernist point of view, form and space are constantly forced to be new.

New architecture creates something opaque for new individuals; new space and form with no traces of the past. But matured, it falls into the dilemma of ambiguity, being a subject to confront or a source of repulsion. At this point architecture settles down as another historical genre, enumerating and repeating quotations from its historical context. This was the kind of thinking of post-modernists about the categories of architectural forms. Something that is essentially opposite gets smudged, its relationship becomes obscure, overshadowed by form. In this way architecture is neutralised and abducted by categorising institutions.

In reality, new schemes of relationship are generated though the advent of new technologies; relationships between people and objects, and between people themselves. We could liken this hyper-environment to computer word processing; words which were once understood sequentially transmute into one object, which is exposed to a random editing process. We are left with a sea of possibilities as opposed to the illusion of the original one-off creation.

A new concept of creation is now developing, that of the computer model which converts both the intractable world of facts -- the form/material relations -- and highly imaginative flights or logical proposals, into the same abstract patterns -- patterns which can freely be manipulated. For such a model, even the most obvious process of calculation must be fractionated into orderly steps before it can be used for simulated prototyping; the same step can follow, or even anticipate, the least obvious and most complex forms of unconscious reasoning. Not that hidden depth could be revealed by such a model; rather, everything is flattened by it. Above all, the very distinction between abstract formalism and pragmatic realism is eliminated. Formerly, designers were classified as formalists or realists. The formalists developed viable rules which could be applied as a method. The design of a building entailed the selection of a suitable method and the pursuit of its logical consequences. Architecture became a game, albeit one that -- paradoxically -- is deemed to be useful. The realists, on the other hand, sought to subordinate form to the world, limiting the field on which any such game could be played.

Although architecture is woven into the hyper environment of the real city, it still exists in the visible world -- space and form can never be hyper themselves. All architecture built as a metaphor of that kind of technology is nothing more than a kind of papier-maché. It is this dilemma I want to find a way out of.

Architecture has been understood as a sort of geometrical composition consisting of a limited number of physical elements within the spatial void. Yet suppose architecture is not a porous geometric construction, but a whole which is filled with invisible dynamics. The old theory would be invalidated because it is unable to differentiate this kind of whole. It cannot be accomplished via a detailed cataloguing and recognition of each species of differentiation that operates within space. This model of space, as an invisible dynamic with distinctive heterogeneity, is our world today.

In this real world, an aggregate of architecture involves different forms, different programs, which may be understood as sorts of forms themselves. The common critique: that there is nothing new of worth in architecture, particularly no new forms, only shows the limitation of traditional hierarchical thinking. It seems to me however, that every indication in contemporary society is to the contrary. The stock of possible forms, of aesthetic and institutional forms, is not depleted at all, but is in fact about to be created.

One option for architecture is to encompass a hyper real environment, or Raum-Gestalten, of global phenomena. New technologies need many experiments. If we open our eyes we can see a broad field of possibilities emerging. Architectural and Gestalt theories are still in the Stone Age when compared with technological advances, and we may need to leapfrog existing theories and abandon the concept of fine architecture.

Even though creativity might be an illusion, we want a positive response to this bewilderment: this is the age for generating the totally new. We currently have no expression for a prospective architecture. It would be exiting to generate further confusion, through the creation of models which refuse any simple categorisation, and the creation of intellectual currencies entailing an unexplored understanding of form and the world.


updated 1993