explicit and scripted processes within design

Foreword by Philippe Morel

Introductory note to the exhibition “scriptedbypurpose”

“Explicit and encoded processes within design”

An exhibition Curated by Marc Fornes & Skylar Tibbits

Hosted and produced by the FUEL Collection – 229 Arch Street, Philadelphia, US

Opening on September 7th 2007

The Advent of Effective Postmodernism

Philippe Morel

“He who finds language interesting in itself is a different being to he who only finds in it a medium of interesting ideas.”

F. Nietzsche, Gesammelte Werke, Musarion-Verlag, München, 1922-29, Bd. II, p. 29 

“When in a distant future its object is sufficiently extended to comprise the study of systems which depend on connections other than those of space, number and quantity – when this extension is produced, it is my idea that the symbolic Logic…will become the foundation of aesthetics. Having come this far, it will proceed to conquer ethics and theology. The circle will thus be complete and we will have returned to the logical attitude of the time of Saint Thomas Aquinas.”

A. N. Whitehead, in The Philosophical Review, Vol. XLVI (1937), pp. 178-186. The question of Scripting has occupied a choice position in architecture for some time for the simple reason that it introduces an important series of modifications at all levels of practice. As a technique, Scripting appears as the smallest common denominator of a whole set of concepts and notions, whether in a broad sense, computation or production (both are clearly intimately linked), or diverse terms such as shape grammars, genetic algorithms, parametric and associative design, interpolation, approximation, optimization, “on demand production”, “business to order”, “postponed differentiation”, “e-factory”, “e-manufacturing” or Open Source, Web 2.0 and Mashups. The exhibition scriptedbypurpose, by focusing not on the formal consequences but on the emergence of Scripting as such, allows us to reconsider a phenomenon from a language point of view. As it is impossible here for me to provide any more than the beginnings of an analysis of this phenomenon, I will make do with putting forward some hypotheses and references using elements that have been explicitly brought up by the curators Marc Fornes and Skylar Tibbits, including Open Source. These references demonstrate the rigor of certain anticipations, such as that of A. Whitehead but I believe they also demonstrate the persistence and the current validity of certain theoretical questions implicitly put forward by the exhibition. Of course, it may seem paradoxical to bring up here any theoretical problems even though Scripting, as a “language of effectiveness” seems to indicate paths where theory does not necessarily have a place. In reality, things are not so simple. Although culturalist theory as we have known it since the 70s seems to provide very few tools for the emergence of a scientific and computational postmodernism which, for these reasons, I qualify as “effective”, a theorization which goes through a new effort of abstraction seems necessary since that which most characterizes the current period is perhaps the massive recourse to abstract and formalized languages as a means of controlling calculation, and therefore a computation which can indeed be defined as a “mechanization of abstraction”[i]. “In order to avoid a previous generation ruled by generic talks on “techniques”, all codes and custom tools must be displayed next to the work as open source.” (Marc Fornes and Skylar Tibbits)    By thus stating one of its aspects and by displaying in its sub-title that it concerns “Explicit and encoded processes within design”, the exhibition regards Open Source as a simple means of making available the knowledge involved in all production. Contrary to all coarse, artificial self-application of the term Open Source in architecture, the exhibition merely reveals that which in general, as soon as one deals with computation, mathematics or at the very least logico-mathematical languages, is found cloaked in a veil of innocence. Although, as noted by the curators, it is a question of breaking away from the fascination that a certain number of techniques have been able to exert recently, envisaged from a metaphorical point of view, it appears that it is also a question of not substituting this fascination with the eternal mathematical fetishism which, in turn, aspires to replace it. Open Source, as long as we envisage it globally – as an essential dimension of the knowledge based economy – is part of a reality which is very well perceived by A. Negri and M. Hardt, that of “a more radical and profound commonality than has ever been experienced in the history of capitalism” that of “a productive world made up of communication and social networks, interactive services and common languages”[ii]. This reality of logico-mathematical languages, such as explicitly referred to in scriptedbypurpose, did incidentally have a certain resonance in one of the thoughts for which the radical opening of languages appeared both as an economic reality of capitalism[iii], an intellectual necessity and an ironic warning, that of Guy Debord, when in addition to his many writings on information technology and the usage of programming languages, each edition of the Situationist International included the quote “All texts published in the ‘Situationist International’ can be freely reproduced, translated or adapted even without referring to the original”[iv]. Whilst the most radical concepts drawn up by G. Debord, including that of the Spectacle, are not sufficient when compared with the depth of recent developments (developments which despite everything were envisaged by G. Debord in his own development of the concept of Spectacle – concentrated, diffuse, then integrated) this does not change anything, it so happens that with a generalized usage of Scripting, as within the Spectacle, which “is language, the very communicativity or linguistic being of humans  […] it is (still) our own linguistic nature that comes back to us inverted”[v].  Now this linguistic nature is very different today from that which could have been envisaged some years ago. Of course natural languages have not disappeared (although their “geography” develops greatly despite everything), even being, with the semantic web for example, the object of considerable importance. Nevertheless, we perceive them through logico-mathematical languages, whilst research is dominated by a maximum effectiveness and a translatability allowing global production to be carried out without discontinuity. The evolution of logico-mathematical languages is thus characterized by a growing specialization and diversification, already giving rise to a multitude of Scripting languages for domains as limited as geometric modeling or (physical) fabrication. What the exhibition reveals through this multiplicity of languages, which it also invokes explicitly, is precisely the impossibility of envisaging Scripting beyond this creative effervescence, since Scripting as a phenomenon is itself this effervescence. Thus we are witnessing, to take a term which is used differently, but rightly, in epistemology and history of science[vi], a kind of “creolization” of computer programming, of which the mashups mentioned at the outset are another example. Although the title of this short text talks of postmodernism, it is precisely because this creolization is one of the strongest signs of real postmodernism. The most “radical and profound commonality than has ever been experienced in the history of capitalism” is a standardization of languages, this standardization being precisely that which allows their diversification. As noted by a technology analyst in an article very aptly entitled Standard choices for a nonstandard world”, “Computer technology relies very heavily on standards in one form or another”[vii].  To concentrate, as is the case in scriptedbypurpose, on languages but also on the diversity of mathematical formalisms in use – on the current  “cobbled together and ill-assorted coexistence between various mathematical and informational beings”[viii], an important coexistence but one which we cannot look at here – is to provide and provide oneself in architecture with the means of understanding the fundamental differences which exist between the current formal research, the modernist research and the still metaphoric reading of the technologies which have prevailed these last fifteen years. From modernism, Scripting incidentally retains mechanization, from culturalist postmodernism the appetite for fragmentation. This linguistic renewal of production which is today linked to Scripting – the linguistic (re)turn – a renewal which emerges as a generalized computation, fragmented but organized – in reality distributed[ix] –, as the advent of effective postmodernism, of a sort of mathematical polytheism, the major consequences of which are still to come, thus appears as the association of a free “theology” and an exacerbated rationalism. Thus, as predicted by A. Whitehead, the “extension” is produced. The symbolic Logic has become the foundation of aesthetics. Having come this far it will conquer other domains. “The circle will be completed”.

[i] Jacques Stern, director of the computer science department at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.[ii] A. Negri & M. Hardt, Empire, Harvard University Press, New edition 2001.[iii] “I’ve worked for IBM in Linux for more than six years, and it has become big business for us,” said IBM Linux Technology Center vice president Dan Frye, who sat on a panel discussing how open source software has gone from fad to phenomenon to fact of life in business. “It’s a fundamental part of IBM’s business. We’re not into Linux and open source because it’s cool. It’s nice that it’s cool, but it’s good business. We’re making billions.” Daniel Frye, From Open Source Software to Open Technology: How a Phenomenon is turning into an Exciting New Industry, InnoTech Conference, March 9, 2005. [iv] The irony obviously comes from the fact that G. Debord’s many plagiarists and have never expected the permission that they were given.[v] Gloses marginales aux Commentaires sur la société du spectacle, revue Multitudes, Futur Antérieur 2, été 1990. This text is a preface to the Italian edition of Comments to the Society of the Spectacle.

[vi] Cf. Peter Galison, Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics, University Of Chicago Press, October, 1997.

[vii] Ben Bednarz, in Computer Bits, November 1997.Elsewhere we find these kinds of comments: “We love web standards. Passionately. And want others to as well. Web standards are our ‘code for freedom’ – they aren’t about leaving users behind or adhering to inflexible rules. They exist to allow sophisticated beautiful sites to work for everyone as well tomorrow as they do today”, from Webstock, the Web Standards New Zealand Group, 2006.

[viii] F. Varenne, La simulation comme expérience concrète, in. Le statu épistémologique de la simulation, actes des 10èmes journées de Rochebrune (février 2003), Rencontres interdisciplinaires sur les systèmes complexes naturels et artificielles. With the support of the European Conference on Artificial Life (ECAL).

[ix] If we observe the reality of architecture on a global scale, we note, on the one hand, a growing horizontalization of the world which confirms the quasi-totality of the hypotheses of A. Branzi and some other Italian theorists and, on the other hand, a more “local” usage of digital technologies, a completely ordinary usage, as was in fact envisaged by B. Cache. What the abstraction of the exhibition allows us to envisage and what has not at this point been analysed in a really satisfactory manner, is the superimposition to a heterogeneous, architectural and urbane reality – anticipated by historians such as C. Jencks – of a hidden, abstract and scientific organisation of the production which this urbane reality contains. The distributed production, the Web 2.0 or Grid Computing, are aspects of this.  

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