2012/13 - The Living Spaces of the Algorithmics

Image © Eames Foundation

Image © Eames Foundation

Mollie Claypool, Kasper Ax, Philippe Morel

We must turn our attention for a moment to something even more substantial than architectural design, and that is the question of how we live. We must find an approach to the problem not of how our architecture is to look, but of how it is to serve us. We must indeed admit that we do not live as we would wish to live, so that even more difficult question arises as how we want to live and what our ideals really are. In asking ourselves this question we have to be careful to define all three of its elements: we, want, live.                             –Constantinos A. Doxiadis, Architecture in Transition, 1963

The first thing to do when attempting to grasp the extent of today’s revolution in computing is, as Jean-Michel Salanskis mentioned in his work The world of the computational (Le monde du computationnel), to paint “a picture of banal novelty”.[i] This is not because computation itself lacks originality or radicalism, but rather because it has become deeply ingrained in all aspects of social life, industrial production and scientific research. It therefore has become natural to us. The main agenda of Unit 19 is to investigate the impact of the computational revolution in one of its most banal scopes: that of housing.

Whether we consider Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Houses in An Analytical Approach to Housing, published in Fortune in April 1943, Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House as the materialisation of FLW’s approach, John Hejduk’s designs for houses, or the innumerable domestic projects of Postmodernism, it is fair to say that North American architecture devoted more attention to the evolution of housing than any other place at the time. This can surely be explained by the fact that the United States represents the most advanced state of a capitalist economy. Historically, the relationship between economy and the issue of housing can be seen in the Ancient Greek period, as indicated by the etymology of the word economy (Oîkos + nómos: the law or management of the home).

Either in economic terms, in political terms (since the house, whether you liked it or not, was the sign of social emancipation the roots of which can be found in the English cottage), in philosophical terms (the house being a space for personal thoughts and beliefs owing no obeisance to any real higher authority) or in ecological terms (the house being the only true space of the integration of nature), the house is the Gordian knot of contemporary social and economic policy. For Unit 19, this can be an explanation for the various ideological battles and conflicts on the subject.

Therefore we will begin by examining the house not as an isolated object, but as a ‘hub’ within a larger network of everyday life; one which has a variety of domestic systems and devices that extend, enhance, attach to and augment our more traditional notions of what constitutes a house.

By zooming in on an even smaller scale than the ‘total’ object of the house itself, we hope to gain a more holistic understanding of how the house is contextualised and utilised in the 21st century. Beginning with the mid-century shift from timber to new design technologies for small-scale buildings, we will use the Arts & Architecture Case Study House Program in Los Angeles as our main precedent, supported by other canonical houses in the latter half of the 20th century.

This will be coupled with parallel historical analysis of the evolution of a particular system, device or function of the house chosen by the student. The real application of these devices and systems will be of paramount importance, resulting in a preliminary proposal for how they could evolve in the near future. We will speculate on whether or not the term ‘house’ – as well as its various components (garage, parking lot, mailbox, etc.) – remains applicable in a culture that is networked, computational and systemic.

Utilising ideas from theories of computation, the philosophy of science and network theory as well as the history of the domestic and of the house/home, this year’s project will take an advanced theoretical approach to inform a pragmatic investigation of what could be a new analytic view of the house. However, this project will aim to explore the potential behind what is achievable now or possible in the near future; technologically, materially, functionally and in terms of the geometry, performance and efficiency of the systems and deviceswe will be looking at.

[i] Jean-Michel Salanskis, Le monde du computationnel, Les Belles Lettres, 2011