Between Digital Seduction and Salvation

This lecture is centered around the ongoing conflict between architectural formalists and functionalists, shedding light on the impact of emerging technologies in this context.

Set against the backdrop of an era driven by information and technology, the lecture delves into the evolving identity and trajectory of architecture as a discipline.

Utilizing fictional archetypes such as Homo Faber, Cyborg, and Neuromancer's Cowboy, the speaker dissects the potential ramifications and advantages of integrating technology into architectural practice.

Between Digital Seduction and Salvation

Opening remarks to the symposium organized by Pratt Journal III
Dan Bucsescu, May 1990

It has been said that for the last twenty years, we have witnessed a "war" in the territory of architectural discourse between the formalists and the functionalists. This is, of course, just a local battle in a larger cultural war. Thomas Kuhn might have called it the "multi-paradigmatic" war in the field of architectural thought. But as of this moment, no dominant paradigm emerges. Tonight, we will look at tools, at the new technology that contributes to this controversy. Let me start by stating that the collective voice of the architectural community is in a state of confusion and hesitation, a kind of stuttering.

While I am keenly aware of the pit falls present in any attempt to define the mood of the times, it is impossible to avoid such definitions in any characterization of our information age. The advent of the computer and, with it, the information revolution are often proposed as the cure, not only for all the schisms and biases of Western culture and society, but for the artistic stuttering of an architectural community uneasy with the culturally loaded and ambiguous free-play of relativist meaning that accompanies postmodern thought.

These symptoms have been pointed out before. According to Lewis Mumford: Whenever man becomes unsure of himself, or whenever his creative powers seem inadequate, whenever his symbolisms breed confusion and conflict, his tendency is either to find refuge in blind Fate, or to concentrate upon the processes in which his own subjective interests are not directly involved.In his chapter "Media as Translators," Marshal McLuhan wrote of the healing value of mechanical processes noting "the tendency of neurotic children to lose their stuttering when using the telephone."

Is this the electronic road architecture should journey in order to join the world it feels disconnected from? Is this the way to lose our artistic stuttering? What do these new technologies promise? mobility? speed? inclusiveness? exchange? universal codes? There has been much talk of the breakdown of all boundaries, a condition where the marginal takes priority over the center, the point of intersection over the grid. Implied is the loss of dialectical opposition such as human/animal, organism/machine, physical/spiritual realms, mind/body... In this new world there would be no separation between authors and readers, maker and the tool, subject and object, no gender polarity, no private and public realms, no dominance and no control. It is our task here tonight to investigate some of the philosophical and operational implications of this new technology for architecture.

In order to locate myself in the ensuing discussion, I will choose a model of behavior from the following fictional models: Homo Faber, Donna Haraway's Cyborg and Neuromancer's Cowboy. The closest to my generation is Walter Faber, the protagonist of Max Frisch's novel, Homo Faber, man the maker. Hannah Arendt, in The Human Condition, also describes this modern hero. He is the human being for whom only the tangible, the calculable, and the verifiable exists: an engineer who devotes his life to the service of a purely technological world. I am, I should say, much less at ease in the world of Donna Haraway’s Cyborg, a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, intent on the reinvention of nature, or with William Gibson’s Neuromancer Cowboy, the hero of the "informed society."In Homo Faber, my hero, Walter Faber, travels from France to Italy to Greece, in search of truth. It is there on ancient grounds that he suddenly understands. By revisiting old questions, I hope tonight’s discussion will do the same for me.