Past Calls

Vol. 5 Call for Papers: Feedback (published November 2018).

Fun Palace

[Cedric Price and Joan Littlewood. Fun Palace promotional brochure, 1964]

Inflection vol. 5 examines the theme of Feedback within the discipline of architecture.

Our reality is saturated with data, but data by itself does not possess agency. To become useful feedback, data requires synthesis and design.

Recent technological progress means that feedback is now exchanged between human users and machines at an unprecedented speed.[1] Highly specialised companies use smart technologies to track our social interactions, purchasing habits and biometric data. This information is fed into to the design of our stores, our transport networks and even our toilet seats. This begs us to question how we can better use feedback in our built environments.

Architects and planners were once highly engaged with the study of cybernetics and systems theory. In 1964, British architect Cedric Price, pioneering cybernetician Gordon Pask and theatre director Joan Littlewood collaborated on the Fun Palace.[2] This project was a provocative response to increased leisure time in the post-war era. More a meticulously conceived matrix of responsive feedback loops than a static built form, the Fun Palace could adapt to the changing desires of its inhabitants at the touch of a button. Although never built, the project demonstrated that architecture could be conceived of as an adaptive system driven by user feedback. What form might a contemporary Fun Palace fuelled by our data-saturated present take?

Increasingly, architects and designers are concerned with implementing the outcomes of data collection. But before it can be implemented physically, data must first be aggregated. Even data derived from the most mundane sources―the disposal of waste, for example—can have immense implications. Projects like MIT Media Lab’s “Trash Track; The Plastic Cone” can inform our behaviour and encourage us to challenge traditional building typologies.[3] What role might the museum, library or archive have in this context? By designing sophisticated feedback loop interfaces, can deeply-ingrained societal habits be changed?

The potential to integrate feedback extends beyond the physical into the fields of virtual reality and simulation. For example, GSAPP Cloud Lab founders Mark Collins and Toru Hasegawa utilise virtual reality headsets to provide real-time visual and haptic feedback that amplifies sensory experiences.[4] The AA Component Membrane project incorporates feedback into the preliminary design phase—effectively integrating data into the built form itself.[5]

Ethical questions naturally emerge regarding how this information will be collected and utilised within our environment. The interior spatial organisation of Amazon warehouses is dictated by complex algorithms.[6] The daily movements and interactions of Amazon employees are effectively ‘Taylorized’—reduced to an efficiency calculation. Furthermore, surveillance and analytics are used to improve their productivity. Here, the occupant’s experience is secondary to the corporate demand for profit. How can designers better address the ethical consequences of technology’s incursion into our built environment?

Price believed that the benefits generated by technological advancement should be returned to society.[7] If our built environment is to better engage its end user by soliciting their feedback, we should also consider who that end user is. How do we cast a wider net and ensure a more diverse group of people have agency in the design of our built future? To succeed here, designers must be able to suspend their collective and individual biases. Although the use of data might imply objectivity, the way we analyse and implement data can still be subjective. An algorithm is only as good as its initial parameters, just as a self-learning neural network also bears the mark of its creator. Who will possess this authority and what sort of ethical framework will they operate within?

The richness of data available to architects, landscape architects, urban designers and planners enables new methodologies for these professions. Existing collaborative design processes can be enriched by a more nuanced understanding of occupancy centred on qualitative feedback. But the correlate question is how much of our current professional authority do we abdicate? The expertise of the architect and planner might be under question but should we continue to yield our responsibilities to other bodies? What active roles could designers play in facilitating, parsing and utilising user feedback?


[1] Usman Haque, “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask,” Architectural Design 77 (July/August 2007): 54-61
[2] Cedric Price, “The Fun Palace,” in A Forward Minded Retrospective (London: AA Publications, 2014)
[3] Mark Shepherd, ed., Sentient City: ubiquitous computing, architecture and the future of urban space (Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2011).
[4] ”GSAPP Cloud Lab: Projects,” last modified 2014. http://www.thecloudlab.org/projects.html
[5] ”AA Component Membrane,” last modified 2007. http://www.achimmenges.net/?p=4445
[6] Tom Simonite, “Grasping Robots Compete to Rule Amazon’s Warehouses,” Wired.com. https://www.wired.com/story/grasping-robots-compete-to-rule-amazons-warehouses/
[7] Stanley Mathews, “The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture,” Journal of Architectural Education 59 (2006): 39-48.

 

Vol. 4 Call for Papers: Impermanence (published November 2017).

Architectural permanence is widely associated with the Vitruvian definition of firmitas: mass and solidity crafted to endure. It is a lineage that runs deep in the history of architecture, from the marble and stone edifices of the past to the concrete steel skyscrapers of today. The architect Leon Krier claimed “the very condition of architecture to exist as a public art is to attain material and intellectual permanence…Without such permanence, without architecture transcending the lifespan of its builders, no public space, no collective expression such as art is ever possible.”

In observing the use of the Vitruvian term today, a disconnect becomes evident: absolutism in a society defined by relativity. Speculative development, volatile real estate markets, international warfare, mass migration, a changing climate and throw-away attitudes which prioritise quick and temporary fixes for ongoing problems have repositioned the value placed on the material durability of architecture. Given the instability of today, society has seen an embrace of the architecturally impermanent, a transition from immutable buildings to a deformalised architecture that embodies its inherent transience, creating structures that are more responsive to change, more rapidly deployable for environmental and humanitarian crises, or which capitalise on an intentional impermanence affecting the future trajectory of cities.

Architectural historian Antoine Picon argues that a new materiality of architecture, heralded by the digital revolution, will bolster this shift from permanence and immutability, to events and action. Performative materials, ones that can self-heal on the molecular level over a building’s life-cycle, provide the unprecedented possibility of buildings that can adapt to the ravages of time and their environment rather than resisting them.

In the Age of the Anthropocene, where construction and demolition are among the biggest producers of pollution and waste, should architecture aspire for longevity? Or can architecture successfully assimilate its own obsolescence, reflecting the ephemerality and velocity of the digital age?

And what of those buildings from our past which we fight to preserve? Of the 180,000 steel members of the Eiffel Tower, each has been replaced at least once, where the original construction was only intended to endure 20 years. So do we seek to conserve the buildings themselves or rather the ideals and spirit the people and epochs in which they were conceived? An enquiry into architectural permanence is not only an exploration of physical and material endurance, but also of cultural and symbolic endurance. It prompts an investigation into what our architecture says about our collective psychology, across time and cultures.

How does an understanding of architecture as occupying a point on a journey between existence and extinction shift our approach to the practices of conceiving and making space? A thorough examination of permanence in architecture will reflect upon past, present and future modes of practice; it considers the ruin and the monument, the pavilion and the ‘pop-up’, the owner and the tenant, the creator and the context.

Inflection journal vol.4 invites submissions from students, academics and professionals to explore and unpack the complex inter-relationship between permanence / impermanence in architectural discourse. We welcome both academic and practice-oriented written pieces (up to 3000 words), visual essays, interviews and fictional works that engage with the issue in relation to architecture, design and their related fields.


[1] Leon Krier, “The Reconstruction of the European City,” November, Vol. 54 (1984): 16-22.

[2] Antoine Picon, “Digital Architecture and the Temporal Structure of the Internet Experience,” Chrono-topologies, Vol. 32 No. 8 (2020):  223 – 236.

Vol. 3 Call for Papers: Transdisciplinarity + Architectural Practice
(published November 2016).

New Order

In an age of globalised collaboration, architecture, as an isolated discipline, seems no longer equipped to address the demands of contemporary society. One solution offered in this crisis of relevance is transdisciplinarity; the hybridisation of architecture with adjacent disciplines. As such, this concept has risen to become the dominant mode of contemporary architectural practice. Transdisciplinarity is the New Order.

This moment of adjacencies resembles art historian Rosalind Krauss’ critique of synthesised artistic practice. Her 1979 essay, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” sought to identify the core qualities of sculpture, architecture and land art at the point at which the three distinct disciplines were being hybridised.[1] In defining the limits of each discipline, the concept of an expanded field provided a space to establish what each might become if strategically combined with adjacent fields of practice.

Architecture theorist Anthony Vidler translated Krauss’ thinking to the architectural context in 2004. His adaptation, “Architecture’s expanded field,” similarly assessed the limits of disciplinary borders against categories as far-reaching as biology, politics and technology.[2] For Vidler, the expanded field was concerned with what occurs at the edge of conventional architecture as a means of innovation.

But this porous disciplinary boundary, celebrated as recently as 2012 by curator Rory Hyde’s Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture, has been embraced within a contemporary conception of architecture. As Hyde discusses, the profession can now be defined through its relationship with external disciplines: geospatial, political, medical, anthropological, biological and philosophical.[3]

Projects once considered to be on the “fringe” of architectural practice are now routine. The expanded field is now embraced and authenticated by educational institutions, symposiums, publications, and, crucially, public expectation. Architects are crowd-funding projects to circumvent the traditional client-architect business model. Architects now harness the potential of biological and chemical technologies to fundamentally alter the materials which constrain the built environment. Architects curate design festivals and civic interventions to facilitate the exchange of experience through event.

Transdisciplinary practice has transcended conventional notions of architecture, displacing the production of built form as the prevailing mode of practice. To conceive of architecture simply as the act of designing and constructing buildings is too limiting. But what remains of the core tenets of architectural practice? Is this redefinition of architecture an advance or a retreat?

Inflection Vol. 3 will explore the limits and the implications of this transdisciplinary age through a critical investigation of this current mode of practice. In tracing the trajectory of this New Order, this issue seeks to discover the matter that binds architecture together in this fragmented, yet hyperconnected epoch.


[1] Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October, Vol. 8 (1979): 31-44.

[2] Anthony Vidler, “Architecture’s expanded field: finding inspiration in jellyfish and geopolitics, architects today are working within radically new frames of reference,” Artforum International, Vol. 42 No. 8 (2004):  142 – 148.

[3] Rory Hyde, Future Practice: Conversations from the Edge of Architecture (Routledge: New York, 2012).