|Image From Tumblr (source unknown)
||Image from Vitruvius’ De Architectura, Illustrated by Jean Goujon, 1547 (source)
In his book You Are Not A Gadget one of Jaron Lanier’s criticisms of current digital culture, specifically the thing we call Web 2.0, is the paradox that a tool that is marketed as something to enable human creativity and individuality has actually done the opposite. The set of checklists and ‘Likes’ that form our online personalities demean the intricacies of the human mind. As we enthusiastically embrace these limitations so we limit ourselves. We willingly surrender to the perceived wisdom of the cloud based crowd at the expense of individual human insight. The question is as much a moral one as it is a practical technological one. Figuring out what we should do is as important as what we can do. To publish something takes a degree of arrogance that only an individual should have. An arrogant group quickly becomes oppressive. In the first chapter Lanier has a few simple suggestions of things to think about before publishing online. My three favourites are:
In other words: think before you speak.
This is even more pertinent when posting online where very quickly, context is stripped away by selective copying, pasting, reblogging, retweeting, and a little more subtly by RSS feeds which kill any design decisions the author may have made. Some may call this democratic, another definition might be reductive. In conversation, thinking before you speak, means not only considering which string of words one may want to use, but also audience and tone. An infinite number of tiny decisions are made unconsciously which come to define our individual manner of speaking. This is probably one reason speaking to new and unfamiliar people can be difficult as suddenly some of these unconscious decisions become conscious in the struggle to find a common language, not just in terms of content but in regards to form as well. Within the space of the internet, control over delivery is relinquished, because unlike with speech, content remains in circulation, in some form or another, it does not disappear into the wind.
During OMA’s ‘Show and Tell’ talk, which took place this past October at London’s Barbican Centre, Rem Koolhaas proclaimed that AMO’s newest publication Project Japan belongs to architecture, much in the same way that OMA’s spaces do. This comment is not surprising, coming from a man who has been reformatting architectural content since the beginning of his career, building on a framework laid out by many architects before him.
Judging by his ‘believe it or not’ delivery, Koolhaas appeared to assume that his comments would be interpreted as controversial. Speaking to a roomful of what can safely be assumed to be predominantly architects, why should such a comment be shocking?
Alongside buildings, models, drawings and images, words—printed and otherwise—are important tools for architectural communication. As they all transmit content, weighing the importance of one format over the other is difficult, if not impossible.
Any resistance to the suggestion that architectural production can happen across formats may stem from an identity crisis on the part of a profession who are unable to see themselves for who they are. Conventionally framed as purveyors of buildings, there is an entire realm of architecture that does not occupy itself directly with the production of habitable structures. While the general public can be forgiven for not having an awareness of this, architects—who have perhaps been confused by the requirements set by professional licensing institutions—cannot.
Erandi de Silva
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