With Are We Human—the exhibition of the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial, which ran for one month at the end of 2016—curators Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley were researching the fundamental notion of ‘design’. Their historic, cultural and conceptual exploration attempted to unravel the various programs and ambitions behind a (mainly) market driven inventiveness, which is presented as progress. This pushed the notion of design and the biennale as a format beyond their established definitions.
This article by Gabu Heindl, an Austrian architect and urbanist, was first published by Volume in their 50th issue, Beyond Beyond, the editorial of which is available to read here. Here, Heindl introduces the concept of "powerfully (precariously) positioned planning propositions" (PPPP) based on the Donaukanal project in Vienna.
In a certain sense, looking at the beyond is something that we cannot do today, other than from the vantage point of a beyond the ‘beyond’. Looking at the connections between progressive political movements and planning/building practices in modernity and their ways of departing into ever new ‘beyonds’, beyond the boundaries of historically given urban and social formations – today, we are certainly beyond these dynamics. And it is not so much postmodernism that needs to be invoked here, but rather two reflections on politics, planning/building related and otherwise, that are bound for the beyond. One reflection concerns how progressive, modernist, avant-garde politics, even at their height, were compromised by, or even complicit in, affinities with paternalistic, top-down governance (Red Vienna) or even with totalitarian rule (fascism). The second reflection, more pertinent to our present moment, concerns the extent to which the dynamics of going beyond have, since the late 1970s, shifted to a regime of (self-)government and accumulation which is addressed and theorized under labels such as neoliberalism, Post-Fordism or new spirit of capitalism.
In this editorial from VOLUME's milestone 50th issue, Arjen Oosterman—the magazine's Editor-in-Chief—reflects on over ten years of cultural production and discourse and outlines what is to come. ArchDaily will be sharing a selection of the articles from this issue over the coming weeks.
Moving forward implies looking back. When we started this research engine called VOLUME in 2005, economic, political, and social conditions were very different to how they are today. The intention to rethink the agency of ‘beyond’ as driver for change inevitably means historicizing the trajectory of the VOLUME project so far. That said, we really didn’t want to turn VOLUME itself into the subject of reflection. So we’ll instead talk about the present and, in so doing, find history creeping its way in whether we like it or not.
What are the philosophical consequences of automation after the integration of pervasive AI into the architecture, landscapes and cognitive maps of our planet and its populations? We suggest that "natural models" of automation pre-exist our technology, with profound implications for human and planetary systems. We’re interested in specific examples and models outside of our cultural milieu that test the limits of bodies, that map habits and their disruption through noise, and reframe the relation between life and consciousness. The following examples index the performance of networks in tight cycles of feedback loops: machines teaching machines. To go to the root of the philosophical consequences of automation our path is through abstract and universalist models of ‘natural laws’, redeployed into specific local situations. We use the term ‘drive’ for its myriad implications connecting across the examples we have chosen.
The relevant revolution today is the current electronic one. Architecturally, the symbol systems that electronics purveys so well are more important than its engineering content. The most urgent technological problem facing us is the humane meshing of advanced scientific and technical systems with our imperfect and exploited human systems, a problem worthy of the best attention of architecture's scientific ideologues and visionaries.
—Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Steven Izenour, Learning from Las Vegas
The FutureLand Express departs once daily—three times on Sunday—in front of FutureLand, the information center of the latest extension of the Port of Rotterdam. The bus tours Maasvlakte 2, as the area is called, for seventy-five minutes, showing visitors 2,000 hectares of artificial ground for port activities and ‘nature’. The dredging of 240 million cubic meters of sand for land reclamation was just beginning in 2008; back then, this was, literally, future land. However, FutureLand’s promise of witnessing the future through a bus window goes beyond sightseeing record-breaking civil engineering works. Maasvlakte 2 is also home of the two most technologically advanced container terminals in the world.
During the last decade, the idea of a technological singularity has passed from science fiction to a plausible prediction of the proximate future. In its simplest terms, a technological singularity will take place when an artificial general intelligence (AGI), capable of modifying its own code, advances so rapidly that subsequent technological progress (and as a result history itself) become as unpredictable and unfathomable as what happens within a black hole. In the most radical vision, the ‘hard takeoff’, within hours or even minutes of artificial intelligence developing the capacity for recursive self-improvement, the intelligence advances so greatly that it fundamentally transforms life on Earth.
The following essay by Nick Axel (Volume's Managing Editor) first published by the magazine in their 49th issue, Hello World!
With the rise of computational networks and power, cognitive models developed and debated over in the postwar decades have finally been able to be put to work. Back then, there was a philosophical debate raging alongside the burgeoning field of computer science theory on the nature of consciousness, in which machines of artificial intelligence served as a thought experiment to question humanity. Yet with the proliferation of data and the centralization of its archives, theoretical practice moved from conceptual experiments to empirical tests.
Machines have long been integral to architectural discourse. Vitruvius concluded his ten books with a meditation on war machines, and Le Corbusier published on his industrial muses just over 100 years ago. Yet something is different today. We have always learned from machines—our societies are fundamentally shaped by their processes—but now, machines learn. We live in paradoxical times. Machinic processes, computational algorithms and artificial intelligence have never been so proximate, direct, and intimate to daily life, yet we are many steps removed from their practical operations.
This issue of Volume, the third in our Learning series, seeks to take one small step in the direction towards understanding the contemporary relevance of machines for architecture, and one giant leap for mankind. Volume #49: Hello World! also includes In Loving Support, a 32-page insert produced with Het Nieuwe Instituut on living and working with algorithms.
The Ganges River is India’s largest and most densely populated water basin. A lifeline to millions of people and carrying enormous celestial significance, the river is also severely polluted and suffers from dramatic droughts and floods. Vere van Gool spoke with Anthony Acciavatti to discuss the decade he spent navigating the Ganges and the new reading he was able to construct of this sacred river.
Vere van Gool: How did your journey begin?
Anthony Acciavatti: I’ve always been interested in the relationship between rivers and cities. It’s something of a romance really. I grew up not far from the Mississippi river and after doing some mappings of the Tiber river in relationship to the city of Rome, I came back to the States and finished my undergraduate thesis where I was looking at the Atchafalaya basin of south New Orleans, designing from the scale of mosquito habitats to the regional hydrodynamics of the Mississippi. While working on my thesis, I became very interested in looking into a large river system and noticed that the Ganges hadn't been mapped in about fifty years. All I could find were statistics attesting to its unprecedented levels of human density, agricultural production, and annual rainfall. So I wrote a Fulbright proposal in 2004, saying: if you give me a year, I will walk the land and create what I called a dynamic atlas of how the monsoon radically transforms this area every year.
Volume #48: The Research Turn contains the exhibition catalogue for BLUE: The Architecture of UN Peacekeeping, the Dutch entry at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition, la Biennale di Venezia, by Malkit Shoshan. BLUE focuses on the most prominent footprint of the United Nations’ peacekeeping operations: the compound.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union and increasingly since 9/11 and the ‘War on Terror’, warfare has moved into the city. While the wars of the 20th century were largely between nations, fighting over territorial sovereignty and along disputed borders, the wars of the 21st century have been internal and borderless. Today’s wars are being fought between large multinational coalitions of security regimes and insurgent networks. It’s not just war that has moved to the city though: the entire security apparatus has moved with them too, including its peacekeepers and their entire infrastructure. Today, United Nations (UN) peacekeeping operations are taking place in hundreds of cities around the world and at a large scale.
The political left has had a rough few decades; everything just seems to be going in the other direction. Instead of romanticizing what it would be like "only if," we’d better get to work on figuring out how to turn the engine of progress around. Volume spoke with Adrian Lahoud about the stakes of architectural research within the academy today and how it might contribute to moving towards the horizons of the left.
The movement and management of sediment is arguably the largest continuous project of spatial manipulation on the planet. This ongoing battle between geology and industry is most apparent through the act of dredging. Dredging is the excavation, gathering, transport, and disposal of sediment from subaquatic areas, enacted to maintain depths of shipping channels, harbors, and ports as well as to reclaim land, create sea defences, and remove toxic chemicals. The primary impetus for dredging is to sustain logistical routes for the shipping industry by countering the forces of erosion, movement, and settling of sediments. Like the logistics of the global shipping industry it serves, dredging is a continual process whose magnitude and significance have fostered their own series of ‘geologics’ – the engineering of material processes that operate in temporal and spatial scales that are geological in scope. Currently in the United States alone, more than four hundred ports and over 25,000 miles of navigation channels are being dredged.
In his essay "Figures, Doors and Passages", the architectural historian Robin Evans described how "it is difficult to see in the conventional layout of a contemporary house anything but the crystallization of cold reason. Because of this," he asserted, "we are easily led into thinking that a commodity so transparently unexceptional must have been wrought directly from the stuff of basic human needs." His words, which highlight the passive approach of designers, developers and dwellers when it comes to the vast majority of British housing being built today, were first published in 1978 – two years before the Conservative government under Margaret Thatcher introduced the 1980 Housing Act.
I never can get enough of Volume. This issue is loaded with provocative articles that stimulate discussion about a pressing reality, the dramatic demographic shift in the age of human populations. Throughout this issue there are articles like Martti Kalliala’s that push the boundaries of the discussion. Looking at the rapid increases in average life expectancy, Kalliala’s asks what the world will be like if we could live to a thousand? These types of articles are supplemented by exposés into existing and proposed retirement communities and nursing homes. This, as Volume always does, gives a nice balance to the intellectual inquiry and practical application.