The Faculty of architecture at KU Leuven, which last year featured on QS's Top 100 Universities in the World for Architecture, is Belgium's largest and most established university. The following essay, by Dag Boutsen—Dean of the School—and Kris Scheerlinck, examines cyclical learning in architectural education. It was first published by Volume in their 50th issue, Beyond Beyond, the editorial of which is available to read here.
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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.
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.
Volume #48: The Research Turn is comprised entirely of interviews and conversations. We wanted to learn from those who have been instrumental in shifting the boundaries and shaping today’s landscape of creative knowledge production. The issue also includes the catalogue for BLUE: Architecture of UN Peacekeeping Missions by Malkit Shoshan, the Dutch contribution to the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale.
Over the coming weeks Volume will share a curated selection of essays from this issue on ArchDaily. This represents the continuation of a partnership between two platforms with global agendas: in the case of ArchDaily to provide inspiration, knowledge and tools to architects across the world and, in the case of Volume, "to voice architecture any way, anywhere, anytime [by] represent[ing] the expansion of architectural territories and the new mandate for design."
This opinion-piece is a response to Nick Axel’s essay Cloud Urbanism: Towards a Redistribution of Spatial Value, published on ArchDaily as part of our partnership with Volume.
In his recent article, Nick Axel puts forward a compelling argument for the (re)distribution of city-space according to use value: kickball trophies and absentee owners out, efficient use of space in. Distributing urban space according to use certainly makes sense. Along with unoccupied luxury condos that are nothing more than assets to the 1% and mostly empty vacation apartments, expelling (rarely accessed) back-closets to the suburbs frees more of the limited space in cities for people to actually live in.
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.
Neoliberal post-fordism poses a dramatic challenge to urbanism as we have come to know it since the early 20th century. The public planning process has become more and more an embarrassment and obstacle to urban and economic flourishing. It’s a relic of a bygone era. The high point of urban planning was the post-war era of socialist planning and re-construction of the built environment. With respect to this period we can speak about physical or perhaps ‘positive planning’, in the sense of governments formulating concrete plans and designs about what to build. This era has long gone as society evolved beyond the simple fordist society of mechanical mass production to our current post-fordist networked society. When a few basic standards were functionally separate, optimized and endlessly repeated, central planning could still cope with the pace of societal progress. The world we live in today is far too multi-faceted, complex and dynamic to be entrusted to a central planning agency. The old model broke apart as it could not handle the level of complexity we live with and our cities should accommodate. The decentralized information processing mechanism of the market was indeed capable of managing such levels of complexity and, for this reason, has effectively taken over all positive decision-making processes.
For the United Parcel Service (UPS), space is valued insofar as it grounds the socio-technical assemblages that secure the company’s economy of speed. Holding one of the largest airline fleets in the United States, UPS’s services range from delivering cargo for the US Air Force and e-commerce packages to relocating endangered animal species and partaking in disaster relief. It operationalizes logistics in the space between military and civilian domains and from the scale of cargo for large corporations to small packages for individuals. UPS runs a global logistics network that crosses more than 200 countries and territories and delivers about 17 million packages every day through its planetary ring of Shanghai-Shenzhen-Anchorage-Louisville-Cologne-Dubai. It participates in the making of trans-border infrastructural systems and influences national politics towards the lifting of legal barriers to transnational trade. Yet what makes UPS significant is not its volume of shipment, infrastructural capacity, or magnitude of operational precision, but rather its resiliency and acute performance within the tides of uncertainty.
In 2006 Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, Brazilian President Lula da Silva and Argentinean President Néstor Kirchner proposed the construction of a gas pipeline connecting Venezuela to Brazil and Argentina, called the Gran Gasoduto del Sur. Although the project was never built, its path through the Amazon rainforest foregrounds the violent nature of resource extraction. At the same time, the project raised unique questions regarding the architecture of collective politics, particularly if understood in the context of the last fifteen years of political transformations throughout Latin America.
Volume is an "agenda-setting" quarterly magazine, published by the Archis Foundation (The Netherlands). Founded in 2005 as a research mechanism by Ole Bouman (Archis), Rem Koolhaas (OMA*AMO), and Mark Wigley (Columbia University Laboratory for Architecture/C-Lab), the project "reaches out for global views on designing environments, advocates broader attitudes to social structures, and reclaims the cultural and political significance of architecture."
Over the next six weeks Volume will share a curated selection of essays from The System* on ArchDaily. This represents the start of a new partnership between two platforms with global agendas: in the case of ArchDaily to provide inspiration, knowledge and tools to architects across the world and, in the case of Volume, "to voice architecture any way, anywhere, anytime [by] represent[ing] the expansion of architectural territories and the new mandate for design."
Volume Magazine in advance of their 47th issue, The System*.
Two recent trends have recently emerged from the United States’ real estate market that pick up on societal transformations in the way architecture and the city is inhabited. If synchronized, they stand to alter the principles under-riding contemporary logics of urban development. They do so by embodying an alternative system of values, framing its spatial articulation as a critical design project. The purpose of this short text is to present the two trends next to one another, evaluate the prospects of their synchronization, and speculate toward the future they potentiate in unison.