Technology and its several definitions in Architecture
The first quote is from a current RIBA Journal article, one of many singing the praises of Building Information Modeling (BIM). It speaks directly to the parametric heart of the medium and is quite possibly the best way to approach the second quote. First, from Martin Reise…
While the palette of tools has decades of 3D-specific design development, you have to remember that with Digital Project, you're not inputting just lines or shapes, but rules and knowledge. They can adapt and evolve and have incredibly powerful generative capabilities.
The focus of the quote is not about BIM, but about the development of a rule set. The focus of much of the last few decades of architectural theory has focused on rule sets, syntax, and the shared grammar that enables our communication, not only with sounds but also with posture, fashion, and building materials.
Which is why this second quote, again from Leon Krier, is worth pausing to consider. Prudence suggests always giving ample reflection to those statements, starting with “That is my main ambition, to…” These are the statements we’re all prone to toss out in a moment of bombast, however, here we’re given a rare moment to reconsider what we so quickly take for granted. This is Leon Kreir describing the work done by recent students interrogating structures already several hundred years old…
We go through so many steps of analysis [in this studio], not only of geographical structure, but also building logic and symbolic structure. And it is impossible for any human to accumulate so much knowledge in three months. An apprenticeship for the Beaux Arts lasted ten years. You started by scratching the floor and you finished by doing sublime things in watercolor. The problem is that these [students] are already grown-up people. They may look young, but they are grown-ups. And they are netting this knowledge. So in three months they get this overload. For this reason they will completely reject it. But at least they know what the system is. […] They will of course have to give copy to what is now fact, and they will get into this, and I think we will be able to break down the barriers, which stopped them to see this as history. But from now on, my hope is that they will see this as technology. That is my main ambition, to turn traditional architecture from being a historic subject to [the] subject of technology. To understand this.
Here Kreir is qualifying his studio as still significant, even if the material studied has been cast aside. What is interesting is that he does this by making an unusually Hidegarrian arguement. One of those trademark Hiedigarian ideas was enframing – that uniquely human impulse that runs out in front of man’s actions and orders the world for him. It’s the impulse that turns forests into dimensioned lumber before we know the wood's use – or divides up land into giant subdivided grids before we know the land's use. As a result, architects just know that wood comes in 2x’s and a townhouse in New York will stand 16’-0” x 50’-0”. By lumping traditional architecture (read ‘vernacular architecture’) in with other technological achievements, Krier changes the battlefield ever so subtly.
Instead of approaching the traditional like historians, with catalogues and dates, Krier invites listeners to attack the body of work with the same skepticism that we reserve for the deployment of nuclear energy.
By claiming traditional architecture is a technology he invites speculation about how we understand our aesthetic achievements, how conventions are adopted and reused, and how architectural conventions have grown to reflect the order in the rest of society… These are broad statements, but have their bearing here, the same way that the car has reorganized our landscape or the clock has reoranized our social relations. At the heart of these broad questions is the assumption of progress. Progress is the engine that drives technology, but it’s a little more rare to here an aesthete (very indirectly) claim that progress is driving investigations in Architecture.
This post began with a quote about rule sets though, and that is where the disconnect lies. With parametric modeling allowing us to act with potency on the rules that organize our compositions, why isn't traditional architecture the first and easiest model to make? Why is the result of such modeling ‘conventional’ office buildings or swooping swerving blobs? Why does Resolution: 4 Architecture have scores of modernist prefab homes on their site (a la ArchiKluge), but there is no killer app to spank out all the possible greek temples according to Virtruius? What is the missing piece? Or what is not being said between the two quotes?