A Science of Singulars: On the Nature of Architectural Science, #4: Singularization and Architectural Science, & Conclusion.
By Otto Paans
TABLE OF CONTENTS
IV. Singularization and Architectural Science
This is the fourth and final installment, and contains sections IV, V, and the BIBLIOGRAPHY.
IV. Singularization and Architectural Science
If my reasoning in the previous sections is correct, we should revise our familiar architectural concepts in order to think about the dynamics of architectural design practices and the role they play in understanding what kind of science Architekturwissenschaft is or could be.
In doing so, I’ll build on a proposal made by Irit Rogoff regarding the role of singularisation in creative (not just architectural design) practice. As starting point, we can go forward from the following statement:
[T]o argue [for the creative practice of knowledge] means that it needs to be viewed as an a-signifying practice that produces ruptures and affects within the map of knowledge. This is difficult since the legacy of knowledge we have inherited from the Enlightenment has viewed knowledge as teleological, linear, cumulative, consequent, and verifiable either through experimentation or through orders of logic and sequential argumentation.[i]
This type of statement is certainly recognizable from a methodological point of view. The types of knowledge deployed in the architectural design disciplines are hard to map straightforwardly, and they do not neatly add up to a neat and total system of axioms or laws. There seems to be no way to derive a calculus metaphysicus from them. Rogoff’s take on the matter brings us back to a point raised earlier. If the architectural sciences are based on the template of the natural sciences, the Enlightenment view about knowledge production is not far behind, because the ideals of the broadly Newtonian-Cartesian type that formed an immense impetus during the Scientific Revolution still pervade it and are presupposed by it.
The knowledge produced in architectural design practices is sometimes indeed non-signifying. It points beyond that which can be easily expressed with words, concepts and may at times be confusing, uncanny or downright estranging. All of this belongs to the disruptive, but equally to the generative character of creative practices. Yet, Rogoff overstates the case that creative practices require therefore some kind “undisciplining” in order to fully manifest their non-signifying potential.[ii] While it is true that norms and ideas about knowledge from without the architectural disciplines may prove to be a hindrance rather than a help to their development does not warrant the move which all too often has been made: to embrace a kind of boundless openness that is called “creative,” “deterritorializing,” “open,” “generative,” etc. The philosophical narratives that support these tactics can be found throughout poststructuralist thought.[iii] However, this move merely pushes the real issue into the background, thereby avoiding dealing with it altogether.
If anything, architectural science has to find and define its own disciplinary boundaries. Or — in Hegel’s succinct phrase: it must follow the internal structure of its questions.[iv] In other words: if the architectural disciplines deal with the spatial singular, it is necessary that its methods and questions inherently reflects their character. The idea that we need a countermove against the Enlightenment ideal of knowledge is partially true, but only insofar as that ideal hinders the construction of a knowledge-base that can deal with the spatial singulars of architecture. The goal of any architectural science — whatever conception one may have of it — is not to produce a non-signifying order; that is not its raison d’être. That being said, however, those affects and ruptures that truly drive creative processes by deviating from the Enlightenment ideal are indeed immensely valuable for architectural design. It is precisely this potential that enriches the expressive and critical potential of architecture. If architecture is a reflection, however indirect and oblique, of our self-understanding, than the occasional rupture or questioning of values, ideas and forms of representation is a good thing. It constitutes the metaphysical value of architecture as such. And here, we can return to Rogoff’s argument:
Here knowledge would exist in a relation but not one of telos; its framing would be its urgency in the world and not its epistemological legacy, and it would have the ability to form new and unexpected alliances in numerous directions or in other words to undergo processes of “singularisation”. So the potential is that practice-based research might singularize knowledge rather than be neatly placed within its structures. That materials, associations, narratives, methodologies would pursue one another in unconventional modes, invite each other to dance as it were — art history and astrophysics for example might develop some conversation, not just as bodies of knowledge but as the narrative structures they are recounted in, as drives, impulses, personal histories, modes of curiosity, conceits of intelligence, etc.[v]
Instead of utilizing knowledge in an attempt to create a calculus metaphysicus of the world, or a “neutral system of formulae,” the idea is to put knowledge to work in new, unexpected and even liberating constellations. The resulting combinations, recombinations, or altogether new organizations would “singularize” themselves from other more familiar or generally-accepted forms of knowledge. In this way, the boundaries that comes with the acceptance of accepted or familiar forms of knowledge are broken through or overcome, and new types of knowledge, insight, and consequently, living and thinking emerge.
One can see the importance of this point, since the (visual) forms of representation that the design disciplines utilize, have — like a syllogism — the powerful ability to make often unexpected crosslinks, entailments and relationships visible. Indeed, this can be seen as the very hallmark of creativity itself:
If we look at what really takes place with artistic and scientific creation, we never find systems of centralization, institutions that totally control creative processes. They proceed from assemblages of enunciation that sometimes cross not only institutions and specialties, but also countries, and even eras. There is always a kind of multicentering of points of singularization in the field of creation.[vi]
Again, we encounter here the poststructuralist suspicion of centralizing or overarching systems of reference, and the preference for multicentrism, developmental open texture, and decentralized organization. What is important here is that each of the new centers (or creative moments) is a novel, singularizing point. Each attempt of creative (re)combination can in principle lead to a spatial singular that interacts in new ways with its context, and that changes the relationships both object and context are able to engage in. It is worth noting Guattari’s comments on the nature of this process:
The process of singularization of subjectivity is accomplished by adopting, associating, and agglomerating dimensions of different kinds. Processes of singularization that convey vectors of desire may meet processes of individuation.[vii]
Although Guattari speaks here of the singularization of human subjectivity, we can easily extend the essence of his thought to the interplay between object and context. An object that showcases its singularity in, with, and through a context simultaneously individuates itself from it. It emerges from the context in its necessary embeddedness. And although Guattari’s concern is here with vectors of desire, we can easily see how any given architectural object can generates vectors of delight, pleasure, fascination, functionality, and beauty. And once again, we can see how these vectors structure its interplay with its environment, yet simultaneously form it.
Returning to our core question, “what kind of science can Architekturwissenschaft be?,” we are now in a position to provide the outlines of an answer.
First, it would be a creative science that creates and designs its own subject matter. The “points of singularization” which can be artifacts such as sketches, models, renderings or realized designs are its subject matter. However, the process of singularization that takes place on the drawing table, the model workshop, or the computer is equally a part of these points. The object is the physical result and the process that leads up to it. In this sense, then, to be a science of singulars is to study both the outcome and the process.
Second, this has direct implications for its epistemological framework. We have already discussed the tensions between the foregrounding and object and the resulting background. So, on the one hand, the norms for architectural science will always be concerned with the foreground; yet, they cannot be just about foregrounded objects. Simultaneously, they must be between the foreground-background relation. This means that whatever the epistemological framework of architectural science will be, it will be marked out by a simultaneity of notions, a structure that is not unlike the spatial singulars it deals with.[viii]
Third, it would be a science that is structured around the interplay of object and context, and the multifaceted relations that emerge between them. As I have tried to describe it in the third section of this paper, our current concepts are often ill-suited to this task, so to develop a new and more fitting conceptual framework is a challenging task for any future architectural science. We can reiterate Rogoff’s critical point here, and witness how the concepts inherited from the Enlightenment, or those imported from the natural sciences as they developed during the 20th century may not form a suitable framework to “follow the internal structure” of the questions that an architectural science poses about itself.
If sciences are to develop and systematize their contents by becoming self-consciously aware of their modus operandi, then the questions they pose about themselves must come from within themselves. In this reflexive development methods, objects, and standards can evolve together on their own territory. That being said, there is a clear and present danger in refusing such a systematic development. If we adopt the poststructuralist point of view, unconstrained hybridity and collage will replace any form of discourse — or rather, the discourse is formed by a sprawling proliferation of methods, frame of reference, concepts, cross-overs, and hybrid formats of practice. Stimulating as that may be, such a development must have an orientation such that it can situate itself meaningfully in the real world. As I said earlier, design has a necessary, tangible link to manifest reality, and to sever this link in favor of unbound experimentation is to lose orientation.
Whatever the shared discursive space of the architectural design disciplines will turn out to be, there must be some (relatively) fixed points in it in order to prevent a lapse into relativism or an indifferent “anything goes.” This statement may come across as conservative, but I think it is the way out of the false dichotomy between dogmatism about science on the one hand, and poststructuralist relativism on the other.
Fourth, it would be to develop such a new way of positioning architectural science as mode of scientific activity. It would require a thoroughgoing discussion about the role and position of “doing science designingly” in real-world and educational contexts. There is no space to work out this proposal in detail, but it is my suspicion that an entire world would open up between the poles of dichotomy if they were to be brought in a dialectical relationship with each other. This means that the pairs “object” and “context,” “singular” and “particular,” “relativism” and “objectivity,” etc. would be read as terms of a dialectical process in which they communicate, overlap, cancel each other out, and conjoin with one another. Such a theory would avoid the unfavorable consequences of either adhering to inherited notions or throwing them all out in favour of a new paradigm the outlines of which have been perpetually unclear this far. What would ideally emerge from such a process is a new interpretation of human and natural activity in transforming the manifestly real world, a systematized, yet anti-insular model of thinking about relationality and what it means to design in the 21st century. The initial steps on this path have already been taken in the emerging discipline of “architectural humanities” and can be considered a promising beginning.
I have argued that the kind of a science an Architekturwissenschaft could be is one in which the very forms of creation and knowledge production (and all their idiosyncrasies) inherent in creative practice as such, become the foundation for its (re)conception as a scientific activity or mode of questioning. And if this requires a departure from the normative frameworks of the other sciences, then it is best that the very core questions that spatial singulars themselves invoke are taken as point of departure.
To do so enables designers to approach the products of their hands and minds from within a framework that actually suits them, and that is not derived from an external standard or ideal. That this requires a thorough discussion on the rigor and possibilities of such practices is clear; and it is just as clear that this discussion is regularly avoided. Nevertheless, we need a relatively solid conceptual grounding first, before we can engage in a dialogue with other disciplines. One must know one’s point of departure and what one can offer. And I maintain that a sufficiently developed notion of the spatial singular provides this conceptual grounding.
[i] (Rogoff, 2010: 40).
[iii] Notably in French poststructuralist thought. The following quote is typical: “The current tendency is to equalize everything by means of broad unifying, reductive categories — such as capital, labor, a certain kind of wage system, culture, or information — which prevent people from noticing the processes of singularization. All creativity in the social and technological field tends to be crushed, every microvector of singular subjectivation is co-opted” (Guattari and Solnik, 2007: 54).
[iv] (Hegel, 1977: 32).
[v] (Rogoff, 2010: 42).
[vi] (Guattari and Solnik, 2007: 51).
[vii] (Guattari and Solnik, 2007: 51).
[viii] For a description of what such a framework could look like, see: (Buchert 2013).
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