“Aristotle’s characterizations of “form” and “matter” to this day underpin almost all material and formal thought in architectural production and beyond. Within his schema form is teleological, permanent, and has total priority. Matter meanwhile is defined as a repressed, strictly formless state of potentiality, a total absence or privation of form, and is to always come last. This is why all our formal modes of enquiry necessarily fail to access matter: the matter we inherit is so effectively excluded by all things formal that it does not even register as a minor variable in the equations of “form and function. But there is another way into the closed question of matter: error. Within the architecture of Aristotle’s schema error is crucially aligned, conflated almost, with matter (and not with form). If error is a property of matter only, it is also-conversely, and not unlike gravity-a reliable symptom of matter’s elusive presence. So error emerges as both a possible agent of matter and, curiously, its only physical (formal) register. The alignment of matter and error means that error provides a way in (our only way in?) to the closed-in formal and thus in all representational terms-question of matter. (Hughes 2014)
Diagrams by ShoP
Zero surplus precision
“Mathematical theory defines the exactitude that is the ultimate target for precision’s measurements to aspire to, we must then turn our attention to the manufactured bridge of approximation which struggles to deliver measurement from calculation and materialization from description. Nancy Cartwright argues, in her wonderfully entitled How the Lows of Physics Lie, …, that “there are no genuine regularities at the phenomenological level. It is only among theoretical entities that science finds true regularities.”40 True regularities, but not the “truth”-this must be artfully delivered by approximation: “Approximations take us away from theory and each step away from theory moves closer towards the truth.” That is, far from approximations fudging the truth, in practice they often bend the arch-artifice of the theoretical law toward the “truer” state (in Cartwright’s terms) of the phenomenological law. and the phenomena beyond. However, this bridge of approximation and “auxiliary assumption,” which spans from generic to specific, from fundamental to phenomenological, is, as Cartwright points out, a bridge whose precise form is not determined so much by ·the fundamental laws themselves as by the need to reach measurements that in turn will confirm laws by generating “correct” predictions. Indeed, this is why physicists frequently use a number of mutually inconsistent approximative models to link the same law to different experimental measurements; collectively they mop up what would otherwise be construed as erroneous results, Further, these approximative bridges-or “models,” as Hacking calls them not only cohabit within their shared laws but tend to outlive them: laws come and go; the bridges stay.”(Hughes 2014)
“Painstakingness, complexity! How can I enjoy a meal that has been eight days of great effort and skill in the making? Such painstakingness, such complexity, so much trouble makes the banquet utterly tasteless, insipid, for the very reason that eight days’ work went into it. Modern man has trouble accepting such excesses of effort.”(Loos 2008)
“From more surprising quarters, the technical notes of Barbara Hepworth on the predation of flaws in carving stone reveal a practice of exquisite true precision, zero surplus, that is in constant renegotiation with error as a codirector of form.
“first of all I prowl as usual, and then I try a bit and work it, and bring it to a polish and consider it”. “Prowling” and “stalking”-the tone is predatory, it is the tone of the ambush, the tactics of surprise. She is stalking shyer properties than form: more reluctant than Michelangelo’s figure waiting to be released from this rude material. She is hunting the cause of “thisness.” She is waiting for matter to momentarily come to the fore and reveal itself to her. And, with matter, error: ‘With stone you have to use your ears very sharply, listening how each hammer blow is going to take away the piece you want. If the sound is poor, you know you must move round, and if it’s a bad sound, then you have to find out if there’s a flaw anywhere. Marble in particular is very delicate, and you can bruise it, you can stun it, you can change its colour by being clumsy.”
The predatory pervades the language of translation as well: the language into which an original is to be translated is technically termed the “target” language: any deviation from this “target” constitutes a miss. In Hepworth’s translation of form into matter, what is it that would cause such a miss in the first place? What is it that poses such a threat to the process of smooth translation that such heavy-handed rhetoric is required? What internal “flaw” is the untranslated material concealing that lies in wait for the naive translator?
The threat this flaw presents is, as we might suspect from the rhetoric, the threat of the fall from the true target site trajectory, which, like the original Fall, is the threat of seduction by the other-matter.
…Hepworth’s best defense against seduction is to herself seduce: “A chance remark by Ardini, an Italian master carver whom I met there, that ‘marble changes colour under different people’s hands’ made me decide immediately that it was not dominance which one had to attain over material but an understanding, almost a kind of persuasion.””(Hughes 2014)
“What pleasure can I take in something which took five years to make? This is upper-class sadism. Nowadays we have simply outgrown such things. We want the opposite: to economise on labor, to spare our fellow men and, above all, to economise on materials. I must confess that I am almost pathologically thrifty and would willingly become leader of the savers.”(Loos 2008)
Architecture as translation
“Recognition of the drawing’s power as a medium turns out, unexpectedly, to be recognition of the drawing’s distinctness from and unlikeness to the thing that is represented, rather than its likeness to it, which is neither as paradoxical nor as dissociative as it may seem. Before embarking on the investigation of drawing’s role in architecture, a few more words might be spent on language; more particularly, on the common antilogy that would have architecture be like language but also independent of it. All things with conceptual dimension are like language, as all grey things are like elephants. A great deal in architecture may be language-like without being language.”(Evans 1997)
“That is, matter surfaces in translation as the intrinsic material properties of an original which resist translation and/or remain untranslatable; a phenomenon which applies to translation in all registers, including the multiple moments of translation in architectural production.) And the threat is sexual a translation is, after all, “faithful” or “unfaithful” tons original. Hepworth’s best defense against seduction is to herself seduce: “A chance remark by Ardini, an Italian master carver whom I met there, that ‘marble changes colour under different people’s hands’ made me decide immediately that it was not dominance which one had to attain over material but an understanding, almost a kind of persuasion.”(Hughes 2014)
“The task of the translator consists in finding the particular intention toward the target language which produces in that language the echo of the original.
The traditional concepts in any discussion of translation are fidelity and license-the freedom to give a faithful reproduction of the sense and, in its service, fidelity to the word. These ideas seem to be no longer serviceable to a theory that strives to find, in a translation, something other than reproduction of meaning.
A literal rendering of the syntax casts the reproduction of meaning entirely to the winds and threatens to lead directly to incomprehensibility.
The preservation of meaning is served far better-and literature and language far worse-by the unrestrained license of bad translators. Of necessity, therefore, the demand for literalness, whose justification is obvious but whose basis is deeply hidden, must be understood in a more cogent context. Fragments of a vessel that are to be glued together must match one another in the smallest details, although they need not be like one another. In the same way a translation, instead of imitating the sense of the original, must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s way of meaning, thus making both the original and the translation recognizable as fragments of a greater language, just as fragments are part of a vessel.
For this very reason translation must in large measure refrain from wanting to communicate something, from rendering the sense, and in this the original is important to it only insofar as it has already relieved the translator and his translation of the effort of assembling and expressing what is to be conveyed. In the realm of translation, too, the words En archei en ho logos [“In the beginning was the word”] apply. On the other hand, as regards the meaning, the language of a translation can-in fact, must-let itself go, so that it gives voice to the intentio of the original not as reproduction but as harmony, as a supplement to the language in which it expresses itself, as its own kind of intentio.
Therefore, it is not the highest praise of a translation, particularly in the age of its origin, to say that it reads as if it had originally been written in that language. Rather, the significance of fidelity as ensured by literalness is that the work reflects the great longing for linguistic complementation. A real translation is transparent; it does not cover the original, does not block its light, but allows the pure language, as though reinforced by its own medium, to shine upon the original all the more fully. This may be achieved, above all, by a literal rendering of the syntax which proves words rather than sentences to be the primary element of the translator. For if the sentence is the wall before the language of the original, literalness is the arcade.
This very stratum furnishes a new and higher justification for free translation; this justification does not derive from the sense of what is to be conveyed, for the emancipation from this sense is the task of fidelity. Rather, freedom proves its worth in the interest of the pure language by its effect on its own language. It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language which is exiled among alien tongues, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work. For the sake of the pure language, he breaks through decayed barriers of his own language.
…What remains for sense, in its importance for the relationship between translation and original, may be expressed in the following simile.
Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point-establishing, with this touch rather than with the point, the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity-a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux.
The lower the quality and distinction of its language, the greater the extent to which it is information, the less fertile a field it is for translation, until the utter preponderance of content, far from being the lever for a well-formed translation, renders it impossible. The higher the level of a work, the more it remains translatable even if its meaning is touched upon only fleetingly.“(Benjamin 1968)
“Mies, for instance, makes wonderful buildings only because he ignores many aspects of a building. If he so
lved more problems, his buildings would be far less potent. “(Rudolph 1961)
Architecture, a hybrid craft
“The way we talk, write, and think about buildings testifies to it: the absent building is iterated and obsessively reiterated through word and image, in an attempt to conjure, up a missing physicality – even when it is a built thing, because the building of that built thing is always done by others. The moment of building for the architect is never the anticipated moment of consummation, but instead a moment of loss. It is this loss, this absence that fuels the inevitable anxiety which surrounds the production of buildings by others.
But the sacrifice that is this loss has a further price attached to it: the delegation anxiety that arises directly from not being the “one that makes the building” distorts the whole economy of error and precision in production. Doubly so: not only is the building made by others, it is made in the other medium-matter. Thus architects are trained to mistrust matter and abhor error; the architecture of their evasion structures almost all of our thinking about making buildings. In what is clearly a rutile endeavor we operate despite the knowledge that matter, and with it potential error, lie in wait.
The architect, then does not make the building, but draws it. It is the drawing that makes architecture’s separation from building bearable-just. And it is the drawing that carries the burden of this anxiety or loss. Implicit therefore is the possibility that any elaboration of the drawing is an elaboration of the site of the loss itself: of the separation, through the process of delegation, from contact with the stuff, the matter, of building. This loss is the “absence” that in Freudian terms drives the fetishized elaboration of the object’s representation.
The convoluted relations architecture maintains with precision testify to the complex hold this fear has over its cultures.”(Hughes 2014)
“The ultimate realisation of his ideas in buildings very much depends on others – clients, funders and contractors – and increasingly often it lies beyond the architect’s control.”(Riedijk 2010)
“Despite their evident differences, the practices of the visual artists considered here (tip: i.e. Matta Clark and Hepworth) all argue for a paradoxical coupling of independence from and intimacy with material life; this is no coincidence. Such architecture of intimate distance (abstraction reformed) necessarily requires the development and deployment not only of more even-handed approximatory strategies but also of more democratic epistemological models-but this without simply replacing old isomorphic shortcuts with new: without simply letting form govern the day yet again.”(Hughes 2014)
“… the word ‘modern’ designates two sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct if they are to remain effective, but have recently begun to be confused. The first set of practices, by ‘translation’, creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings, hybrids of nature and culture. The second, by ‘purification’, creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on the one hand; that of nonhumans on the other. Without the first set, the practices of purification would be fruitless or pointless. Without the second, the work of translation would be slowed down, limited, or even ruled out. “ (Latour 2012)
“A practice that engages critically with precision (that problematizes its redundancy, as Celmins does, or rejects it outright, as Matta-Clark did) and instead works with the generative potential of error must, by definition, embrace rather than shut down the genuine indeterminacy we daily engage with. Indeed, the instrumentalization of indeterminacy is key, as is the full declaration of the indeterminacy at large in the technological, material, representation~ and other systems we employ in architectural education and practice. The place and space for this is digital-but how do we take- critical control of and give meaning lo the hallucinatory capacity for exactitude which the computer glibly lays at our feet? This question is genuinely difficult; it goes to the crux of architecture’s slippery engagement with computing. One might answer: use ii to develop representation techniques that expose and interrogate the crucial phases of uncertainty in a project’s development. rather than gloss over them with dazzling but ultimately meaningless resolution. Or: build approximatory and explanatory models that mediate with more equanimity between what we control and what we don’t, as techniques of improvisation in other fields have long done. But this is all tactics and no strategy. By definition, any attempt lo simply render error legitimate, and thus colonize it, is missing the point. Not only will it merely transmute into the next new thing we don’t want, but also-more importantly-the very value of error is its ability to interrupt and ambush a system from within. Error’s gift is its critical friction against our desire for control~ to remind us not lo insist on a control that is not there (and never was), but ask instead why we should desire it in the first place.”(Hughes 2014)
“A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.Social reality is lived social relations, our most important political construction, a world-changing fiction… This is a struggle over life and death, but the boundary between science fiction and social reality is an optical illusion.
By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythic time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism; in short, we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics.
To recapitulate, certain dualisms have been persistent in Western traditions; they have all been systemic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of colour, nature, workers, animals— in short, domination of all constituted as others, whose task is to mirror the self. Chief among these troubling dualisms are self/other, mind/body, culture/nature, male/female, civilized/primitive, reality/appearance, whole/part, agent/resource, maker/made, active/passive, right/wrong, truth/illusion, total/partial, God/man. The self is the One who is not dominated, who knows that by the service of the other; the other is the one who holds the future, who knows that by the experience of domination, which gives the lie to the autonomy of the self. To be One is to be autonomous, to be powerful, to be God; but to be One is to be an illusion, and so to be involved in a dialectic of apocalypse with the other. Yet to be other is to be multiple, without clear boundary, frayed, insubstantial. One is too few, but two are too many.
High-tech culture challenges these dualisms in intriguing ways. It is not clear who makes and who is made in the relation between human and machine. It is not clear what is mind and what body in machines that resolve into coding practices. Insofar as we know ourselves in both formal discourse (e.g., biology) and in daily practice (e.g., the homework economy in the integrated circuit), we find ourselves to be cyborgs, hybrids, mosaics, chimeras. Biological organisms have become biotic systems, communications devices like others. There is no fundamental, ontological separation in our formal knowledge of machine and organism, of technical and organic. The replicant Rachel in the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner stands as the image of a cyborg culture’s fear, love, and confusion.
Writing is preeminently the technology of cyborgs, etched surfaces of the late twentieth century. Cyborg politics is the struggle for language and the struggle against perfect communication, against the one code that translates all meaning perfectly, the central dogma of phallogocentrism. That is why cyborg politics insist on noise and advocate pollution, rejoicing in the illegitimate fusions of animal and machine.
There are several consequences to taking seriously the imagery of cyborgs as other than our enemies. Our bodies, ourselves; bodies are maps of power and identity. Cyborgs are no exception. A cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden; it does not seek unitary identity and so generate antagonistic dualisms without end (or until the world ends); it takes irony for granted. One is too few, and two is only one possibility. Intense pleasure in skill, machine skill, ceases to be a sin, but an aspect of embodiment. The machine is not an it to be animated, worshipped, and dominated. The machine is us, our processes an aspect of our embodiment. We can be responsible for machines; they do not dominate or threaten us. We are responsible for boundaries, we are they.”(Haraway 2000)
“Indeed, this is why physicists frequently use a number of mutually inconsistent approximative models to link the same law to different experimental measurements; collectively they mop up what would otherwise be construed as erroneous results, Further, these approximative bridges-or “models,” as Hacking calls them not only cohabit within their shared laws but tend to outlive them: laws come and go; the bridges stay.’”(Hughes 2014)
“Gehry Partners changed the model of standard architectural practice when they found the current process non conducive to implementing their building typology. Because of the inventiveness of their designs, it would have been impossible to deliver their projects via one of the 3 traditional project delivery methods. There was a high risk of developing a project that was non constructible. In order to accommodate their production, Gehry Partners brought in fabricators early into the design process. By doing this, they guaranteed that their design solutions could be executed to an expected level of quality at a proposed price and timeline.”(McLain 2007)
DIY/maker movement // democratizing technology
“Here’s the history of two decades in one sentence: If the past 10 years have been about discovering post-institutional social models on the Web, then the next 10 years will be about applying them to the real world.
Transformative change happens when industries democratize, when they’re ripped from the sole domain of companies, governments, and other institutions and handed over to regular folks. The Internet democratized publishing, broadcasting, and communications, and the consequence was a massive increase in the range of both participation and participants in everything digital — the long tail of bits.
Now the same is happening to manufacturing — the long tail of things.
A garage renaissance is spilling over into such phenomena as the booming Maker Faires and local “hackerspaces.” Peer production, open source, crowdsourcing, user-generated content — all these digital trends have begun to play out in the world of atoms, too. The Web was just the proof of concept. Now the revolution hits the real world.
In short, atoms are the new bits.”(Anderson 2010)
Anderson, C. 2010. In the Next Industrial Revolution, Atoms Are the New Bits. Wired Magazine February, http://www.wired.com/2010/01/ff_newrevolution/.
Benjamin, Walter. 1968. “The task of the translator.” In Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt. NY, US: Fontana Press.
Evans, R. 1997. Translations from Drawing to Building. MA, US: MIT Press.
Haraway, Donna. 2000. “A cyborg manifesto: science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century.” In The Cybercultures Reader, edited by Barbara M. Kennedy David Bell, 291. London, UK: Routledge. Original edition, 1991.
Hughes, F. 2014. The Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision. MA,US: MIT Press.
Latour, B. 2012. We Have Never Been Modern. MA, US: Harvard University Press.
Loos, A. 2008. “Regarding Economy.” In Raumplan Versus Plan Libre: Adolf Loos [and] Le Corbusier, edited by M. Risselada. Rotterdam, Netherlands: 010.
McLain, James. 2007. Design – Make : the translation of design intention to fabrication . M.Arch., Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Riedijk, M., ed. 2010. Architecture as a Craft: Architecture, Drawing, Model and Position. Amsterdam, Netherlands: SUN.
Rudolph, Paul. 1961. “Rudolph.” Perspecta: The Yale Architectural Journal no. 7:51-64.