Architecture refers to the complex choreography of systems, forces, structures
Architecture does not encompass everything, it is by nature restrictive and specific
Architecture is both product and process
Architecture possess the agency to engage with everything in its process, because it’s product affects everything
Architecture is unable to be divorced from the responsibilities inherent in the previous conjecture
Architecture must be radically inclusive - in both product and process
Plenaes is a reaction to contextual forces - Architecture constitutes those contextual forces - Plenaes must act through Architecture
The Project belongs to Architecture / Architecture belongs to The Project
For the purposes of this writing, the following definition of architecture will be in effect. Architecture is both the process and resultant product of a complex choreography of forces, systems, structures, and materials articulated into being. It constitutes a framework for meaningful interaction with the world.
Utilizing such a definition leads us in several interesting directions. This essay intends to engage with them, and provide a platform for the agency of the discipline regarding its history and its future. Beginning with an account of what Architecture Is - given the accepted definition above - and leading to inferences about what Architecture Must Be, this piece proposes a line of thinking which the author believes to have the potential of engendering a beneficial shift in perspective. As the author lacks any real authority on the truth of the matter, they can only offer their readers the opportunity to contemplate the following dialectic and offer a different chain of reasoning which provides a more beneficial impact.
Given the assumed definition above we may directly conclude one critical fact: Architecture is undeniably entangled with incomprehensible networks of causal chains and meta/physical concepts. The author poses the consideration of three network areas in particular to illustrate such a point: value, organization, and ecology. While linear conceptions of time are not beneficial to our work, the categorizations of past, present, and future will be helpful and accessible terms in this exercise.
On a very fundamental level we may start with this baseline: as a material discipline architecture has value. It may be commodified, and is subject - like most everything - to subjugation by capitalism. We will leave the problematics of capitalism for someone with more experience to tear down, but suffice to say that were we able to separate the discipline from the ideology we would be in a much better place. Beyond material value, architecture contains labor value, use value, and another form which I am not quite capable of defining. A suitable placeholder might be aesthetic value, although that doesn’t quite sum it all up. Regardless, architecture participates in and is entangled with the commodity market, labor market, and ideas market.
In the world we currently find ourselves in it is impossible to disassociate value and politics. Thus, because architecture is subject to capitalism it is also politically influential. Beyond the simple conclusions, architecture is inextricably tied to numerous social concerns which give the built environment itself political agency. The history of this is deep and storied, and largely unpleasant. The future of it is equally as far reaching - but hopefully more positive. That is ultimately up to us to decide. The environments terrestrials live in, work in, and organize in have a direct bearing on the psychological and active realities in which they participate. This is a critical internalization we must make to create better worlds.
Entanglement in consumption, politics, and society necessitates entanglement in the environment. All these are planetary forces thus, architecture is a planetary force as well. Alterations to environments produce alterations to ecology, but the final product we understand to have the most impact is only the last instantiation of a chain reaction of alterations we must bear in mind. Supply chains, material processes, labor policies, technological assistance - all have reverberating effects upon our planet that are in many ways impossible to grasp. We will work towards that distant goal.
Upon sufficient consideration of these three (of many) complex concerns we can begin to identify the ways in which Architecture interacts with them. Firstly, granted that architecture possesses a multiplicity of values not only means that it is tied to the following two concerns, but that it possesses agency as well. We have historically underplayed this aspect of the discipline. By taking into account the realistic value of architecture we gain a new pin through which to leverage improvements across all three fields of issues and entanglements.
Changes in architecture influence changes in politics and social organization, likewise changes in architecture influence alterations in local and global ecology, likewise changes in architecture influence shifts in valorization and valuation across global chains of economic force.
But perhaps most importantly what comes to light is that Architecture functions as an instrument of knowledge. It is a cognitive instrument through which many widely varied and seemingly disparate concerns may be linked together and understood as a total assemblage. In addition to shaping both physical and imagined space, Architecture also gives shape to relations (social, physical, spacial, digital, systemic, etc) and therefore constitutes a basis of understanding and interrogating holistic world phenomena. Taking Architecture to its extremes, its most far reaching, constitutes the most demanding and potentially productive form of such an interrogation.
When we accept that Architecture constitutes frameworks, we can infer that Architecture is reflexive - and has the opportunity to act upon itself. Thus we can understand Architecture as a discipline which is uniquely self-defining. Rarely does a field equip itself with the tools with which one could turn around and dismantle everything that brought it to its current state - but this is perhaps Architecture’s greatest strength. When Adorno gave his students the framework and tools with which to dismantle the intellectual (and physical) institutions which supported them, he was promptly and forcibly ushered off the scene once he outlived his welcome. Perhaps it is our time, like in Frankfurt, to collectively expose ourselves to Architecture, rid ourselves of the useless old, and bring in the new to a shower of rose petals.
The study of Architecture, at its core, is an immersion into a myriad of connections and entanglements. You may find this quite clearly demonstrated in the study of theory and history, but it is equally as present in the technical studies of structures, statics, and assemblies. For what is a wall ‘assembly’ if not a collection of connected and entangled parts? What is a building, if not an assemblage of assemblages?
The author believes a single statement should preface every pedagogical undertaking in the discipline: Architecture is a framework for meaningful interaction with the world. With this precursor one may more readily understand the holistic perspectives necessary to participate in The Project.
From these considerations we should be able to conclude several more things about the discipline. Architecture contains immense responsibilities, a great deal of agency, and must (by its own self-defined yet inevitable nature) concern itself with The Project.
Just like anything else, conceiving of a totally useless architecture still eludes us. An architecture without qualities, without any use, one that cannot be commodified and does not interact with the outside world. A worthwhile pursuit certainly, but one which I do not foresee us being able to complete any time soon.
As such, it is impossible to imagine an architecture which does not affect the context in which it exists, so we must conclude that architecture cannot avoid its own agency.
Given unavoidable agency, the appropriate consideration for any moral anti-entropic being is that we must act responsibly. Inaction is irresponsible, but also not an option in this case. In all of the examples I have given in the text so far, and all those which I have not had time to include in this brief letter, it is clear that architecture is an integral foundational player.
It is impossible to imagine an architecture which does not deal with these elements, and so we come to the conclusion that architecture cannot escape its responsibilities.
And now I come to my final point, my final call to action. Architecture is deeply entangled, perhaps more so than any other field. Architecture has agency in the outcomes of those entanglements, thus it is responsible for them. It is impossible to extricate architecture from its responsibilities or agency, thus Architecture must concern itself with The Project. It is the perfect foil, the perfect armature, the perfect methodology for our pursuits.
This is a call for Plenaes, in its inevitable pursuit of The Project, not to use Architecture as a methodology for a solution - rather to understand it as a novel navigational system which possesses the necessary qualities for charting the correct course(s).
Additional disciplinary conclusions for future Worlds:
- Architecture must embrace pluralistic and constructionist logics, building internal consistencies to rehearse different forms of life without fully mapping them out in relation to external social configurations, creating new worlds which suggest new models of shared life.
- Architecture must adopt a non-anthropocentric vantage point which accepts a multiplicity of intelligences; animal, natural, technological, artificial.
- Architecture must strive towards equity, which means along the way it must make up for its past transgressions before the next era can be entered.
- Architecture must accept indeterminability, instability, and uncertainty and turn towards analyzing and imagining temporal and spatial complexities.
Chronology is a relatively irrelevant concept, the exercise of graphically representing it doubly so. The fallacy of linear time has been burned into our consciousness over generations and it has long overstayed its welcome. I write fallacy not because it is inherently false (who can really say - perhaps time is in fact linear) but because it cripples our understanding of the world and ability to cope with the most crucial realities of existence, particularly as a collective.
The future has become an overall societal goal. Always obsessed with what is coming next, we have been operating under the false impression that we can foresee and fully control the future. The recent events have thrown many of us into a state of disorientation, laden with uncertainties. Unable to foresee an end to this turmoil, while harboring a strong feeling that the near future will be drastically different from the present, we experience a constriction of time. With a past that is no longer familiar and a day-to-day experience that does not include the future, our time horizons become shorter, to the point where the present is all there is.
There are two ways to push our horizons back out to the points where they by all accounts should be. Both heavily rooted in epistemology and linguistics, one can either take a more rational/scientific approach or an experiential/sociological approach to understanding why multiplicitous understandings are significantly more fortuitous than the singular conception we have so long been stuck in. These notes will provide a small collection of ideas filed under each method. The rational approach is perhaps harder to understand, but these theories will provide a basis to contextualize the more visceral experiential conceptions.
The tenseless theory of time calls for the elimination of all talk of past, present and future in favour of a tenseless ordering of events using only phrases like “earlier than” or “later than”. The argument behind this is that tensed terminology can be adequately replaced with tenseless terminology, e.g. the future-tensed sentence, “we will win the game” can be adequately expressed as, “we do win the game at time t, where time t happens after the time of this utterance”. The future tense has therefore been removed, and the verb phrases “do win” and “happens after” are logically tenseless, even if they are grammatically in the present tense. If this is true, then there is no essential difference between the past, present, and future, all of which are therefore equally real, and the passage of time must be merely an illusion of human consciousness.
The tensed theory of time, on the other hand, denies that such an argument is valid, and argues that our language has tensed verbs for a good reason, because the past, present and future are very different in quality. The A-theory therefore denies that the past, present and future are equally real, and maintains that the future is not fixed and determinate like the past. A-theorists believe that our ordinary everyday impression of the world as tensed reflects the world as it really is: the passage of time is an objective fact.
The philosophy of time that takes the view that only the present is real is called presentism, while the view that all points in time are equally “real” is referred to as eternalism.
Thus, according to presentism, only present objects and present experiences can be said to truly exist, and things come into existence and then drop out of existence. Therefore, past events or entities, like the Battle of Waterloo or Alexander the Great, literally do not exist for presentists, and, because the future is indeterminate or merely potential, it cannot be said to exist either.
Eternalism, on the other hand, holds that such past events DO exist, even if we cannot immediately experience them, and that future events that we have not yet experienced also exist in a very real way. For eternalists, the “flow of time” we experience is therefore just an illusion of consciousness, because in reality time is always everywhere. Eternalism takes inspiration to some extent from the way time is modeled as a fourth dimension in the theory of relativity of modern physics, so that future events are “already there” but just have not been encountered yet, and the past literally still exists “back there” in the same way as a city still exists after we drive away from it. This is often referred to as the block universe theory or view because it describes space-time as an unchanging four-dimensional “block”, rather than three-dimensional space modulated by the passage of time.
There is also a variation of eternalism, sometimes known as the growing block universe theory of time or the growing block view, in which more and more of the world comes into being with the passage of time (hence, the block universe is said to be growing), so that the past and present clearly do exist, but the future is not yet part of this universe and therefore does not exist. This in some ways gels with our intuitive impression that the past (which is fixed, and can be accessed through remembering and physical records) is very different in nature from the future (which is variable, uncertain and cannot be accessed or consulted).
A similar but separate dichotomy exists with regard to the persistence of objects through time. Endurantism is the more mainstream or conventional view, asserting that, when an object continues to exist through time, it exists completely at different times, with each instance of its existence fundamentally separate from the other previous and future instances. Perdurantism, on the other hand, holds that something that continues to exist through time exists as a single continuous reality, and the thing as a whole is then the sum of all of its “temporal parts” or instances of existing (the temporal parts of a particular person, for example, include their childhood, middle age, old age, etc).
This argument goes back to ancient Greece and Heraclitus’ contention that we can never step into the same river twice (because the water is not the same water the second time around). An endurantist would tend to agree with Heraclitus, even though our common sense tells us that the river at one time and the river at another time are in fact the same river, and nothing about it has essentially changed. A perdurantist, on the other hand, would argue that it is possible to step into the same river twice by stepping into two different temporal parts of it.
Typically, presentists are also endurantists, and eternalists are perdurantists, although this is not necessarily the case.
The concept of alternative universes and the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, which is gaining increasing attention in the world of modern physics, adds a whole new dimension to the discussion of the nature of time. In the disconnected time streams in a potentially infinite number of parallel universes, some could be linear and others circular; time could continuously branch and bifurcate, or different time streams could even merge and fuse into one; the laws of causality and succession could break down or just not apply; etc, etc.
Although modern physicists generally believe that time is just as “real” as space, a few mavericks, such as Julian Barbour, have tried to show scientifically that time exists merely as an illusion. In his book The End of Time, Barbour makes the argument that the quantum equations of the universe only take their true form when expressed in a timeless realm that contains every possible “now” or momentary configuration of the universe, a realm Barbour called “platonia”. Barbour argues that, in order to reconcile general relativity with quantum mechanics, either time does not exist, or else it is not fundamental in nature.
The possibility that time might have more than one dimension has occasionally been discussed both in physics and in modern analytic philosophy. The English philosopher and scientist John G. Bennett has posited a six-dimensional universe, with the usual three spatial dimensions and three time-like dimensions, which he called time (the sequential chronological time that we are familiar with), eternity (cosmological time or timeless time), and hyparxis (characterized by Bennett as an “ableness-to-be”, and may be more noticeable in the realm of quantum processes).
Imaginary time is a concept derived from quantum mechanics. Stephen Hawking introduced the concept in his book A Brief History of Time as a way of avoiding the idea of a singularity at the beginning of the universe, where time suddenly starts and all the laws of physics break down. Hawking proposed that space and imaginary time together are finite in extent but with no boundary (in a similar way as the two-dimensional surface of a sphere has no boundary). Imaginary time is not imaginary in the sense that it is unreal or made-up, but it is admittedly rather difficult to visualize. It is perhaps easiest to think of it as a line perpendicular to the past-future line of regular or “real” time, in much the same way as the imaginary numbers run perpendicular to the real numbers in the complex plane in mathematics. Under this model, “real time” as we know it would still have a beginning, but the way the universe started out at the Big Bang would essentially be determined by its state in imaginary time. The beginning of the universe would then be a single point, analogous to the North Pole of the Earth, but not a singularity.
Avoiding singularities is key in our understanding of the uni/multi-verse. When a function, particularly relating to space/time, takes on an infinite value they go beyond our perceptual capabilities. In that sense, when theorizing about the unknowable, it is much more productive to simply avoid them and remain within realms we as humans are able to conceptualize. Similarly speaking, in my own work I often find more experiential conceptions of time to be much more fruitful. Some of these are laid out below.
The Bureau of Linguistical Reality defines shadowtime as “a parallel timescale that follows one around throughout the day-to-day experience of regular time.” During this crisis, we experience shadowtime when short-term personal fears co-exist with deep existential planetary concerns; when those universal concerns turn our plans for life into obsolete and unimportant endeavors; when our perception of the planet’s temporal scale radically expands as we come to realize that viruses have populated the planet for over 1.5 billion years; and when simultaneously, the scale of the Earth is dwarfed in light of the rapid speed at which a newly discovered social issues proliferate through every corner of the planet.
Shadowtime enlarges the frame of human experience by deepening the segment of historical time that we occupy. In shadowtime, the present is not a point in a time-trajectory, but rather it is a moment at which vastly different deep and shallow time-trajectories intersect. The experience of shadowtime connects us with a plurality of heterogeneous pasts and with the deep future of our planet. In shadowtime, we begin to acquire time-consciousness and we start to integrate our human actions with the planetary timescales at which they really operate.
Coined by philosopher Glenn Albrecht, solastalgia describes a form of existential distress caused by environmental change. Albrecht described it as “the homesickness you have when you are still at home.” The experience of solastalgia—usually related to more localized events such as volcanic eruptions, drought, or destructive mining techniques—has become increasingly extensive. Many come to realize that what we initially thought was an exceptional state might indefinitely change reality as we have known it.
History, the tool most commonly used to account for time, is usually presented as a series of accumulated facts that are written down to assert a rectilinear unity of time. The current crisis is challenging this assertion. German embryologist Ernst Haeckel coined the term heterochrony to describe deviations in the “traditional time” of the body. In Modernism and Time Machines, author Charles M. Tung explained how “Heterochrony reveals that our corporeal present is not the culmination of a progressive and uniform linear time.” The notion of heterochrony suggests the co-existence of multiple and irregular time-trajectories that converge into poly-temporal assemblages. It suggests that the heterogeneous present is not a point in time, but instead is the intersection of a multiplicity of variably deep and diverse timelines.
Art unlocks the heterochrony that enables us to travel in time and space in search of connectedness. Through literature, for instance, we come into contact with people in distant cultures and eras who lived through similar events. The grievous sense of separation produced during this crisis makes us especially receptive to what literature has to offer, to those deep feelings of connectedness across cultures and generations.
Art often triggers in some the experiential realization that we all come into this world alone, that we leave this world alone, and that it is precisely in that aloneness that we are deeply connected across time zones and centuries. Crises incite us to connect across time and space, to experience time as multidirectional and our body as poly-temporal.
I find this last concept of heterogenous time, or heterochrony, to be perhaps the most convincing illustration of them all. I am working on the beginnings to some charting mechanisms to make sense of events, ideologies, flows, entanglements, etc under these pretenses. I am not sure how effective they will be in the end, particularly with the limitations of depiction in two or three dimensional space. However, as pointed out before, art tends to unlock the perception of heterochrony even if the representation itself doesn’t communicate the concept entirely. I hope at the very least my work will be able to tap into that sense for some people.
Perhaps I’ll finish off my musings today with some personal reflections. I find it most productive to consider no reality (not even the one within which I currently find myself) to be more significant than any other. This has been a beneficial belief for me in the creation of work as well as simply an understanding of how to operate within the world. Whether speaking of potential/actual events, static/entropic/anti-entropic beings, entanglements/singularities - all of these should warrant their own consideration, respect, and reflection. I would argue the broadening of horizons, both time and otherwise, is a critical pursuit we must all engage in.
These notes draw heavily from the work of Cristina Parreño Alonso and Luke Mastin.
The following document is a testament to the complexities and contradictions inherent in the Plenaes collections. It is, in its current state, my best attempt at making a proper ordering of the material. There were many iterations before this, so take this a suggestion rather than a rule. A proposed route on which to travel, perhaps. I encourage you to stop and smell the roses when they catch your attention, maybe backtrack a bit to see another view or explore a different path.
I found the process of reordering and re-reading to be quite interesting and divulgent of new meanings. Should you have the time, why not try the same. You can take my job for a while, and sift through the documents as you like. Perhaps package them up again and send them along in a different order - I think that’s probably what Plenaes would have wanted anyway.
In short, I am admitting my own fallibility and aknowledging your own agency. We all find ourselves in the same situation, post-singularity, and are all equally oblivious to the happenings of the past. With records destroyed and word of mouth accounts so few and far between, we have to make our own histories. Let’s make it a good one.
P.S. I scribled some notes in the margins that jumped out at me when I was collating my printed copies of
the material. Mostly explanatory, but sometimes raising questions. Feel free to ignore them entirely, but I would love to hear your thoughts as well.