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Modernity has rapidly transformed our culture to one that is obsessive over consumption and technology. In this process, society has distorted how we see and use the urban realm.

Both Rem Koolhaas and Renier de Graaf assert that architecture was lost in the twentieth century. If the urban environment manifest from architecture, have we lost society? My position is not so extreme, but I do believe the proliferation of technology in the built environment has become a decisive instrument to the fragmentation of the urban environment.

An analogy I’m working with here is the fragmentation of the word architectonic. Architectonic is the definition of something creative having a ‘clearly defined structure’, with a ‘desireable’ aesthetic composition.

Technology is the notion of machinery being developed through scientific knowledge , thus it’s translation into the architectural and urban environment nods towards the notion ‘functionality’ and codification.

When technology invaded beyond the built environment, into television, telecommunication, refrigerators, air conditioning, mobile phones, and computer consoles, society became intoxicated by it. Put scientifically, the formula of these devices resulted in a state of invigorated introversion. Technology is the tonic of modern society.

The confluence of the two is the architectonic of modern urbanism.

This progressively moved into an oxymoronic culture whereby architecture and interior space is governed by the renowned notion of ‘less is more’, yet with the rise of neoliberal capitalism from the twentieth century promoting a mass consumer culture, “more and more, more is more” as articulated by Koolhaas.

With the embedding of modernization and technology into our global culture, I believe there is an argument to suggest urbanism has become progressively interior. A possible resultant is a dislocation with how we now percieve public space and the relationship between interior and exterior, especially in relation to the public realm.

“Conceptually, each monitor, each TV screen is a substitute for a window; real life is inside, while cyberspace has become the great outdoors.”

We are however several generations into to modern urbanism, at a point where we cannot go back, although that is not to say we do not try!

Le Corbusier imagined a rationalized ideology whereby technology would revolutionise the urban fabric of our planet as a ‘machine for living’ and a blueprint for the prevalence of the automobile. Less machine for living, more machine to live right? The ideology of Le Corbusier was fundamentally rooted in the realm of science, exemplified in his adoration of the mechanic .

Henri Lefebvre, however, sees space from a philosophical perspective, arguing the methods of Le Corbusier to be a ‘fracturing of space’:

“[F]reedom of the façade relative to the interior plan, freedom of the bearing structure relative to the exterior, freedom of the disposition of floors and sets of rooms relative to the structural frame.”

Where Corbusier sought a type of liberation from the constraints and ‘heaviness’ of architecture, Lefebvre analyses it as progressive fragmentation of meaning, to the point where this ‘violent’ fragmentation could be argued as rendering our built environment meaningless, without monumentality as he would imply. With this fracturing of architectural components, namely walls (and in turn, facades), one can agree with Lefebvre in the notion that interior space has become ‘liberated’ , thus making the transition between public and private space within the urban realm passive.

The more embedded society becomes within our collective individualistic, or cosmopolitan culture, the more our urban landscapes can be compared to a form of drosscape. A drosscape can be defined as an urban sprawl that reaches a docile state once the local economic and production regimes end , resulting in something of wasteland.

Therefore, we can infer modernism and modern architecture, coagulated with neo-liberal capitalism, and the rise of ‘consumer culture’ has given birth to widespread repetition in urban environments, specifically in the form of shopping centres. Shopping centres, like technology, provide a sense of temporary euphoria, one that satisfies us in the comfort of knowing we now once again ‘own’ something, and its proliferation in to the twenty-first century, Koolhaas believes “is arguably the last remaining form of public activity” .

Even the way modern architecture is designed through the quantifiable, the development of Computer Automated Design (CAD) software, has deteriorated the imperfect expression of hand-based modes of working. Katherine Allen identifies this by claiming it is “so easy to produce things that appear polished” that we become so invested in the tangible that we return to the intangibles of space as an afterthought.

Allen develops this point by highlighting the importance of the sketch, advocating its acceptance of being incomplete; it has expression that which CAD can often profoundly lack: “It’s not geometry that matters but the experience”.

A similar argument is presented by set designer Es Devlin, who feels the process of rendering offers a misrepresentation of what the built product will be, creating a ‘discourse’ between reality and ideology . By this point however, we are so far down the rabbit-hole of technology that we lose track of the original discourse of modern architecture from its philosophical roots to the pedantics of window frames. (link to article below)

I believe as a summary to this short post, technology opens the doors for many possibilities in the urban and architectural environment, but the individual’s ability to abuse the use of technology – whether it be the developer, the architect or the consumer – is causing our environments to stagnate, become less social, and cause a depreciation for space in our cities. Technology has a nulling effect that can make us introverted into our own (often digital) world. The prevalence of scientific quantification of space as opposed to philosophical ‘engagement’ of space is affecting society’s ability to connect with the intangible presence of our urban fabric. If as people we must be functional and emotional, why isn’t our urban fabric? Homogeneity en masse.

“Instead of design, there is calculation”


References:

  1. de Graaf, R,’ Architecture is Now a Tool of Capital, Complicit in a Purpose Antithetical to its Social Mission’ (2015), <https://www.architectural-review.com/essays/viewpoints/architecture-is-now-a-tool-of-capital-complicit-in-a-purpose-antithetical-to-its-social-mission/8681564.article>
  2. Oxford Dictionary, Architectonic, Technology & Tonic (2018), <https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/architectonic>
  3. Koolhaas, R, Junkspace with Running Room, (Notting Hill Editions, 2013), pg.6
  4. Ibid, pg.37
  5. Le Corbusier, A Contemporary City – The City Reader, (London: Routledge, 2009), pg.328
  6. Lefebvre, H, The Production of Space, (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1991), pg.303
  7. Ibid, pg.303
  8. Berger, A, The Landscape Urbanism Reader – Drosscape, (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2006), pg.199
  9. OMA, ‘Project on the City II: The Harvard Guide to Shopping’ (2001), <http://oma.eu/publications/project-on-the-city-ii-the-harvard-guide-to-shopping>
  10. Devlin, E, Architectural Renderings Are “Troublesome and Problematic” says Es Devlin (2018), <https://www.dezeen.com/2018/05/10/architectural-renderings-troublesome-problematic-es-devlin-interview/>
  11. Koolhaas, R, Junkspace, pg.18

Feature Image: Fracturing and Displacement of Forms, Collage Drawing by Daniel Libeskind, Credit to SOCKS (Fosco Lucarelli)

School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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