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GRADUATION AT THE WILLEM DE KOONING ACADEMY 1998
The process of this project is far more about questioning the basic presumptions of the architecture profession than about the resulting object itself. The fact that the object is generated by a natural process (digestion of food), while this process is stringently controlled (by keeping a careful journal of the food consumed daily) raises questions about the value of process as opposed to result.
The process underlying this design can be viewed on the main page, but I will give a very short summary for the purpose of clarity. The 3-d object to be viewed is simply a three dimensional scan of the faeces of the designer. He kept a careful record of all he ate for 2 weeks, scanned the resulting shit and later forced it into functioning architecturally. The first question one might ask is whether this isn’t a terribly arbitrary way to create an object. To which one might reply that it is a sharply observant statement about current affairs in architectural design. Literally using shit as the basis for an object can save critics the effort of needing to uncover the fact that the underlying premises are exactly that.
This may be a slightly crude way of phrasing it, but it is precisely this attention-getter that can lead to the more powerful questions raised by this project.
The form has a meaning, but the meaning is arbitrary. It is a choice made by the designer to instigate a design process based on the organic process of digestion, rigorously followed to its final conclusion. In my opinion, the first question that should enter the minds of fellow architects is not “where does this form come from, but rather” where do any forms come from, including mine”.
Developments in computer design over the past decade, or even the past few years, have given architects a new toy to play with, without giving them enough time to incorporate this toy properly within the parameters of their field. Rather than examine the usefulness of computer programs for the purpose of the design, many designs have been determined or even generated by the programs used to build them. Moreover, the arbitrariness of computer-generated designs are often later manipulated by the architect in a final spasm of formal inspiration. We will find architects such as Ben van Berkel, Greg Lynn, NOX architects and Kas Oosterhuis, to name a prominent few, preaching the wonders of computer-generated design, be it in terms of randomization or a parameter-defined morphing process. All of the above, however, offer only a fetishistic treatment of the computer-aided design process (we can note, as an aside, that the fetish according to Freud is a displaced desire, resulting from repression; the first repression is that of a child’s interest in anal functions).
There is a need for designers bold enough to work on a trial-and-error method with new media. In this sense, we must respect the position of architects such as Lynn and Van Berkel, who do stretch the limits of the computer as a tool within architecture. However, perhaps we also need a fresh look at the use of the computer in this field, and I would suggest this project as ‘fresh’ (with my thanks to Roemer van Toorn for introducing this word as a not-yet-tainted description for young, optimistic, heroic-within-unideological-societies designs). The architects mentioned above are weighed down by their technophilia. They do not seem to be testing the limits of architecture as it functions within our current society (which has, after all, changed immensely with the development of information and communication technology). Rather, they seem to have seized upon this new tool, understood its powers of formal manipulation, and have begun to use it within the traditional framework of architectural design. Each project still has the designer’s signature, each project is a unique creation by a lone architect and his computer.
I think the radicality of this project lies in a number of aspects. First, it is unpretentious about its premises. The process is entirely bared, and the arbitrary nature of the catalyst for the design process is in no way disguised. This openness naturally serves to critique, from an insiders position, the nature of a computer-guided design process. If there is an emptiness to the formalistic tendencies in computer-aided design, this project offers it up for all to see. Second, it questions the architects ego (so familiar to us in the form of Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark; The Fountainhead is still a perfect example of the uncompromising ego-driven architect. Here we could again consult Freud briefly for an amusing side note: the ego spends most of its time attempting to repress the id, where our ‘baser instincts’ are located). Whereas modern architecture has been led by the desire for clarity and simplicity, for the one identifiable architect-as-god, we can now begin to consider an alternative, perhaps most related to the gothic period. In the worlds of computer graphics and cyber fiction, both infinitely faster in using and understanding the fundamental impact of the computer (as opposed to a formal impact), we can find a strong tendency towards a neo-gothic aesthetic (such as the images propagated by Blade Runner and Neuromancer). More interesting yet is the willingness to set aside the ego; the internet derives a large part of its power from the hackers and computer geeks who are more interested in keeping the strength of the network running than in having their names etched in silicon. This ethic is analogous to the gothic period, where the name and ego of the designer was of little importance compared to the greater goal of building a monument to their God.
Finally, the project is radical in its combination of these principles within the space of the World Wide Web. We are offered a project that discloses every step of its design process, offering us all possible opportunities to critique it (thereby in fact critiquing the more traditional kinds of computer-generated architectural design). Not only are we offered a view of this project, but also the opportunity to manipulate it, to e-mail comments and criticism, and in fact, to enter into the design process (as returned images will be posted in the gallery on the website). This is a neo-gothic, computer-network understanding of design, a project of the nineties – questioning the relationship between architecture and computers rather than pressing a button to create yet another seemingly random but highly aestheticized project.
Lara Schrijver 1999
For those interested in other firms operating within a critical perspective, I would suggest looking at the work of Luc Deleu and Diller + Scofidio. Concerning critique, the media and our network society, Douglas Rushkoff has written Cyberia and Media Virus, both very strong investigations of these topics.