Quantum Words on Architectonic Objects
Quantum. The unit of emitted energy. Circulating and translating between all things tangible and graspable. Quantum Words on Architectonic Objects are diligent articulations of ordinary things. They are distinctive for the architect ́s ability to offer a richness of detail and insight within no less than five hundred and no more than a thousand words of print. Short enough to be read while drinking an espresso and significant enough to delight the reader with the accepted diversion.
First in a series:
The Table in the light of Quantity and the Precious.
Invitation to short contributions on:
English or German
Delivery September 16th 2017
mail to: vera.buehlmann[at]attp.tuwien.ac.at
Vera Bühlmann, Emmanuelle Chiappone-Piriou, Georg Fassl,
ATTP Technische Universität Wien August 2017
Architectonic Objects Digital Weather Conditions
Digital Fabrication, Smart Cities, the Internet of Things, Big Data, Rationalisation and the Digital Production Chain, Semantic and Object-Oriented Ontologies, Automated Process Design, and Parametrism as the "New International Style": Increasingly so, everything gets connected with everything else in a global kind of intellectual and entropic climate. The temporal currents brings us but modulations of the past. Intellectual tempests are cooking up here and there. Architectural ideas pour like rain from ideational cluster-clouds. Information floods are washing away the shores of long cultivated fields. Fresh breezes are local, recurrent, often they are pleasantly mild.
A building is what withstands the weather. The Quantum Words on Architectonic Objects series wants to cultivate the architectural object amidst this plenty of climatic influences. It reaches out to architects (and other intellectuals) in order to learn articulating what is precious about architecture.
What is an architectonic object? An architectonic object is an ordinary object, one we find exposed from what it may once have been conceived as. It may not have lost its mystical appeal altogether, but we have long learned to live with it – to live with it well, and this without fully comprehending it. The architectonic object is an object whose parts are elementary but mobile, whose components are modular yet can be measured (not only calculated), whose balances are asymmetrical and yet producing stability.
First in a Series of Architectonic Objects: The Table
The first Architectonic Object we would like to articulate in Quantum Words is that of The Table.
We sit at tables for having diner or breakfast. A table is the sine qua non of every banquet. It stands on four feet and levels a plane in between. A table erects a stable board in distance to the ground. Empty, the table provides the iconic site of modern, experimental methods of investigation. When organised into rows and columns a table provides the iconic site of keeping records, collecting data, organising knowledge. It feeds tax agents just as much as computers. The Round Table lives forth, from King Arthur ́s time onwards, as the iconic site for reconciliation. It is well known to facilitate a flat hierarchy among noble men. In the Symposium, the table manifests the fondness for mixing wine and intellectual discussion.
What open secrets, what precious stories, can we unlock from the role this architectonic object plays in the different architectural disciplines today? How are tables used in Structural Design? In Digital Architecture? In Building Physics? In Social Housing? In City Planning? in Baukunst? In Building Conservation? In Baroque Architecture? In Le Corbusier ́s machines-for-living-in? What does the table, as an architectonic object, afford in the different disciplines? what does it present, what does it exclude, what does it organise, what does it provide, what does it demand, what does it conserve?
On the Quantum Words Series
English: The Very Many and the Big Plenty: Quantity and the Precious
German: Das Sehr Viele und das Grosse Reichliche: Quantität und das Kostbare
How could "the many" possibly be "intensified"? How could something that is abundantly full be measured? How can we rationalise what is not determinably finite and scarce? what could possibly be the unit of such measurement, and even worse, how on earth should we think of the reference magnitude for such a unit? Linguistically speaking, we have here (with The Very Many and the Big Plenty) an intensive qualifier for the many, a measuring adjective for the abundantly full – is this not a sheer mess of category mistakes, a kind of a logical disaster? For any (classically) logical idea of objects, speaking of The Very Many and The Big Plenty certainly is not a phrasing that makes much sense.
Logical Statements (Definition and Order)
That ́s because logics is committed to an understanding of the static that is rooted in a notion of order. Logics deals with statements relative to either cosmical, metaphysical, ontological, or mathematical order. Motion and rest must exclude one another in the states that are at stake in logics, and the same goes for any other pair of, in a logical sense, contradictory notions. Our phrasings, in their paradoxical set ups, could hence not play a legitimate role in any logical argument.
Rhetorical Stasis (Consensus and Order)
Different from logics, rhetorics knew a term that specifically designates set-ups whose starting positions appear to be in contradiction with each other: If two opponents, for a combat in sophistication, enter debate with two competing lines of argumentation, what has to be established first is a middle ground between them. This, in rhetorics, is called Stasis. Stasis literally means a standing still. It designated a state of stability, in which all forces are equal and opposing, and therefore cancel each other out.
Including the Operations of a General Equivalent (Algebra and Money)
How exactly such rhetorical stasis is different from the kind of stasis at stake in logics, this is a large and unsettled issues of which we can perhaps say that it is transversal to philosophy at large. After all, is a notion of order not characterised in the same manner, as a state of stability in which all forces are equal and opposing, and therefore cancelling each other out? is this not why, from understanding the order of things, we can learn to manipulate them? Marcel Hénaff, the anthropologist, has recently caught up with the history of this conflict in his beautiful book entitled The Price of Truth (2003). This is why we aim at linking up with the interplay between quality and quantity.
Statues: Set Up to Keep Something Present
There is another context in which phrases of the kind we are dealing with here might be approached. We might conceive of the paradoxical topic the try to capture best as a kind of statue, literally the set up of something to be kept present, to be remembered, from stature, "to cause to stand, set up."
If such set ups were not logically consistent, so the Ancient Greeks knew already, they will not be capable of maintaining themselves. The stability they put forward, hence, would not be a stability at all: it is bound to corrupt, to degenerate, to become something unstable, something that is capable of decay. Such statues could still appear as beautiful though. Just like poetic verse could appear as beautiful. The Ancient Greeks had a word for this kind of beauty, they called those statues daedalus. Not because the mythical figure of Daedalus, the first architect purported by legend, would alone have been believed as capable of crafting them. But because the legendary first architect was the first to build statues from parts that were modular and mobile: Daedalus was the first to build mechanical statues, statues capable of transporting a certain condition from one situation to another, where the same condition appears, at first, as ill fitted, if not entirely out of place. Mechanics was considered as an art, in the sense that it required the kind of cunning that would translate, literally carry across or bridge, odd situations like Minos ́ wife wishing to mate with the bull that Minos, the king of Crete, had kept from Zeus by cheating on him.
Mechanics and Art, Nature and Culture
In mechanics, indeed, rest and motion need not exclude one another – quite the opposite. They are treated by the mechanic in a way that knows how to keep the balances between them in a variety of manners. The mechanic was he who knew how to distribute the weights between the sides of the scale such as to yield a certain effect repeatedly, objectively, intended and yet completely independent from his subjective will. Is the top of a spinning circle at rest or is it rotating? Problems like these are often treated by the first scientists. Mathematically, they could be rigorously described (by Archimedes for example, who remained one of the most inspiring influences for architects and artists alike throughout the centuries). But logically, they remained problematic. We have here, perhaps, the very theme that underlies the distinction between things artificial and things natural.
Architectonic Objects: The Whole Picture and The Mobile Partition
With our Quantum Words on Architectonic Objects we want to leave unresolved these philosophical disputes between what we could call The Whole Picture (logical order) and The Mobile Partition (mechanical order, rhetorical stasis, or crafted statues). We want to treat them in the Quantum Way: we seek to acknowledge that there must be a way to accommodate both perspectives, in like manner as in quantum physics, where we can measure the speed of a particle as well as its location, but not both at once.
How could we go about such measurement in architecture? Via objects. We cannot do so without a form of mediacy. Like the mobile statues once called daedalus, objects of the most ordinary kind are caught up in a contradictory activity too: the pot contains but also excludes. A floor supports but also lifts up from the ground. A roof covers but also exposes a structure to the weather. A wall separates rooms but also connects them.
Remembering ordinary objects in terms of their double facedness, we want to address them as Architectonic Objects: object whose parts are elementary but mobile, whose components are modular yet can be measured, whose balances are asymmetrical yet producing stability. An architectonic object is an ordinary object, one which may not have lost its mystical appeal altogether but which can be accounted for quantitatively.