ABOUT

VOLATILITY: Material Flows, Materiel Tactics, and Architectures of Logistics

Instructor: Hugh Hynes, Senior Adjunct Professor of Architecture

Time is the great element between weight and force.
— Napoleon Bonaparte

To produce is to move.
— John Stuart Mill

The circumstances in which we operate as architects are overwhelmingly governed by volatility. Accidents, catastrophes, turbulence, singularities, merely people changing their mind: these events in which the only constant is change itself force us to reassess our ability to make decisions and move ahead with clear, projective action. Volatility and its corollary — uncertainty — challenge our effectiveness and ask us to define the limits of our knowledge. Rather than accepting defeat via paralysis, how can we reformulate our methods to exploit volatility’s potential and inhabit this liminal space at the edge of certainty?

In parallel to the development of industrialization and its successors, the practice of logistics has evolved to manage this uncertainty and confront volatility, while deploying large amounts of material in a coordinated fashion and in complex environments. Sounds like architecture, doesn’t it? Logistics involves a rigorous consideration of temporal conditions, a set of methods that evaluate dynamics, sequence, capacity, patterns and anomalies. As a dynamic material system in which matter is organized and deployed in situ, architecture is subject to — and a participant in — the same set of pressures.  From massive, quasi-military deployment undertakings (like emergency management and disaster relief efforts), to infrastructural networks (tasked with moving stuff — power, water, vehicles — from one place to another), to neo-industrialized processes (which pit efficiencies of standardization against fabrication anomalies), to material systems (differentiated families of components deployed in the built environment): the effectiveness of all of these scales of operation is contingent on how volatile circumstances are managed. Of course, logistical methods need not be reactive: tactics such as catalysis, stochastics, cybernetics and morphogenesis are examples in which volatile events can be exploited generatively.

This Research Group will focus on the development of methods for contending with volatility; whether it is to be managed, eliminated, exploited, or intensified will be subject to each student’s own agenda and specific area of interest. Initial research into practices (and histories) of logistics will serve as a shared methodological platform from which students will launch their own research trajectories, contending with volatility in a wide range of scales and contexts. Part of the coursework in the fall will be devoted to a closer look at specific time- and event-based digital tools (eg: Maya, Grasshopper, Flash, Excel) in a workshop setting, affording students the opportunity to develop their skills into novel techniques.

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