Volatilty // Culpability

[If a] system is dynamic there has to be the ability to exchange information all the time. At all scales data is fed through and transformed…what begins as a small set of instructions is multiplied into a complex web. (Balmond, 7)

Systemic responses to dynamic situations vary wildly. A working knowledge of which echelon within a regime is tasked with engaging mercurial realities fosters an understanding of how that organization might manifest these responses to volatility on the ground — take for example a column line undocumented in the as-built drawings provided a design team at the outset of a project. Manuel De Landa would term this discrepancy “friction,” anything which “interferes with the implementation of a tactical or strategic plan…’noisy data.'” (De Landa, 60) This friction could be impetus to shift the overlaid grid of new construction to a more harmonious abstract rhythm incorporating the surprise columns if discovered early and responded to by an architect. The same discovery by a trade partner after design documents are finalized and the project is under construction would create a localized, intensive and materially-dependent response; the difference between a strategic response and a logistical one, then, can be seen as a reification of hierarchically-driven discretization of scope.

The first split on my experimental phylogenetic tree (see diagram, above), {function+use//aesthetics+form} speaks to this point: given the systemic friction of an identical real-world problem, various “social arenas” (or realms with discursive continuity and shared interests [Clark, 45]) will respond with starkly different solutions due to their community-derived concordances on what constitutes the utility of design. An aesthetic response to columnar variance looks unlike a functionalist one; by similarity, the interior designer and the ironworker leave dissimilar traces of their hand in the final architectural object.

Architect-as-ArtistClient (inner circle) and Architect (A) share all culpability, as well as constant cooperation; manufacturers (MN) and machinist/installers (outer) aid the process but are not empowered to engage friction.

At times, the locus of responsiveness is skewed toward the center of the organization, as in the architect-as-artist model where client and architect make all decisions in responding to plan changes and new information; in these cases there is great risk that “the generic organization [instantiated regardless of milieu] establishes a strict hierarchy that subordinates the local rather than responding to it” (Wigley, 103), thereby increasing the risk of irrational- or non-response to volatility due to the myopic machinations of the system and a lack of decision-making contingency. (Sheppard + Mason, 6) This stands in stark contrast to the proximity of multiple arenas to any particular part of the work in the most recent organizational models (global studio/IPD). This dichotomy is embodied in the {extrinsic+contractual//intrinsic+manifold} split of my organizational phylogeny.

The complex web Balmond invoked is a keystone of contemporary contractual relationships most defining of the design studio methodology, relationships which expand the number of social arenas involved in the production of a design from the two observed in the early organizational models toward highly compartmentalized, multi-tiered conglomerates with potentially crippling reliance on secondary or tertiary oversight and a communicative reducibility to the format of long-distance technological tools. These organizations are more defined by the relationships between the players than the role of any one player as productive contributor to the design; the “increase in uncertainly about the veracity, accuracy or timeliness of the data” (De Landa,78) which typify the operation of a distributed network overshadows the efficacy of any one role/competency within the network.

If the organism [or organization] is fundamentally pattern…the instantiation and maintenance of this pattern depend not only on the availability of raw materials but also on the preexistence of a material substrate of communications systems…[as connectivity cascades from] internal communications systems, which are in turn connected into social and technological networks to which they respond through feedback, the outer limits of the organism begin to erode. (Martin, 25)

Global Design Studio Client (inner circle) is shielded from culpability by {globalized} Architect (A) and a Local Development Corp. (LDC). Engineers, trades and craftspeople are arrayed in a complex web of oversight and communication around the main players.

The global design firm is much larger, it seems, than is my diagram therefor; the global studio’s conduits range from trans-oceanic cable trenches to low-orbit satellite relays. The third bifurcation of my phylogenetic analysis {embrace globalization//reject globalization} has implications for the tools we use as well as the projects we work on: representation and the question of universal architectural language and shorthand is made even more precious in an atomized mode of practice, where mediation of all parts of the project make the message ever more difficult to transmit effectively. Without a shared frame of reference, each of the myriad players must “mentally slice what is seen into sections and subjecting [it] to diverse analyses (aesthetic, programmatic, technical, phenomenological)” (Wigley, 109), act as suggested by the this analysis and their specialty, then have their contribution subsumed in the ever-compounding whole and passed to the next arena where the same process with uncertain results commences again.

We have come full circle, but now the web of instructions Balmond posited at the outset is cast as a potentially signal-to-noise, disruptive/reductive element. As Norbert Weiner states in his book The Human Use of Human Beings, we live in an era in which we can understand “Organization as Message” at many scales of engagement; the “homeostatic processes…by which an organism maintains its level of organization in an otherwise entropic environment” (Martin, 24) is something we have ostracized from the organizational structures of many of our greatest architectural exports. On the most recent phylogenic split, most designers have chosen {contingency unimportant} over {contingency essential} We have balkanized to the point of disequilibrium: the diaspora of contingent and systemic architectural processes (architectonic furniture detailing, building-environmental systems, materials used for precise force load conditions) must be gathered, assessed anew, and deployed to strengthen the toolset we rely on in diffusing the volatility of the productive process.

Works Cited:
• Balmond, Cecil. Element. New York, NY: Prestel USA. 2008. Print.
• Clark, Adele E. Situational Analysis: Grounded Theory after the Postmodern Turn. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2005. Print.
• De Landa, Manuel. War in the Age of Intelligent Machines. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991. Print.
• Martin, Reinhold. The Organizational Complex. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2005. Print.
• Sheppard, Lola and Mason White. “Formatting Contingency.” Pamphlet Architecture 30 : Coupling : Strategies for Infrastructural Opportunism New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011. Print.
• Weiner, Norbert. The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics And Society. Cambridge, MA: De Capo Press, 1988. Print.
• Wigley, Mark. “Local Knowledge.” Phylogenesis foa’s ark. Barcelona, Spain: Actar, 1999. Print.

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