‘Progress’ and Obsolescence

This was in 1999 and it was cutting edge to give a presentation with my partner contributing her half through IRC projected on a screen. (It’s the future now, so people project Twitter #hashtags.)

Hilarious, since IRC is still clearly the better choice for classroom projection. It’s hella confusing to watch stray tweets come in long after the presentation has moved on. But Twitter is what all the hip kids are doing nowadays…

Incidentally, the Cyborgs & Architects series at Quiet Babylon, from whence comes the above twitter aside, is quite interesting.  That architects would feel anxious about the end of their profession is understandable; the architect’s position in society has been eroding for a long time due to the same industrial processes of specialization and standardization that have transformed the rest of the economy.  Where once there were master-builders now there are general contractors, steel fabricators, curtain wall designers, every manner of consultants from LEED to acoustics, civil/mep/structural engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, etc.

The architect nominally holds the reigns as coordinators , but that actual contribution of any individual to the design process is small and it’s not difficult to imagine a future where the architect is just another consultant, hired by the owner’s rep to provide some advice on massing and help fashion the building’s skin into some pleasing fractal shapes. With the rising popularity of Design-Build projects that place the contractor at the top of building pyramid, one might even say it’s likely.

Against that backdrop comes the spector of human mechanization, either by upgrading our bodies or uploading our minds. Architecture replaced by body hacking or Second Life. Anxiety is felt. A bright line is drawn between altering the environment and altering people.  Only one is ok.

All very understandable,but as these things often go, the bright line is bunk.  Architecture mediates how people experience the environment — it lets in this much  light, this much air, at these locations, and those elevations. It’s basically a filter whose foundation is in earth, but it’s hardly our only filter.  There’s also clothing, vehicles, consumer electronics, hearing aids — sometimes also designed by architects — which drastically alter our experience of the environment, and do it by being attached to us and altering us.

If anything our coming cyborg future would see those non-architectural filters replaced, but structures remain.  Clothing gives way to Carbon Fiber EpiDerm Pro.  Cars to the Usain Bolt Locomatron GOLD.  But, barring a total revolution in human desires, people will still want privacy, still want facilitated socializing, and still want expresions of hierarchy, so houses, bars, and skyscrapers should be with long after grocery stores become unneccessary due to the Pollan Omni-Replicator: Now With Meatier Algorithms!

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