Dark Side Club - a salon for conversation

Propositions - an introduction

Vertical farming, brown fat which is the new slim, according to a team of Harvard Medical Researchers and the last vestiges of Modernism hanging around like a bad odour; architecture, and its claim to reflect and absorb its cultural surroundings has a lot to contend with.

Beyond the debates about the city, regeneration and icons, the Darkside Club will explore the processes behind the experimental methodologies and the manifestos that drive avant-garde practice. The Darkside Club’s 3x3x3 brings together three curators, Patrik Schumacher, Greg Lynn and Gregor Eichinger from three different continents to debate, critique and discuss their ideas together with a team of presenters.

Patrik Schumacher’s research at the Design Research Laboratory at London’s Architectural Association, which is celebrating its tenth year, bravely proposes a new movement for the twenty-first century titled Parametricism. A movement that follows in the foot steps of Post-Modernism and Deconstructivism, which he credits as providing the transitional phase from Modernism, Parametricism’s fluidity of scale can be applied to the urban realm right down to the smallest tectonic detail. The movement is creating a common vocabulary based on computational techniques, formal repertoires, and tectonic logics.

As with all great claims the manifesto provokes as many questions as it attempts to answer. It proposes that the creative exploitation of parametric design systems will provide a viable response to our increasingly ever-complex social processes and institutions. As in the long trajectory of architectural history where architects have attempted to alter our perception of space from the use of perspective to that of experiencing the hyper-real, Schumacher proposes a new sensory perception where landmarks, boundaries or axis no longer exist instead we will make sense of our city by a type of “field navigation”. This is contemporary architecture’s answer to constructing a new logic that will “articulate the advanced level of dynamism and complexity of contemporary society”, whether this is interpreted as formalistic determinism or an aesthetic of the avant-garde that might appear in a twenty-first century version of Charles Jenck’s Evolutionary Tree is up for debate. Schumacher will deliver his manifesto in discussion with a growing number of practices exploring this trajectory.

Fredric Jameson’s famous description of stepping out of the lift in the Hotel Bonaventura’s Shopping Mall sums up the experience of the disjunction of postmodern hyperspace which has succeeded in transcending the capacities of the individual body to organise its immediate surrounding perceptively. Writing in 1991, Jenks argues, that this is used as a symbol of the dilemma of the incapacity of our minds to map the great global multinational and decentred communicational networks in which we find our selves caught. Simply put it describes how we live in the shadow of global capital, where at times markets are traded on intangible whims. Whilst Schumacher perhaps celebrates this disjunction, Eichinger’s propositions set out to try and map the local in relation to global forces. Although debate, especially in the art realm praises this co-existence and co-option of the local and global (London’s independent art scene has spiraled against a backdrop of large institutions such as Tate Modern and White Cube). Eichinger views this condition as having the potential to marginalize architecture’s position.

Eichinger’s response is to value and give a platform to the small but burgeoning undercurrent of practices that are exploring methods of building which observe the vernacular, using what is raw on the ground rather than merely ticking the eco boxes that are currently fashionable such as collecting rainwater and other such add-ons. Anna Heringer’s Handmade School in Rudrapur, Bangladesh provides an example of construction technology from which locals learn from the process of building the school and apply the principles to other local projects.

Turning to Greg Lynn and his LA based studio Form Lynn’s practice works in tandem with the homegrown film world maximizing on what is “local” to LA. Lynn will controversially propose that the most exciting work on the frontiers of architecture is happening not in, but on, the frontiers of architecture. Adovcating the supremacy of those companies that are exploring new forms of technology that are actually pushing and reinventing interfaces, or highly sophisticated fabrication technology. Lynn as with Schumacher is advocating an expression of the return to an advanced competence of technique. Without a mastering of the parametric programming, like a modern day craft, an aesthetic form cannot be explored and as with Lynn his architectural proposition is set in dialogue with those creators who are crafting highly sophisticated technological material, lighting interfaces and pushing the physical fabric of the built environment. Richard Sennett in his recently published book The Craftsman has refocused creative work from that of the conceptual to that of a reappraisal of a mastering of technique.

So how is the contemporary city addressed with these provocative manifestos that embrace the local and global? Does a city and great Metropolis still have an identifiable façade, or a mere constructed image in the minds of those who have not set down in Sao Palo, London or Beijing? Virilio is driven to ask the question what is the changing nature between boundary and surface. How does architecture address the issues raised by a consumer mood switched to embracing the local; or slow food movement, is this mere hype with only £3m going in to organic farming and £30m into biocrops in the UK? Where do microeconomics come in, as with Anne Heringer’s School in India it is as much about implementation of the building as it is about economics or aesthetics, a condition of “sustainability as concept.” The Darkside Club will open up and spread the debate amongst practitioners and theorists who are recreating what practice is today and responding to a whole new set of conditions.

Individual Curators’ Propositions

Patrik Schumacher

(Thursday 11th September)
The content of the discussion:

The specific opportunities of the parametric design paradigm within architecture and its wider cultural meaning/implications.

As a stirring device for the discussion I present my Parametricist Manifesto.

The text is a variant of a text entitled "Total Fluidity on all Scales", Zaha Hadid & Patrik Schumacher, London 2008, that will be published within the Biennale Catalogue.

Parametricist Manifesto

Patrik Schumacher, London 2008

We must pursue the parametric design paradigm all the way, penetrating into all corners of the discipline. Systematic, adaptive variation and continuous differentiation (rather than mere variety) concerns all architectural design tasks from urbanism to the level of tectonic detail. This implies total fluidity on all scales.

Architecture finds itself at the mid-point of an ongoing cycle of innovative adaptation - retooling the discipline and adapting the architectural and urban environment to the socio-economic era of post-fordism. The mass society that was characterized by a single, nearly universal consumption standard has evolved into the heterogenous society of the multitude.

The key issues that avant-garde architecture and urbanism should be addressing can be summarized in the slogan: organising and articulating the increased complexity of post-fordist society. The task is to develop an architectural and urban repertoire that is geared up to create complex, polycentric urban fields which are densely layered and continuously differentiated.

Contemporary avant-garde architecture is addressing the demand for an increased level of articulated complexity by means of retooling its methods on the basis of parametric design systems. The contemporary architectural style that has achieved pervasive hegemony within the contemporary architectural avant-garde can be best understood as a research programme based upon the parametric paradigm. We propose to call this style: Parametricism.

Parametricism is the great new style after modernism. Postmodernism and Deconstructivism have been transitional episodes that ushered in this new, long wave of research and innovation.

That the parametric paradigm is becoming pervasive in contemporary architecture and design is evident. There has been talk about versioning, iteration and mass customization etc. for quite a while within the architectural avant-garde discourse.

The fundamental desire that has come to the fore in this tendency had already been formulated at the beginning of the 1990s with the key slogan of "continuous differentiation". Since then there has been both a widespread, even hegemonic dissemination of this tendency as well as a cumulative build up of virtuosity, resolution and refinement within it. This development was facilitated by the attendant development of parametric design tools and scripts that allow the precise formulation and execution of intricate correlations between elements and subsystems. The shared concepts, computational techniques, formal repertoires, and tectonic logics that characterize this work are crystallizing into a solid new hegemonic paradigm for architecture.

Parametricism can only exist via sophisticated parametric techniques. Finally, computationally advanced design techniques like scripting (in Mel-script or Rhino-script) and parametric modeling (with tools like GC or DP) are becoming a pervasive reality. Today it is impossible to compete within the contemporary avant-garde scene without mastering these techniques.

Parametricism emerges from the creative exploitation of parametric design systems in view of articulating increasingly complex social processes and institutions. The parametric design tools by themselves cannot account for this drastic stylistic shift from modernism to parametricism. This is evidenced by the fact that late modernist architects are employing parametric tools in ways which result in the maintenance of a modernist aesthetics, i.e. using parametric modelling to inconspicuously absorb complexity. At Zaha our parametricist sensibility pushes in the opposite direction and aims for a maximal emphasis on conspicuous differentiation.

We can identify three interrelated ambitions to contribute to the further development of parametricism:

1. Parametric Accentuation:

The ambition is to enhance the overall sense of organic integration through intricate correlations that favour deviation amplification rather than compensatory or ameliorating adaptations. For instance, when generative components  populate a surface with a subtle curvature modulation the lawful component correlation should accentuate and amplify the initial differentiation. This might include the deliberate setting of accentuating thresholds or singularities. Thus a far richer articulation can be achieved and thus more orienting visual information can be made available.

2. Parametric Figuration:

We propose that complex configurations that are latent with multiple readings can be constructed as a parametric model. The parametric model might be set up so that the variables are extremely Gestalt-sensitive. Parametric variations trigger gestalt-catastrophes, i.e. the quantitative modification of these parameters trigger qualitative shifts in the perceived order of the configuration. This notion of parametric figuration implies an expansion in the types of parameters considered within parametric design. Beyond the usual geometric object parameters, ambient parameters (variable lights) and observer parameters (variable cameras) have to considered and integrated into the parametric system.

3. Parametric Urbanism:

The assumption is that the urban massing describes a swarm-formation of many buildings. These buildings form a continuously changing field, whereby lawful continuities cohere this manifold of buildings. Parametric urbanism implies that the systematic modulation of the buildings' morphologies produces powerful urban effects and facilitates field orientation. Parametric Urbanism might involve both parametric accentuation and parametric figuration.

Modernism was founded on the concept of space. Parametricism differentiates fields. Fields are full, as if filled with a fluid medium. We might think of liquids in motion, structured by radiating waves, laminal flows, and spiraling eddies. Swarms have also served as paradigmatic analogues for the field-concept. We would like to think of swarms of buildings that drift across the landscape. Or we might think of large continuous interiors like open office landscapes or big exhibition halls of the kind used for trade fairs. Such interiors are visually infinitely deep and contain various swarms of furniture coalescing with the dynamic swarms of human bodies. There are no platonic, discrete figures with sharp outlines. Within fields only the global and regional field qualities matter: biases, drifts, gradients, and perhaps even conspicuous singularities like radiating centres. Deformation does no longer spell the break down of order but the lawful inscription of information. Orientation in a complex, lawfully differentiated field affords navigation along vectors of transformation .The contemporary condition of arriving in a metropolis for the first time, without prior hotel arrangements, without a map, might instigate this kind of field-navigation. Imagine there are no more landmarks to hold on, no axis to follow and no more boundaries to cross. Contemporary architecture aims to construct new logics - the logic of fields - that gear up to organize and articulate the new level of dynamism and complexity of contemporary society.

Greg Lynn (Friday 12th September)

The symposium’s intent is to launch future voices and focus on architecture’s best and brightest hopes for future excellence. This panel assumes that the most exciting work on the frontiers of architecture is happening not in, but on, the frontiers of architecture. There are two reasons that architects should begin to pay attention to this effect. The first is to recognize that there is new territory for architecture to look at in terms of problems and opportunities that architects might contribute to. The second, less self-serving phenomenon is the role that other designers in other fields contribute to the built environment in new ways that we as architects do not yet understand.  This is why the work of Peter, Walt, Thomas and Andreas have been in numerous Biennale's already but their voices and intelligence have yet to be integrated into architectural events.

The participants in this panel are neither “young” nor “emerging”; but are already eminent in their fields. They ghost write much of what is innovative in the work of architects with developers but they are invisible at events like the Biennale despite their major contributions. 

Imaginary Forces, run by Peter Frankfurt works on a variety of projects from skyscrapers to shopping centres to museums bringing spaces to life with environmental scale motion graphics. Walt Conti’s company Edge Innovations, is working in a host of locations such as Las Vegas, the company’s field of expertise literally animate building scale components so that the buildings move and come alive spectacularly. Thomas Auer and Transolar design the building systems of the world’s most innovatively designed and operating structures that actually breath and regulate themselves in terms of lighting, energy and building systems. Through the companies Machineous and Panelite, Andreas Froech, is harnessing today’s fabrication technology and new lightweight and translucent materials to make advanced building systems that celebrated architects use for residential, institutional, museum and fashion projects all over the world. These four individuals are the first wave of designers that, although not practicing as architects are making today’s most innovative architecture come to life.

Gregor Eichinger (Saturday 13th September)

Under the title Basic Instinct we would like to feed a discussion on these topics representing the fundamentals of architecture beyond building.

Three guests will advocate their experimental positions:

• The potential of architecture as a medium for strengthening cultural and individual self-confidence, for supporting local economies and ecological balance: In connection with the powerful potential of different individual cultures lies the biggest chance to develop solutions for global problems:

• Resurrecting latent cultural values can be future-oriented and fruitful. This can calibrate an increasingly refined culture of basic and fundamental issues in order to open up new perspectives. Looking at the example of Anna Heringer’s and Eike Roswag’s, award-winning school in Rudraphur, Bangladesh, the judges praised the school’s ability to respond to the issue of “sustainability as concept” hoping that its building methods will inform future construction projects in the deprived area. All too often, aspirations towards modernity in developing countries have malign economic and cultural effects where construction is concerned. Traditional materials and techniques are abandoned in favour of the import of expensive and sometimes energy-inefficient materials and products, benefiting only manufacturers in more advanced economies. The outcome can at worst be the imposition of alien buildings, forms and materials, which don’t last long and are difficult to maintain. By contrast, this project, in a poor rural area of Bangladesh (said to be the world’s most densely populated country), shows that new and refreshing local identity can be achieved by exploiting the immediate and the readily available.

• Architectural action at the border of man and nature: Connecting ecological advantages of natural materials with the self-regulating intelligence of its living organism. How can self-building, self-repairing and self-optimising processes are utilized technically and culturally?
Baubotanik, Stuttgart

The globalized world intensively calls for solutions for cultural identities, the rootage of people’s local life and the economized treatment of natural resources.

Therefore traditional knowledge of different cultures and the awareness of elegance, rituals and basic needs of human beings becomes extremely relevant. Under the title "Basic Instincts" we would like to feed a discussion on topics, representing the fundament of architecture beyond building.

Three guests will advocate their experimental positions.

All candidates work in the field of sustainable architecture on a high level not only in high tech building techniques but also in aesthetics.