Eco_Logics | Helene Furjan

In the simplest terms, the radicalization of
Matter requires three recognitions; that matter
is from the beginning irreducibly sensate and
responsive; that at every scale sensate, responsive
matter organizes itself hierarchically into discrete,
irreproducible configurations with specific emergent
behaviors; and that all discrete material configurations
any and every moment and any and every scale further
arrange into complex ecologies.

– Jeffrey Kipnis. “On the Wild Side” (1999)

Delueze and Guattari, in their explanation of the ‘abstract machine’, proclaim the operation of the ‘diagrammatic’ as pure ‘Matter-Function’ –a performativity that implies function over form, matter over substance, effects over meaning. Diagrammatic techniques do not map or represent existing objects, systems and data sets so much as project or speculate – they are central to the paradigm of architecture-as-research, a practice in which graphic strategies, techniques and technologies are integral not only to the mapping of the contemporary world, but to its generation. In architecture such ‘diagrammatic’ thinking is involved as much in the structuring of the process, the tools, the experiment of the research parameters, as in that of a ‘product’. As Manuel De Landa notes: ‘true thinking consists in problem-posing, that is, in framing the right problems rather than solving them. It is only through skillful problem-posing that we can begin to think diagrammatically. Architecture becomes a process of tooling the design as well as the instrumentalization of highly specific tools. In diagrammatics, nonlinearity – the emergence of unpredictable effects or orders – and dynamics – behavior over time, flow and flux – are operationalized.

This essay will track the influence of ‘diagrammatic’ logic in architecture in two differing but related directions, equally dependent on advanced visualization techniques and simulation modeling: the development in contemporary architecture of an interest in architecture-as-environment leading towards a science of effects on the one hand, and towards architecture understood in ecological terms—architecture as ecosystem-on the other.

A science of effects could be understood as the liberation of atmospheres, ‘transition from imagining space as an abstract thing, which is framed, to imagining space as matter itself’, a shift in which atmosphere becomes the very matter of architecture. Banham’s science of effects, posited all those decades ago in The Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment, saw a shift from architecture as building system (cladding, structure, program, form) to architecture as conditioner-of-effects (heat, light, moisture, form). In this conception, architecture is no longer confined to surfaces, whether thick or thin, but opens to a notion of ‘matter’ in which the air itself is latent with design potential, in which architecture is able to script and modulate a ‘thick atmosphere’.

The corollary of effects is behaviors. If architecture today is finally beginning to draw the realm of the ambient into its territory, no longer through a phenomenological interest in the perception of environments, that territory was already marked out in the possibilities Banham saw for the environment: as a system of control that modifies, conditions, and regulates. In this sense, ‘building’ gives way to ‘ecosystem’, to a built organization that operates at the level of vivisystems – dynamic and complex systems that learn, adapt, evolve, and mutate in response to the feedback of environmental conditions. Architecture today is no longer interested in the primacy of shelter, or even the dominance of form-generation, but in researching smart materials, adaptive envelopes, and responsive systems.

Thick Atmospheres

In the last decade or so the proliferation of digital media has had an explosive impact on the pervasiveness of what Debord termed ‘the society of the spectacle’. Within this culture of spectacle, the dominance of occularity and image, recent architectural discourse has begun to map out a resistance, shifting the question of visual culture away from spectatorship (questions of the gaze, of the primacy of viewing, and so on), and towards an immersive, interactive engagement that breaks down the authority of the viewing subject and engages other senses-an experimental understanding of space interested in atmosphere and effect. As a result, significant shifts are opening in the relation of the object to its wider environment; the boundary between building and its environment blurs. This occurs at two levels at least: architecture-as-object giving way to architecture-as-environment; and the thickening of the skin to include a ‘sandwich’ of envelope and air (including heat, light, moisture), or of different forms of matter. Both paradigms might be understood as a ‘thick’ atmosphere – architecture as a system of control that modifies, conditions and regulates.
Architecture-as-environment exploits technology to develop new vibes and atmospheres – what I have elsewhere called ‘hyper-lounge’. The spaces that result are ambient and moody, wrapping the visitor (who is no longer strictly speaking an observer, and therefore no longer passive) in the affective and interactive possibilities of special effects. Jeff Kipnis has developed the concept of ‘cosmetics’, which operates as a field of condition – diffuse, ephemeral, atmospheric thinness – lifting free of the surface in projects like Servo’s Lattice Archipelogics to produce a diffusion of effects through a thickened region of space. This configuration of environment could be understood as a ‘smooth mixture’, an emulsion of atmospherics, matter, form, technology, event.

The return of a sensory understanding of architecture has it links to the interest in ‘effect’ and sensation manifested in Baroque and Enlightenment architecture and architectural theory (and belatedly rediscovered in Gothic cathedrals), from mysterious lights and atmospheres to the kinetic effects of light and shade on three-dimensionlized surfaces – effects tied both to temporal changes and the mobility and atmosphere remain Edmund Burke’s essay on the sublime (1757), Le Camus de Meziere a treatise on sensation (1780), and Richard Payne-Knight’s essay on the associational and affective properties of the picturesque (1806). Phenomenological readings of space, from Hilderband and Fielder to Melot-Ponty or Bachelard, must also be counted as important precursors.

But perhaps the most direct genealogical linkage lies between contemporary experimentations with immersive sensory space and the interactive and immersive artworks (the ‘happenings’, multimedia pavilions or shows, and so on) of the post-war period. In this particular, the vibrating color fields of Verner Panton’s interiors or the flux of affectively charged atmospheres of Constant’s unrealized New Babylon stand out, as do the many interactive multimedia environments designed for expos –Saarinen and the Eames’s IBM pavilion at the New World’s Fair, Le Corbusier’s Poeme Electronique for the Phillips Company pavilion at the Brussels World Expo, or EAT’s Pepsi-Cola Pavilion at the Osaka World’s Fair.

The Pepsi-Cola pavilion, for instance, was ‘an early and important example of research on the integration of an electronic, programmable environment into a habitable structure’: cloud machine, multimedia performance space, simulation generator, responsive environment, interactive and immersive. No longer a static object, it was a protocol that generated an adaptive environment through feedback mechanisms, one allowing visitors to be fully participatory –to construct their own experiences to merge with the environment, to become protagonists in a laboratory of creation and experimentation –rather than the passive recipients of a pre-programmed narrative. In this project lies the concept of environment we have been tracking – architecture as conditioner-of-effects, as ecology. For EAT, the concept of environment provided a means to allow programming to mediate ‘human interaction with technology’. Contemporary with Marshall McLuhan, the pavilion invokes his ‘acoustic man’, the multi-directed immersiveness of sound, light, and color scapes creating an acoustic-optical simulation that challenges the primacy of the purely optical.

The Pepsi-Cola pavilion neatly captures the twin interests in contemporary atmospheres: affect/effect, and technology. As an affective space, it generated a kind of ‘delirious immersion’ by activating air, media technologies, light and color (a color that becomes light and a light that becomes color) alongside more traditional architectonic elements. Space becomes luminescent, colorized iridescent, saturated, dense, intense, emulsified. Central to this conception is the participation of the user:


The ambiance of an environment possessing certain specific plastic and acoustic characteristics depends on the individuals who find themselves there… The quality of the environment and its ambiance no longer depends on material factors alone, but on the manner in which they will have been perceived, appreciated and used – on the ‘new way of looking’ at them.

Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos describe a particular category of architectural effect that they liken to walking through a painting: ‘your gaze swerves and orients you through color, shininess, light, figuration, and sensation’. Taken from Gilles Deleuze, this effect is derived from a ‘a haptic vision of color, as opposed to the optical vision of light’. Such a ‘sense’ of color is tactile-optical: it ‘implies a type of seeing that is distinct from the optical, a close-up viewing in which ‘the sense of sight behaves just like the touch’. This tactile-optical experiencing of space is one in which the real and virtual collapse – a space in which imagination, fantasy, hallucination, effect mingle with the material, the visual, the sensory; like the club or rave, and environment which the synesthetic merging of light, sound, motion, and chemicals combine with the propriosensory processes of the body as it turns and moves. The world opened up for the participant is one of flux and flows, a dynamic field of provisional, contingent, and distractive effects.

Atmospheres as environment, effect (with a concomitant interest in ‘materials’, such as light, shade or sound that might enhance the construction of sensory atmospheres), and vibe (affect or mood) posit a resistance to the dominance of ocularity in Modernism. Working either to remap vision within a bodily, fully sensory terrain, or to obfuscate it, filling the air with special effects (glooms, mists, colors) that prevent a totalizing gaze, atmospheric architecture (or architectures of atmosphere) return the ‘spectator’ to a bodily awareness, and to a kinetic, tactile field in which they are fully immersed. The question here is no longer one of spectacle, the understanding of contemporary culture through a privileging both of spectatorship and of visuality, nor is it a problem of the registration of visual culture and its impact upon architecture. In the blurring and dissolution of both the matter of building and the notion ‘spectacle’ itself (here the view, intended to be occluded by the very immaterial ‘matter’ of the building’s fabric), the region of visuality is resisted, submerged by the ambient effects.

Also critical, of course, is the role of technology. Immersive and interactive architectures require sophisticated digital control systems to conjure their effects. These algorithmic controls, or rather regulators and generators, transform the logic of built space into a dynamic network organization – an ecosystem – sensing and responding to the feedback of visitors’ movements. The ‘thick atmosphere’ is produced by the complex interaction between visitor architectonics, a bundle of sensors, computers, and light and sound emitters. Co-evolving components are networked into a dynamic assemblage, the clustering relations formed by interacting behaviors. New clusters form and dissolve as the network learns, remembers, and evolves. Thick atmospheres today generate their effects from a hybrid emulsion of digital and physical constructions, smoothly admixed into new interactive and immersive systems, new fields of intoxication and sensation.

Responsive Environments

‘Thick atmosphere’ also referse to redefinition of ‘skin’ to include not just layers of matter and structure but also the air that abuts and permeates these layers. Added to this new sensitivity to ambience and it operationalization is a question of performance – the instrumentalization of this thickened atmosphere as a means of tooling the envelope in response to shifting parameters of heat, light, moisture, sound, the structural properties of materials, and so on. This ‘smart’ envelope is reconfigured as an ‘environment’ in its own right.

In Out of Control, Kevin Kelly contrasts two morphologies of organization: the ‘linear’ structure of sequential operations that governs top-down hierarchical systems like factory assembly lines or traditional corporate structures, and the ‘nonlinear’ structure of assemblies of parallel operations that governs networks. As he writes, ‘action in these systems proceeds in a messy cascade of interdependent events’. Complex organization are collectivities of ‘autonomous members’, which means a bottom-up system of highly connected agent who are not individually responding to centralized commands but independently and individually reacting to ‘internal rules and the state of their local environment’. Characteristic of networks, swarms, and vivisystems alike, ‘what emerges from the collective is not a series of critical individual actions but a multitude of simultaneous actions whose collective patterns is far more important.

Linear systems are closed systems-they can only exchange work and heat with their exterior – and are characterized by a single global stable state-equilibrium. Until relatively recently, science focused on closed systems, largely because they were easily modeled, while environmental systems engineering preferred buildings as closed systems, maintaining their internal environments in steady equilibrium condition. But linear systems rarely exist in the world, just as it is virtually impossible to prevent energy exchange between a building and its environment. Nonlinear systems are open systems that can exchange work, heat, and matter with their exterior, and they are complex – that is, more than the sum of their parts.

The modern city is today understood as a complex, self-organizing system akin to an ecosystem. It is a messy assemblage of networks, systems, ecologies, all competing with and contaminating each other. It is inherently nonlinear: a site of expansion: tactical and strategic interventions; confrontations between localization and globalization (including shifting cultural identities based on migration patterns); and a map of flows, networks, transfers, and transits (the immaterial images, messages, and vectors of communications and transportations). As Michael Weinstock notes,
We are within the horizon of a systemic change, from a design and production of individual “signature” buildings to an ecology in which evolutionary designs have sufficient intelligence to adopt and to communicate, and from which intelligent cities will emerge.

Ecosystems are characterized by bottom-up logics and networked flexible organization. Structure and evolution are linked, both a function of environmental pressure and ‘fitness’: adaptive feedback loops that are not simply reactive but a combination of learning and creativity, processing information about the environment into a model that uses interpolation and extrapolation to make predications and develop modifications. Evolution relies on a combination of order, flexibility or dynamics, and unpredictability; in other words, on a process of replication and mutation as much as design and control. Such systems generate ‘stable instability’ through the interplay of noise and information generated by environmental feedback mechanisms. Ecosystems are coevolutionary, coadaptive, codependent: ‘since all organisms adapt that means all organisms in an ecosystem partake in a continuum of coevolution, from direct symbiosis to indirect mutual influence’. The development of such systems is dependent less of degrees of complexity or noise than on the pattern – the topologies – of interrelations that characterizes the system.

Crucial, then, to an ecosystems approach to architecture is the blurring of boundaries between building and environment – both merge into one continuous ecology – and the generative capacity of that environment – an instrumental engagement with the dynamic forces and flows of matter, air, heat, light, moisture (geological, seismic, geothermal, climatic), but also infrastructural flows of energy, information, capital, transportation, and so on. In order to achieve these levels of feedback, the architectural system must model its ‘fitness landscape’, a mapping of the internal constraints of the system with the parameters of its external environment, to produce potential pathways of development. Used by Rene Thom (biology), Stuart Kauffman (physics), and Conrad Waddington (development biology), fitness landscapes are models of coadaptation, since each ecology or even organism will have its own competing fitness landscape.

Formal or infrastructural development, in such a model, is always contingent, and always evolving. Practices at the leading edge of architectural research today are increasingly turning to the use of sophisticated digital visualization and generation tools – borrowed from the sciences of weather simulation, materials and systems research, and from the multiple engineering disciplines – to push architectural generation simultaneously into the micro-sale of matter and the macro-scale of the environment. Such design practices search for adaptation and variation, scripting simulation modeling to genetically breed envelopes as enhanced environmental systems. Para metrics here couples form-finding and energy systems into advanced processing systems, linking the changing intensity and directionality of variables such a sunlight or rainfall to handle inundation as localized flood response as well as a hedge against drought or heat, modifying the skin tor reflect or maximize heat absorption, or to optimize the ability of photovoltaic to generate energy, for instance, all with profound morphological implications.

Responsiveness reformulates digital production in the direction of contextuality – no longer the old meaning-laden form but one in which feedback mechanisms are not simply internal to the algorithms generating the project but linked to specific environmental parameters that the architectural project is now able to fully instrumentalize. Looped into ecosystems, architecture in this model becomes ecosystemic itself. The building envelope becomes part of a ’thick 2-D’ in which environmental control gives way to environmental modulation – dynamic modulations of territories and micro-climates – creating a building responsive to both its internal and its external environments, through a control systems based on the centrality of variation in behavior rather than an optimized and statically maintained condition. The building in this model is a cybernetic system, capable of self-regulation – an integrated, complex system possessing its own intelligence – and is stable in the non-linear disequilibrium manner in which vivisystems are ‘stable’: a ‘stable instability’.

We might understand the tight coupling of building and environment through Lynne Margulis’s model of ‘fused assemblages’: micro-organisms evolve their own complexity by incorporating simpler organisms into larger multiplicities that become capable of reproduction as a singularity. A single body and an ecology of organisms are similar – both exploit on another’s functions and machanic behaviors through feedback and exchange. A body is the fused assemblage of an ecosystems operating with a high degree of continuity and stability. Ecosystems, however, are generally less tightly coupled – not so much superorganisms as loose ‘federations’. Organisms are tightly bound and strict, ecosystems are loosely bound lax; evolution is a tight web, ecology a loose one. The fused assemblage of building – environment is such a loose network, a ‘soft system’. Soft systems are ‘fluid, pliant, adaptive fields that are responsive and evolving’, and that have ‘the capacity to absorb, transform, and exchange information with [their] surroundings’.

Felix Guatari identifies three ecologies, in an essay of the same title, as the environment, social relations and human subjectivity. He argues for the need for an ethico-political relation between the three, which must be at once global and molecular, and which her terms ‘ecosophy’, ‘Eco-logics’ is a generalized ecology that does not strive for resolution that moves between collective action and individual creativity. In other words, it allows for emergent orders and practices: the drift or bifurcation of a project from its initial path by the introduction of an unpredicted ‘event-incident’. ‘Eco-logics’ is therefore a practice and a process: it is applied and theoretical, ethico-political and aesthetics; it is a process of ‘continuous resingularization’ – continual mutation, reinvention, becoming.

Nonlinear dynamic processes have been central to the development of digital practices for some time, as indeed have advanced computation logics that allow the generation of ‘form’ to become ‘genetics’, a process of growth and evolution that breeds prototypical solutions. Less so has been the question of responsiveness. The work collected together in this volume – is moving in an important direction, adding to the genetic mix a concept of performativity rigorously tied to material dynamics, climactic and environment parameters, urban and social organizations (as infrastructural parameters rather than socio-political representations), and ambient conditions.


[Effects] do not operate in a pure and undiluted form, but, at best, take part in a kaleidoscope of enactments, in which the vividness of each individual effect is moderated by the simultaneous presence of other effects. Effects are actions and they emanate from relations. The best effects that architecture can produce in the contemporary world are those that are proliferating and moving, effects that are anticipatory, unexpected, climactic, cinematic, time-related, non-linear, surprising, mysterious, compelling and engaging. – Ben van Berkel and Caroline Bos, ‘Effects: Radiant Synthetic’ (1992)

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Categories: Literature, Theory

Author:jonbailey

studying: architecture design

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One Comment on “Eco_Logics | Helene Furjan”

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