The Complex and the Singular

The Complex and the Singular
..excerpt from Sanford Kwinter’s, Architectures of Time

To understand the precise mechanics of how a form may be “time- and difference-generated” –or actualized in the jargon of the present argument — consider the example of the domestic ice cube versus the free-form snow crystal. Is time real for the cube in the same way as for the snow crystal? How do their respective forms arise? In the former case a cubic slot is prepared and preformed in plastic or metal and filled with water. It is placed in an environment where cold is able to penetrate it from the outside, first fixing its boundaries in conformity with its geometric receptacle, later simply filling out its interior. Every ice cube resembles every other just as it resembles its own mother mold. There is no real time to be found in this system, as almost nothing is permitted to flow (save for heat, though along a rigidly controlled gradient); everything is locked into a static spatial system that reproduced pregiven form. All the aleatory conditions, all of chance, hazard, all virtuality and sensitivity to other disturbances and changes in the environment –all wildness and openness–are scrupulously (i.e., by design) eliminated.

The snow crystal is different. Its genesis is dynamic and can be situated initially at the convergence of three distinct fluxes: mica and mineral particles; a moisture saturated field; and a thermal flow of heat exchange. One does not know in advance where or when such a crystal will begin to nucleate or form, but one knows it will emerge–apparently spontaneously–from a flux or convergence of flows, not in a prepared form or space. The form of the crystal, however, is not fixed from the beginning–it is merely an incarnated singularity, a speck of dust-ice, that has been carried to a new level where it interacts with higher-order flows–gravity, wind, barometric pressure, humidity, other silicate dust, water, crystals, and thermal and even acoustic flows, plus electrical and magnetic gradients. All of these conditions vary continually in relation to themselves and affect the snowflake’s trajectory. The crystal does carry some fixed information along with it–its pre-established molecular structure, developed within a rigid tetrahedral lattice of hydrogen and oxygen atoms, determines the even formation of hexagonal plates with six “inflextions” or surface asperities. This apparently “regular” architecture produces a dynamically irregular space, causing certain regions on the hexagonal matrix to catch more than their share of the external weather conditions. The resulting build-up takes place disproportionately on these humps, so that the snow crystal will always have six sides.

Of course this inflexible part of its “program” may be said to transcend time; yet this aspect is hardly what is compelling about snow crystal morphology. What is interesting is that despite its partially fixed matrix no two results are ever alike. Each is different because the crystal maintains its sensitivity both to time and to its complex milieu. Its morphogenetic principle is active and always incomplete (i.e., evolving)–the snowflake interacts with other processes, across both space and time; it belongs to a dynamical, fluvial world. As the snow crystal falls it absorbs, captures, or incarnates all the chance events, all the fluctuating conditions (magnetic, gravitational, barometric, electrical, thermal, humidity, speed) and builds them, or rather uses them, to assemble itself, to form its structure or edifice. The snow crystal creates itself in the middle of, and by means of the convergences of, flux. Thus snow crystal morphogenesis is less the result of specific, punctual external causes than a sympathetic but critical insertion within, and the subsequent “cybernetic” management of, already present flows. This analytical model–based on developmental pathways, dynamical interactions, singular points, and qualitative movements in abstract, sometimes multidimensional space–arguably furnishes a far richer theory of “site” than most currently employed in orthodox aesthetic or architectural practice.


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Categories: Literature, Theory


studying: architecture design


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3 Comments on “The Complex and the Singular”

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