‘The Shape of Information’
This week is a conversation with Marcelyn Gow. Marcelyn is an architect and principle of Servo Los Angeles, She received her Architecture degrees from Architectural Association in London, Columbia University and her Doctorite from the ETH Zurich. Her Doctoral dissertation was called ‘Invisible Environment: Art, Architecture and a Systems Aesthetic’ which explored the relationship between aesthetic research and technological innovation. She currently teaches design studios and critical theory seminars at SCI-Arc in Los Angeles. I’ve known Marcelyn for more than 10 years now…so it was great to talk with her about her research and work.
We discuss a number of topics over the course of the conversation, but we start off discussing architectures relationship to history. There is no neutral method for engaging our past. The sources that provide us information, The techniques used to record that information as well as how we as designers or authors retell such information to serve our current interests are each capable of a bias.
The goals of any individual looking to the past varies greatly as well. Sometimes to uncover information left out of current discourse, at other times it’s as a precedent so as to better understand how someone prior to you handled a particular problem (learning from the expertise of someone or something from the past so you don’t make the same mistakes). History can also be used as a tool to simply validate a current idea you’re already invested in (a kind of footnote to strengthen an argument). And again, this is very helpful. Such an approach can demonstrate to an audience that your ideas, your work, which might initially appear overly ambitious and foreign at first glance, is in fact rooted in our past. That ideas and shapes exists in a lineage of discourse.
Precedents or case studies have the habit of also being selective in what gets discussed and what does not. In seeking to leverage architectural forms and geometries, it’s possible to suppress a range of variables that circulated around a particular geometry during its formation. Though architectural forms and graphic techniques travel through time, often unscathed from their journey, they often shed the political and social pressures that were integral in informing those very shapes. Novel discoveries in material science, new knowledge on the working of our human bodies, experiments in better understanding the universe or responses to political upheaval against previous histories or current motivations of their time are each embedded in a given architectural form of its day.
I want to be clear here, if architects and designers were to seek only to pull from the past complete pictures, free from distortion or fragmentation, we would be stifled in the creative process. Architecture, and design aren’t reborn each morning with each idea that comes to mind. We pull from our past experiences and projects in order to progress forward. This must be the case, otherwise such an act would only strive to perpetuate the past.
The conversation with Marcelyn begins with the work of Kenzo Tange in the 1960’s. We discuss the mega-structure forms and large urban planning schemes that engaged heavily with advancements in cybernetics and information theory of the times. We touch on the seaming schism today between those architecture forms and the technological and political objectives of those proposals. We try to foreshadow opportunities today as architecture continues to engage similar pressures today that it did 50 years ago related to artificial intelligence and global warming and the need to give those plans form and shape.
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