Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The will to a system...

'The will to system is a lack of integrity' 1
For some reason the above Nietzsche quote has always stuck in my mind. Perhaps it captured my attention given my field of interest; the practice of architecture could be described as 'the will to a system,' an attempt to rationalise a way of life by allowing it to 'congeal' into the physical realm. The subjective objectified.

However, as the world becomes smaller and the tower of babel slowly spirals skyward, architects feels increasingly redundant; knocked off their neo-classical pedestals by the errors and decadence of the modernist experiment, a 'lack of integrity' conspicuously exposed. The concept of an all encompassing, life defining method-of-execution seems increasingly absurd. There cannot be a 'correct' answer concerning how to live.

I reached these conclusions concerning my mild fixation with this Nietszchean snippet after reading 'Citizens of No Place - an architectural graphic novel.' Set in a hypothetical future where the earth is uninhabitable and mankind finds itself adrift in 'Noah's Ark In Space,' this book starkly illustrates the absurdity of the architect's reliance on the diagram to the degree where the individual is lost amidst the statistics. While the situations described in the book seem far fetched, the attitudes and approaches to design feel frighteningly familiar.

Life translated into a diagram in order to realise a design never seems to get retranslated back into life. Worse still, architectural diagrams often pose as the reason for a piece of architecture rather than simply the whims of the egotistical designer.

These thoughts were punctuated by the viewing of the film 'The Lives of Others.' Set in authoritarian East Berlin in the early 80s, the folly of the attempt to reduce life down to a system is made explicit. Here we see a Stasi observer compelled to intervene in the lives of the observed rather than simply to document, becoming tangled in the emotions and vibrancy of the lives he watched rather than seeing it as the raw data he is expected to produce. It becomes impossible to passively observe as the observer's subjectivity defines his relationship with the observed. A dull stack of files becomes loaded with meaning for the observed, just as an abstract book dedication is for the observer. A system only makes sense when it is contextualised against the passion of human relationships.

A system must serve the users; users must not serve a system.

I suppose the other side of the coin is to consider architecture as an enabler, a facilitator and enhancer of existing ways of life. Most systems seem to start like this; inevitably the system seems to overtake the way of life which defined it and the roles are reversed.

So where does this leave architecture? The short answer is 'Fucked if I know...' - I'll try to get back to you with a long answer.

1 'Twilight of The Idols' Friedrich Nietzsche
2 'Citizens of No Place'
3 'The Lives of Others'