Paradigms on Trial

Event: New Paradigms in Architecture?
Location: Columbia University, 02.11.08
Speakers: Jeffrey Kipnis — Professor, Knowlton School of Architecture, Ohio State University; Reinhold Martin — Associate Professor, Mark Wigley — Dean, Columbia Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP)
Host: Karl Chu — Adjunct Associate Professor, GSAPP
Organizers: Columbia GSAPP

New Paradigms in Architecture?

Courtesy Columbia University GSAPP

Sociologist Bruno Latour once told an interviewer, “Postmodern theorists are useful, like salt added to the academy… but a whole meal of salt?” The New Paradigms discussion was fast-paced and exceptionally salty (in Latour’s sense and others). Occasioned by Karl Chu’s invitation to two Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) colleagues and one visitor to consider a brief manifesto about a new architectural paradigm based on computation, self-replicating structures, and engagement with biotechnology and artificial intelligence, the conversation spurred four thinkers to speculate about how the profession is evolving.

Jeffrey Kipnis, professor at the Knowlton School of Architecture, Ohio State University, ultimately agreed that Chu’s vision of “genetic architecture” as a quantitative, scientific discipline has the weight of history on its side. “I know for a fact… that architecture will become a science,” Kipnis said with more dismay than celebration, as other fields historically have done (e.g., alchemy becoming chemistry, or astrology yielding to astronomy). He finds architecture’s scientific ambitions unrealized as of yet, since a true science has formal mechanisms for recognizing when an experiment has failed. He compares current architectural discourse to poetry and emotions rather than quantitative analyses, quipping that architects still live “in a world of doxologies [an expression of praise, usually to a god], not demonstrations.” Loyal to architectural ideas arising from feelings, Kipnis is in no hurry to see this condition pass.

Mark Wigley, dean of Columbia GSAPP, noted an unbridgeable gap between users of buildings and architects, whose knowledge of professional and aesthetic codes places them outside users’ ordinary experience. Replacing routines with contemplation and uncertainty, he said, was a legitimate, even necessary activity for an architect; but to inhabitants, the paradigms may be as transparent as water to a fish.