The capsule as node and event
Ton Venhoeven | Inaugural speech
Mister Vice-Chancellor, ladies and gentlemen,
The use of ships, cars, aircraft, television and the Internet has resulted in the network economy gaining a firm grip on our lives. Nowadays, the influence of global networks has a stronger impact on the shape of the social environment than social, geographic or spatial qualities. Hence we refer to the rise of a network society and a network city. The network city is not a traditional city. Network cities are virtual cities, the shape of which is determined by each individual. It comprises everything you use, whether it is an Internet provider in China, a tent safari in the shadow of Kilimanjaro or a museum in Rotterdam. The network city is a city of shoppers and travellers. [image-3]
The network city is made possible because we can travel everywhere using machine capsules such as ships, cars, trains and airplanes. Screens and digital television and computer networks give us virtual tools for deciding how to move through the world. This enables us to choose that what belongs in our surroundings, which people and what things we allow into our habitat, and which and what we do not.
Capsules and networks allow for a life without strangers, which is why the advocates of the network city emphasise the node. Nodes are important places of business and residence for citizens and companies. They foster encounters, dialogue with others and cultural exchange. Traditional town centres, shopping malls and airports are examples of nodes that network theorists hope will become attractive places of residence and business, with actual events taking place there, because not much happens inside capsules en route or inside the safe boundaries of the network. You only encounter your own kind of people there. The network culture needs to have junctions, which is why politicians and urban planners attempt to design the public space of nodes attractively.
"we can travel everywhere using machine capsules"
But is this theory in fact plausible? Is this vision of the future an appealing outlook for our culture, for life that takes place in capsules including home, car, neighbourhood and city? Should the design of capsules be based solely on protecting a life in seclusion and the design of networks exclusively geared towards safe travel?
In order to be able to answer these questions, in the first part of my story I will reconstruct the rise of the network society, I examine the dominant significance of marketing and city marketing, and I offer a brief outline of the problems of the network city. This will be followed by a historical discussion of the emergence of ideal images that dominate the network culture – the machine and the encyclopaedia. The end of this first part is devoted to the work of architects and artists who have adopted a critical stance with respect to the network culture.
In the second part, I will shift my attention to examples and trends that can be used to transform the network society into a sustainable culture. Using a description of the mechanisms of evolution in language and architecture, I arrive at the cosmopolitan Müller house by the architect Adolf Loos. The presence of others plays a significant role in this residence. A plea in favour of living capsules, living cities, living networks and cultural evolution concludes the speech.
The rise of the network society
During the 1960s, a growing resistance to hierarchy and discipline arose. The liberation of the individual was the foremost concern of this anarchist culture. After two world wars, the Holocaust, the Cold War, Vietnam and the atom bomb, the baby boom generation rose in revolt against technocracy. Technocracy was held responsible for all of the major problems of the time. Hippies regard technology as a power system that does not help the world, but rather has a stranglehold on it.
Post-modern philosophers such as Foucault and Deleuze, who were embarking on their careers around 1968, support individualisation. Their cultural criticism targets system change. They want to achieve this by exposing the covert disciplining of people through language and culture. Vast portions of language are saturated with the concepts of utility and causality. The machine metaphor dominates how society thinks. In the long run, striving for technological progress leads to disciplining. They see the Holocaust as a logical consequence of the obsession of previous generations to make man and society operate as machines. They strive for liberation in order to offer people better opportunities for development. This is the essence of Postmodernism in art and philosophy. [image-1]
In the meantime, the arms race has resulted in considerable improvements in products, networks and mobility. In order to prevent another world war from breaking out, international trade is vigorously stimulated. Trade barriers are removed and international cooperation is assigned priority on the political agenda. Trade becomes a key cornerstone of material progress. The fortification of international networks leads to globalisation.
Due to the rise of these networks, the traditional city loses its meaning. The network city that replaces it is an imaginary city that only exists in components that people themselves feel are important, without any clear-cut shape or geographical location. The networks enable us to choose the places we visit, the friends we associate with, and the products we buy. The standardisation of language and meanings allows us to make ourselves understood everywhere.
Production is transferred to the place that offers the best cost price. In the West, the jobs are in the service and creative sectors instead of on the assembly lines.
Global networks make it possible to separate home life from everything that is unpleasant. Suburbanisation eliminates threatening events?. In exchange, we get adventures that we control. The world is available on demand by car, airplane, film and television.
"Western culture has a long history of pursuing idealised images"
The construction of international networks seems to fit in beautifully with the ideal of individualisation. Good transport networks make people less dependent on their immediate surroundings. Goods can be transported from all over the world to your door, and cars and airplanes guarantee freedom of movement. The development ideal that accompanies individualisation seems to have been achieved in the network city. But does the network city truly offer the development possibilities? that people were originally searching for?
As a result of global networks, ‘market’ is increasingly synonymous with world market. In order to cope with worldwide competition and to insure the continuous sale of products, marketing has become the most important factor for economic success in the West. Without good marketing, the production and consumption assembly line? stagnates?. Marketing is aimed at production continuity and increasing the sale of products. Market and marketing force manufacturers to angle for enhanced positioning and specialisation.
The rise of the experience economy has meant that, more than ever, marketing revolves around customer loyalty. By placing experience at centre stage, marketers successfully keep the public’s attention focused in order to sell a wide range of products. Brand experience is used to show consumers which products go together, which you have to buy in order to be happy, and which you would be better off throwing out because they disrupt your habitat?
Before worldwide infrastructural markets rendered cities interchangeable, local economies ran on their geographic location and immediate surroundings. With the advent of the network economy, these factors no longer automatically guarantee survival. Everyone can order products from all over the world at will, as long as the price is right. Consequently, cities must search for alternatives to hold onto economic activity.
Hence the invention of city marketing. By selling itself as an appealing product, a city can attract businesses, residents and tourists. Cities make use of their respective images, extol the virtues of their monuments, the level of education of their citizens, their excellent facilities and perfect situation in all sorts of networks. Villages are active in marketing, too. They try to lure residents and businesses with the promise of tranquillity, space and safety.
In city marketing, urban development and architecture, marketing is increasingly translated into a formal language? Language of forms? that must be applied. The desired image for cities and urban fragments is set down in policy visions and city image plan? for public space. Property developers use design and marketing to seduce an increasingly specific type of buyer. ? are used to give neighbourhood and city an image that fits the intended target groups. Existing neighbourhoods are cleared where necessary. Cities, residential areas and buildings have become lifestyle products; anything different is destroyed.
Problems of the network city
Safety plays an increasingly significant role in this age of marketing; adventures are avoided. Increasingly, a house or neighbourhood for a specific target group corresponds to an imaginary capsule geared towards avoiding contact with the other. It is a virtual protective robot that guards the inhabitant from undesirable experiences. In addition, using mobile capsules such as cars, the inhabitant travels exclusively to places populated by network friends. Within the circle or community in which you move, you decide which restaurants, which clothing brands, which health clubs and which schools are good, and which newspapers you read. Anything different is viewed from inside the capsules with suspicion.
The use of network and capsule is designed to increase the comfort and power of all, but it sometimes has unforeseen consequences. More and more, virtual experiences such as watching films and television influence how people regard each other. Because it is difficult to test the news against personal experience, it is difficult to make a distinction between actual events and the image formation??. Images have an ever-increasing influence on the way in which we experience reality.
A capsule is a comfortable shield and an unpleasant prison at one and the same time. Living in a sheltered environment increases the need for exciting experiences, because contact with the outside world is necessary in order to combat the sense of confinement. When you are protected by a solid capsule, a genuine experience is only attained through intense interaction with others.
Network cities thus lead to a new form of disciplining. In the experience economy, everyone is sold a lifestyle. Personal development is synonymous with freedom of choice between lifestyles and the corresponding products. Image and identity are consumer goods, which is equally true of a sneaker, a house or a person. In the words of an American sales brochure ad slogan for a ‘gated community’: ‘You buy yourself into a recreation orientated lifestyle’.
While in 1968 we had problems with the machine culture and consumer society, today we struggle with the network culture and branding. By pursuing idealised images and by confusing image with identity, people become merchandise and parodies of themselves.
The machine as idealised image
Western culture has a long history of pursuing idealised images. There are two key elements to this story: machine and encyclopaedia. Both began as a scientific analysis of part of reality only to take on a life of their own. Over time, what started out as an account of phenomena within a specific domain turned into a moral value that disciplined every facet of culture and language.
The machine metaphor stems from the seventeenth century, when man discovered that the universe more or less resembled a timepiece. In those days, man believed that God had created the universe, and therefore you could discover God’s will by studying it. Following his laws of nature was the key to a pious life. Consequently, structuring society according to the principles of the cosmic timepiece was the obvious choice. And convenient, too, of course; after all, man could use machines to protect himself and his community against the savage natural world.
In the centuries that followed, the world increasingly transformed into a collection of machines. While Charlie Chaplin expressed concerns about the assembly line society in the film Modern Times, its invention around 1920 by Henry Ford was a source of inspiration for the Russian Constructionists. This was a group of architects who attempted to develop new architectural models for the revolution. For them, the machine was a tremendously emancipating power. Around 1930, the architect-economist Miliutin drafted a design for the assembly line city of ‘Sodsgorod’ in which every aspect of life was subjected to production logic. The worker’s entire day was mapped, down to the time allotted for every single household chore. The object of his design was to avoid losing a single minute of production time. Workers were transformed into semi-robots and used in a production process intended to create an assembly line city and social security for all. The didactic intention was to influence the psyche of the worker, who would automatically develop a disciplined lifestyle as a result of his daily confrontation with the rationality of his environment.
This type of design study had a significant influence on the rise of the Modern Movement throughout Europe. This movement produced the ‘Siedlungen’ of das Neue Frankfurt, the designs by Gropius and Le Corbusier and, in the Netherlands, the houses by Van Tijen and the ‘suggestions and requirements’ for residential construction that the government used until the early 1990s to determine what a house should look like. The movement also witnessed the birth of Neufert, the standard Nazi work still used by many architects today to create functional buildings. While the Constructivists hoped that the machine would lead to liberation and emancipation, the actual results yielded by National Socialism proved less desirable. Many post-modern philosophers saw a direct connection between the technology-guided disciplining and the extermination of undesirable segments of the population in Nazi Germany.
The encyclopaedia as idealised image
It was a small step from the invention of the encyclopaedia in the second half of the eighteenth century and the French Revolution – with its emphasis on freedom, equality and brotherhood – to Eclecticism in politics, architecture and industrial design. Nineteenth-century culture translates the world into species and categories. Not only plants and animals, but also buildings, streets, squares, peoples, nations and races are subdivided into types and sizes. Names and traits are ascribed and fixed. Change and evolution do not officially exist yet. Politicians are busy establishing states and amassing foreign colonies, designers and clients focus on collecting and reproducing? Duplicating? different styles.
The invention of the encyclopaedia was an excellent means of mapping out the variety in nature; moreover, without the encyclopaedia, evolution would never have been discovered. But as soon as the encyclopaedia becomes a moral category and creates discipline among languages and cultures, people are forced into distinct catagories, borders are drawn between countries, hybridisation and change are contested, and racial policy is invented. The encyclopaedia dictates that every country and people must have its own distinct identity. Mixing is no longer permitted; the encyclopaedia is law.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, Darwin achieves a breakthrough in evolutionary theory, and the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche uses his theory for a philosophical foundation that will become the basis for the post-war, post-modern discourse. Philosophers including Foucault, Deleuze, Virilio, Baudrillard, Derrida and Sloterdijk are indebted to him.
Nietzsche noted that many problems arise because theories created to describe phenomena in a specific domain of reality are incorrectly declared applicable to human culture. By declaring them to be laws of nature and universally valid, these theories assume power and moral status. What starts as a description of nature, ends as a touchstone and moral imperative for cultural questions. This frustrates the development of life. When making scientific proclamations, it is always beter to indicate the boundaries that govern the analysis in each case. Nietzsche himself mainly writes in short aphorisms that contradict one another, thereby illustrating the limitations of language.
In Die Fröhliche Wissenschaft, Nietzsche sets his sights on the validity of the laws of nature for the organisation of society: the machine metaphor, the standardisation of meanings, human and national mythology, free will, man as the centre of the universe, and God and creation are each refuted in turn.
Many movements in early Modernism and, later, in Postmodernism owe a great deal to Darwin and Nietzsche. The marriage between art and handicraft in the English ‘Arts and Crafts’ movement and in the German ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ of Jugendstil were reactions to the cultural stagnation caused by encyclopaedic Eclecticism. Both were early attempts to give evolution a place in culture.
While ancient cultures look to human and communal experiences of birth, life and death, and translate them into rituals and religions, Western culture, during the last 300 years of its development, has been increasingly disciplined by the concepts of the machine and encyclopaedia. Even today, many patterns of thought are still strongly shaped by these metaphors. Metaphors determine that which can or cannot be thought. The comparison with the machine changes people into robots and cities into network cities, which together with the encyclopaedia carries over into marketing and visual culture. We find it hard to deal with birth, life and death. Marketing established identity in idealised images and the network culture market transforms people and cities into merchandise. That which does not conform to the idealised image is cut out of the picture.
Some artists and architects attempt to tear open, break open, decode language and stimulate a new way of seeing. In their work, words and things are interpreted differently than how they were originally intended. The French Situationist movement in the 1950s sought to interpret urban fragments in an illogical manner in order to escape the oppression of language and the notion of functionality.
Architects in the 1970s, too, formulated strategies to get away from the dominant language. For them, confinement, not freedom, was the ideal. Rem Koolhaas’s design for Exodus offered London residents the opportunity to escape the pressure to consume by living within his plan as voluntary prisoners of architecture. Around the same time, Japanese architects including Toyo Ito and Tadao Ando decided that walls and isolation offered good ways to guard inhabitants against the overload of impulses that the metropolis entailed. The idea was that there, inside the imprenetable walls of one’s home, a person would once again be able to concentrate on experiencing the light of the moon and a carefully delineated garden.
The American architect Peter Eisenman developed a different method. In House I through House X he explored how architecture can be liberated from the constraint of meaning by developing self-referential architecture. All elements of his house were permitted to derive their meaning exclusively from shape and position within the same house. He took this to such an extreme that his homes were virtually uninhabitable. However, as he was later forced to concede, the world continued much as before irrespective of his work.
In the 1980s, many theorists felt that architects should design cities and buildings that would not discipline people. In their opinion, this could be achieved by making city and architecture autonomous with respect to human occupation. As a reaction to Modernism, ninteenth century urban development was examined in close detail. However, the reintroduction of these examples meant bringing in the encyclopaedic idealised image and all its associated problems. In the meantime, their typological and morphological study has led to rigid visual quality plans and prosperity requirements. In our capsulated era, urban development plans increasingly consist of historical images that are sold to specific target groups using targeted marketing campaigns. Metaphors still determine the borders within which our culture can operate.
Apparently, stepping outside the dominant language is not easy. We are tied to the outside world and it is impossible to maintain self reference and autonomy for any extended period of time. We are left with no other option than to work with the language and language fragments that have been handed down to us. But what is the best approach, and are there alternative movements to join? Does the evolution of language perhaps offer any points of connection?
Evolution of language and architecture
When you formulate a statement that explains what you have experienced, you inevitably use existing words. These have been created over the course of tens of thousands of years through an evolutionary process, and everyone in your linguistic region understands more or less what they mean. If I wish to translate a unique experience into a coherent statement, I use words with which everyone is familiar, otherwise nobody will understand me. But these words are in fact too general to say anything meaningful about my specific situation, so I put them into a sentence. This sentence consists of all sorts of particulars, including adjectives, verbs, pronouns and so forth. This already makes the meaning of a word far more precise. Then the context helps to further specify the meaning, since the meaning of a sentence strongly depends on the context of the story, as well as on the intended audience.
So it is virtually impossible to figure out what Shakespeare meant in his plays. We can only choose the way in which we interpret him. He wrote for his contemporaries; we do not know the events to which he alludes, and the meaning of words has changed. But there are many openings in his text, many places where we are stimulated to use our own interpretation. His work revolves around the inexpressible? essence of birth, life and death. We can fill in the blanks using our own life experience, which keeps his writing infinitely up to date.
Interpretation when reading and listening causes a subtle form of appropriation that effects a slight shift in meaning. In DNA terms, this is comparable with an error in reproduction. A centuries-long process leads to countless mutations. Not all mutations last; some are utter nonsense, while others take root. When society is placed under pressure, words, meanings and theories may disappear or go underground. The greater the number of suggestive lacunae used in communication, the greater the degree of appropriation and evolution.
But how can you translate an evolutionary process like this into design practice? Which method can designers use to simultaneously protect communication with politicians, clients and users and make sure that old and new experiences concerning life and culture are incorporated into the designs? How does appropriation take place in the design process?
A significant portion of architectural and urban planning design specifications stems from the traditional utilitarian specification, such as how many m2 do you need, what purpose should it serve, what is the budget. Another portion of the specifications stems from the changing context. How will the building function over the next 50 or 200 years in a physical and cultural environment that is forever being transformed by cultural, technical, economic and demographic developments?
In order to be able to communicate about this it is helpful to use buildings or parts of buildings that can serve as an example for the design to a certain extent. From our contemporary perspective we determine which types of buildings qualify. In the subsequent discussion, this is referred to as typology.
Thus, types do not exist individually as part of some encyclopaedia. Types cannot be collected in a toolbox in which building shapes, decorative elements and building components are saved and permanently fixed. Nor is it possible to apply a fixed set of rules for combining components. Types are formulated according to current needs and customs and exist only in retrospect. In other words, typology is about appropriation. Just like someone searching for words to describe a unique experience. When you search for words, you scan your brain for usable information. By using more or less familiar words in new situations, a slight shift in meaning occurs each time. Consequently, our notion of types is somewhat different now than it was in the 1950s, and almost entirely different from that of the Japanese in the fifteenth century, or the Persians and Romans before the Common Era. The evolution of architectural types can be compared to the evolution of language and meaning because shifts and mutations constantly arise as a result of appropriation. Using examples in the context of a new design causes them to take on different meaning. Reference to past examples guarantees communicability and usability; coherence with other components of the design in the new context is a sign of appropriation and adaptation to altered circumstances.
It is less important to know the intended purpose of something than it is to determine how you use it. Use involves appropriation. Objects that promote appropriation leave room for reinterpretation and reuse in the future. The principle of appropriation and evolution promotes many new opportunities for architecture and urban development.
The houses and cities of the modern movement were based on the machine ideal and the projects of the network society on the capsule-with-lifestyle ideal. But what we really need are buildings and cities that we can interpret in a variety of ways. We want designs that can accommodate all sorts of events and life experiences. Is it possible to change the genetic code of our security capsules using appropriation and manipulation of the design principles? Can we convert the network culture capsules into interactive junctions and cosmopolitan cities?
In the design this type of buildings, cities and houses, we can learn a lot from the dwellings designed by Adolf Loos. In his houses, residents are not confronted with an ideal reality in which everything is meant to go together. There is room for life and death, change, and even poor taste. His dwellings are as differentiated as the residents themselves.
As an example I will use the Müller house in Prague. The most important spaces are situated at different levels, surrounding a small atrium. Each room has its own unique interior and mood, and every space features a unique relationship between length, width and height. The French salon, the Roman dining room, Mrs Müller’s Chinese cabinet, Mr Müller’s English library, and a Japanese room at the top. The experience of the house depends on the position you assume and the way in which you use the spaces. The design is based on a plural perspective. Different suppliers and craftsmen designed and supplied the various elements and everyone experiences the house differently.
The experience inside the house is not solely determined by the shape and size of the spaces or the transparency between the spaces. The cladding? Zeker niet interior! is just as important. Each space is different and evokes remote cultures, both ancient and new. Openings in partitioning walls frame the view of other areas from every position. Persian rugs with intricate designs refer to the primordial garden. Throughout the house, the cladding present a multiplicity of virtual spaces, making it difficult to interpret the effect of the different cladding with respect to one another. There is no discernible unity, the illusions evoked stand in one another’s way. There are gaps and spaces everywhere that confound interpretation. This effect is further reinforced by mirrors that create an imaginary duplication or endless reflection of the space.
The entrance passes over the threshold or ‘Schwelle’ in German, which according to Walter Benjamin is etymologically linked to the concept of swelling. Crossing this threshold into the house, the space swells. The interiors, cryptic routes, twists and reflections make the space as it is experienced inside much larger than the spatial dimensions would suggest. Ervaringsruimte = niet hetzelfde als ruimte zoals die ervaren wordt
The entrance runs along a route that takes you past a Roman travertine, a Chinese front door and an English wardrobe. In order to enter the house, you first go down, then move through the entire house via a narrow corridor before taking a sharp turn that leads you to a narrow staircase and into the house. The different rooms in the house are like a constellation of volumes surrounding an empty focal point, compressed in the volume of the house. This focal point is formed by an atrium, which was the place where the dead would lie in state during Roman times. The various surrounding areas represent different cultures. This house does not have a single identity; instead, it comments on the entire world and on evolution. The façade of the house forms a giant question mark. It is a neutral grey shell that says nothing about the interior. It is the public side of the house. The exterior does not represent the interior but, rather, serves as its reverse. The different rooms in the house represent as many expressions of what living can be as there are rooms. This house comprises a constellation of moods, a micro-network of different spaces within a single body. It is a cosmopolitan house and an model for every imaginable cosmopolitan capsule.
For Adolf Loos the other is that which we cannot control. For example, the development of technology. When he writes about the invention of the Thonet chair, he is wistful about the craftsmanship that is becoming obsolete, and excited about the invention that makes the work so much easier. To him, the flat roof is a development to good to be ignored. Nowhere does he describe the system or the metaphor by which these things should be interpreted. Neither encyclopaedia nor machine serves as a guiding principle. Loos was a confirmed Dadaïst who did not think much of the blessings of progress. Evolution is change, not progress. Cladding, deception and love of the surface are the focus of his work. More than anything else, this house resembles a café, a public space where we can observe others from a safe corner. The other is not outside the territory of the house, but inside.
Loos is strongly influenced by the writings of Darwin and Nietzsche, both of whom carefully considered the consequences of evolution. The different components of the house, such as the construction of the roof, the interiors and the layout using fixed and moveable furniture all follow various speeds of cultural evolution. Mutations never occur everywhere simultaneously. Certain elements, such as the atrium where the dead are laid in state, have changed very little over the past thousand years, while others, such as the flat roof, are incredibly modern. The raumplan, the invention which made Loos famous, follows the spatial configuration used by the Romans in organising their homes around the impluvium, but adds a third dimension. While architects before Loos used a floor plan, he transformed the spatial order into a three-dimensional constellation. Each room has a unique height and is located on a different level.
While Loos calls the other a visitor, wife or the development of language and technology, the current other manifests itself as that which invades our capsules via networks. We are part of a work environment, a circle of friends, a club, and contribute to a good cause, travel with a group on holiday to visit an exotic tribe and chat with people from India, Kazachstan and Brazil.
Everyone belongs to multiple networks simultaneously. These overlap or touch? with one another in the city, home, car and in everyone’s head. Others and the other are an inextricable part of our social world. People uphold many different ideals and all of the world is already represented in the many capsules. Most networks are in the making and are constantly changing in character. Daily life is filled with contradictions because we contribute to the most widely divergent communities. In the meantime, when designing houses and cities we apply ideal images that suppress the awareness of the presence of the other. In order to remedy this unfortunate schizophrenia, we must translate all of the cosmopolitan traits of the network culture into ideas and concepts for cities and living capsules.
In history, aesthetic principles of architecture and the ideal city have always been associated with cosmic theories. The architectural body and the ideal city were translations of the cosmic laws of nature. The building was a body, microcosm and vision of the ideal city all in one. When you look at the increasing intertwinedness of the world, then our ideal city, our ideal capsule and therefore also our ideal body, would have to be a city that contained the entire world and universe. Therefore, the ideal body of city and capsule is a star system surrounding a black hole. Or a node in the network culture. In any case, it is a place where nuclear fusion occurs from time to time.
The ideal body as we experience it is a body in which many personalities coexist. In his book Kosmos, Polish writer Witold Gombrovitch describes how human psychology is made up of bits and pieces. Not long ago we discovered that humans, too, consist of a more or less random collection of hereditary properties. All sorts of assembly errors occur during the reproduction of DNA, and there is a lot of useless garbage DNA. Coincidence plays an important role in the reproduction of bodies. Evolution revolves around awkward reproduction.
Therefore, I propose we convert today’s security capsule into a microcosm that represents the body of a complex person. The space in this capsule is both physical and virtual in nature, and brimming with potential? meanings. It is not only a body in which multiple people reside; it is also a capsule that can accommodate an entire metropolis. It contains a world that communicates with the outside world through its skin and networks. Tussenruimte eerder vertaald als gap. Misschien crevice? Fissure?, passageways and thresholds connect the inside and outside world. The façade is at once a skin, cladding? and interface.
The world itself is a giant, complex capsule – a biosphere. The capsule-object of the future is not a protected territory; it imitates this world. It is a life laboratory for the ideal body. This body is continually subjected to change and is a complex idealised image for man and society. Capsules of every scale imaginable each contain their own junctions and networks where minor and major events take place, making them alcoves? that are connected to all sorts of networks instead of cells closed off from the rest of the world. For the cultural dynamic, this plural character of capsules is just as crucial as the plural character of networks.
The qualities for the ideal body apply not only to each person but also to capsules such as cars, buildings, neighbourhoods, homes and countries, network cities and mega cities. Ever-larger segments of the world’s population live in mega cities such as Cairo, Sao Paulo and Calcutta. Connected to the entire world, network cities are a type of virtual mega city. The urban agglomeration of Western Holland, the Randstad, is a mega city, too. Mega cities and network cities are not only connected to global networks, they also form biotopes that act as microcosms, in which everything and everyone is dependent on each other. In this sense they are mutually comparable. It is necessary to develop the most advanced technical and cultural solution for the components of this type of cites.
One of the developments is the rapid rise of economically self-sufficient techniques. An economically self-sufficient system is self-supporting and consequently takes a huge step towards achieving a sustainable global economy. Efforts are being made all over the world to realise economically self-sufficient systems. Over time, they must transform houses and cars, cities and even aircraft into capsules that can function without the import of raw materials and energy from the rest of the world. Global competition will cause these techniques to spread rapidly around the world.
The rise of micro networks is a similar development. Micro networks make people and buildings act as more or less self-supporting networks on the scale of the building or neighbourhood. They utilise one another’s garbage. Micro networks can be found at all sorts of levels and in different capsules. They are created by eerder vertaald als gap – space between smaller-scale capsules. Minor and major events take place within every capsule, in its networks and spaces, that have significance for living culture.
Micro networks differ from global networks in that they operate at low speed and at close proximity to cities and neighbourhoods. They promote physical encounters with others and recreation and adventure in the immediate surroundings of residential and office buildings. They provide liveliness and events? in urban space. They are important for making networks more social, physical and exciting. In addition, they can reduce the need for mobility and increase sustainability in the production of goods and maintenance of our energy and raw material economy.
In designing, city marketing and branding alike, it is important to realise that people are developing an increasingly cosmopolitan taste through their contact with all kinds of networks. We become accustomed to abruptly shifting from one world to another, and easily grow bored by a too-perfect environment. Consequently, houses, buildings and cities must become as interactive as the Internet – an environment in which every day you can decide anew how to navigate it and how to interpret information. We have a need for lacunae and gaps in the urban fabric, for eerder vertaald als gap!. That is why the design of public space plays an important role. Cultural change arises in space that is claimed by various buildings, languages and cultures simultaneously or by everyone in turns. Buildings form the architectural statements; the space accommodates life and that which cannot be expressed in words.
Gap in cities and neighbourhoods is not the same as high quality, sustainable and safely furnished? public space. In cities, there is a need for spaces that are not exclusively geared towards manageability, safety and mobility. With respect to public space, the term ‘high quality design’ is often used to indicate that it was created with road safety in mind and according to a single idealised image. Based on the changing needs of the Internet generation, this policy strategy for public space must be transformed into strategies that lead to hybrid spaces that can be alternately used by different users for different reasons.
Over the next century, every culture will have to adapt to a new world – one about which we still have much to learn. This world will not be determined so much by the influence that major cultures and religions have on it but more so by the technical developments that take place. At the same time, we are also seeking solutions for the problems we face today.
Our comfort is largely based on exploitation. We have a massive environmental problem, an uncontrollable population explosion, a flux of migration caused by the gap between rich and poor, and an ever-shrinking world in which more and more people are standing in one another’s way. Many products are produced in deplorable conditions. More and more migrants roam the earth, fleeing exploitation, ethnic cleansing, or seeking safety and prosperity. This context has led to new questions for designers and politicians and different wishes for our culture.
Right now, we are experiencing the emergence of a worldwide neurological network: the world is becoming one giant brainpan. The same network culture that is responsible for the rise of the capsular society is perhaps also providing the answers. The Internet puts people from entirely different backgrounds in direct contact with one another, and this is generating a tremendous amount of new ideas and change. The use all sorts of new hardware and software combinations is promoting the invention of dozens of more refined models and calculation methods than was possible with the primitive metaphors of a century ago. This allows us to determine the long-term effects of countless different forces that are being exerted all at once. This is how the greenhouse effect was discovered, for example, and makes it possible to predict the effects of an unchanged economic policy. Thanks to all kinds of calculation models it is now also possible and feasible to develop methods supporting a sustainable economy.
"what we really need are buildings and cities that we can interpret in a variety of ways"
In my inaugural speech I wanted to draw attention to a theory of technology in which machine, capsule and network are assigned different roles in the future. They become more intelligent than they are now, and are no longer for the benefit of human comfort. They are not tools for us to use to make our lives more pleasant; instead, they form cosmopolitan environments and adventurous worlds that sustain their own form of life.
In the Western world, robots often represent inhuman monsters that threaten life and ultimately overthrow mankind. In Japan, by contrast, they are regarded as sweet, innocent creatures that are friends with people and dedicated to making life better. Both versions of artificial intelligence seem unlikely to me, which is why I assume that they will become Others, fellow inhabitants of our planet, with their own evolution and with whom we must determine our relationship time and time again. Kind of like C3PO in Star Wars or Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Marvin may proud of being a million times more intelligent than humans, yet at the same time he possesses the very worst human qualities.
Some technological developments are virtually unstoppable because money can always be made from them, while we can steer others, as long as we manage to escape all kinds of conditioning that control our culture.
Appropriation and interpretation form the basis of a vital culture. We do not have complete control over technical inventions. We must make sure that we do not become disciplined by our language and technology. Technology has become a type of fellow human being, an other. This is not to say that we no longer have anything to say, just that we must keep in mind that the results of thinking and acting are usually different than intended. Soothing metaphors or idealised images in marketing campaigns do not offer anything to go on, regardless of what they promise. Accepting our cosmopolitan reality is more helpful when it comes to designing cities and capsules in the future. This will help us deal with the fundamental insecurity of life more effectively. [image-2]
I consider it a great privilege to be able to work in the space between history and theory, between theory and architecture, and between university and practice; space offers both tremendous freedom and amazing opportunities. For years I have felt the need to clear up misunderstandings between thinkers and doers. Without the critical distance of those who observe all earthly activities we will never get a handle on things that actual practice fouls up time and time again. Without the appropriation that in practice continually leads to gradual change, history and theory become lifeless matter.
Therefore I would like to express my thanks to two instructors who let me in on the secrets of architectural theory and history, with one using the plan analysis of key architectural projects and the other through art theory and cultural criticism, respectively Max Risselada and Kees Vollemans. In addition, I have learned a great deal from years of friendship and cooperation with Pieter Jan Gijsberts, Ineke van der Burg, Edzard Mik. For all of the practical lessons I have learned I wish to thank all of the employees in my firm, my clients, the project managers and the various politicians I have met.
There are many plans for the future and it remains to be seen whether I will be able to carry all of them out before the end of my term. As practical professor I want to supervise the students in the Master’s program in preparing for their career. In addition to honing practical design skills, this also entails exploring and acquiring the theoretical baggage that you need in order to be able to chart your course in ever-changing circumstances. This is an educational experience for me, too.
Ton Venhoeven, November 2006
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