Fernand Braudel, The Long Durée
Time slots and slow change
This text did not so much shock me to thought as it did slowly grow on me over time. What I kept returning to was the discussion on dividing time and the benefits of addressing slow change. Braudel was a later contributor to the French Annales School, a group of French historians promoting new ways of writing history. In this text, Braudel advocates the long durée, arguing for longer time frames that could expand the reach and possibilities of history production. The possibilities proposed in the text are offering new knowledge on change and cyclical understanding and reoccurring events that otherwise is suggested to remain undiscovered. Braudels critique of traditional history is concerned with the short time span and the “individual and the event”(p 27) and lies partly within its inability to narrate the cyclicality of history, the repetitive and therefore as he describes, typical. To limit history to a short event is to deprive its possibilities, as “history is the total of all possible histories- an assemblage of professions and points of view, from yesterday, today and tomorrow”(p 34). The historian’s work is according to Braudel constituted of the way that time is broken up and the fragments are reunited. I find the range of temporal scales, stretching from the short time span of the chronicle and the event in the newspaper to the concept of deep time and big history, encompassing longer perspective such as the anthropocene, useful for laying out my own work. This text has made me reconsider micro history and the narrow study of a carefully selected situation or environment-world and how this can fit in to and give relevance to longer time frames. Another potential of the long durée, as suggested by Braudel, is that it is revealing the otherwise invisible and uninteresting, the slow movement, the quiet voice and the motionless history. The loud voice becomes less prominent in the long durée. I find this approach compelling and it reminds me of an ethnographic site study I once made. By spending an unusually long time at a familiar situation, watching seemingly uninteresting events, I was surprised to see situations and layers otherwise invisible to me. “Each current event brings together movements of different origins, a different rythm: todays time dates from yesterday, the day before yesterday and all former times.” (p34)
In the recently published article titled Everything is already an image, John May draws the following logical conclusion: “If the world of the orthographer was simultaneously a text and a drawing, the world of postorthographer is simultaneously an image and a model – an electronic image and an electronic model, signally mapped onto one another.” Perhaps […]
The art and science of designing and erecting buildings. | The art of designing and science of erecting, or the art of erecting and science of designing? The very definition leaves us in uncertainty, blending together art and science, process and its result, objective and subjective.
The analysis and/or design, and/or modeling, and/or simulation, and/or layout of building design with the aid of a computer. | Such a design practice as no other demands active decision making, challenges designer to be creative and logical at the same time.
Expressed in discrete numerical form, especially for use by a computer or other electronic device: digital information. | A digital object, be it a 3D model, text, sketch drawing, algorithm, or photograph exceeds its historical, pre-digital meaning, and allows to be studied, analyzed and modified indefinitely in a quantitative way.
The act of introducing something new. | Perhaps due to the simplicity of this definition innovations are flooding the world. Yet, the term does not account for any quality apart of newness, though it has a strong connotation to technological progress and capital. A symptomatic gnome of our time says “white is the new black” – an introduction of a new color is a genius marketing tool. May it be that the financial aspect makes it different from the modern ‘invention’?
Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment. | In the environmental discourse, the term ‘sustainable’ contains all the desirable qualities of a good environmental design. Yet, how can we assess a long-term effect, acknowledging that we can’t afford a 100 years long empirical testing? With all due respect, a popular motto “keep it in the ground” doesn’t help as much as it renders radical the environmentalist’s movement.
A concept suggesting that a situation can be revisited. In On History Braudel argues that by approaching history from longer time frames, the long durée, the reoccurrence of events can be made visible and patterns can be revealed. Ranulph Glanville describes cybernetics to be the study of circular systems and their consequences, and design as a cyclical conversation held mostly with the self.
Braudel, Fernand, on History, 1956
Glanville, Ranulph, Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better: The Cybernetics in Design and the Design in Cybernetics. 2007
LIFE-CYCLE (IN BUILDINGS)
The contradictory term of the different life cycles within buildings, as by Steward Brand suggested being related to layers of change such as stuff, space plan, services, skin, structure and site.
Brand, Steward, How Buildings Learn; What Happens After They´re Built, 1994
To become estranged, methods to extort hidden agreements and ways of luring out the unnoticed and unexpected background of everyday situations. To reveal what is considered natural or self-evident, to create awkwardness, the surrealist montage, juxtaposing everyday objects in unstable arrangements.
Garfinkel, H., Studies of the routine grounds of everyday activities, 1964
One characteristics of Micro History is the selection of the odd, unusual character, as described by Carlo Ginzburg when writing on micro history and The Cheese and the worm, a history depicting a 16th century millers thoughts and actions. Common ideas are uncovered by putting one person under the microscope, carefully examining the fragments available. The names, persons and detailed descriptions of events become important elements to vivify the story of Menocchio. Ginzburg acknowledges that “historical evidence is always lacunous, by definition” (P24) and he writes about Menocchio with the ambition to avoid filling in the gaps for the purpose of forming a polished surface. The history about Menocchio is consequently a fragment in a larger story, offering clues to a history of class in the 16th century. Ginzburg describes the individual Menocchio as a lost fragment, placed in our hands by chance, and derived from a lost world that is only accessible using a certain amount of discretion, addressing the narrative aspects of microhistory.
Ginzburg, Carlo, The Cheese and the Worms, the Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller, 1976
The concept of obsolescence describes a situation where or when a thing that is functional is no longer of use. Rather than being discharged for malfunction or being worn down, obsolescence is the becoming of out-of-fashion or out of relevance. Planned obsolescence is when a limitation is designed into a thing, defining the number of uses to maintain consumption. In New York in the early 20th century the concept was introduced to architecture, increasing the speed of change and replacement of buildings.
Abrahamson, Daniel M, Obsolescence, an Architectural History, 2017
Dannoritzer, Cosima, The Light Bulb Conspiracy, Documentary, 2010
The embodied, situated perspective with the suggesting the possibility of objective vision. The partial perspective challenges relativism and totalization whaere location and embodiment is denied, promising vision from everywhere and nowhere. The partial perspective contains questions on how to see, where to see from, what limits vision, what to see for, who interprets and offers a possibility to see well.
Haraway, Donna, Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective, 1988
Architectural preservation within the field of architecture is a slippery concept, relating to the caretaking of buildings and the reuse of structures and environments.
Koolhaas, Rem, Preservation is overtaking us, 2014
Gabrielsson, Catharina, and Anstey, Tim, Alteration, Nordic #3, 2012
The concept of path dependence explains how the set of decisions one faces for any given circumstance is limited by the decisions one has made in the past, even though past circumstances may no longer be relevant, as mentioned in conversatin by Pablo Miranda Carranza and in online lecture by Etienne Turpine.
The surface of a sticky object reveals where it has travelled and what it has come into contact with, shaped by the conditions of its arrival, bringing past encounters with you when you arrive. P 40
Ahmed, Sarah, Queer Phenomenology, 2006
Reuse of fragments for constructing new architectural elements, in particular building stone for making a new construction. Traditional method.
Response to “Everything is an Image” by John May
In this essay May catalogues the differences between the drawing, the photograph, and the image. Having gone to a traditional architectural school for my undergraduate education and now instructing a studio titled “Architectural Notations”, I resonated with these concepts. I’ve never come across the articulation that drawing, photography, and image were so “distinct and utterly incompatible forms of memory and storage” (p. 14).
Drawing: regular, controlled, predictable, synchronized
Rem Koolhaas recently noted a Sumerian architect of 2000BC and his counterpart of only 30 years back would both share the use of the same compasses and rulers, strings, pins or plumb-lines to produce and replicate congruent figures on the ground, stone or paper. But making marks on physical surfaces has recently given way to the fundamentally different sequential operations of computers as the material basis of architectural inscriptions. To explore the difference computers make requires to interrogate how architecture’s goals, values and assumptions, the norms regulating its production and reception, are linked to its media and technologies.
Photograph: chemical mechanical storage, “Whereas the constructed perspective drawing was a thoroughly mathematical depiction ( drawings were geometric arrangements of geometric quantities), the mathematics of a photograph always remains locked deep within its chemical composition” (p. 12)
Image: inherently dynamic, statistical electrical-storage, “all imaging today is a process of detecting energy emitted by an environment and chopping it into discrete, measurable electrical charges called signals, which are stored, calculated, managed, and manipulated through various statistical methods.”
“In signalization – understood broadly as the ongoing project of converting all of lived experience into discrete, measurable, calculable electrical charges (signals) …Unlike machines, signalized apparatuses know only the logic of discretization, whose translation of force relies on an electrical communication among their parts” (p. 22). This section reminded me of what we teach in our studio; how the nineteenth century’s obsessive interest in systems, languages and notations lie at the hart of today’s digitalisation: besides the formal logic and semiotics fundamental to computers and programming languages, chemistry saw the appearance of a grammar of atoms and molecules, and crystallography, a systematisation of its spatial structures into lattice notations. Architecture experienced also the influences of this structural bias: the plans of Ledoux, Durand’s “Précis des leçons” for the École Polytechnique or Guadet’s theory of elementary composition, operated under a similar cartesian mindset. In order to understand the formal principles underlying computer languages or data structures and by extension any CAD or modelling software and its results, looking at physical assemblies made of discrete elements: crystalline arrangements, networks, cellular close-packings and lattices, and the porosities, dendrites, gastrulations and other formations they give rise to. Digital forms of notation such as programming and parametric descriptions that help describe these processes. The concept of the part and the whole. The substructure and the structure. An endless fractal when examined under a microscope.
Heteroglossary for Concrete Form[ing]work
Annie Locke Scherer
(/riːˈɒlədʒi/; from Greek ῥέω rhéō, “flow” and -λoγία, –logia, “study of”) is the study of the flow of matter, primarily in a liquid state, but also as “soft solids” or solids under conditions in which they respond with plastic flow rather than deforming elastically in response to an applied force
The term concrete is derived from the Latin word, concrēscere: to grow together. The French, German, and Danish use the term Béton, derived from the Old French betum for a mass of rubbish.
Tacit material knowledge
A concept referenced in skypes with Remo Pedreschi and Anne-Mette Manelius in regards to working with flexible formwork and cast concrete, referring to the knowledge which are not understood without having worked with the material directly. “Digital designers are discovering that they may often learn and design by making, just as artisans always have, but now at much bigger scales. Using the power of digital simulations, a designer can make and break more chairs, beams, or roofs in a few minutes on a screen than a traditional craftsman made and broke in one lifetime, learning – often tacitly – from this experience. (Capo, Breaking the Curve, 173). These skills are quite difficult to communicate or translate steps necessary if the fabricator has not had previous experience with the tools.
The designer and the fabricator
Building upon the thinkable concept of tacit material knowledge, the role and division between the designer and the fabricator must be blurred. When working with fluid-responsive formwork, it is critical to allow the engagement of materiality and rheology within the construction process, and re-envisions the workers’ role to be much more active in the design. Upon embracing the inherent rheological qualities of concrete rather than constraining them to rigid formwork, the material and fabricator are allowed to take an active role in the more dynamic casting process.
Architecture as Art and Construction
Dieste argues that while architecture is a construction, it is also an art. An engineer himself, he looked to architecture and design to solve problems that were inherently structural. “For architecture to be truly constructed, the materials should not be used without a deep respect for their essence and consequently for their possibilities” (Deiste, E. Architecture in Construction). There must be a relationship between rationality and expressiveness in order to achieve progress.
the design probe, the material prototype and the demonstrator
The recent advancement of digital machines and fabrication has shifted the means in which we conduct design research; we must create new methods in evaluating material evidence in relation to architectural practice. Thomsen and Tamke present three types of material evidence as means of evaluating research within our field: the design probe, the material prototype and the demonstrator.
Because architecture is always embodied by the material, these three modes of material evidence allow architects to apply a dimensionality to a given design question and solution. While the design probe is more speculative investigation of design criteria, the material prototype explores the material behavior and extrapolates upon the criteria set up by the probe. The demonstrator then builds upon this further, taking the wandering and sometimes fragmented prototyping process and applying real-world constraints to construct a more conclusive investigation. By arguing that utilizing the integrated approach of research by design and emphasizing the implementation of physical demonstrators, architects can aptly position their research to create a more cyclical and reflective connection between design, analysis, specification and fabrication.
This reflection must be used when evaluating the complex relationship between digital and the physical prototype. Material testing and probes must be developed simultaneously with digital models. Data from physical testing is used to inform the digital tools and in turn, the digital models help develop an understanding of material behaviors and structures not achievable by prototypes. What is critical is that we must verify our computational models by simultaneously developing both physical and digital tools in order to evaluate the appropriateness and precision of our experiments.
Originally coined by Anne-Mette Manelius. Word derived from the roots of Gr. stereos (solid) and ginomai (to begin to be); describes concrete as a material and a process. The formal definition is suggested as: ‘the expressed manifestation into solid material form of a series of conditions from the construing and construction of structural formwork principles and concreting.’
Concrete, let us be clear, is not a material, it is a process’ (Forty, Adrian, ‘The material without a history’, in Jean-Louis Cohen and G. Martin Moeller, Jr (eds), Liquid Stone: new architecture in concrete Basel: Birkhäuser, 2006 p.35)
Standardization vs. Mass customization
The ridiculous assumption that with “form of objects (from teaspoons to houses to cities) must follow human functions, standardized articles of mass production must aim at the average user or customer, and neglect the statistical margins, or “tails” in the bell curve of frequency distributions. When one size must fit all, those users or customers that don’t fit – physically or ideologically, by choice or by necessity – must pay more to have what they need made to measure. Non-standard technologies promise to alleviate this tax on diversity…There is no reason why Cache’s mass-customized tables should be more expensive than Ikea’s mass-produced ones” (Carpo, Mario. “The Alphabet and the Algorithm” (2011))
Design and fabrication can mass-produce variations at no extra cost: Economies of scale do not apply in a digital environment, and (within given limits) digital produces, mass-customized objects, all individually different, should cost no more than standardized and mass-produced ones, all identical.” (Carpo, Mario. Breaking the Curve. (2014))
Below is my reflection on Mario Carpo’s“The Alphabet and the Algorithm” that I shared:
With the rise of computational design and mass customization came a separation between form and material possibilities; designers focused on the exploration of new, sinuous geometries and chose the construction material to best suit the design. What needs to be respected and not so easily discounted, is the critical interdependency of form, material, structure, materialization, fabrication, assembly and performance as a built object. In Carpo’s work, “The Alphabet and the Algorithm,” he addresses translation of design notations, transmission of architectural information, and fabrication through mass production. He discusses the evolution of Computer Aided design in architecture, referencing the transition between 18th century picturesque smoothness, to a differential mathematical calculus, and finally evolution into fully digital, smoothed curvilinearity: “blobs.” What is common amongst all these series is that each one has a inevitable, detectable trace of the tools being used to create it (92). This section of the Alphabet and the Algorithm struck a chord with me; it synthesized many of my pre-existing thoughts in a way I had not been able to express before. As I have a background in fabrication (both digital and analog), the concept of tools leaving a trace was extremely important in my method of working. The material chosen for my dissertation, concrete, inherently exhibits these principles of “leaving a trace”; the stretch of the fabric, the hydrostatic pressures and gravitational forces, even the pattern of the warp and weft of the membrane are all readable within these casts.
Carpo also dives into the topic of repetitive elements, a core tenant of my PhD research. Referencing the over-simplification of building materials, he writes, “Standardization inevitably begets oversizing and wasted material” (104). The cost of excess material in industry is negligent compared to the savings of mass-producing uniform section beams that are optimized for the greatest point load. Concrete Form[ing]work aims to situate itself directly in the middle of this discussion, challenging our notions of standardization and what is possible with mass-production. My research acknowledges uniform-section beams, as Carpo describes as “dumb structural design and waste of building material” (104). Mark West, together with C.A.S.T (Centre for Architectural Structures and Technology) at the University of Manitoba, pioneered research of fabric formwork and cast concrete, using these materials to create structurally efficient beams with variable cross section. The smocking research of my dissertation dives deeper into these ideas, giving the designer the ability to tailor flat sheets of fabric both locally and globally. This allows for the mass-production of unique elements with no additional cost, as Carpo discusses.
Non-uniform sectioned beams by C.A.S.T.
With the rise of computational tools, robotic fabrication, and mass-customization, there is a potential for a paradigm shift from the “technical, economic, social, and visual principles that have characterized the mechanical age for most of the last five centuries. But the transition from identical to differential reproduction also revives some aspects of pre-Albertian technocultural environment, a world of shared technical lore and collaborative making” (105). This paradigm shift contextualizes my research very succinctly, with the marriage between materiality and form, digital and analog, designer and fabricator.
I’m at the bus stop in Lund waiting for number 137 to take me home. It’s 1994 and I just attended high school philosophy class. I swoon. Really! In Elead some 2500 years earlier, Parmenides wrote,that there is only one. Nothing changes. Being is a round fullness totally exhausting all there is. There is no room for void. Our senses betray us. Further east, Heraclitus claims there is only change! Forces are flowing and struggling like the river we can’t step into twice. It will not be the same the second time. You will not be the same. How could I not swoon, thinking – really thinking – the world in these contradictory ways?
Almost 25 years later, reading Cosmetic Psychiatry did not make me metaphysically dizzy in the same way. It didn’t shock me profoundly. But Brian Eno, mostly known as a composer and music producer, in his diary A Year with Swollen Appendices (1996) supplied several small essays and stories that I think are worthy of their time. They have lingered with me and kept popping up as references in my design practice. Eno wrote about how “interactive” was the wrong word and why we should talk about “unfinished” to designate a shift from providing complete experiences to platforms for action and interaction. For many years my Unsworn practice was spurred by the paradox of trying to craft the perfectly unfinished. And then there was the Cosmetic psychiatry story.
When I did my MA in Interaction Design in the early 2000:s a design concept was usually presented, in school or at a conference, with one or adjacent scenarios. As I remember, most scenarios went like this:
John woke up after a good night’s sleep. The [insert new, delightful and useful digital device here] played a selection of John’s favourite songs and relevant news. With a swift gesture of the hand John switched off [the delightful, useful device] and went to work with a smile.
These weren’t stories that richly described a potential future. These were (bad) sales pitches, not generative design tools. Eschewing even the most basic of narrative insights, these new (delightful and useful) devices were always centrepieces of the “stories”, embodying the dream of the designer-author to have lasting effect on the user’s (“protagonist” would be too flattering) lives. Eno’s story provided a format for a concise yet fleshed-out scenario de-luxe that managed to capture context and rationales, beyond the end product.
The imaginary design product brought into existence by the story – that of attaining a charming and quirky psychological “defect” through a medical prodecure – also troubled the instrumental rationality of design of the 1990s. This product is an intimate, behavioural tweak, a story-catalyst (for the well-off) for a slightly more adventurous everyday. By pushing the limits of idiosyncracy the notions of functional and useful are taken to extremes. Eno keeps the product within the realm of design, as opposed to art, by referencing the human needs involved and positioning the procedure as a commodified service.
By Eno also expresses the property and power of capitalism to bend, not break. Capitalism is not troubled by fighting technical rationality with idiosyncratic products; these will easily be approriated and monetised.
We should also remember that at this time there were hardly any big-budget social fiction show, such as Black Mirror, to provide darkly humorous speculations on the social consequences of emerging digital and biological technologies. The very form of the scenario de-luxe is here to stay as a design tool and, perhaps, a format for critique.
Eno, B., 1996. A Year with Swollen Appendices, London: Faber & Faber.
The Killing Fields of Inequality, Therborn, G (2012)
Being an architect student in the 80s, at Lund’s University, changed my perspectives upon the world. I understood that, as an architect I was responsible for how people manage their everyday life. Bad architecture, with unclear structures where you can’t find your way, with unpleasant surfaces where you don’t feel welcome are made by architects as well as the good architecture. Good or bad architecture is not black and white as we are all different and have different needs at different times.
As a practicing architect I tried to get the hours in a project, by negotiate with client and manager, so I could work close to the people who were going to use the facilities. When the process went well, it was amazing to see the building standing there with the vision from our collaboration. A vision that had delimitations due to money, understanding between workers and manager etc, but still a vision that came true.
In the same time the society took a new direction. 70s became 80s and countries were supposed to be run as companies; UK with Thatcher, US with Reagan. The capitalistic system was taken for granted by every political party, from right to left. In the building sector it became more important to gain money than to build a society.
When I started to work within academia, 2005, as a senior lecturer I was told that I was too political. As an educator I worked with students in city areas with migrants and segregation. Discussed inequality in the world and how we segregate people. It was to political for some colleagues.
To read Göran Therborn made me feel less alone in academy. There was research that supported that we all live longer and better lives in a more equal world (It may have started with Spirit Level by Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson, but Göran Therborn made it even more clear to me). Today I have many colleagues and students that share the struggle against inequality. Between 2011 and 2015 we remade our educations in design at Linnaeus University. https://lnu.se/linneuniversitetet/Organisation/fakulteten-for-konst-och-humaniora/mot-fakulteten/design/
We explore together with students how we can become change agents. Design can be part of building sustainable futures. Papanek said: “There are few professions more harmful than industrial design.” Design can make change! Göran Therborn has definitely helped me to explore what a designer and a design education can do.