Embodiment of our Social Development

"Yet the untamed undigested, unrationalized, uncontrolled world is still there. People as thinking, feeling beings still exist. What form, then, do we take, in a world where there is, how else can I put it?, no world at all? To put it another way: What kind of idea do we have of the world when, day after day, we sit in front of our screens and enter further and further into the illusion that we ourselves are actually creating our own external reality out of our own internal desires? We become impatient with realities that don't gratify our impulses or satisfy our picture of reality. We find it harder to accept the immutable limitations imposed by identity, talent, personality. We start to behave public as if we were acting private, and we begin to fill our private world with gargantuan public appetites. In other words, we find it hard to bear simply being human."

Seigel, Lee. Against the Machine.

Institutions vs. Collaboration_Shirky

Cognitive Surplus


Perception and Reality

I found this writing on Wikipedia today and thought I would record it as a nice summary of perception.

In the case of visual perception, some people can actually see the percept shift in their mind's eye.[4] Others, who are not picture thinkers, may not necessarily perceive the 'shape-shifting' as their world changes. The 'esemplastic' nature has been shown by experiment: anambiguous image has multiple interpretations on the perceptual level. The question, "Is the glass half empty or half full?" serves to demonstrate the way an object can be perceived in different ways.

Just as one object can give rise to multiple percepts, so an object may fail to give rise to any percept at all: if the percept has no grounding in a person's experience, the person may literally not perceive it.

The processes of perception routinely alter what humans see. When people view something with a preconceived concept about it, they tend to take those concepts and see them whether or not they are there. This problem stems from the fact that humans are unable to understand new information, without the inherent bias of their previous knowledge. A person’s knowledge creates his or her reality as much as the truth, because the human mind can only contemplate that to which it has been exposed. When objects are viewed withoutunderstanding, the mind will try to reach for something that it already recognizes, in order to process what it is viewing. That which most closely relates to the unfamiliar from our past experiences, makes up what we see when we look at things that we don’t comprehend.[5]

This confusing ambiguity of perception is exploited in human technologies such as camouflage, and also in biological mimicry, for example by European Peacock butterflies, whose wings bear eye markings that birds respond to as though they were the eyes of a dangerous predator. Perceptual ambiguity is not restricted to vision. For example, recent touch perception research Robles-De-La-Torre & Hayward 2001 found that kinesthesia based haptic perception strongly relies on the forces experienced during touch.[6]

Cognitive theories of perception assume there is a poverty of stimulus. This (with reference to perception) is the claim that sensations are, by themselves, unable to provide a unique description of the world. Sensations require 'enriching', which is the role of the mental model. A different type of theory is the perceptual ecology approach of James J. Gibson. Gibson rejected the assumption of a poverty of stimulus by rejecting the notion that perception is based in sensations. Instead, he investigated what information is actually presented to the perceptual systems. He and the psychologists who work within this paradigm detailed how the world could be specified to a mobile, exploring organism via the lawful projection of information about the world into energy arrays. Specification is a 1:1 mapping of some aspect of the world into a perceptual array; given such a mapping, no enrichment is required and perception is direct perception.

"Perception." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 17 Feb. 2011. .


Nature's Genius

Nature inherently elucidates the model for recycling. Are we responsible enough to figure out how to mimic it?



RITUALIZING EXPERIENCE_ thesis statement 1.0

Our current paradigm within the profession of architecture remains fundamentally aligned with that of modernism. It is my contention that modernism is the celebration of the efficient, the progressive, and the rational. Operating within this paradigm has reduced the use of sensory, experiential, or ‘raw’ materials, in favor of materials that embody the same zeitgeist as the modernist view. Materials that can be mechanized, mass produced, and pumped out of a factory for quick application. The problem with this approach, is it has suffocated the materiality of experience; or the ‘raw’. ‘Raw’ materials require little heating, beating, or treating and represent a product, which remains most closely tied to its place of extraction. For example, the ‘raw’ is embodied in a fallen branch in the woods, a quarried stone, which still retains the surface texture inherited through years of erosion or other geological processes, or adobe, which still holds the sedimentary nature of the earth from which it was gleaned. As these materials are increasingly used less and less in favor of mechanized materials, like drywall, sheetrock, and plastic, our buildings and spaces decrease their potential to embody meaning.

There are a select group of projects that cater to “the experience” or phenomenology by incorporating the 'raw', but these projects are surprisingly few, and are seemingly isolated to specific geographic locales. Many of these projects exist in the rural or backwater areas of the globe, traditionally isolated from the productive and populated cities of the industrialized world. Why does this happen? Is it a fundamental law of a phenomenological approach that, in order for a designer to pursue this type of thinking in architecture, their creation must exist away from the urban core, containing relatively minimal program? Or, is there a way to create architecture, which puts phenomenology at the fore, and in doing so, provide both a sensory experience and function for the denizens of our urban centers? Or does the process of designing for experience meet head to head with the fundamental rationality and function born of modernism?


Material and Meaning

Throughout and after World War I, there was a vast explosion of new materials the United States learned to fabricate. There was an abundance of cheap fossil fuels throughout North America and companies extracting the resource wanted to sell more of it than was being burned in the automobile. So, they hired scientists from all a round the world and tasked them with the job of figuring out how many useful ways, besides burning it in a combustion engine, this material could be reconfigured, marketed, and sold to consumers. The first of these were synthetics like polystyrene (PS) polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and synthetic rubber. Later, these were followed by polypropylene, commonly used in carpeting and synthetic rope. Or polyamide known more commonly as nylon. While this century long period of creating new types of materials has given us many of the useful materials we utilize today; like toilet scrubbers, cadillac tires, and cell phone batteries, I wonder fundamentally about what they mean. To rephrase that, do all material things, just by there having a physicality or a tangible presence give them the potential to embody meaning? Is a material meaningful because it draws associations or perceptions of the natural world from whence it was extracted. Or are materials only meaningful because of the associations we develop with them through personal experiences? Will I always connect with smooth river stones, in any amalgamation or assemblage, because I grew up chasing the school bus along the creek bed as a boy?

It is my contention that there exists a gradient of material typologies which move from the 'raw' to the 'mock'. 'Raw' materials are those extracted from the earth, acted on minimally, incorporating little heating, beating, or treating. These materials are known by their texture, their odor, or their distinctive form. 'Raw' materials remain closely married to the processes and nature of the location of their extraction. While these types of materials are more difficult to mold and form with the human hand and are increasingly difficult to industrialize, they are unquestionably beautiful, tangible, and authentic.

'Mock' materials are materials, which have gone through a higher number of processes. These materials are heat, beat, and treated extensively. They are increasingly the outcome of chemical compositions that are highly processed and altered from their original state. While 'mock' materials may be more useful today than 'raw' materials, they are many times unknowable by the ordinary observer. For example, would an average consumer know what their laundry hamper, cell phone, or face scrub were really made of? The fact is that most people don't care about what these materials are because they serve a specific function in their day to day lives. A cell phone is important for our ability to connect and share with the people we relate with in our day to day lives. We don't need it to be meaningful we simply need it to work. Yet, it is through this type of items 'function' that it embodies meaning. Similarly, a toilet bowl brush simply needs to not pick up, hold, or transmit bacteria in the bathroom while having some type of scrubber to clean the inside of the bowl itself. These types of products have value in todays society and increasingly, through the invasion of technologies like the computer, seem to have concretized themselves within modern culture.

What remains problematic here is that 'mock' materials embody meaning though their function. It is the task they perform for us, which makes them meaningful. A cell phone means something to us for its ability to connect us with our network of friends and family, to entertain us when were bored, and to keep track of our important meetings and deadlines. While this seems to be no problem at all, it does present a problem for the 'raw'. How does the 'raw' material typology embody this same kind of meaning. I would argue, the 'raw' does not need to fight as hard to obtain meaning, it simply needs to be revealed. Sadly, I feel our approach to these types of materials, on large, has not done as much as is possible to reveal the inherent meaning in the 'raw'.


Understanding Zumthor

The following is an undergraduate student, Shawn Swisher who is doing his thesis work on Peter Zumthor's architecture. I feel his writing is phenomenal and that he is genuinely striving to understand how Peter produces the architecture he does.

"There are many ways that architecture can stimulate us. We can be enthralled by theoretical concepts that intend to revolutionize how we interact with our buildings. We can be overcome by the metaphors underlying a project’s design. And, at times, we are able to separate ourselves from these more cerebral desires and draw intrigue based solely on our reactions to space and form.

© Shawn Swisher

Personally, I’m interested in this last type. Reactions are what tie us back to our purely human instincts, to the universal senses which connect us all. Responding to space and material in an almost reptilian way, we absorb our surroundings from the beginning of our existence, internalizing our sensibility. Our past experiences shape our perception and, in turn, each new experience reshapes the next. Hence, it is that which makes us most human that ties us so intimately to architecture. Perhaps that’s what I’m most interested in – what makes us human.

Our perception defines our reality, and within our perceptions of space we’ve developed this idea of atmosphere. Though even the word itself seems mysterious and ephemeral, I believe it exists as much as anything else exists. Atmosphere is something felt, not thought, something taken in through emotional sensibility. It’s not always something we can define through words alone; rather it’s something that must be absorbed through the experience of the human body existing within it. Undoubtedly, this kind of perceptive ability has come through evolution – the ability to quickly interpret our surroundings and determine if it is hospitable or hazardous. In this way, our body is an instrument for measuring a specific architectural quality that no other device can determine."

For more check out the link to Shawn's blog on this site.