Andrew Ballantyne and Chris L. Smith (eds.): Architecture in the Space of Flows. London, New York 2011. 241 pp.

Martyn Dade-Robertson: The Architecture of Information. Architecture, interaction design and the patterning of digital information. New York 2011. 178 pp.

In traditional accounts of architecture as being concerned with the configuration of space and, in particular, with the resolution of form of buildings or squares, there is an underlying association of architecture with the finished, the fixed, the material, the tangible. While this notion is not wrong, two recent books published by Routledge draw our attention to aspects of fluidity in the making and working of architecture, and to its relation to the intangible, namely information.

 

The common denominator of the 12 essays contained in the volume “Architecture in the Space of Flows”, which was edited by Andrew Ballantyne and Christopher Smith, is their call to think about architecture not as static, but as flowing. While aspects of fluidity have received considerable attention in architecture and urban planning in recent years (think, for example, about the debates on the globalization of the real estate sectors, on cross-border practices such as designing at a distance or on travelling ideas), the novelty here is the multiplicities of flows being conceived. Boundaries are not primarily those between nations-states, but between bodies and buildings or between identities and economics. According to the contributions of architectural theorists, architects and planners collected in this book, what makes buildings in both a material and immaterial sense is all kinds of flows – of bodies, energy, capital, goods, ideas, desires, etc. The pondering question for architecture is thus not what it might look like. Rather, the issue is, as Michael Tawa puts it in the last essay, “about a process and condition in which what appears is not a predicated deliverable (…) but an emergent complex whose lineaments are produced in and by the interactive conditions of a milieu. It is a question of setting up enabling conditions, not of configuring fantastical form” (p. 230).

Contrary to what one could assume given the book’s title, the central theoretical reference of the collected essays is not to Manuel Castells who popularized the idea of a “space of flows”. Against Castells’ notion that the space of flows is the expression of the processes dominating our current economic, political, and symbolic life, Ballantyne and Smith stress that “we are inclined to see continuity and intensification: Flows that have been continuing for generations, gradually accelerating, seem novel when the gradual acceleration pushed us across thresholds so that we find a new way to deal with the information that is coming our way (p. 30f). The more important theoretical difference is, however, that the essays collected in this book are set within the poststructuralist discourse. Most authors refer to Gilles Deleuze, because in his “temporal theory the built object is, like all things, subject to ongoing change in the stream of time as an object in transition”, as Amanda Yates (p. 66) argues. Quoting Dorita Hannah, she goes on to formulate a leitmotif of the whole book: “(N)o matter how seemingly still, (architecture) is itself a slow performance: a spatial thing in perpetual motion – heating and cooling, contracting and expanding, eroding and accruing”. Though such poststructuralist lines of reasoning are certainly not everyone’s intellectual preference, the book nevertheless provides remarkable insights into how architecture can be conceptualized not in, but “as a space of flows” (Stephen Loo, p. 207).

The second book reviewed here, “The Architecture of Information” by Martyn Dade-Robertson also transcends the traditional notion of the materiality of architecture. It seeks to explore the relationships between the organization of physical objects in space and the organization of ideas in “cyberspace”. Martyn Dade-Robertson departs from the idea that architecture provides orientation the social world, because it associates ideas with physical forms, and that is why buildings help and are used to classify the world. This direct association of the immaterial (ideas, meanings) with the material (the built environment) was thought to be broken up with the coming of the digital age. However, as the prediction of the “end of geography” turned out to be wrong, there is no “end of architecture”. The organization of (digital) information continues to rely on spatial metaphors from a pre-digital era, which becomes evident in its terminology (“cyberspace”), the adoption of spatial visualisations in the design of graphical user interfaces and the emergence of the profession of Information Architecture. According to Dade-Robertson, this continuation is not accidental: Architecture and information are both tools to abstract the social world surrounding us. In the conclusion he writes that he is frequently asked whether his findings about architecture in computer user interfaces or hypertext networks can be applied to ‘real’ architecture, too: “My response is patient but firm; that this is real architecture. … understanding information and communication technologies involves understanding the way in which spatial cognition shapes structures of thought and how we articulate spaces to communicate our collective mind. This is surely a fundamental practice of architecture, even if it is not always a practice in bricks and mortar” (p. 149). Though Dade-Robertson is not the first to suggest such an extension of the notion of architectural space beyond the built, the book offers an interesting reading of the blurring between the ‘real’ and the ‘virtual’ spaces we live in.
Christof Parnreiter

Quelle: Erdkunde, 66. Jahrgang, 2012, Heft 3, S. 272-273

 

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