Coffee Break



Antonino Saggio

Derrick De Kerckhove
"The Architecture of Intelligence"
(The IT Revolution in Architecture)
Switzerland 2001
pp96, $12,50
preface by Antonino Saggio

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[in italiano]

This book is a treasure trove of intuitions, links, paths. The reader will quickly note that there is more to it than merely a large quantity of data. Rather it is the quality itself of the information that is high since the ideas arrive filtered through one of the centers that brings together many threads in the new web system. We are speaking here of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto and its director Derrick de Kerckhove who carries out philosophical, scientific and technological thought on the wave of the information technology revolution.

The fact that De Kerckhove and the authors who have written for this series met in a symposium (the physical location was Zurich and the date was 12 April 2000) is significant. Architectural culture needs qualified and open traveling companions. We architects welcome the thinker De Kerckhove, the first non-architect in the series. If our way of thinking, a way of thinking completely applied to construction, can also give something to other disciplines, then why not?

But the fact that this book is a treasure trove of ideas makes up only one aspect and not even the most important one at that. What is decisive here is that this book puts us deeply into a crisis.

This involves, from time to time, measuring one's own technological, as well as sociological or philosophical, know-how against that which Derrick proposes here. (We will call him, in the American style, only by his first name or instead with the acronym DDek, omitting the list of prestigious titles and the even more numerous series of translations of his works into many languages. In Italy alone we should recall the book from 1995, La civilizzazione videocristiana for Feltrinelli or subsequent ones for Mondadori and Costa & Nolan.)

So DDek puts us in a crisis on various levels. Imagine that strong but timid student in Florence who "desperately" wants to organize a conference dedicated to Zevi and does not even have e-mail. And I see my oldest colleague who has never navigated on the Internet. But continually new adolescences, new puberties must be faced and the great efforts of the past and promise of the new must never be forgotten. I understand those who have already conquered much but who have never thought… perhaps… about what Linux means as a new way of working, or the freedom of interconnected communities or even the relationship between the mental world (the "theater" of our imagination) and the virtual space of the net. And, as if all this were not enough, one can go between the lines of this book to follow those underground currents since, whenever an experience is recalled, there is always definitely something important behind it for deeper study.

Those who also participated in the process, one that saw the book develop from an initial invitation involving Maria Spina, through various rebounds, modifications and leaps forward, may be placed even further into a crisis. In my case, there were two reasons. The first regards the method. DDek did something that was apparently simple but incredible for an author: He put this book on-line while he was working on it. Making a book public while it is being written shrugs off many customs, jealousies, limitations and fears. This is a lesson to be considered again and again: on the other hand, he has already written it down in one of his principles. In the great world of the net, the only way to be acknowledged is to do something useful for everyone and Derrick has connected intelligence and individuals around him.

The second aspect is content. Anyone who thinks simultaneously of the past and future, as if the world of ideas crosses moments in history to find itself each time in front of our eyes, can only be struck by his masterful reflections on Vitruvius and the Alphabet?

Today, the need for creating a new alphabet is pressing and exactly what The Architecture of Intelligence have begun to construct. A space that still does not yet completely exist but one we begin to intuit and that, through the principles illustrated here, can begin to shape.

Consider the wonderful metaphor of fish he offers us. Fish know only the fluid that, just like air, surrounds them. They know nothing either of what the sea or lake or river really is and know even less about the space in which we humans live. Only a jump beyond that aquatic surface can open up the sensation of another space that definitely exists, even if it is neither frequented nor understood.

Throughout history we have lived in different spaces and architects, using different alphabets, have given them form: informal space, gestural and primitive, pre-Miletus (or pre-alphabet as DDek calls it); the space arterialized by the Greeks and Romans; the sacred and mystic space before Giotto; that perspective space of the Renaissance; the industrial and mechanical, analytical and non-perspective space after Cézanne. Each new space on arriving has required new principles and new alphabets that have been created through difficult, exhausting, rough but exciting processes. Regarding the new information space that De Kerckhove calls Cyber (the battle for the name is however still open), we can only begin to catch a glimpse of a few characteristics. Like dolphins that take in oxygen to jump from the sea and follow ships and see the outlines of islands and coasts, a few pioneers are working in an attempt to define the possibilities and principles of precisely this new space.

This book will help you join in this search.

Antonino Saggio


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