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Architecture beyond forms. The computational turn

Philippe Morel

On February 22, 2007 the exhibition Architecture Beyond Forms - the Computational Turn opened in Marseille, at the Maison de l'Architecture et de la Ville. The event, organized with the support of FRAC Centre and Centre Pompidou, aims at presenting an updated view on computation and digital research in architecture. We are pleased to anticipate to our readers the introductory texts released by the curator, Philippe Morel, and the Director of the FRAC Centre, Marie-Ange Brayer.

A veritable epistemic revolution occurred with the advent of digital technology. The design of a project was no longer concerned with representation, but rather with calculation and computation. This would profoundly affect architectural production methods. This upheaval within the very language of architecture, which would lead to another level of project temporality, had already been anticipated by the design practices that emerged in the 1960s through radical architecture in Europe. Architecture was no longer a constructed object but an environment being perpetually reconfigured, a thing of the moment. During the same period in the United States, Peter Eisenman was demanding autonomy regarding the design of projects as well as a morphogenic approach to architecture.

    The FRAC Centre collection, which has been taking inspiration from architectural experimentation for about fifteen years, bringing together the utopian, radical projects of the 1960s, is presented in this exhibition through projects that are emblematic of deconstruction: Coop Himmelb(l)au's Open House from the beginning of the 1980s, which liberates architecture from all programming constraints with its eyes-closed design; Zada Hadid's pictoral compositions of floating spatiality inspired by constructivism; Bernard Tschumi and the Parc de la Villette, which is marked by a process of dissociation and fragmentation of form. All of these projects detach architectural language from its foundations in order to open up a new cognitive dimension.

The ArchiLab events, created with Frédéric Migayrou in 1999, helped to bring fame to a generation of architects in France interested in research on an international scale. A number of these are featured in the FRAC Centre's collection and in this exhibition: dECOi architects, Evan Douglis Studio, EZCT Architecture & Design Research ; KOL/MAC LLC, Objectile, Servo, Xefirotarch and so on. Constructional architecture, the referent in these various projects, is inseparable from the genetic exploration of the process. These self-organisational systems are defined as living, phylogenetic systems, outside of all "models" and all representational conditions, opening architecture up to ideas of transformability and adaptability. Thus, architecture becomes a dynamic environment.

Marie-Ange Brayer

  The exhibition Architecture beyond forms - the computational turn is a modest follow up to several recent events (including Latent Utopia, Vienna, 2002; Non-Standard Architecture, Paris, 2003; Intricacy, Philadelphia, 2003; and The Digital Body, Tours, 2005) that aims to achieve a better understanding of "architecture in the age of the computer". Like all exhibitions, its final form is the result of a number of factors, consisting of both restrictions and possibilities.

Aranda/Lasch, Grotto and Crystal Basket. Photo: Jonathan Boussaert/FRAC Centre. Set design: © Elias Guenoun, Nicolas Simon, Max Turnheim.

Biothing, drawings for the projects Bifid, Swells and Invisible. Photo: Jonathan Boussaert/FRAC Centre. Set design: © Elias Guenoun, Nicolas Simon, Max Turnheim.

From left to right: Aranda/Lasch, Grotto et Crystal Basket; DORA, Mesh Models; Xefirotarch, Busan Multipurpose Concert Hall, Collection du FRAC Centre. In the back: EZCT Architecture & Design Research, Chair Model Test1-860, Collection du FRAC Centre; Objectile, Panneau et objet sans titre, Collection du FRAC Centre; Gramazio&Kohler, The Informed Wall, Axel Kilian, Chair Project. Photo: Jonathan Boussaert/FRAC Centre. Set design: © Elias Guenoun, Nicolas Simon, Max Turnheim.

The exhibition, although defined by a specific sub-title, is not a thematic one. It is, rather, the result of a long-standing interest of mine in a subject which, on the contrary, tends towards the universal: computation. Nevertheless, because this subject is not just mathematical but also defines a culture, there has always been an underlying question involved: how can we consider computation without falling into the trap of an all-embracing analysis at a time when, from the point of view of computation and in light of the widespread use of computers in all areas of life, this same computation leads to the most global and radical transformations. Do we not now talk about computational biology, computational linguistics, computational geometry, computational chemistry, computational mechanics and computational economy? Have we not begun to see, here and there, the emergence of an entirely new situation in all areas of production, the same production that was once analysed in depth by Sigfried Giedion?

Gramazio&Kohler, The Informed Wall; Axel Kilian, Chair Project. On the right: Material Systems Organization, Voronoi Morphologies. Photo: Jonathan Boussaert/FRAC Centre. Set design: © Elias Guenoun, Nicolas Simon, Max Turnheim.

FOA, B.B.C. White City Music Center, Collection du Centre Pompidou. Drawings on the wall, left: IJP Corporation, A Study of Curvature as Fragmented Flatness; Coop Himmelb(l)au and Claude Parent, Open House, Collection du FRAC Centre; Cadavre exquis, dépôt de Claude Parent; Zaha Hadid, The Hague Villas, Spiral House, Collection du FRAC Centre. In the back: dECOi, Vaisseau de Verre, Collection du FRAC Centre; Bernard Tschumi, La Case Vide, Parc de la Villette, Collection du FRAC Centre. Photo: Jonathan Boussaert/FRAC Centre. Set design: © Elias Guenoun, Nicolas Simon, Max Turnheim.

Servo, In the Lattice, Collection du FRAC Centre; OCEAN NORTH, Moroho-Ecologies, book, ed. Michael Hensel, Achim, Menges; YME, Hybrid Spacies, book and model STL, Kol/Mac LLC, meta_HOM Estouteville 2.0, Collection du FRAC Centre; Giorgios Artopoulos, The House of Affects. In the middle: Evan Douglis Studio, Helio-Scopes, Collection du FRAC Centre. In the back: dzO, Ghost Track, Collection du FRAC Centre. On the wall: TheVeryMany, series of studies Rhinoscript, Giorgios Artopoulos, YMA. Photo: Johnatan Boussaert/FRAC Centre. Set design: © Elias Guenoun, Nicolas Simon, Max Turnheim.

But whilst, in 1948, the Swiss historian gave a lucid and even glacial analysis of the effects of mechanisation on architecture and daily life, with Mechanization Takes Command, how can we now analyse computation defined by Jacques Stern, director of the computer science department at the Ecole Normale Supérieure, as the "mechanisation of abstraction"? This exhibition does not offer a response to a question whose importance we still underestimate, but presents visitors with a collection of objects, drawings and prototypes dating back to 1963, the year in which Peter Eisenman presented a doctoral thesis anticipating a number of current issues. This collection, which will also be analysed in the "Computational Architecture" catalogue, published by MAV PACA and Editions HYX -with contributions from several architects, researchers and academics including Benoît Durandin, Sean Keller, Philippe Morel, Francis Pisani, Caterina Tiazzoldi and Franck Varenne- will, I hope, allow everyone a fresh reading of these structures and this research, these conceptual and physical constructions.

Philippe Morel

IJP Corporation, Henderson Crossing Bridge, A Study of Curvature as Fragmented Flatness, The Book of Surfaces. In the back, on the wall, right: Peter Eisenman, Guardiola House, Collection du FRAC Centre. On the wall, left: Bernard Tschumi, La Case Vide, Parc de la Villette, Collection du FRAC Centre. Photo: Jonathan Boussaert/FRAC Centre. Set design: © Elias Guenoun, Nicolas Simon, Max Turnheim.


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