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Yale University, School of Architecture

Intelligence after Theory


Author(s): Michael Speaks
Source: Perspecta, Vol. 38, Architecture after All (2006), pp. 101-106
Published by: The MIT Press on behalf of Perspecta.
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INTELLIGENCE AFTER THEORY


MICHAEL SPEAKS

Ifone wereto writea history


ofarchitecture
since May'68, notingin particular
the
roletheeventsthatsummerplayedinshapingcontemporary
practice,itwould begin
the passingofphilosophyand the riseof'theory'.BytheoryI mean
byrecounting
thatset ofmostlyFrench,Germanand Italianphilosophicaltractsthatarrivedinthe
and were disUS inthe late 1970sthroughdepartments
ofcomparativeliterature
new mode ofcontemseminatedto theAmericanuniversity
systemas a wonderful
originsand replantedin
porarythought.Theorywas detachedfromitscontinental
the US whereittookon a lighter,
moreoccasionalexistence.Theorywas portable
- itcould be attachedto almostanyfieldofstudy,film,literature,
and
anthropology
even architecture.
Theorycarriedall the punchofphilosophywithoutthewindyGerthatis,yearsofstudy,
man preamblesand reconditeFrenchqualifications,
without,
or deep knowledge.Theorywas a weapon oftheyoung,the postpoliticalaffiliation
68 generation,
weariedbythe morality
and slownessoftheirelderswho seemed so
untheoretical
whethertheyembracedor rejectedtheory.Theorywas fastphilosophy
and itmade itswaythroughvarioussectorsofthe US academia inthe 1970sand
1980sand arrivedto architecture,
late,as MarkWigleyhas so famouslyand so freout.
quentlypointed
forthevanguard
The shiftfromphilosophyto theorywas especiallyimportant
architects
whose workand writing
dominatedscholarlyjournals,school curricula
and indeedmuchofwhatpassed forintellectual
discourseand debate inarchitecintheformofTafurian
turefromthe 1970s untilthe late 1990s.Whetherarticulated
thesetheorydiscourseor Frankfurt
School analysisor Derrideandeconstruction,
ina world
ofaffirmatively
intervening
inspiredvanguardsassertedthe impossibility
dominatedbycapitalisticand/ormetaphysical
oppressors.Continuouscritiqueand
resistanceinsteadguidedtheirresolutelynegativepractices.Butas the 1990sdrew
to a close,theory-vanguardism
practicesbetter
began to witheras new architecture
suitedto meetthechallengesissued byglobalizationarose to claimthe mantleof
thatthevanguard,whetherin philosophicalortheoretical
guise,had
experimentation
as post-critical,
so longheld.Identified
fresh,and ideologicallysmooth,these pracworldtheirtheory-hamstrung
ticesembracedmuchofthe market-driven
predecessors heldincontempt.
Twofeatures,in particular,
these new practices.The firstis their
distinguish
PeterDruckerhas drawnan important
pursuitof innovation.Managementthinker
thatmanyofthese post-vandistinction
betweenproblemsolvingand innovation
ingeneralwoulddo wellto
guardpracticeshave takento heart,and thatarchitects
betterunderstand.Problemsolving,Druckerargues,simplyacceptsthe parameters
ofa problemgiven,inthecase ofarchitecture,
bytheclient.The designeris then
to workwithinthose parametersuntila solutionto the problemis reached,a final
Drucker
tellsus, worksbya different,
moreentrepreneurial
logic
design.Innovation,
thatcan be exwherebyrigorousanalysisleads to thediscoveryofopportunities
Whileproblem-solving
workswithina given
intoinnovation.
ploitedand transformed
paradigmto createnew solutionsto knownproblems,innovationrisksworkingwith
Opposite: George Yu Architects, Venice Biennale.

forunpredictable
theexistentbutunknowninorderto discoveropportunities
design
solutions.

PERSPECTA

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AFTER ALL / 103

is that I hadn't told them anything, and they stood there and I said do you see something
SvS, Winka Dubbeldam: what was really interesting
familiar? They said yeah, yeah, there's something really familiar about this thing. I said yeah, it's the inside of your house. So that was
kind of adorable that they didn't notice that. / I really should thank everyone in my office for running enormous over hours to
actually
do this. We, I think we took something in our hands which was slightly
heavier than we thought it was going to be . / And then quickly to
end with something which is now in the National

Building

Museum which is a similar

idea.

It's

a one-minute movie.

I'm not showing anything

MICHAEL SPEAKS

GeorgeYuArchitects,
SonyDesignCenter

Venice
GeorgeYuArchitects,
Biennale

Similarlyto theirvanguard predecessors, post-

cal ifnot altogether impossible. No longer dictated

vanguard practices evaluate knowledge based on

by ideas or ideologies nor dependent on whether

its use-value ratherthan its truthcontent. Drucker

something is reallytrue, everythingnow depends on

argues that the global status of modern capitalism

credible intelligence,on whether something mightbe

was enabled by a fundamental change whereby

true.

knowledge was no longer concerned with philosophi-

Ifphilosophy was the intellectualdominant of

cal or religious truth,but with doing and action. After

early 20thcenturyvanguards and theorythe intel-

the Second World War this transformationushered

lectual dominant of late 20thcenturyvanguards, then

in the management revolutionand signaled the emer-

intelligence has become the intellectualdominant of

gence of what Druckercalls "the knowledge society"


- a post-capitalistparadigm enabled by globaliza-

early 21stcenturypost-vanguards. While vanguard

tion. Taking a more pessimistic view of what they

given in advance, intelligence-based practices are

practices are relianton ideas, theories and concepts

preferto call the "society of control," Michael Hardt

instead entrepreneurialin seeking opportunitiesfor

and Antonio Negri, authors of Empire (2000), the

innovation that cannot be predicted by any idea,

highlyacclaimed neo-Marxist study of globalization

theoryor concept. Indeed, it is their unique design in-

and politics, agree with Drucker'sassertion that the

telligence that enables them to innovate by learning

new economic order ushered in by globalization is

fromand adapting to instability.The most innova-

knowledge-based. Though states stillexist as filters

tive of these new practices are thus more concerned

of power and control,Hardt and Negri argue that real

with 'plausible truths'generated through prototyping

command and control is now in the hands of mobile

than with received 'truths'of theoryor philosophy.

and constantlyevolving global organizations free

Plausible truthsoffera way to quicklytest ideas by

from national obligation to roam the planet in search

realizingthem, and thereforethey are the engines for

of affiliationsthat provide competitive advantage. No

innovation ratherthan its final product.

longer stored in banks of metaphysical truths,today

George Yu gave the following response to a ques-

knowledge is manifestas intelligencethat is used to

tion about how his office,George Yu Architects,in

manage these global organizations in a world where

Los Angeles, conducts research:

remaining competitive is oftena matterof lifeand


death. As Hardt,Negri and Druckersuggest, philosophy and theory have given way to the "chatter" of
intelligence. Philosophical, political,and scientific
truthhave fragmentedinto proliferatingswarms of
"little"truthsappearing and disappearing so fast that
ascertaining whether they are reallytrue is impracti-

Thetraditional
distinction
betweenresearchand doing
or makingis something
that'sbecomingblurred
forus.
Doinghas becomeresearchand researchhas become
doingatthispoint.Forus, researchis notsomething
thatcomes beforedoing- it'smaybeeventheother
wayaround.Doingis infacta kindofresearch.But
thebiggerquestionis: Whydo researchinthefirst
thatthestarting
place?I think
pointforall ourprojects
is shapedbyan attempt
to understand
and accept

104/PERSPECTA 38 /ARCHITECTUREAFTER ALL

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for a change. / This particular


movie is the generative movie for a
SvS, Winka Dubbeldam: built, by the way. I thought it'd be interesting
which we built in the National Building Museum in Washington. It took about a year, I think, to construct it, and it was actually
because Michael just mentioned this rethinking of concrete.
This was a similar idea with the IMI. The Masonry Institute
asked
interesting,

project

four architects

to rethink four materials.

that we would build

a pavilion.

And they designated to us lightweight concrete. The idea was that Stanley Tigerman was the curator
We thought rather than building a pavilion,
build a sound piece.
And have the sound waves reconfigure two

INTELLIGENCE AFTER THEORY

Greenwich
Archi-Tectonics,
StreetProject

George Yu Architects,
IBM eBusiness
thegivensoftheprojectina reallyoptimistic
way.
To understand
therealparameters
oftheproblem
at handand add something
unexpected,
something
thattheclientmaynothavebeenexpecting.
This
kindofresearchis an absolutenecessitygiventhat
manyofourrecentclientswerelookingforsomeone
to helpthemdevelopan organizational
visionforthe
company.

Lang, of LWPAC in Vancouver, had the following obInteractiveprototyping,especially those associated with 3D modeling, have transformedthe way
buildings are designed and built.Commenting on the
use of such modeling techniques in the design and
fabricationof the Greenwich Street Project in Lower
Manhattan, completed this year,Winka Dubbeldam,
principalof Archi-Tectonies in New York,noted the
following about the building's folded faade:
Thefoldsinthefaadeare diagonalwhichmeansthe
wholespace foldsinsideoutand is pulledunlikeif
itwerea simplefold.Butthiscan onlybe controlled
withthekindofprecision3D computermodeling
makespossible.Duringthedesignphasetheslightest
forcode oraesthetic
changeinthefold- whether
reasons- affected
theentirebuildingbecause itwas
all one performative
system.Thisalso meantthatwith
fabrication
was controlled
bymathematics,
everything
thanbytraditional
site
byan abstractsystemrather
measurements.
Thisleadsto a completely
different
Whenthepiecesarrived,
wayofbuilding.
theyall fit
likea glove.Whenyousee thisyourealize
together
thereis something
aboutworking
from
verybeautiful
abstractrules.Ifeveryoneworksbythem,and ifall
thematerial
tolerancesare observed,thenmakingthe
not
codes,notations,
buildingis all aboutagreements,
aboutconstruction
intheconventional
sense.

servations about an extremelyfast-pace project then


underway in China:
The scenarioexercisesutilizedinearlierprojectshave
becomeextremely
inhelpingus testthe
important
to adapt.We gotthejob, infact,
buildingand itsability
because ofourapproachto phasingandtimebased
designwithscenarios...Platform
designand rapid
havebeen invaluableindevelopingthis
prototyping
aspectoftheproject.Alltheresearchand intelligence
thatwe havebeendevelopingoverthelast
generation
severalyearsis nowpayingoffand indeedhas made
itpossiblefora small,Vancouverbased officelikeours
to takeon suchimmenseand complexprojectsas
theseinChina.

Similarly,offices like Rotterdam based Max.1 and


Crimson focus on the development of what they call
"orgware," the organizational design intelligencethat
negotiates between the software of policy directives,
zoning and legal codes, and building or infrastructuraI hardware. In the mid-1990s Max.1 was offered
a commission to develop a master plan for Leidsche
Rijn,a new town extension forthe cityof Utrecht.
One of the firstlarge-scale urban planning projects
in the Netherlands that reflecteda turnaway from

Prototypescreate 'design intelligence' by generating plausible solutions that become part of an office's

subsidized to marketrate housing, Leidsche Rijn


required an innovative urban planning approach flex-

overall design intelligence. Rapid prototypingand the

ible enough to accommodate the dramatic social and

use of scenarios enable mass production of unique-

economic changes then occurring in the Netherlands,

ness in which the 'final' product is both the design

but strong enough to create a new town with its own

and the array of specialized techniques that are

unique urban character.Workingwith Crimson, a

invented and deployed firthis design, Commenting

research and planning officealso fromRotterdam,

on the kindof design intelligence generated through

Max.1 developed a master plan guided by what Crim-

the use of scenarios and rapid prototyping,Oliver

son called "orgware," the organizational intelligence

AFTER THEORY/ 105

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the space between these units and the walls of the


SvS, Winka Dubbeldam: voids in space so that similar to the idea before that actually
start to transform
museum start to become the soundscape or sound environment. / What you see happening here is the frequencies
actually
and sound tubes are cut straight through these
the units. The speakers, the same exact speakers, scan the surfaces again in the installation
an extreme sound space right in the middle between the two units. So rather than building a pavilion
it
units, so that there is actually
was actually

building

a void and creating

different

sound effects

which became ultra-spatial.

So what you see here is the sound tubes coming

MICHAELSPEAKS
The
choicesare implemented
bythecityofHoogvliet.
choicesare yes-no,and once made,theyare inflexible.
Theyarewhatallowthingsto actuallygetdone.They
arethefirst,
necessarystepthatmustbe taken.Now
inthosechoicesbegins.
theworkoffilling
These four examples

of intelligence-based

practices cannot be categorized


classification

system. Some

under any existing

design boxes, some

blobs while others script complex


movement.

ballets of urban

Holding to no philosophical

or profes-

sional truth, making use of no specialized

theory,

these practices are open to the influence of 'chatter'


and are by disposition willing to learn. Accustomed
in ways that their vanguard

predecessors

can never

be to open source intelligence gathered from the little


truths published
ture, and gleaned

on the web, found in popular culfrom other professions

disciplines, these practices are adaptable


any circumstance

and design
to almost

and almost anywhere.

Though we live in uncertain times, one thing is


certain: experimental

architecture practices are no

used to transformthe 'software' of public and private

longer driven by grand ideas or theories realized in

policy directives into the 'hardware' of buildings and

visionary form. Instead, the most influential architec-

infrastructure.
Ratherthan focusing theireffortson an

ture practices are today compelled

over-designed, inflexiblemaster plan, Max.1 instead

novate, to create solutions to problems whose

designed a plan of negotiation that required certain

implications

things to be builtwhile allowing, through built in re-

that this can only be accomplished

dundancies, forother elements in the plan to be sacri-

Otherwise, design is simply a matter of completing a

ficed. This same approach of engendering flexibility

given problem without adding anything new.

through enforced inflexibility,


guided Max.Vs innova-

by the need to inlarger

have not yet been formulated. I argue


with intelligence.

Architecture should be more ambitious than to

tive Logica plan for Hoogvliet, a suburb of Rotterdam,

settle for that. Each of the offices mentioned above

also developed in conjunction with Crimson. Logica,

(and there are many more) have not settled on

an exemplary formof design intelligence,requires

practices focused on what Drucker calls problem

stakeholders to make definitivechoices about how

solving; they have instead developed

the citywill develop. The choices were designed by

intelligences that enable them to innovate by adding

unique design

Max.1 aftera period of rigorous analysis and were

something

issued as a challenge to politicians and stakeholders

of problem they have been asked to solve. They are

to take immediate action. Once made, these choices

the first wave of a remarkable change in architecture

that allows
become the planning infrastructure

practice, and I intend to keep track of them even if

other,more flexible choices at various scales to be

others are content to continue debating style, form,

made over time as the cityis rebuilt.Rients Dijkstra,

shape, politics and fashion.

not given in the formulation of any kind

principal of Max.1 had the following remarksat the


conclusion of the process:
Logicahas nowbeenacceptedbythecityas the
Allofthechoiceswere
official
planningdocument.
made bythecounciland nowcannotbe changed.
Theyaretheequivalentto thelarge-scaleprojects
not
at LeidscheRijn.Thatis,theyare inflexible,
negotiable.The negotiablepartcomes inhowthe

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AFTER ALL

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Opposite: George Yu Architects, Sensorium.