AUTONOMOUS ARCHITECTURE

AUTONOMY AS ANARCHY: Consumerism and Individual Responsibility in Visionary Ecological Place-making and Architecture

 

Keywords: Autonomy; anarchy; autonomous design; anarchic production; eco-centric solutions; ecological design; new environmental paradigm; incremental autonomous design; green design; green wash; pale green; consumerism; productivism; scientism; ecstatic disappearance; ecological sustainability; hacker class; vectoralist; green design; participatory design; eco-architecture; sustainable architecture; production of space.

 

Abstract

 

This paper examines the autonomous design strategy and its innovative production of ecological place and architecture with reference to a number of examples.

The incremental design of autonomous ecological interventions are described as effecting what is "good" for the human ecosystem within the context of anarchic production. These prototypical eco-centric solutions, attempt to meet the ecological challenge head-on whilst further informing architectural pedagogy and practice by more clearly defining what is possible technically and in terms of individual versus collective/corporate responsibility (within the contested field of ecological design).

In conclusion the paper suggests that anarchic autonomous design through its diversity of solutions - physical, spatial , ethical and political - may finally lead to what is "right" in response to out-of-control consumerism, productivism and scientism.

 

Introduction:

 

Sustainability requires a shift towards a new environmental paradigm (Milbrath, 1989), a new way of thinking:

Much of contemporary architecture and building practices today are too often the result of high cost consumerism, productivism, and scientism that keep us trapped in what is typically done. ("A fool with a tool is still a fool..." (Brown, 1960))

Alternative ideas and methods exist to design and build effective, artistic, low cost and low or zero energy use houses, landscapes and cities.

 

These can be both prophetic and poetic.

These alternative ideas have over many decades been expressed as autonomous architecture and on the whole represent a silent anarchy. The philosophers Foucault and Baudrillard defined such "ecstatic disappearance" and posed: "Why bother to confront a "power" which has lost all meaning and become sheer simulation?" Those architects committed to the new environmental paradigm have in many cases elected to side step the established rules and create a technically and culturally separate architecture to that of the mainstream.

 

Discussion

 

Premise 1

Eco-Designer/Autonomous design strategy/Eco-Architecture definition.

Designers - highly motivated and strong belief in green ideology which leads to visionary architecture.

Designers - take responsibility for actions and self-reliant.

Design strategy seeks solutions outside of the mainstream that : Restore, preserve, and enhance nature and culture for the benefit of all life, present and future; making use of low-energy materials/off -the-grid systems and results may be durable, conservable and recyclable. Architecture may be of human scale, soft-edged, have curves and variety of angles and moreover be, diverse, unpredictable, and surprising.

Architecture - is technically different, (often) physically isolated, and in many cases aesthetically different.

Architecture - in many cases is expressive and individualistic

 

Premise 2

Autonomous as Anarchy - Incremental autonomous design - describe as good for the human ecosystem within the context of anarchic production.

The identification of eco-architecture as "alternative" architecture in a pejorative sense can be a barrier towards the adoption of eco-principles in mass-mainstream housing.

We need to generate good consumption habits and the remaking of desire into something positive within the human ecosystem. (Fry, 1994). (Fry(1.) states that re-configuring consumer interest, human need and the product world by design is essential if sustainable development is to occur. The re-configuration of consumer interest creates an important design challenge, that of generating a desirable imagery associated with ecological sustainability. (2.) We contend that if positive architectural alternatives within a field of consumer-driven choice are extended to include 'green' aspects of form, the image of sustainable architecture may act as a catalyst in assisting the production of sustainable environments.)

"Happiness betrays desire..." as sustainability betrays need. (Zizek)

A major impediment to the adoption of sustainable design practices is the process of "green-wash" by corporate public relations spin which seeks to water-down green solutions and misinform the consumer. (Beder, 1997)

A parallel can be drawn between the computer hacker and the designer of autonomous architecture: Wark states that

 

"These are times of an emergent global instability. The proliferation of communication vectors creates a virtual geography of events which is the opposite of the rational and transparent space promised by 'cyberhype'. This virtual geography is an event-space of both great danger and great promise. Great danger, in that a new ruling class, based on control of strategic and commercial vectors of information, a vectoralist class, is coming to power. Great promise, in that a new subversive movement also arises, not to challenge but to evade this new order. This I call the 'hacker class' - named after its leading elements in software and hardware engineering, but which really includes all creators of the 'intellectual property' that the vectoralist class seeks to monopolise. The challenge for the hacker class is to destabilise the unity of property and representation proposed by the vectoralist order of commodified information."

 

The autonomous architect acts subversively outside of the influence of the dominant order, to evade having their designs being appropriated and subsequently diluted to an ineffectual "pale green".

The really difficult question that arises is how to effect positive change of the mainstream without directly engaging with it?

 

Example 1

 

First Example is truly brilliant- it gets so much right!

 

The Rocky Mountain Institute:

Snowmass Colorado, Steven Conger and the Aspen Design Group,

(Amory Lovins owner-builder) 1982-1984

 

This building functions as a house, a research centre as well as being a growing space for fruit, vegetables, herbs flowers, and fish. It is located in an extreme climate zone high in the Rocky Mountains (at 2165m asl.) with temperatures reaching 29 in summer and dropping to -40 most winters. Heating (99% of it!) is provided passively via the windows and greenhouse.

 

The building can be interpreted especially in terms of the following:

 

1. Harmony and holistic relationship with nature

2. Development and use of soft/appropriate technology

3. Design balancing all sensory needs

4. Healthy and healing design. Caring for the environment

5. An integral part of the "total" environment

6. Objects and systems of long-term value

7. Human scale design

8. Soft-edged, curves and variety of angles

9. Low-energy materials/systems - durable, conservable and recyclable

 

The building appears to be the outcome of the following objectives:

 

A. optimising solar gain mass and insulation levels, thus being shallow and semi-buried on the northern elevation;

B. blending with the landscape and the creation of human scale - accentuated by the semi-buried form;

C. extruded slip-cast masonry walls resembling local rock outcrops - organic curved south elevation;

D. plan flowing around central greenhouse, and pool - creating an intimate connection with indoor-ecology;

E. closed courtyard - focused on local food supply humans in balance with the local ecosystem.

 

But its in the middle of beautiful nowhere- and a reasonable hike off the bus route- lucky two guys in a V8 Jeep happened by to give me a ride up to the centre.

 

"But that's not it." (Brown, 1980)

 

 

Example 2

 

Philippe Stark's kit cabin:

Example 3

 

Suburban agricultural collectives or ecological villages:

Example 4

 

Parts of some Dutch cities that are surprisingly like "city states" in their autonomy. These constitute TAZ's or "temporary autonomous zones:" (Bey, 1995)

 

 

"But that's not it."

 

 

Example 5

 

Vale House, Southwell UK:

Brilliantly executed, near zero energy house- passive solar, super insulated, generates its own power, highly permanent materials designed with real attention to every ecological issue.

Designed specifically to blend in with its surroundings- well may be just a little to much. Brenda and Robert Vale(3.), pioneers of energy efficient design, and now of sustainable architecture, suggest building form is irrelevant when considered against building performance, stating that 'what is constant to green design is not in its appearance, but in the way in which it performs, how it provides shelter, comfort and a space to contain the activities required by the users of the time'. Although they do not deny the possibility of differences in form between 'unsustainable' and 'sustainable' architecture, they implicitly express the modernist sentiment that appearance (or form) is secondary to performance and function. In suggesting that building form is irrelevant Vale and Vale appear to overlook the link between form and performance, in that performance can be viewed as a consequence of the designers 'form making' decisions.

Fry(4.) states that re-configuring consumer interest, human need and the product world by design is essential if sustainable development is to occur. The re-configuration of consumer interest creates an important design challenge, that of generating a desirable imagery associated with ecological sustainability. (5.) If positive architectural alternatives within a field of consumer-driven choice are extended to include 'green' aspects of form, the image of sustainable architecture may act as a catalyst in assisting the production of sustainable environments. Herein lies the figurative value of architectural configuration

We suggest that if the architectural forms are not persuasive then they are not going to re-configure consumer interest. I'm sure that the Vales would argue that the their building is the most subversive of all of these examples- such a smart building that just looks just like all the other ones- its the sleeper agent or mole that hasn't "come out" yet - . (like Dr Who's Police Box Time Machine what you see on the out-side is not what you get).

 

"But that's not it."

 

 

Example 4

 

An example that isn't physically isolated or designed on a personal architectural whim is the Boxhill Community Centre in Melbourne Australia, by Greg Burgess Architect 1990

 

 

This building can be interpreted especially in terms of the following factors:

 

1. Harmony and holistic relationship with nature

2. Decentralised

3. Small-scale

4. Communal

5. Openness, participation, and cooperation

6. Diverse modes of understanding

7. Restore, preserves, and enhance nature and culture for the benefit of all life, present and future

8. Community/self build projects for local social needs

9. Human scale design

10. Soft-edged, curves and variety of angles

11. Diverse, unpredictable, surprising

 

This building appears to be the outcome of the following objectives:

 

A. Complex forms calling attention to this building as being 'crafted' - surprising spaces providing rich cross-sectional experience, and a variety of exterior shapes.

B. Well designed 'positive' exterior space providing variety of enclosure, in screened and open outdoor courtyards - enhancing nature and culture for the benefit of all life.

 

The most important aspect of this project is its participatory design process, something that cannot be interpreted straight forwardly from an examination of the building form. In one respect, however, the complexity of form and high level of detail is indicative of the more than forty interest groups (involved in art craft and performance) who took part in formulating the design brief over a period of nine months. This, and the design input of local artisans and landscapers, led to a finished product which is more art than building.

 

Jorgensen labels this type of design process 'contextual and cultural', a kind of diverse design metaphor: He states that the "gathering together of a mass of information, ideas, themes, and artefacts that are not directly or obviously 'relevant' to the project-brief, but which derive from its milieu - in the sense of a cultural context rather than a visual or physical one. The sources feeding architectural form can be many and disparate."

 

The community centre is a success in terms of community participation, the advancement of culture and diverse modes of understanding.

 

While community oriented the low energy and passive solar aspects of the design have not been dealt with. But I can get there by Tram.

 

"But that's not it."

 

Conclusion:

 

Anarchic autonomous design through its diversity of solutions - physical, spatial , ethical and political may finally lead to an appropriate mainstream eco-architecture.

Sustainable Architecture is the enduring production of space with artistic, effective, and low cost and low or zero energy use architecture. Autonomous Anarchic Architecture necessarily stands outside of the mainstream. From this "other" point of reference it seeks to free ecological, social, and economic resources from the illusory "black hole" surplus economies of consumerism, productivism, and scientism, and effects a result that can accommodate pleasure and the unforeseen, in the next generations (Choay, 1975).

 

 

 

References:

 

Beder, S. Global spin: The corporate assault on environmentalism, Scribe Publications, Melbourne 1997

 

Bey, Hakim, The Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) 1995

 

Boyden S, Dovers S, and Shirlow M, Our Biosphere under threat, ecological realities and Australia's Opportunities, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 1990

 

Brown, Norman, Phi Beta Kappa address, Colombia University, 1960

 

Choay, Franscois, 1975

 

Fry, T "Against an essentialist theory of need" in Remakings: ecology, design, philosophy, Environbook, Sydney 1994, pp39-56

 

Jones, P-B. "Embracing a tree. School extension, Frankfurt, Germany" in the Architectural Review, September 1996, pp41-43

 

Jorgensen, M. "A mosaic of form-finding: Some strategies in the late eighties." Exedra Vol.4 No.2, pp40-47

 

Lamb, R. "The ecological context of architecture: A tradition of neglect" in People and physical environment research conference, vol. 37-38 1991, pp7-18

 

Milbrath, L. Envisioning a sustainable society: learning our way out, State University of New York Press, New York 1989

 

Rocky Mountain Institute, Visitor's Guide, Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass, 1991, third edition.

 

Rocky Mountain Institute, A Primer on sustainable building, Rocky Mountain Institute, Snowmass 1995

 

Spence, R. "Community spirit" in Architecture Australia, October 1994, pp56-60

 

Vale, B. and Vale, R. "A House for the future. The design of an urban autonomous house in England", in Exedra vol. 4 no. 2 1993, pp32-39

 

Zizek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real

 

 

(1.) Fry T. "Conservation of the artificial" in Remakings: ecology, design, philosophy, Environbook, Sydney 1994 pp79-86, p86 (Note that Fry uses the term DES rather than ecological sustainability. DES - 'developing ecological sustainment' - is defined as an anti-institutionalised alternative to ESD - ecological sustainable development. Refer to Fry, T "Introduction" to Remakings: ecology, design, philosophy. Environbook, Sydney 1994, pp9-38.)

(2.) Fry, T "Introduction" to Remakings: ecology, design, philosophy. Environbook, Sydney 1994, pp9-38: p31.

(3.) Vale, B. and Vale, R. Green Architecture, Thames and Hudson, London 1991, p184.

(4.) Fry T. "Conservation of the artificial" in Remakings: ecology, design, philosophy, Environbook, Sydney 1994 pp79-86, p86 (Note that Fry uses the term DES rather than ecological sustainability. DES - 'developing ecological sustainment' - is defined as an anti-institutionalised alternative to ESD - ecological sustainable development. Refer to Fry, T "Introduction" to Remakings: ecology, design, philosophy. Environbook, Sydney 1994, pp9-38.)

(5.) Fry, T "Introduction" to Remakings: ecology, design, philosophy. Environbook, Sydney 1994, pp9-38: p31.