terreform1: fab tree house
“A Monstrous Architecture,” is a serialized collaboration between Ryan Ludwig (previous contributor to Animal Architecture and Assistant Professor of Architecture at Syracuse University) and Ned Dodington. In 2011-2012 Ryan and Ned collaborated on a series of posts title Architecture in the Darwinian Arena. The postings and conversations that arose from this series resulted in a longer discussion about the over-arching role of biology in Architecture and Design; specifically how designers were using biology, either literally, metaphorically, or symbolically in their works. The resulting publication is an attempt to unpack the ethical and metaphysical implications of engaging non-human and environmental factors in design.
A Montrous Architecture
Ned Dodington and Ryan Ludwig
…it occurred to me that the animals are swimming / Around in the water in the oceans in our bodies and / Another had been found another ocean on the planet / Given that our blood is just like the Atlantic…
The influence of bio-politics has reached a level of saturation in architecture and architectural practice. No longer are architects primarily concerned with simply constructing beautiful and functional structures but are increasingly obsessed with the role and position of life and living system in their projects. At this point, in 2012, talking about the importance of the “green movement” is almost irrelevant. But other instances of the prevalence of Foucault’s bio-power can be seen in the world of bio-mimetics, the works of Terreform One, R&Sie and others. There seems to have been a revision and reversal of LeCorbusier’s phrase — we no longer speak of architecture as a “Machine for Living” but now as a Living Machine. No longer is the anthropocentric Living the object of study. It has been reassigned an adjectival status and now the bio modifies techne — we are witnessing the “biologizing” of technology. In this respect the influence of bio-power in Architecture is global and totalizing. It is a powerful shift in the paradigm and one that we feel lacks a coherent philosophy or ethos. And thus we stand at a crisis – at the extremes of architectural criticism and discourse – surrounded by Monsters.
Rustic, traditional Scandanavian sod-house
Sanfte strukturen. Willow Cathedral, 2001
The word monster is something of a monster itself. Monster as Terry Kirk, in his essay on Monstrosity in Perspecta [Perspecta, Fall 2008] illuminates, “comes from men, an Indoiranian root, whence also memory and thought itself.” Cicero “links monstrum with monere—to remind or warn” and Augustine tells us that the noun ‘monster,’ comes from monstrare, ‘to show,’ because they show by signifying something out of the ordinary.” Monsters are deviant, transgressive, threatening, and therefore horrible, terrifying, and tremendous yet also astonishing, marvelous, and prodigious. Monsters hold some distant but threatening relationship of difference to the norms we construct to order our world. They show us in their aberrant nature and in all of their beauty (monsters can be supremely beautiful) or hideousness their difference but in illustrating that difference reinforcing a sense of the norm without which they would not be monstrous. In their difference they reinscribe a pervasive normality. This paper however, will address monstrosity and the monstrous not from a point of difference but from a point of radical passivity – from the point of becoming monstrous.
Our intention here is to sketch the outlying boundaries of a monstrous discourse across architectural scales and applications. Particularly we will draw upon a few key passages from Heidegger and Derrida that will link monstrosity to a sense of handedness as the sign of humankind and to a larger discussion of a radical passivity that will result, or would result from a monstrous architecture. Hopefully we will illustrate that rather than a kind of aesthetic or visible other-ness seen in much of today’s architecture, the most honestly monstrous works will require a redefinition of Architecture itself.
“The hand will be the monstrous sign [le monstre], the proper of man as (monstrous) sign in the sense of Zeichen.”[Martin Heidegger, Was Heisst Denken? In: J. Derrida, Geschlecht II, p. 168]
“Apes for example have organs that can grasp, but they have no hand.” [Martin Heidegger, Was Heisst Denken? In: J. Derrida, Geschlecht II, p. 173]
There are several key passages from Heidegger that come to us through Derrida relating Monstrosity to handedness as the sign of humankind (when quoting Heidegger I’m replacing ‘Man’ with ‘humankind’, his use of ‘Man’ is kept intact) as a thinking being. It is in these passages that Heidegger establishes two readings of monstrosity. On the one hand (pun intended) is the reading of signification, language and technicity contained in the reading of ‘montrer’ or ‘zeichen’ and on the other ‘monstrasity’, the hand that gives the gift. This double reading of Monstrosity will be the knife edge upon which our thesis treads. It is the condition of ‘montrer’, and ‘monstrosite’.
“The essential moment of this meditation opens on what I shall call the hand’s double vocation. I use the word vocation to recall that in its destination, the hand holds on to speaking. This vocation is double, but gathered together or crossed in the same hand; to show (montrer) or point out (zeichen) and to give or give itself, in a word the monstrasity (monstrosite) of the gift or of what gives itself.” [Martin Heidegger, Was Heisst Denken? In: J. Derrida, Geschlecht II, p. 174]
What Derrida has identified for us through Heidegger is a double condition of “hand” and the importance of handedness to language, signification and also to reception. The hand shows and signs, but it also receives, and more importantly receives itself, which is to say is aware of its act of reception.
The hand designs and signs, presumably because man is a (monstrous) sign…Every motion of the hand in every one of its works carries itself through the element of thinking, every bearing of the hand hears itself in that element. All the work of the hand is rooted in thinking. Therefore, thinking itself is man’s simplest, and for that reason the hardest, hand-work, if it would be properly accomplished.
[Martin Heidegger, Was Heisst Denken? In: J. Derrida, Geschlecht II, p. 175]
To bring us back to Monstrosity and Architecture. We are attempting to establish two axes of related powers. We would like to align Architecture and the practice of building and construction with the world of teche (which should not be leap), and subsequently to the ‘montrer’ – the signifying attribute of handedness and then finally to architecture as a sign of humankind as a thinking being. On the other Axis we will come to identify humankind’s Handedness as the potential for a radical passivity. That is, as Heidegger says, the ‘monstrasity’, the gift which gives itself.
To be continued…