Welcome to Prospectives Issue 02
It’s been a great pleasure to be part of Prospectives – a journal that is dedicated to all researchers and designers, students and scholars, established or in their early careers. It aims to act as a hotbed, a sandbox, a platform that is “from architects, by architects, to architects” in its broadest sense – be it architects of buildings, softwares, or future(s) (or the Matrix!). It is for all who are invested in interdisciplinary and intercultural exchanges, information and idea seeding.
According to Oxford Languages, the term “Prospective” emerged in the late 16th century, with a meaning of “looking forward, foresighting”, or “characterised by looking to the future”. The journal’s title puts the anticipatory nature of Prospective(s) into plural form; we believe “design” is the maximising of options or, as Claude Shannon put it “surprises” in a system; and the realisation of design is the collapse / negotiation / collaboration of all such possibilities into our physical reality. When the word “prospect” is translated into other languages, like my mother tongue Chinese, it adds yet another layer of meaning. The first result that Google turned up was “奔頭兒” (rushing-heads), an expression much used by local dialects in the North-East of China to describe the hard work needed to secure a promising future. Different languages and cultures map the vibrancy of Prospectives, and also of architecture and world-building. One is simultaneously enabled and constrained by the language which structures our thinking, be it architectural, mathematical or natural languages; this is why collaboration, or a collaborative intelligence, is our biggest prospect. The greatest innovations are the ones characterised by inclusivity, not exclusivity.
Within such a context, what is the role of a journal? To ensure standards in research? To network scholars in the field? To communicate progress with the larger public? We have seen an increasing number of open source journals that are revolutionising the peer review system; not to replace it, but diversifying what can be meant by peer-to-peer (p2p). At Prospectives, we are invested in democratisation, especially in helping independent authors and designers reach a larger audience, and making literature available and accessible to all through participation and digitalisation. The future of journals (and architecture), is certainly one that can synthesise the copyrights and “copylefts”. As Prof. Mario Carpo suggests, while the marginal costs of printing (be it 2D or 3D) decrease, our capacities in mass customisation increase, and the same applies to information production. With the rise of the Omniverse, Metaverse, and MetaNets, it becomes increasingly apparent that the answer is not in the technologies themselves, but the way the social and the economic are re-structured, driven by participatory innovation. It will take the invisible (or visible) hands of the many to steer us towards the prospectives we desire.
Issue 02: The Algorithmic form
“Algorithm” as the adjective, “form” as the subject – connecting fundamental questions in computation to architecture. The second issue of Prospectives is driven by the provocations of the essay “Computational Tendencies”, written in 2020 by Alessandro Bava – who is also the guest curator of this issue. He problematised evolutionary thinking in architecture – the linear and unidirectional development from simplicity to complexity, from causation to correlation, from small to big data – and questioned the prospects of algorithms and forms within social and cultural urgencies. In the search for answers that are likely to fall between established fields, Alessandro invited six architects to engage in conversation with great figures from the fields of art, architecture and computation. Some of these conversations are carried out through interviews and roundtables, others through research, literature and case studies, forming dialogues between the past and present. Together with this, an open call was established to crowd-source intelligence and outsource imagination. These critical and retrospective pieces map a speculative timeline of events around “algorithmic forms” from Italian Renaissance, through the beginning of modernism, up to today.
Prospectives Issue 02 encompasses 14 contributions. Prof. Mario Carpo starts our journey with an analogy of the German language, where grammar is “an artificial shortcut” to fluency, not its entirety. The same logic may apply to “Shape Grammar” in architecture, or the Common Data Environments of BIM, or the big-databases of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Just as he exquisitely formed a connection between the invention of book-printing and 3D-printing to predict a future of mass customisation, in this piece Mario shows us a comparative history between citationists of the Renaissance and post-modern (PoMo) architecture. The former is invested in reviving classical antiquity “piece-by-piece”, while the latter took its cues from “reference, allusion, collage and cut-and-paste”. We are also indulged with the distinguished curator Hans Ulrich Obrist’s interview with Getulio Alviani – an important figure in the international Optical-kinetic art movement throughout the 20th century. Alviani spoke of being motivated by the work of Leonardo Da Vinci; his geometric exploration arising from the “curiosity of seeing”; the tectonics between material and structure, craft and design, and finally, the immersivity of movement with the “discovery of light”. This precious and poetic piece teleported us to the Italian art scene through Alviani’s encounters, provoking us to reflect on our journey from simplicity to complexity.
The five pieces that follow are the outcome of the B-pro Open Seminar at the Bartlett School of Architecture on 8th December, 2021. Five invited guests, including Roberto Bottazzi (The Bartlett), Francesca Gagliardi and Federico Rossi (Fondamenta), Philippe Morel (ENSA Paris-Malaquais & The Bartlett), Marco Vanucci (Open Systems), and myself (Provides Ng, The Bartlett) were invited to contemplate on and discuss the work of Luigi Moretti, Isa Genzken, Manfred Mohr, and Leonardo and Laura Mosso – important figures who had shown us new forms of aesthetics through the exploration of novel technological, geometrical, and mathematical tools. The roundtable that followed included discussions on, but not limited to, topics in Building Information Modelling (BIM), AI, blockchain, robotics, extended reality (XR) and other distributive technologies that, undeniably, should be brought to the table for their symbiosis and socioeconomic implications, positive or negative.
Lastly, the richness of this issue is further complemented by five selected open call pieces, with topics ranging from architectural authorship, algorithmic representations, digital anthropology, computational empiricism, and the liberation of creativity through codification.
Prospectives hopes to uncover the urgency around issues of computation and automation within the built environment, but also the communities and initiatives that are involved in such developments; from the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, reaching out to wider society across disciplinary and territorial borders.
First and foremost, I owe thanks to Prof. Frederic Migayrou, who is chair of the school, director and founder of the B-pro – five exciting programs led by an international and interdisciplinary team of faculty members, which have shown the field diverse paths to architecture and education, a shelter for all who strive for “prospects”. And to Prof. Mario Carpo, a historian, a critic, a theorist, who has liberated my thinking and shown us a form of architecture that is so much more than design; a form of architect that is so much more than a builder; a form of speculation that is so much more than fiction; a form of prospect that is so much more than futuring. Mario and Frederic were my supervisors, patiently guiding me through a marvellous history of Architecture & Digital Theory; a history that has become a rock in my heart – even though the prospects of the future are not always clear, history has prevented me from confusing and losing myself, and urged me to write and research with honesty, and I hope this journal can do the same for its readers. And of course, Mollie Claypool, a dedicated advocate, a female theorist, my role model. A strong figure with a soft heart, she will always fight and speak up for, in her words, “a labour of love and perseverance”, spearheading participatory and collaborative practises in automation, design and research, and the launch of this very journal. Also Roberto Bottazzi and Gilles Retsin, programme directors of Urban Design (UD) and Architecture Design (AD) in B-pro, together with Mollie, have given me so much opportunity, trust, advice and support, facilitating a free platform of architectural expression and a warm hub of design innovation. Prof. Bob Sheil and Andrew Porter, who have relentlessly endorsed and formalised the development of Prospectives and all other initiatives within the School of Architecture, facilitating a welcoming hotbed for creativity, self-initiation and self-organisation.
I am thankful to all those who are my colleagues, but also my mentors, including Alessandro Bava, who have curated this issue with much sincerity and commitment, bringing an amazing line up of guests and design provocations to the table; Déborah López Lobat, Hadin Charbel, Manuel Jimenez, Emmanouil Zaroukas, Clara Jaschke, Mark Garcia, Jordi Vivaldi Piera and Albert Brenchat-Aguilar, with whom I’ve had some of the most engaging and interesting disciplinary discussions and who have never hesitated to reach out a helping hand; Daniel Koehler, Valentina Soana, and all Prospectives advisory board members. Above all, Alberto Fernandez Gonzalez and David Doria; my strongest backers, my faithful ear, my collaborative hands, my motivation and my exemplars, it is my honour and blessing to be amongst such fellowship and companionship. Needless to say, we would be nothing without our communication and administration teams, the invisible heroes who have supported the running of the school, especially Drew Pessoa, Tom Mole, Ruth Evison, Gen Williams, Srijana Gurung, Abi Luter, Dragana Krsic, Sarah Barry, Jessica Buckmire, Julia Samuels, and Crystal Tung. Last but not least, Rebecca Sainsot and Dan Wheeler, who assisted the publication and copy editing of this issue with such dedication, and to those who have submitted and contributed to our open call. I am grateful to all schools of architecture, like the Bartlett, that have enabled and facilitated projects such as Prospectives, opportunities for early-career and independent scholars, and a place for aspiring talents to meet and grow.