log: FUNCTIONALISM TODAY – Theodore Adorno

I would first like to express my gratitude for the confidence shown me by Adolf Arndt in his invitation to speak here today. At the same time, I must also express my serious doubts as to whether I really have the right to speak before you. Métier, expertise in both matters of handicraft and of technique, counts in your circle for a great deal. And rightly so. If there is one idea of lasting influence which has developed out of the Werkbund movement, it is precisely this emphasis on concrete competence as opposed to an aesthetics removed and isolated from material questions. I am familiar with this dictum from my own métier, music. There it became a fundamental theorem, thanks to a school which cultivated close personal relationships with both Adolf Loos and the Bauhaus, and which was therefore fully aware of its intellectual ties to objectivity (Sachlichkeit)1 in the arts. Nevertheless, I can make no claim to competence in matters of architecture. And yet, I do not resist the temptation, and knowingly face the danger that you may briefly tolerate me as a dilettante and then cast me aside. I do this firstly because of my pleasure in presenting some of my reflections in public, and to you in particular; and secondly, because of Adolf Loos’s comment that while an artwork need not appeal to anyone, a house is responsible to each and everyone.2 I am not yet sure whether this statement is in fact valid, but in the meantime, I need not be holier than the pope. I find that the style of German reconstruction fills me with a disturbing discontent, one which many of you may certainly share. Since I no less than the specialists must constantly face this feeling, I feel justified in examining its foundations. Common elements between music and architecture have been discussed repeatedly, almost to the point of ennui. In uniting that which I see in architecture with that which I understand about the difficulties in music, I may not be transgressing the law of the division of labour as much as it may seem. But to accomplish this union, I must stand at a greater distance from these subjects than you may justifiably expect. It seems to me, however, not unrealistic that at times—in latent crisis situations—it may help to remove oneself farther from phenomena than the spirit of technical competence would usually allow. The principle of ‘fittingness to the material’ (Material-gerechtigkeit)3 rests on the foundation of the division of labour. Nevertheless, it is advisable even for experts to occasionally take into account the extent to which their expertise may suffer from just that division of labour, as the artistic naiveté underlying it can impose its own limitations.


log: an object which sees

Roland Barthes

The Eiffel Tower

Maupassant often lunched at the restaurant in the tower, though he didn’t care much for the food: It’s the only place in Paris, he used to say, where I don’t have to see it. And it’s true that you must take endless precautions, in Paris, not to see the Eiffel Tower; whatever the season, through mist and cloud, on overcast days or in sunshine, in rain-wherever you are, whatever the landscape of roofs, domes, or branches separating you from it, the Tower is there; incorporated into daily life until you can no longer grant it any specific attribute, determined merely to persist, like a rock or the river, it is as literal as a phenomenon of nature whose meaning can be questioned to infinity but whose existence is incontestable. There is virtually no Parisian glance it fails to touch at some time of day; at the moment I begin writing these lines about it, the Tower is there, in front of me, framed by my window; and at the very moment the January night blurs it, apparently trying to make it invisible, to deny its presence, two little lights come on, winking gently as they revolve at its very tip: all this night, too, it will be there, connecting me above Paris to each of my friends that I know are seeing it: with it we all comprise a shifting figure of which it is the steady center: the Tower is friendly. The Tower is also present to the entire world. First of all as a universal symbol of Paris, it is everywhere on the globe where Paris is to be stated as an image; from the Midwest to Australia, there is no journey to France which isn’t made, somehow, in the Tower’s name, no schoolbook, poster, or film about France which fails to propose it as the major sign of a people and of a place: it belongs to the universal language of travel.

Further: beyond its strictly Parisian statement, it touches the most general human image-repertoire: its simple, primary shape confers upon it the vocation of an infinite cipher: in turn and according to the appeals of our imagination, the symbol of Paris, of modernity, of communication, of science or of the nineteenth century, rocket, stem, derrick, phallus, lightning rod or insect, confronting the great itineraries of our dreams, it is the inevitable sign; just as there is no Parisian glance which is not compelled to encounter it, there is no fantasy which fails, sooner or later, to acknowledge its form and to be nourished by it; pick up a pencil and let your hand, in other words your thoughts,


wander, and it is often the Tower which will appear, reduced to that simple line whose sole mythic function is to join, as the poet says, base and summit, or again, earth and heaven.

This pure – virtually empty – sign – is ineluctable, because it means everything. In order to negate the Eiffel Tower (though the temptation to do so is rare, for this symbol offends nothing in us), you must, like Maupassant, get up on it and, so to speak, identify yourself with it. Like man himself, who is the only one not to know his own glance, the Tower is the only blind point of the total optical system of which it is the center and Paris

the circumference. But in this movement which seems to limit it, the Tower acquires a new power: an object when we look at it, it becomes a lookout in its turn when we visit it, and now constitutes as an object, simultaneously extended and collected beneath it, that Paris which just now was looking at it. The Tower is an object which sees, a glance which is seen; it is a complete verb, both active and passive, in which no function, no voice (as we say in grammar, with a piquant ambiguity) is defective. This dialectic is not in the least banal, it makes the Tower a singular monument; for the world ordinarily produces either purely functional organisms (camera or eye) intended to see things but which then afford nothing to sight, what sees being mythically linked to what remains hidden (this is the theme of the voyeur), or else spectacles which themselves are blind and are left in the pure passivity of the visible. The Tower (and this is one of its mythic powers) transgresses this separation, this habitual divorce of seeing and being seen, it achieves a sovereign circulation between the two functions; it is a complete object which has, if one may say so, both sexes of sight. This radiant position in the order of perception gives it a prodigious propensity to meaning: the Tower attracts meaning, the way a lightning rod attracts thunderbolts; for all lovers of signification, it plays a glamorous part, that of a pure signifier, i.e., of a form in which men unceasingly put meaning (which they extract at will from their knowledge, their dreams, their history), without this meaning thereby ever being finite and fixed: who can say what the Tower will be for humanity tomorrow? But there can be no doubt.25 it will always be something, and something of humanity itself. Glance, object, symbol, such is the infinite circuit of functions which permits it always to be something other and something much more than the Eiffel Tower.


In order to satisfy this great oneiric function, which makes it into a kind of total monument, the Tower must escape reason. The first condition of this victorious flight is that the Tower be an utterly useless monument. The Tower’s inutility has always been obscurely felt to be a scandal, i.e., a truth, one that is precious and inadmissible. Even before it was built, it was blamed for being useless, which, it was believed at the time, was sufficient to condemn it; it was not in the spirit of a period commonly dedicated to rationality and to the empiricism of great bourgeois enterprises to endure the notion of a useless object (unless it was declaratively an objet d’art, which was also unthinkable in relation to the Tower); hence Gustave Eiffel, in his own defense of his project in reply to the Artists’ Petition, scrupulously lists all the future uses of the Tower: they are all, as we might expect of an engineer, scientific uses: aerodynamic measurements, studies of the resistance of substances, physiology of the climber, radio-electric research, problems of telecommunication, meteorological observations, etc. These uses are doubtless incontestable, but they seem quite ridiculous alongside the overwhelming myth of the Tower, of the human meaning which it has assumed throughout the world. This is because here the utilitarian excuses, however ennobled they may be by the myth of Science, are nothing in comparison to the great imaginary function which enables men to be strictly human. Yet, as always, the gratuitous meaning of the work is never avowed directly: it is rationalized under the rubric of use: Eiffel saw his Tower in the form of a serious object, rational, useful; men return it to him in the form of a great baroque dream which quite naturally touches on the borders of the irrational. This double movement is a profound one: architecture is always dream and function, expression of a utopia and instrument of a convenience. Even before the Tower’s birth, the nineteenth century (especially in America and in England) had often dreamed of structures whose height would be astonishing, for the century was given to technological feats, and the conquest of the sky once again preyed upon humanity. In 1881, shortly before the Tower, a French architect had elaborated the project of a sun tower; now this project, quite mad technologically, since it relied on masonry and not on steel, also put itself under the warrant of a thoroughly empirical utility; on the one hand, a bonfire placed on top of the structure was to illuminate the darkness of every nook and cranny in Paris by a system of mirrors (a system that was undoubtedly a complex one!), and on the other, the last story of


log: vs…another definition of functionalism

1) What unites all cognitive creatures is not that they share the same
computational mechanisms (their ‘hardware’). What unites them is that (plus
or minus some individual defects or acquired special skills) they are all
computing the same, or some part of the same, abstract <<sensory input, prior
state>, <motor output, subsequent state>> function.
2) The central job of Cognitive Psychology is to identify this abstract function
that we are all (more or less) computing.
3) The central job of AI research is to create novel physical realizations of
salient parts of, and ultimately all of, the abstract function we are all (more or
less) computing.

Just to remind, a function is a set of input/output pairs, such that for each possible input, there is
assigned a unique output. Such sets can have infinitely many input/output pairs, and the relations
between the inputs and outputs can display extraordinary levels of complexity. The
characterization proposed in 1) is thus in no sense demeaning to cognitive creatures. It requires
only that the relevant function be computable, i.e., that the proper output for any given input can
be recursively generated by a finite system, such as a brain, in a finite time.
24) Folk Psychology – our common-sense conception of the causal structure of
cognitive activity — already embodies a crude and partial representation of the
function we are all (more or less) computing.
5) The reduction of Folk Psychology (indeed, any Psychology) to the
neuroscience of human brains is twice impossible, because:
i) the relevant function is computable in a potentially infinite variety of ways,
not just in the way that humans happen to do it, and
ii) such diverse computational procedures are in any case realizable in a
potential infinity of distinct physical substrates, not just in the specifically
human biological substrate.
Accordingly, to reduce the categories of Folk Psychology to the
idiosyncratic procedures and mechanisms of specifically human brain activity
would be to exclude, from the domain of genuine cognitive agents, the endless
variety of other realizations of the characteristic function (see point 1) that we
are all computing. The kind-terms of Psychology must thus be functionally
rather than naturalistically or reductively defined.
6) Empirical research into the microstructure and microactivities of human and
animal brains is entirely legitimate (for certainly we do wish to know how the
sought-after function is realized in our own idiosyncratic case). But it is a
very poor research strategy for recovering the global function itself, whose
structure will be more instructively revealed in the situated molar-level
behavior of the entire creature
37) Points 5) and 6) jointly require us to respect and defend the methodological
autonomy of Cognitive Psychology, relative to such lower-level sciences as
brain anatomy, brain physiology, and biochemistry. Cognitive Psychology is
picking up on its own laws at its own level of physical complexity.
Thus the familiar and collectively compelling elements of a highly
influential philosophical position. Perhaps astonishingly, the position is
decisively mistaken in all seven of the elements just listed. Or so, at least, I shall
argue in what follows.



log: parametricism

Parametricism as Style  –  Parametricist Manifesto
Patrik Schumacher, London 2008
Presented and discussed at the Dark Side Club1 , 11th Architecture Biennale, Venice 2008

We pursue the parametric design paradigm all the way, penetrating into all corners of the discipline. Systematic, adaptive variation, continuous differentiation (rather than mere variety), and dynamic, parametric figuration concerns all design tasks from urbanism to the level of tectonic detail, interior furnishings and the world of products.

Architecture finds itself at the mid-point of an ongoing cycle of innovative adaptation – retooling the discipline and adapting the architectural and urban environment to the socio-economic era of post-fordism. The mass society that was characterized by a single, nearly universal consumption standard has evolved into the heterogenous society of the multitude.
The key issues that avant-garde architecture and urbanism should be addressing can be summarized in the slogan: organising and articulating the increased complexity of post-fordist society. The task is to develop an architectural and urban repertoire that is geared up to create complex, polycentric urban and architectural fields which are densely layered and continuously differentiated.

Contemporary avant-garde architecture is addressing the demand for an increased level of articulated complexity by means of retooling its methods on the basis of parametric design systems. The contemporary architectural style that has achieved pervasive hegemony within the contemporary architectural avant-garde can be best understood as a research programme based upon the parametric paradigma. We propose to call this style: Parametricism.
Parametricism is the great new style after modernism. Postmodernism and Deconstructivism have been transitional episodes that ushered in this new, long wave of research and innovation.

Avant-garde styles might be interpreted and evaluated in analogy to new scientific paradigms, affording a new conceptual framework, and formulating new aims, methods and values. Thus a new direction for concerted research work is established.2 My thesis is therefore: Styles are design research programmes.3
Innovation in architecture proceeds via the progression of styles so understood. This implies the alternation between periods of cumulative advancement within a style and revolutionary periods of transition between styles. Styles represent cycles of innovation, gathering the design research efforts into a collective endeavor. Stable self-identity is here as much a necessary precondition of evolution as it is in the case of organic life. To hold on to the new principles in the face of difficulties is crucial for the chance of eventual success. This tenacity  – abundantly evident within the contemporary avant-garde –  might at times appear as dogmatic obstinacy. For instance, the obstinate insistence of solving everything with a folding single surface  – project upon project, slowly wrenching the plausible from the implausible – might be compared to the Newtonian insistence to explain everything from planets to bullets to atoms in terms of the same principles.
“Newton’s theory of gravitation, Einstein’s relativity theory, quantum mechanics, Marxism, Freudianism, are all research programmes, each with a characteristic hard core stubbornly defended, … each with its elaborate problem solving machinery. Each of them, at any stage of its development, has unsolved problems and undigested anomalies. All theories, in this sense, are born refuted and die refuted.”4 The same can be said of styles: Each style has its hard core of principles and a characteristic way of tackling design problems/tasks. Avant-garde architecture produces manifestos: paradigmatic expositions of a new style’s unique potential, not buildings that are balanced to function in all respects. There can be neither verification, nor final refutation merely on the basis of its built results.5
The programme/style consists of methodological rules: some tell us what paths of research to avoid (negative heuristics), and others what paths to pursue (positive heuristics). The negative heuristics formulates strictures that prevent the relapse into old patterns that are not fully consistent with the core, and the positive heuristics offers guiding principles and preferred techniques that allow the work to fast-forward in one direction. The defining heuristics of parametricism are fully reflected in the taboos and dogmas of contemporary avant-gared design culture:
Negative heuristics: avoid familiar typologies, avoid platonic/hermetic objects, avoid clear-cut zones/territories, avoid repetition, avoid straight lines, avoid right angles, avoid corners, …, and most importantly: do not add or subtract without elaborate interarticulations.
Positive heuristics: interarticulate, hyberdize, morph, deterritorialize, deform, iterate, use splines, nurbs, generative components, script rather than model, …

Parametricism is a mature style. That the parametric paradigm is becoming pervasive in contemporary architecture and design is evident for quite some time. There has been talk about versioning, iteration and mass customization etc. for quite a while within the architectural avant-garde discourse.
The fundamental desire that has come to the fore in this tendency had already been formulated at the beginning of the 1990s with the key slogan of “continuous differentiation”6. Since then there has been both a widespread, even hegemonic dissemination of this tendency as well as a cumulative build up of virtuosity, resolution and refinement within it. This development was facilitated by the attendant development of parametric design tools and scripts that allow the precise formulation and execution of intricate correlations between elements and subsystems. The shared concepts, computational techniques, formal repertoires, and tectonic logics that characterize this work are crystallizing into a solid new hegemonic paradigm for architecture. One of the most pervasive current techniques involves populating modulated surfaces with adaptive components.Components might be constructed from multiple elements constrained/cohered by associative relations so that the overall component might sensibly adapt to various local conditions. As they populate a differentiated surface their adaptation should accentuate and amplify this differentiation. This relationship between the base component and its various instantiations at different points of insertion in the “environment” is analogous to the way a single geno-type might produce a differentiated population of pheno-types in response to divers environmental conditions.

The current stage of advancement within parametricism relates as much to the continuous advancement of the attendant computational dresign technologies as it is due to the designer’s realization of the unique formal and organizational opportunities that are afforded. Parametricism can only exist via sophisticated parametric techniques. Finally, computationally advanced design techniques like scripting (in Mel-script or Rhino-script) and parametric modeling (with tools like GC or DP) are becoming a pervasive reality. Today it is impossible to compete within the contemporary avant-garde scene without mastering these techniques.
Parametricism emerges from the creative exploitation of parametric design systems in view of articulating increasingly complex social processes and institutions. The parametric design tools by themselves cannot account for this drastic stylistic shift from modernism to parametricism. This is evidenced by the fact that late modernist architects are employing parametric tools in ways which result in the maintenance of a modernist aesthetics, i.e. using parametric modelling to inconspicuously absorb complexity. Our parametricist sensibility pushes in the opposite direction and aims for a maximal emphasis on conspicuous differentiation.
It is the sense of organized (law-governed) complexity that assimilates parametricist works to natural systems, where all forms are the result of lawfully interacting forces. Just like natural systems, parametricist compositions are so highly integrated that they cannot be easily decomposed into independent subsystems – a major point of difference in comparison with the modern design paradigm of clear separation of functional subsystems.

The following 5 agendas might be proposed here to inject new aspects into the parametric paradigm and to push the development of parametricism further:
1.Inter-articulation of sub-systems:
The ambition is to move from single system differentiation – e.g. a swarm of façade components – to the scripted association of multiple subsystems – envelope, structure, internal subdivision, navigation void. The differentiation in any one systems is correlated with differentions in the other systems.
2. Parametric Accentuation:
The ambition is to enhance the overall sense of organic integration through intricate correlations that favour deviation amplification rather than compensatory or ameliorating adaptations. For instance, when generative components populate a surface with a subtle curvature modulation the lawful component correlation should accentuate and amplify the initial differentiation. This might include the deliberate setting of accentuating thresholds or singularities. Thus a far richer articulation can be achieved and thus more orienting visual information can be made available.
3. Parametric Figuration7:
We propose that complex configurations that are latent with multiple readings can be constructed as a parametric model. The parametric model might be set up so that the variables are extremely Gestalt-sensitive. Parametric variations trigger gestalt-catastrophes, i.e. the quantitative modification of these parameters trigger qualitative shifts in the perceived order of the configuration. This notion of parametric figuration implies an expansion in the types of parameters considered within parametric design. Beyond the usual geometric object parameters, ambient parameters (variable lights) and observer parameters (variable cameras) have to considered and integrated into the parametric system.
4. Parametric Responsiveness8:
We propose that urban and architectural (interior) environments can be designed with an inbuilt kinetic capacity that allows those environments to reconfigure and adapt themselves in response to the prevalent patterns of use and occupation. The real time registration of use-patterns produces the parameters that drive the real time kinetic adaptation process. Cumulative registration of use patterns result in semi-permanent morphological transformations. The built environment acquires responsive agency at different time scales.
5. Parametric Urbanism9:
The assumption is that the urban massing describes a swarm-formation of many buildings. These buildings form a continuously changing field, whereby lawful continuities cohere this manifold of buildings. Parametric urbanism implies that the systematic modulation of the buildings’ morphologies produces powerful urban effects and facilitates field orientation. Parametric Urbanism might involve parametric accentuation, parametric figuration, and parametric responsivess.

Modernism was founded on the concept of space. Parametricism differentiates fields. Fields are full, as if filled with a fluid medium. We might think of liquids in motion, structured by radiating waves, laminal flows, and spiraling eddies. Swarms have also served as paradigmatic analogues for the field-concept. We would like to think of swarms of buildings that drift across the landscape. Or we might think of large continuous interiors like open office landscapes or big exhibition halls of the kind used for trade fairs. Such interiors are visually infinitely deep and contain various swarms of furniture coalescing with the dynamic swarms of human bodies. There are no platonic, discrete figures with sharp outlines. Within fields only the global and regional field qualities matter: biases, drifts, gradients, and perhaps even conspicuous singularities like radiating centres. Deformation does no longer spell the breakdown of order but the lawful inscription of information. Orientation in a complex, lawfully differentiated field affords navigation along vectors of transformation .The contemporary condition of arriving in a metropolis for the first time, without prior hotel arrangements, without a map, might instigate this kind of field-navigation. Imagine there are no more landmarks to hold on, no axis to follow and no more boundaries to cross. Contemporary architecture aims to construct new logics – the logic of fields – that gear up to organize and articulate the new level of dynamism and complexity of contemporary society.

Furniture and product design fully participates in the parametricist agenda we are pursuing. We consider furniture not in terms of isolated objects but as a pre-eminent space-making substance. Our design efforts need to encompass the domains of interior design, furniture design, and even product design. We can orchestrate all those registers to advance the design of integrated, immersive worlds. Our handling of interior furnishings as dynamic swarm formations, or sometimes as a continuous surface/fluid mass, is geared towards the detailed elaboration of the continuously differentiated fields described above.


1 The Dark Side Club is a critical salon initiated and organized by Robert White to coincide with the Architecture Biennale. Three successive events were onceived as a critical salon to debate some of the themes Aaron Betsky had set for this year’s Biennale. Three curators have been invited to each put forward a proposition for debate: Patrik Schumacher, Greg Lynn, and Gregor Eichinger. Each invited young architects and thinkers to debate the direction architecture is taking.
The first session – curated and introduced by Patrik Schumacher was titled: Parametricism as New Style. The following 8 architectural studios were presenting: MAD, f-u-r, UFO,  Plasma Studio, Minimaforms, Aranda/Lasch, AltN Research+Design, MOH. Jeff Kipnis acted as moderator.

2 This interpretation of styles is valid only with respect to the avant-garde phase of any style.

3 It is important to distinguish between research programmes in the literal sense of institutional research plans from the meta-scientific conception of research programmes that has been introduced into the philosophy of science: whole new research traditions that are directed by a new fundamental theoretical framework. It is this latter concept that is utilized here for the reinterpretation of the concept of style. See: Imre Lakatos, The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, Cambridge 1978

4 Lakatos, Imre, The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, Cambridge 1978, p.5

5 The final reckoning takes place later, in the arena of the mainstream adoption which only indirectly feeds back into the central, discursive arena of the discipline.

6 The credit for coining this key slogan goes to Greg Lynn and Jeff Kipnis.

7 “Parametric Figuration” featured in our teachings at Yale and at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna. It also featured in my studio at the AADRL.

8 Parametric Responsiveness was at the heart of our 3 year design research agenda “Responsive Environments” at the AADRL in London from 2001-2004.

9 “Parametric Urbanism” is the title of our recently completed design research cycle at the AADRL, from 2005 – 2008.


diary: standard operating procedure

Hi Marc,

Thanks for your mail, and apologies for not getting back to you sooner.

Unfortunately I come with bad news, since our meeting the project architect for the 8 house has since moved over to our New York office, therefore making potential dialogue between yourself and him extremely difficult . Our PR departments has also made arrangements for several photographers to come and shoot the 8 House during the spring/summer months. In order to keep things manageable at our end, sadly we’ll be unable to assist you with your project as this time.

I sincerely hope our decision doesn’t in any way effect the future of your exhibition.

Many Thanks for thinking of BIG and I wish you the best of luck with your exhibition.

venligst / best regards