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Letters.

THRESHOLD GENERATION

SIR: The problem with Charles Jencks is that he is too old to recognize the new paradigm as anything more than a new opportunity to recount the buildings of his personal favourite architects (AR February 2003).

The paradigm shift he is looking for in the grammar of a handful of landmark buildings will forever elude him: the new paradigm is not formal, it is purely relational.

Mr Jencks had been onto something ever since his Architecture of a Jumping Universe, where he brooded over the first effects of the sciences of the twentieth century on architecture. Unfortunately, now as then, he insists on looking for the formalistic applications of the metaphors of say, quantum theory's particle-wave duality, and misses the point totally: when I was researching my own book Quantum City, I was excited to discover the title, but immediately disappointed by his insistence that a world made up of quantum waves meant a world made up of wavy stone patterns or wavy metalwork on his garage gate ...

In his article 'The New Paradigm in Architecture', he gives us more of the same; there is a new paradigm somewhere, obviously not with the Bush Junta, and there are a series of new buildings that look to him 'different', hence there must be a new paradigm in architecture. Yet he fails to put his finger on it. Why? Because most of the examples he is looking at have nothing to do with a paradigm shift: they merely represent a greater permissiveness of form.

A paradigm shift is a major change in the worldview, and that is historically the result of a shift in the belief system or in the knowledge base of a particular culture, that seems to occur a couple of generations after a major scientific (or philosophical) discovery. It is the time it takes the generations who are taught the new knowledge since their childhood as a matter of fact, to grow up into decision-making positions. They are the generations whose very lives would have been shaped by the culture created by the application of the new knowledge.

The generation that represents the paradigm shift of quantum theory's second age -- the practical applications and experiments (lasers, TV, computers, non-locality, the Hubble telescope ...) that permitted the development of the genome project, fractals, chaos theory, internet, self-organization, and emergence theory -- is not Liheskind's or Eisenman's. It is the 'thumb-generation', the Playstation and text messaging generation.

For that generation, the 'fractal' patterns of Federation Square or the tilted windows of the Jewish Museum are nothing special. They might even think they are boring in their self-consciousness. The video games they play daily subject them to architectures a hundred times more overwhelming to their senses, and I do not know what architecture their generation will end up building.

In the meantime, the current generation of architects in their thirties and forties sits at a threshold between two worlds: one that keeps jumping with excitement at any new building form that doesn't look like a shoe box and another that is born to be jaded by form.

This gives us, the current generation, a difficult responsibility, but an exciting challenge: our role is to see the paradigm shift through, to ease it through, and translate between our precursors and our successors.

I believe the key to this role as an interface lies in recognizing the shift in the knowledge base itself: the new sciences have shifted from a mechanical, Cartesian worldview, to an organic, quantum one. The main difference is in the recognition of the limits of objectivism and the rehabilitation of subjectivism -- and subjectivity -- even within the realm of the hard sciences. It is a shift from a world of cogs and atoms to one of potentiality waves and interactive randomness: a shift from form to relationship.

The new paradigm will not play itself in architecture building by building. As much as Mr Jencks would like to call the new blobs a shift away from Cartesianism in Mr Foster repertoire, the Swiss Re remains as Cartesian in its thinking as any Miesian building. The Cartesian paradigm is one of repetition, rationalization, mechanization, and objectivism. Seeing it as a gherkin or a phallus is no different from earlier generations seeing shoeboxes or tombstones in the first parallelepiped skyscrapers.

The new paradigm will show up in urban design, it will emerge at the level of the city, at the level of the interaction between people. After all, the science of emergence, like the science of self-regulation, only works in the presence of a vast multitude of interactive elements. This is why LAB's Federation Square is a success: it is the urban space it generates that expresses the language of the new paradigm, not its mosaicized, whimsical facades. Bilbao wasn't Gehry's first sculptural-waveform building, witness the total pointlessness of his American Centre in Paris. But his Guggenheim is so potent thanks to its relationship to the city, and the extraordinarily eloquent upgrade it did to Bilbao's image.

The relationship between our worldview (our paradigm) and our cities is not a new matter. From Babylon to the Cite Radieuse, our cities have always been the physical translation of our worldviews. What is exciting this time around is that, for the first time in three hundred years, our scientific paradigm itself is organic once again. Yet as practising professionals and theorists we are still using the language and worldview of the old mechanical paradigm.

We should learn, as architects and urbanists of the Threshold generation, to understand, teach and apply the relational language of the quantum paradigm. Only then will our cities take on the form that synchronizes best with the vision of our children. It is our role, it is our responsibility.

Yours etc

AYSSAR ARIDA London, England

EDITED LOWLIGHTS

SIR: I am a bit behind in my reading, and I just came across Edward Robbins' tirade against the architectural community's response to September 11 in the November 2002 issue (p20). I thought the points he made were singularly ill-tempered and wrong-headed, but what really shocked me was the prose style. Did the piece somehow escape editing? Or did you just throw up your hands in despair at the hopelessness of the task? Sentence after sentence had me wincing in pain. To wit:

'Architects, with few exceptions, rather than ask questions or undertake good works, began before the ashes of the World Trade Center were even cold to provide answers and to seek work.' How many cumbersome subordinate clauses can one sentence bear? 'Architects, with few exceptions, did not ask questions or undertake good works; rather they began, before the ashes of the World Trade Center were even cold, to provide answers and to seek commissions.'

'Suggestions about the design of buildings to replace the collapsed towers, demands that there needed to be a dramatic response to the tragedy and a sense that architecture was the anodyne to the tragedy dominated the public comments of architects immediately after the events of 11 September (and they still do).' Whatever happened to parallel syntax? 'Demands for a dramatic architectural response, suggestions for the design of replacement buildings, and claims about the anodyne effects of architecture as a response to tragedy dominated the public comments of architects immediately after the events of 11 September. They continue to dominate the discourse to this day.'

'If, as The Wall Street Journal argued, Wall Street was still the spiritual heart of the financial district, it was no longer its physical centre, it suggested the possibility of new programmes and new building types for the area.' This is confusion worse confounded: it and its with different antecedents, and then a third it with no antecedent at all. 'If, as The Wall Street Journal argued, Wall Street is still the spiritual heart of the financial district, it is no longer the physical centre, a fact which should suggest the possibility of new programmes and new building types for the area.'

'Indeed, these images have now provided work and inserted the architect once again into the process of rethinking, or at least redesigning the World Trade Center site.' This one is beyond help. It conjures up images of images come miraculously to life--the designs published in The New York Times all toiling away, busily hiring workers and bodily inserting architects into the voracious maw that is the design process.

What happened? I am all too aware of the sad dearth of competent editors on this side of the Atlantic, but over there you are supposed to know better.

Yours, etc.

GEORGE SULLIVAN

Alexandra, Virginia, USA

KEEP UP THE CRITICISM

SIR: I want to congratulate you on your comments on Federation Square, Melbourne (AR May). I was immensely surprised to find that you published Charles Jencks's article on the New Paradigm earlier this year (AR February). The Jencks thesis appears to promote everything that you have stood against over all the years. He seems to welcome an anti-human architecture based on the proposal that architecture is an autonomous art with its practitioners taking the role of members of an arcane priesthood who alone are in touch with revelation. I thought that the AR stood for architecture based on reason and human tenderness. So I welcomed your critical approach to the Melbourne piece, and hope that you will continue a campaign against this new fashionable movement as you did a decade ago against PoMo (whatever happened to that?)

Yours etc

EDWARD BLACKLOCK

Toronto, Canada

CONSERVATIVE AND EUROCENTRIC

SIR: Your coverage of the Federation Square in Melbourne (AR May) was reasonably generous 'the new piazza is really excellent' etc but your criticism of the appearance of the place is as usual conservative and Eurocentric. You seem to have little conception of a culture which is altering very rapidly, and in so doing trying to find new dimensions and expressions free of past associations--for better or worse.

You decry the wall treatment as 'simply frightening, unwelcoming and off-putting'. Is this the proper language of architectural criticism? Surely we could expect something a bit more profound and thoughtful from the AR. In fact, the complex has proved immensely popular since it opened, and I'm told it's becoming more so. Not surprising, for the place is really lively and fun as the fractals dance in the sun. But then you wouldn't know anything about such things in gloomy old London.

Yours etc

PETER JONES

Newcastle, NSW, Australia

DIRECTORY

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Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Letter to the Editor
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Words:1775
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