Give Me a Gun and I Will Make All Buildings Move

...An ants view of architecture

Paper written by Albena Yaneva and Bruno Latour.

Has a similar starting point to How Buildings Learn. Buildings are not static things, but constantly in flux. Approaches this problem from a representational and Actor Network Theory perspective.

The gun in the title is a reference to Etienne Jules Marey's 'photographic gun', which arrests movement into a fixed format consisting of successive freeze-frames. Has a natural affinity to Pillsbury's time-lapse plants and Slitscan photography.

However, the problem is the opposite. Rather than freezing movement, how do you depict movement when our current representations of buildings, such as floorplans or models, insist on them being static things? "The static view of buildings is a professional hazard of drawing them too well." This movement includes social relationships, logistics, humans.

Yaneva and Latour are critical of some phenomenologists (see Phenomenology) attempts to show the distance between the material object of buildings and humans lived experiences of the environment by adding representations of humans to depictions of buildings. The fault in this is that it assumes there is a 'material' world which can be described in drawings and geometry. Instead, the buildings are 'with us' in the world that cannot be represented by geometric drawings.

"Matter is much too multidimensional, much too active, complex, surprising, and counter-intuitive to be simply what is represented in the ghost-like rendering of CAD screen shots"

Our primary tools for representing buildings - perspective drawings and projective geometry - were invented centuries ago. Yaneva and Latour argue there is still "no convincing way to draw the controversial space taht a building almost always is."

They argue for an idea of buildings that is a navigation through a controversial datascape. "An animated series of projects, successful and failing, as a changing and criss-crossing trajectory of unstable definitions and expertise, of recalcitrant materials and building technologies, of flip-flopping users' concerns and communities' appraisals...a building as a moving modulator regulating different intensities of engagement, redirecting users' attention. mixing and putting people together, concentrating flows of actors and distributing them so as to compose a productive force in time-space."

A final thing they touch on is context. Rem Koolhaas said 'Context stinks' and also 'Fuck context'. The word 'Context' is often deployed in architecture to mean something 'out there' in the world - something that was always there. To say a building is contextual is often to legitemise it. This is probably a knee-jerk reaction to the (fairly) reviled modernist buildings of the 20th century which were often failures specifically because they were acontextual. See Architecture: From Prehistory to Climate Emergency. But context moves and flows just like buildings. It includes invisible relationships as well as built matter. And just as the context influences the building, the building influences the context.

They finish by saying "Only by generating earhtly accounts of buildings and desing processes, tracing pluralities of concrete entities in the specific spaces and times of co-existence, instead of referring to abstract theoretical frameworks outside architecture, will architectural theory become a relevant field for achitects, for end users, for promoters, and for builders. That is, a new task for achitectural theory is coming to the fore: to find the equivalent of Marey's photographic gun and tackle hte admittedly daunting task of inventing a visual vobabulary that will finally do justice to the 'thingly' nature of buildings, by contrast to their tired, old 'objective' nature."


  • Last update: 2022-03-15 10:09