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PAP E R
01
The Cybernetic Designer
by Will McLean
***

…the ‘client’ is a combination of all who
are in any way affected by the architects ac
-
tions.

-
Cedric Price, 1967
In the increasingly administrative de
-
livery pursuit of architecture as ‘of
-
fer’, it is worth reminding ourselves of
the useful generalism of this occasion
-
ally noble pursuit. For Cedric Price,
architecture employed all circumstan
-
tial peculiarities, local knowledge and
thus hitherto unimagined possibili
-
ties in a most social of service. In this
fully expanded field of architecture,
necessarily the architecture extends
to all manner of behaviours, be that
industrial, human and animal habita
-
tion, thinking and learning and what
one might generally describe as en
-
tertainment. It is important to add
that this list is purely indicative, can
be extended as required and that none
of these behaviours or modes of ar
-
chitecture are mutually exclusive. In
order for the Cedric Price architect to
operate, he requires the knowledge,
techniques and modes of behaviour
of all participating actors (P-Individ
-
uals) to facilitate what Buckminster
Fuller described as comprehensive
design science.
Cedric Price’s work with cyberneti
-
cian Gordon Pask should not then
be viewed as a novelty or some put-
up ‘collaborative’ experiment but
the consequence of someone doing
their job properly. The cybernetician
Gordon Pask had met Cedric Price
at Cambridge in the mid 1950’s and
Pask had subsequently worked on
Price’s Fun Palace project; on the use
-
ful syncopation of the gantry cranes
and man/machine reciprocal relations
that the feedback loops of cybernetic
thinking could advantage. Gordon
Pask, saw that the generalism of ar
-
chitecture was a readymade cyber
-
netic circumstance and a system that
could employ Gordon’s multifarious
knowledge from the proto interac
-
tive lighting theatrics of Musicol
-
our, the human computer interface
of his teaching machines (SAKI and
CASTE) and the social machine cho
-
reographies of his Colloquy of Mo
-
biles, exhibited as a part of Jaisha Rei
-
chart’s seminal exhibition at the ICA
in 1968, Cybernetics Serendipity.
Gordon Pask was at home teaching
at architecture and design schools
and in the early 1990’s at the Ar
-
chitectural Association (AA) would
memorably lecture about second or
-
der cybernetics whilst illustrating sys
-
temic interdependencies and relations
with the calculated collapse of a bag
of tensegrity models that he would
bring to the talks. John Frazer had
invited Pask to speak at the AA and
Frazer, working with his wife Julia
had previously worked with Cedric
Price on the Generator Project. Com
-
missioned by the Gilman Paper Cor
-
poration, Price had been invited to
design a new workplace for a site in
Florida. Using identically sized tim
-
ber framed accommodation modules;
these differently purposed units were
designed to be regularly reconfig
-
ured with local cranage over a several
acre site. The Frazer’s devised a novel
computer system that used visitor in
-
put to choose how to rearrange these
building blocks into a more beneficial
arrangement for the following days
activities. Interestingly the system, if
understimulated (or bored) would de
-
termine its own arrangement, which
was celebrated at the time by critic
Deyan Sudjic in his article for Design
magazine “The Birth of the Intelli
-
gent Building”.
What particularly interested John
Frazer was the notion of somehow
capturing or codifying the architects
design intent (not rules) on a compu
-
ter chip. Frazer went on to collaborate
with Swiss émigré and Self-Build guru
Walter Segal, where they developed a
collaborative design tool for families
planning a new home. Working with
research assistant Peter Graham they
designed a machine-readable model;
individual scale model building com
-
ponents that could be re-arranged and
assembled and plugged into a table
sized baseboard. Each component was
separately ‘chipped’ and was recog
-
nised and drawn simultaneously in
3-dimensions with associated costings
and part number spreadsheets pro
-
duced for would-be self-builders.
What connects these various ap
-
proaches to design as well as the in
-
dividuals is an expansive view of
architecture and design and its trans
-
formative (if not problem solving)
potential. Price was very clear on this,
stating, “Instantaneous architectural
response to a particular problem is
too slow.” In Gordon Pask’s article
The Architectural Relevance of Cy
-
bernetics from Architectural Design
(AD) magazine in 1969, Pask outlines
the dynamic conversational rela
-
tions of the designer and this is very
much the performative architecture
of Price, which whilst historically
documented is almost completely un
-
explored as a design methodology.
***
Will McLean is a technical tutor in the
University of Westminster and has been
widely published in AA Files and Archi
-
tectural Design (AD).
Sound and learning; the
cybernetics of the acoustic
environment
by Paul Bavister
***
Sound is all around us; it defines our
environment, and our place in it. The
energy released by an event, is rico
-
cheted off surfaces and objects, losing
energy with each hit, colouring the
resultant output. These reflections
arrive at our ears in a predetermined
order, defined by the events source,
and our location.
This understanding of our percep
-
tion of sound allows us to successfully
navigate complex sensory environ
-
ments where a reliance on sight is
not enough. Each surface has its own
auditory signature defined by its in
-
herent textural qualities. Complex
surface topologies scatter the energy,
and diffuse the sound. Smooth, flat
surfaces give specular reflections and
give a ready, early feed back. Soft
fabrics trap energy, and absorb. It’s
the combination of these effects that
colour our experience, and in some
cases provide particularly memorable
events in our lives. The phenomenon
of the whispering gallery in St Pauls is
well documented, but there are many
similar acoustic phenomena that we
encounter as a regular occurrence.
These events are uncoordinated;
yet frame our understanding of not
only our journey through our envi
-
ronment, but our memory of such a
journey, and our spatialised under
-
standing of it.
Gordon Pask used to say that the Park
Guell in Barcelona was one of the
most cybernetic structures he knew.
Pask described the park as a series of
autonomous sculptures / structures,
each with their own meaning. Ob
-
servers drew their own understand
-
ing of the park through their own
interaction with the sculptures. Thus
the meaning of the park was decen
-
tralised, and not defined by a single
creator. Anything learned or inferred
by an occupant of the park, was self-
defined by the observer through their
understanding of the events they en
-
countered.
This is the same as the acoustic en
-
vironment. We are aware of acoustic
events, yet alone, they are isolated
and meaningless. We give these sonic
moments meaning in the way we
piece together our experiences in our
memories. The meaning of any jour
-
ney is decentralised. We infer mean
-
ing through our own interaction with
our acoustic environment.
***
Paul Bavister is an associate director at
BFLS and a tutor of Unit 14 at the Bar
-
tlett school of Architecture, UCL.
Platform for Architectural Projects, Essays & Research
PAPER (Platform for Architectural Projects, Essays & Research) ©2012 - Produced by PAPER collective & supported by the University of Westminster.
Colonade in Parc Guell.
Cedric Price.
w:
www.papermagazine.org
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paper.archzine@gmail.com