The applied virtuality theory lab is situated at the Chair for Computer Aided Architectural Design at the Institute for Technology in Architecture, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH in Zurich.
Digital architectonics, pre-specific modeling
How do we see the stakes attaching to these terms? We see them as promising to help finding an abstraction from the meanwhile classical distinction in cultural studies and anthropology between the Renaissance disegno tradition of modeling in how think about technics, and the contemporary interest from a media archeological angle in thinking about technics as cultural techniques. But why seeking to find an abstraction from this distinction at all? While the former cannot seem to rid itself from an understanding of the artist as place holder of divine spirit on earth, the latter seeks in reaction to this, and rather aggressively, to annihilate the strikingly real and even ordinary experience that there is something like richness in ésprit, wit, capacity in intellection (what in German is best captured in the adjective “geistreich“). We want to maintain that the materialist point of view in the cultural techniques approach ought to be opened up by a contemporary atomist approach, one which conceives of the atom not as the basic common denominator that constitutes all things in their material terms of extension in space and time, as action (matter and energy), but as the basic common denominator that factors in, symbolically (information), in the extensional and active constitution of all things. In short: the atom as that which can only be thought. With this interest, we follow with great curiosity the discourses in media and cultural studies, science-and-technology studies, as well as in anthropology; but our interest remains attached to a certain esteem for idiosyncratic engagements which we see at the heart of all learning and acquisition of mastership.*
*(mastership form German: das Können; alternative translations like skill, know-how, dexterity all swallow up and annihilate the abstraction and intellection that crucially factors in, in whatever we can call “das Können”. Hence, for the time being, we chose to put up with this difficult and – if simplified- somewhat misleading term “mastership”).
Statement of interest
Research and teaching at the laboratory for applied virtuality draws from the cultural wealth, both historically and contemporarily, of forms of knowing and learning. We view these treasures in a sportive way and want to learn what kinds of strength and abilities they allow us to develop and acquire when integrating their diverse schemas, and when learning to understand better the peculiar stories each of them is telling – very often by fighting over right definitions of commonly used concepts and notions. Our perspective onto them is more akin to the one we take when hiking in the mountains, cultivating good cooking, or when working out in a gym: the performed movements (mentally translate to: movements in thinking) are not for the sake of the value of the precise movements themselves, but for the overall fitness, agility and pleasure which exercising will bring you, individually.
By pursueing a comparatistic approach in learning to understand structurally the symbolic forms of thought, and their varying codification and systematic integration into different theories, we seek to engage with theory as pockets or folds of knowledge, and the schemata and theorems that make up a theory’s consistency as a kind of vehicle that allows us to move considerately and actively in our thinking within networked and information saturated environments. (This understanding of theory has been characterized beautifully by Michel Serres in a.o. his text “Was Thales am Fuss der Pyramiden gesehen hat” (Hermes II: Interferenz, trans. Michael Bischoff (Berlin: Merve Verlag, 1992 ), 212–39).
Information Technology is playing an increasingly important role in architectural design and thinking. While the design and conception space of computational methods open up a vast new horizon of what can possibly be done that has never been feasible before, we can observe a strange phenomenon among our students and within fellow communities: the greater and professional the skills in working with computers, the lesser the curiosity for individual processes of abstraction, formalization, problematization and solution-seeking. In other words: the better and assiduous the craft in scripting and parametrically twisting and tweeking the schemes and templates offered off-the-shelve, the lesser seem to be individual ambitions for autonomous thought and reasoning. To our great surprise and incomprehension, we experience strong indicators of devaluation regarding the cultural esteem for intellectuality. As if we were living in the end times of history. And this despite the obvious fact that all technologies supporting the common wealth today are nothing less and nothing more than the produces of intellectuality.
THE FOLLOWING INTELLECTUAL TRADITIONS AND LEGACIES ARE OF CENTRAL INTEREST
* the mathesis tradition, which understands mathematics as the art of learning
* the characteristica universalis tradition, which keeps the generative interplay between the symbolic elements (stoicheia) of forms, letters, and numbers open.
* the universal algebra tradition, which regards formulas as laws of conservation, and hence addresses everything that can be the object of thoughtful consideration in terms of saturation, differentiation, factorization rather than representation.
* the emerging tradition of contemporary mathematics in category theory, sheaf theory, topos theory, algebraic geometry, in its power of re-situating inherited notions of articulation and structuring in the philosophical, architectonic, sense.