The Chair for Computer Aided Architectural Design at ETH Zurich organizes the two-day seminar entitled: Materialism Without Territory. Art and the environment, which will take place on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st of May 2014 at Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich.

The event will bring together international lecturers from the field of architecture and philosophy to discuss issues on theory, practice and the literacy of computability in a format that is intended to give plenty of room for discussions.

The space for audience is limited, but the event is open for anyone who is interested, please refer to the events website for registration:


The ancients distinguished contemplation (theory) as learning about that which never changes and which no human knowledge can influence, from the acquisition of skills (practice) as a kind of learning about that which constantly changes, and which human knowledge can influence. Practice was hence minorized as dealing only with the probable, while it was reserved for theory alone to address questions of truth. Against this legacy, much of modernity’s spirit of progressivism is driven by refuting the ancient minorization of practice in the light of theory, indeed by inverting it in strict favour of how knowledge can be made useful through systematic implementation: No mathematician shall pursue one of the classical mathematical problems (squaring the circle, or double-ing a cube), the French Academy famously proclaimed after the French Revolution.

The more recent emergence of two fields, both equally real as virtual, are suggesting that we take a fresh look at this legacy: (1) ecology and the environment as a way to frame how we refer to „nature“, and (2) computability as a way to operate intellectually on the templates of how we do frame „nature“ (implicitly or explicitly. Both, ecological thinking and the literacy of computability force us to think about systems in a way that can make no reference to a “natural state” for these systems – at least not without making metaphysical or ideological imports.

Thereby, there seems to be a wide common sense today that practice stands on the side of materialism, granting an undogmatic discourse because it centralizes quantitative aspects (magnitudes, and how they are calculated by computing multitudes) as opposed to formal ones (territories, and how they are governed by measuring). Theory, on the other hand, seems to stand on the side of idealism, prioritizing aspects of form. As we well know, either one of these intellectual “polar poles” claims to be prime in how we ought to speak about reality.

Hence the interest of this two day seminar: What is at stake with this competition between form and quantity, territory and magnitude? And how does the one notion so central to computing, namely that of information, fit within this context? Or in more general terms: How does the new literacy of computability fit within the old scheme that distinguishes theory from practice? Does this scheme at all remain to be relevant and informative in any kind of way in our contemporary cultural landscape? In which variant does it remain to be relevant (or where did it dissolve into if declared irrelevant?).

The two-day Seminar is organized by the Chair for Computer Aided Architectural Design at ETH Zürich, by Dr. phil. Vera Bühlmann and Jorge Orozco. The event is tailored for the Chair’s PhD candidates as well as MAS students, and the format is chosen such that there will be plenty of room for discussion (45 minutes paper, 75 minutes discussion per session). There will be a reader provided by the PhD candidates with a selection of texts they would like to be discussed in relation to the papers given.


Friday May 29th 2014

10 am – 11 am
welcome and introduction by Vera Bühlmann, ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Jorge Orozco – Architecture and Indexes

ETH Zurich, Switzerland

11 am – 1pm
Ludger Hovestadt – The Composition of Zero. Why the mathematics of Leon Battista Alberti is not about data
ETH Zurich, Switzerland

2.30 pm – 4.30 pm
Gregg Lambert – How to create a territory with a work of art?

Syracuse University, USA

5 pm – 7 pm
Neil Leach – Adaptation
University of Southern California, USA

Saturday May 30th 2014

10 am – 12 am
Vera Bühlmann – The body of the cypher (an atomist view on computational entities that are generic in their kind)
ETH Zurich, Switzerland

2 pm – 4 pm 
Iris van der Tuin – Pushing ‘generation’ to an extreme, and how genealogy is a geophilosophy

Utrecht University, Netherlands

4.30 pm – 6.30 pm
Sjoerd van Tuinen – The Cosmic Artisan
University of Rotterdam, Netherlands