To create beauty of form, and beauty of adaptation and connection, in the land, or in the city: that is the core of every architect’s work. And as all of us know, who have tried to do it for years, it is fiendishly difficult to do it well. It makes the utmost challenge to our abilities, our artistic skills, our emotional resources. Given how hard it is, and how precious it is when we achieve it, even in small degree, many architects may well ask themselves how anything scientific could possibly help them in such a task. They could easily wonder, “Is the interest in new science, and in a new science of architecture, something trendy, a wish to be “scientific” for its own sake, and little more?”
The answer is a resounding “No.” The purpose of a scientific view of architecture is to enable us to create deeper structure – and that means more satisfying design, more eternal forms, more valuable places, more beautiful buildings. The new theory is not merely a gloss on architecture, to raise its intellectual level. It is above all, a source of help – artistic help – to pull us out of the mud pit we have fallen into during the last eighty years, by making, following, and copying over simplified forms, only because commercial instincts have robbed the field entirely of the kind of awareness which was needed, for millennia, by the people who made the great buildings of the past, in many cultures, and in many conditions.
This awareness hinges above all, on the processes that are used to make these buildings. The process we have learned, and have come to accept, as the “normal” way to design buildings and to get them built – the procurement methods of the 20th century – are very, very defective. To do better, to make places people genuinely like, to make places where people feel at home, it is necessary to have new tools of practice – new ways of creating buildings, new ways of conceiving buildings. The science I speak of is the bearer of new, more sophisticated techniques of making, shaping and designing. It is something that opens our eyes, as artists, and permits us to do thing we have not dreamed of for decades or generations.
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This Katarxis 3 issue describes, very simply, a potential for a new beginning in architecture. I'm extremely pleased that it includes a presentation and discussion of my work over the last three decades. I have spent most of my life trying to make scientific statements about the character of the world which lay a foundation of a new architecture. This case is made comprehensively in The Nature of Order. Because these statements do indeed represent "a new paradigm," it is not going to be easy for them to be absorbed by the scientific community, though I think there is a reasonable chance that it may succeed. For this reason, I have contributed extensive discussions to this issue, and allowed many pictures of my work to be presented, after what has been a long silence.
In the public world of architecture, after the overwhelming reception to A Pattern Language, there has been an almost 20-year long silence from me, with only small snippets of information -- buildings, theory, etc. With the appearance of The Nature of Order this silence has been broken. I agreed to give Katarxis 3 the opportunity to be one place where the new statement about me and my work was to be seen, unveiled if you like. That is of course, a very considerable moment for me, and for the more scientific and more human direction in architecture I believe I represent.
Throughout my career I have pushed very hard -- virtually alone, it has often seemed -- to put architecture onto a track which is deeply involved with science, new or otherwise, and is also concerned with a way of understanding value as something real, not merely a matter of opinion. Perhaps better put, though it is more or less the same thing, I have pushed to put architecture onto a track which is rooted in empirical reality – with attention to what is real, and factual, about human beings, buildings, and the way we feel, deeply or not, in the buildings that are made, and the way that buildings serve us. This has inevitably put me at odds with a crippled architectural world-view that is unable to conceive of common human value outside of "personal preference."
Architecture and the New Science
I began in 1964, with Notes on the Synthesis of Form, the first work that truly looked at architecture from a scientist's point of view, yet moving towards the core and meaning of architecture, not merely technics. (Of course there had been many decades of technical science in architecture, addressing problems of heat, materials, lighting, etc. I am not talking about that, but rather about a vision which allows us to see architecture itself – the deepest problems of architecture – in a scientific way).
In the seventies, I published a series of books, including A Pattern Language, which I believe represented the first really solid achievement linking the core of architecture to the scientific way of thinking.
However I had begun to recognize even then that there were serious deficiencies in the scientific way of thinking as it then existed, and that science itself would need to change, in order to meet the challenge of the deep problems lying at the core of architecture.
I began work on The Nature of Order in the late seventies. By 1980 the content of The Nature of Order was very roughly sketched out in a one-volume first version.
By 1983 I had begun to realize that this new way of thinking required very serious changes in science, and that architecture itself could make a contribution to science, and not only receive a contribution from science. In 1983 I wrote these words:
"In the past century, architecture has always been a minor science if it has been a science at all. Present day architects who want to be scientific, try to incorporate the ideas of physics, psychology, anthropology . . . in their work . . . in the hope of keeping in tune with the "scientific" times. I believe we are on the threshold of a new era, when this relation between architecture and the physical sciences may be reversed when the proper understanding of the deep questions of space, as they are embodied in architecture . . . will play a revolutionary role in the way we see the world . . . and will do for the world view of the 21st and 22nd centuries, what physics did for the 19th and 20th."
During the mid-eighties, the thing we now call "New Science", comprising chaos theory, complexity and related concepts, began to be discussed widely. Quite unexpectedly, my conviction that architecture could provide input into science was confirmed when computer scientists began to use the Pattern Language in their work. This has now grown into a full-fledged movement in computer science. One of its recent manifestations is in the Jini pattern language developed by Richard Gabriel and Ron Goldman of Sun Microsystems.
Since the late eighties, Bill Hillier in London had been looking at architectural problems with a scientific eye – and very beautifully -- but there was some sense in which his work with Julienne Hanson still bordered on "technics". It did not quite visit real problems of architectural form or the making of architecture as an architect sees it.
In my view, the second person who began to explore the deep connection between science and architecture was Nikos Salingaros, one of the four Katarxis editors. He had been working with me helping me edit material in The Nature of Order, for years, and at some point -- in the mid-nineties I think -- began writing papers looking at architectural problems in a scientific way. Then by the second half of the nineties he began making important contributions to the building of this bridge, and to scientific explorations in architecture which constituted a bridge.
Brian Hanson, another editor, has had a general tendency in this direction for a long time, ever since I have known him. This emanates originally from his interest in Ruskin, and his conviction that tangible, scientific means of understanding the world (of the kind for which Ruskin longed) are at last coming into being, capable also of guiding our actions within it; and that these are capable of giving rise to buildings and cities very different from those we routinely construct today. This conviction, and his own related efforts, are testified to by a beautiful statement Brian made some months ago in a letter to The Prince of Wales (the basis for the afterword in this issue of Katarxis 3), which solidly expresses the view that the kind of science contemplated is larger than opinion, and has the capacity to lead world architecture out of the morass.
Senior Editor Lucien Steil's earliest work I hardly know; but I know he was the one inspired to create Katarxis 3, and that the idea of doing it is what has brought us all together. That is a huge thing, since it moves an initiative of immense importance onto center stage and can, if we move carefully and correctly, forever change the future of architecture.
And Michael Mehaffy, my old student, is also inspired in his writing. Both with Nikos and alone, I find his voice as a writer compelling and fascinating.
All five of us are committed in one way or another, to the vital importance of recognising that a true architecture can in principle be dug, from the facts, insights, and theories, that occur with a broadening of science to include the human being. These include the fundamental issue of adaptation as a primary concern in architecture, as it has always been in biology and ecology. Coupled with these views is a lateral connection to modern views of complexity, and to new scientific insights which come from extensions of complexity theory, some of which have arisen within architecture itself.
But it is important to note that my own insights did not derive from complexity theory per se, since I began before the current incarnation of complexity theory, and have had much to say which covers a broader terrain -- possibly one which is even more true than what the biologists and ecologists have been able to create so far. Indeed, I am very gratified to see that many concepts in the early versions of The Nature of Order foreshadow ideas that are only now coming into the "New Science". Nikos, who worked with it for the last 20 years can vouch for that -- indeed, he kept urging me to publish ever since he read the first draft!
The recognition that all of these currents are flowing in this new and hopeful direction -- this is what the five of us all share.
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I should perhaps end by drawing attention, once again, to building form and built form, as the target of all our efforts. Words are cheap. Building is hard. It is therefore vital that readers of Katarxis 3 do not take with them the impression that the topic of science and architecture is merely about ideas, or merely about words. It is – it must be – about buildings, and the quality of public and private places, indoors and outdoors, about the environment that we achieve.
For this reason, early on in this project, the editors asked me to prepare a gallery of pictures of newly built works, which would give readers some indication of the kind of architecture, the kinds of buildings, and the quality of buildings, which this new way of understanding architecture, with a more scientific footing, would lead to. It is, I think, in the quality of buildings that people will be inspired, or not, to seek this new way of thinking, and to decide that it is worthwhile, or not.
I invite you, therefore to look, from time to time, at the pictures of new kinds of places, and new kinds of buildings.
Once you look at the pictures, and judge their qualities, then I think you may read the many different articles, essays, and exchanges in this magazine, by many different writers, with an eye to working out, for yourself, what kind of difference the topics raised in these articles might make in our built world.
And that, in the end, is the aim of all our efforts, isn’t it?