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Wednesday, August 5 • 14:00 - 14:30
Architecture and Second-Order Science

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Since 1980 Glanville has put forward the argument that rather than seeing research in design as one form of scientific research, we instead see scientific research as a specific form of design. This argument, based on the way that scientific research inevitably involves design activity but not vice versa, and others like it around that time consolidate a shift within design research during the 1970s from a concern with the scientific method to the idea that design has its own epistemological foundations as a discipline.

The attempt to base design on a linear version of the scientific method failed for reasons that have been pointed out by Rittel amongst others: because design involves the creation of the new, design questions cannot be exhaustively formulated in advance. Within architecture especially this has marked a parting of the ways between design and science, coinciding with the unraveling of modernism, with architects turning towards history and philosophy rather than science for theoretical support (but in so doing often continuing to import theories external to their discipline).

Given Glanville’s argument this is not what we might expect: if science is a limited form of design, shouldn’t scientific approaches be commensurable with design even if they are not a basis for it? This disjunction is only the case if we follow the changes in design research during this period without also following the comparable changes in the philosophy of science. Both broadly parallel each other: moving from a concern with method in the 1960s (Popper; design methods) through a critique of this in the 1970s (Feyerabend; Rittel) to new foundations from the 1980s onwards (the turn in science studies towards social and material agency, e.g. Pickering; design as a discipline with its own epistemological foundations). Indeed the critiques advanced by Feyerabend and Rittel, who were both colleagues at UC Berkeley, have similar structures: given the need to deal with the new, it is not possible to formulate methods or criteria in advance (other than Feyerabend’s reductio ad absurdum “anything goes” which also appears in Rittel). Thus contemporary accounts of science as a form of forward looking search, such as those advanced by Pickering and anticipated within cybernetics, can be read as applying also to how designers work.

Using this account as a basis I explore two ways in which we might frame the contemporary relation between design and science in architecture, both of which are in contrast with the resurgent tendency towards understanding this relation in terms of technological effectiveness.

Firstly, given these ongoing connections, I think we could consider design research in its various forms as one form of second order scientific practice, where the designer is included in such a way that this self-closure allows for reflexive investigation of this research itself. This is not surprising: design research is one place where second-order cybernetics ends up, partly because of Pask’s engagement with architecture and so with Glanville, Negroponte, Price etc. but also because of the conceptual parallels which underlie this engagement.

Secondly, more speculatively, I think we might consider architecture itself in terms of second order science; that is, we might see the experience of particular buildings in terms of scientific enquiry. One example is that of Price’s Fun Palace, to which Pask contributed. I argue that it is possible to see the Fun Palace not just as influenced by cybernetic ideas but as an instance of cybernetic research and as a possible version of second-order science in practice.


Presenter / Artist

Ben Sweeting

Senior Lecturer, University of Brighton
ISSS Two Day

Wednesday August 5, 2015 14:00 - 14:30
Stockholm 1 Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz, Gabriele-Tergit-Promenade 19, 10963 Berlin, Germany

Attendees (3)