One of the most exciting possibilities of a new materialist approach to architecture and urbanism lies in the divorce of form & space within the architectural diploid-construct. Though Levi Bryant fuses the two with his term “hylospatial” to denote the architectural act (a term I have taken and ran with), this phrase still allows us to dilate upon a contradistinction: “architecture” is a linguistic rarification, processed, smoothed, curated; “hylospatial” is a nasty compound kluge of word. This is what architecture is: the inaccurate and poorly-undertaken fusion of matter and energy, to use De Landa’s slightly mystical terminology. It is an unfortunate chimera – unfortunate because we can never talk about all of architecture all at once: only about space or form. There’s always a catalyzing agent and a subservient one.
In attempting to formulate a new architectural optics in a new materialist vein, I’ve begun thinking of architectural as atmospheres. The architectural atmosphere is the collision between space and form. It is space, but space that is itself thought of as full (with compositional differences etc.) and heavy (what is the weight of the column of air that is constantly crushing us on the planetary surface?), both of which are typically properties of matter; following these reasons, it has form, but a form that is highly defined by exteriority (the void, the solid) and conditional behaviors (an atmosphere is never static from one moment to the next). If we think of architectural atmospheres in an array, we produce an urbanism through agglomeration. These atmospheres have a multiplicity of traits – some are massive and low, spindly and tall; they can be joined into fields of startling density or left disparate. This makes an urbanism a meteorology, reacting on us by making our focus the nature of the atmospheres (and their interstitial exteriorities) and paraverting the dialectical figure-ground. All becomes a flat field, with intimations of structure and population to uncover as analysis of the totality continues.
The intention of Laka’s REACT competition is left refreshingly ambiguous: to create an “architecture that reacts”. This ambiguity rehearses intriguing possibilities to go beyond what is typically considered architectural reactions—passive phenomena that are a direct communication between the building and the visitor. Light, space, movement, etc. These reactions are the common pidgin of modernist architecture vernacular and produce a linear sequence of preprogrammed evental and discrete moments that insist on recuperating ecological relations in rarified Euclidean space. Architectural reaction in this vein is a mechanical, strictly curated sequence of events occurring between populations of hominid organics and rigid hylospatial structures, using environmental phenomena as its engine.
Reaction can no longer follow a cybernetic/modernistic paradigm that leaves us pushing buttons and watching lights and claiming to be moved. Modernity’s hackneyed interpretation of the machine as a model for architecture has enforced a shallow bottom. We want to interact deeply with our machines, not stare at them; to dip our hand into the water and watch solitons and saltations cascade around our fingers. Pushing a button is no longer enough; its time to recuperate the architectural machine as an architectural ecology.
The architectural ecology is transcalar and emergent. It can be many pieces, or one structure; it can be newly built or retrofitted to existing structures. Whether planetary or local, the architectural ecology is an infinity of potentially moving parts—a bristling biome of seething possibility and interpretation. The movement I’m describing does not have to actually take place, but will always be implied—constantly moving outward, a rarified explosion, a gordian knot of vector rays and axis mundi offshoots that terminate cloudily in an occupied space. It is an animal, with life pulsing beneath an operable exterior. Architectures of flesh are no longer for demonic cathedrals or parasitical infestation. The bleeding tunnels are our own, and as we recapitulate them, they will lose their alien quality. Their twitches, their shivering, their musculature, their teratology is our own.
Sinking down deep into the loam of the planet, the architectural ecology buries itself—or maybe its a planting?—only to grow forth or be exhumed at the proper moment. This moment is one of pure function, a distinct hinge point, in which the architecture announces itself out of the swarm-void to become of use. Instead of reaction functioning as the mouthpiece for an architecture that sits hollowly and lets environmental and operational use define its tongue, it withers vestigial. The architectural ecology is the environment, is the mouth—allowing hylospatial practice, the planet, the operator, and especially the reaction to go alchemic, to commit autophagy. Reaction and architecture become indistinct, inseparable, twinned.