A Machine For Living Cultural Studies Essay

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In order for architecture to serve as an effective and sustainable cultural product for our contemporary post-modern society, it is required for future architecture to embrace a process of adaptation and transformation.

"…The problem posed in future architecture is not one of linear rearrangement. It is not a question of finding new moldings and frames for windows and doors. It is a question of tending the healthy growth of the futurist building, of constructing it with all the resources of technology and science, satisfying the demands of our habits and our spirit. We have lost our predilection for the monumental, the heavy, the static and we have enriched our sensibility with the taste for the light, the practical, the empherical and the swift…"

Antonio Sant'Elia, 1914.


What is Post-modernism?

What do we understand under the term Post Modern? It is one of the indefinable academic terms that apply to many different fields of study. Most people seem to understand what it means individually but few agree collectively. Architectural responses to these conditions of the post-modern occurred as a semantic nightmare of the post-modern discourse. Globally, the modernist paradigm changed to the post-modern with the disappearance of central authorities, universal dogmas and foundational ethics. The post-modern world introduced fragmentation, instability, indeterminacy and insecurity.

Our Post-modern condition is our current reality. This is undeniable.

The fall of modernism was inevitable. Modernism rejected the true nature of humanity and aimed to form an alternative way of living. Modernism sought to reflect an objective, rational approach, which was however, ideologically driven, leading to its eventual estrangement and ultimate demise. (2000: 47)

Postmodernism has its origins in the perceived failure of Modern Architecture. Its preoccupation with functionalism and economical building meant that ornaments were done away with and the buildings were cloaked in a stark rational appearance. Users were unable to associate with modernism. Many felt the buildings failed to meet the human need for comfort both for body and for the eye, that modernism did not account for the desire for beauty.

Postmodernism on the other hand had the right idea of becoming and embracing human and social conditions. But this has failed, or rather has been driven into an unalike direction, one of artificiality.

The post-modern condition shows how icons are made and broken within hours, materialism (capitalism) governs status and identity, and how grandiloquent ideas and superficial thought regulates what is acceptable and what is not, resulting in little that is truly authentic.

The central features associated with post-modernism are pastiche, parody, rhetoric, irony, playfulness and the celebration of the surface ' depthlessness' of culture, and the decline of the originality/genius. Postmodern thinking speaks of an experience of pluralism, disorder, and fragmentation as well as ambiguity, dissolution and dedifferentiation.

The contrast of modernity-postmodernity suggests an epochal meaning.

Post-modern architecture may appear fun, witty, but beyond its origins as a stylistic device, post-modern architecture has remained a singularly superficial philosophy. This is somewhat incidental, but by being superficial and material, postmodernism truly portrays the current social state of mind. Mankind has placed value on the soullessness of image and the fascination with the temporary.

An appropriate architecture for a Post-modern context

Is today's Post-modern consumerist society headed for collapse because of its exponentially growing, hence unsustainable needs? Despite numerous arguments that urge us to change the catastrophic global waste of natural resources, energy, and agricultural regions, losing the diversity of the biosphere, etc. It is frustrating to find that inertia overrides logic and reason. One could apply the same explanation to the continued universal embrace of non-adaptive architectural and urban typologies.

An architecture of adaptation

In order for architecture to serve as an effective and sustainable cultural product for our contemporary post-modern society, it is required for future architecture to embrace an entirely new paradigm, that of adaptation and transformation. This will allow for architecture to adapt in a dynamic and physical manner to multiple and changing needs, constituting for a building that can extend the useful economic life of buildings and public spaces, increase the diversity of uses and users and the length of time it is used for, encourage the conservation of non-renewable resources and ultimately contribute in an wider sense to its direct urban context.

The term "adaptable architecture" describes an architecture from which specific components can be changed in response to external stimuli, for example the users or environment. This change could be executed by the building system itself, transformed manually or could be any other ability to transform by an external force. The following paper is to substantiate the theoretical arguments made and how it informs and support the major design project in terms of the design resolution.

Adaptation and flexibility have played an important role in experimental architectural projects in the last decades. Visionary projects and ideas were developed to link the architectural buildings with new technologies and possibilities. In line with innovations of that time, a clear connection is found with experimental architectural projects and ideas.

During the Industrial era, machine and technology played a very important role in the experimental projects of the Avant-garde. The comparison of architecture with a machine is typically for this period (1924: 56). With the era that followed, Futurism and Situationists developed imaginary ideas based on multimedia techniques and the free state of mind. Realisation of the projects wasn't the main goal (1972: 134). With mobility and mobile parts, a step further was taken in the relation with machine. Today's period can be seen as the electronic era within a Post-modern society, characterised by individualisation, commercialisation, consumerism, capitalism and personification. Architecture should be able to accommodate these new characteristics of society.

Various definitions of adaptable architecture are used in literature, but coherence between these is lacking. Different connotations are given, which are related to different levels of adaptation (2006:117). Dekker stated that interactivity is specially used as an indicator of change in an installation or environment that a person can enforce, taking into account the mechanical, physical and psychological implications (2006:123). According to Edler (2006: 184) dynamic architecture or structures adapt to the varying needs of the users, to changing environmental circumstances or to the designers desires and imaginations. In the literature of (1997:194) intelligent architecture refers to built forms whose integrated systems are capable of anticipating and responding phenomena, whether internal or external, that affects the performance of the building and its occupants.

Intelligent architecture responds to its occupants and the local and global environment in a sensitive, supportive and dignifying matter. Another connotation is given by Kronenburg (2002:211), in which the ultimate flexible interior may be one that is completely amorphous and transitional, changing shape, color, lighting levels, acoustic, temperature, as the inhabitants moves through it-abandoning flat horizontal surfaces and demarcations between hard and soft, warm and cold, wet and dry. It seems that there are several technicalities involved when defining aspects of adaptation.

Henri Lefebvre, the French sociologist stated that Physical space is in the process of decline and that society essentially creates its own required spaces. He further states that Social space contains, and assigns appropriate places to, the relations of production and of reproduction. The process of creation requires the availability of specialised sites associated with production, prohibition, and repression. As a consequence of these processes, dominant spaces are able to mould the subordinate space of the periphery (2000:49). Architecture should be able to accommodate and facilitate the creation of space, and or be able to allow users to create their own space.

Architecture and its programmes should not inform the user, but rather the user should inform the programme. This will allow for a greater relationship between architecture and its indeterminable users.

Adaptable urban buildings and public spaces that offer people choices about how and when to use them are found to be better used than those designed for more limited purposes. The persistence of non-adaptive architectural typologies reveals the opposite of what one is led to believe about progress in contemporary architecture and urbanism.

Next to the pace of the development of advanced electronic devices, and the growing commercialisation on this field, the customisation of these products plays a very important role. Individualism and the adaptation of the building on the personal wishes of the users and environment is, in relation to technological developments, a current subject of research.

Richard Rogers wrote in his book, Cities for a small planet (1998):

"The impact of accelerating change on the physical form of the city is radical. Institutions have shorter and shorter lives. Railway stations are converted into museums, power plants into art galleries, churches into nightclubs, warehouses into homes... and it is now commonplace to anticipate that a building will outlive the purpose for which it is built in a matter of years. Modern life can no longer be defined in the long term and consequently cannot be contained within a static order of symbolic buildings and spaces… Buildings no longer symbolise a static hierarchy order; instead, they have become containers for use by a dynamic society. However, it is the arrangement of buildings in space - the network of the city as a whole - that has come to be the dominant reflection of modern urban society."


"Good urban design in itself does not guarantee sustainability within an urban context unless over time, adaptability is inherent within the design and matched in the surrounding environmental and social fabric."

Loe, E 2000.

The proposal of an adaptable building will ultimately contribute to the longevity of the building within a paradigm such as Postmodernism, as Postmodernism is concerned only with the temporary, non-permanent and spontaneity. This approach constitutes a built environment that can easily be reconfigured to better meet the changing needs of occupants, maintenance, and the larger community, producing architecture capable of re-scripting itself to adapt to the specific requirements.

The proposal of a robust building capable of adequately transform and adapt to accommodate "warfare" scenarios such as fire fighting training scenarios, military scenarios, police urban warfare scenarios amongst others within a highly dense city like Pretoria (scenario as prescribed by 2025 urban context)

If a building has a basic framework or structure that is durable and sound, it can be re-used in alternative ways extending its useful life and thereby reducing demand on raw materials and energy.