MArch Unit 14 :: The Quality of Living Index and Other Quantitative Qualifiers :: Mike Aling & Eva Sommeregger

Canaletto, Vienna Viewed from the Belvedere Palace, 1759

“Quantitative methods are no more synonymous with objectivity than qualitative methods are synonymous with subjectivity”.

– Mike Patton

For 8 years running, Vienna has topped the Mercer Quality of Living Index. According to the data sets, it is quite literally the best place on Earth to live. This year Unit 14 will travel to, and luxuriate in, Vienna – we will become Wienphiles, gorging ourselves on the architectural splendours of this intoxicating city.

The Mercer survey, undertaken by the consultancy firm Mercer, openly declares its core purpose – to provide statistics for global corporations that are looking to strategically relocate staff and other business interests. This nugget of information, along with the specifics of the criteria used to formulate the index, is quickly passed over as news of Vienna’s ranking traverses the internet. Truisms become fact, and we willingly submit to another survey trading on the premise of objectivity.

This is not to say that Vienna does not provide an excellent living standard – it does – and we will unpack how it does, why it does, and crucially, how this is measured, with the pitfalls and opportunities these tactics afford this socially democratic city. We will question the increasing blur between quantitative and qualitative methods of measure used to assess urban and architectural conditions in the early twenty first century. Quantitative systems of measure have been taken to new extremes recently, at the macro and micro scale, with movements such as Quantitative Urbanism measuring our cities, and the Quantified Self measuring our bodies.

Data management is increasingly enmeshing with the practice of architectural design. Data creation will be demanded from our buildings, spaces and scapes, as well as from the architect and all participants in design and construction processes. Things all of types (human and non-) could well become/may already be highly efficient synchronous data generators and extractors, constantly gorging on self-generated data in bizarre feedback loops.

The central tenet of the unit this year will be to ask how architecture can be designed through the subversion and disruption of data. We will critically engage with the multitudinous data sets harvested from Vienna (data of all creeds: big, small, hard, soft, linear, non-linear, rigorous, sensitive, nuanced, contextual etc), to find weird anomolies and strange tangents that can act as catalysts for new architectural proposals. We will learn to operate as architects in a landscape of data manipulation, capitalising on loopholes and tweaking irregularities. Emerging technologies such as the Internet of Things, smart contracts, predictive analytics, blockchain and learning algorithms will be a key concern to the unit, and we will explore their egalitarian, and even emancipatory, potentialities and implications for Architecture.

Unit 14 will continue to investigate the processes of modelling and the outputting of models. With the pervasion of BIM and other modelling softwares in the profession, digital modelling has become the key operation of the architect in the early 21st century. We are interested in new and emerging modelling processes and technologies, and in developing new modelling languages: physical, digital, hybridized and other. Data modelling will play a key part in our operations this year. The unit aims to open up the discussion on modelling beyond known architectural procedures, and looks to explore models of thought, both as ways of understanding the world, and as devices to aid speculative work. At its most ambitious, Unit 14 is interested in worldbuilding – or more specifically, worldmodelling – imaginary projects and their sites developed as thought experiments at vast scales and complexities.

Year one students will site their projects on the Glacis of Vienna’s Ringstrasse, and work with the city of Vienna’s Urban Development plan. Our field trip to Vienna will be in 4 weeks time.

Final year students will develop their project themes in dialogue with their tutors.