MArch Unit 20 : TROUBLING MATTERS : Jake Moulson + David Hemingway

mysterious silk structure in the Amazon known as a “silkhenge” made by spiders.

‘In these troubling times, the urgency [is] to trouble time, to shake it to its core’                                                                                                                          Karen Barad: Undoing the Future, lecture for Barnard University, 2018

We are in a period of rapid change — technologically, climatically, politically and militarily. Binary positions — the basis of modern computing — and borders both physical and ideological, are some of the dominant human constructs governing the world order. But Unit 20 proposes that there are other ways, and other ways of perceiving, that open up the possibility for understanding the world and environment differently. Now is the time to turn to other intelligences and ways of worlding in order to reacquaint ourselves with the planet and reposition ourselves in relation to it. Our starting point for this unit is one of collaboration with other lifeforms, both synthetic and biological.

As Karen Barad, cultural theorist and quantum physicist says, “the urgency [is] to trouble time…to produce collective imaginaries that undue pervasive conceptions of temporality — that take progress as inevitable and the past as something that has passed and is no longer with us — to something that is so tangible, so visceral that it is felt in our individual and collective bodies.” Through shifting how we perceive and act now, we can rewrite and reimagine.

‘A field of intelligence’

We all have our own worlds, our ‘umwelt’ — the perspective from which we see the world. Some of these worlds are overlapping, some not. We can never really know others’ worlds, but, through heightened presence and awareness, and through opening ourselves to other beings and things, we can begin to understand ourselves as operating in a ‘field of intelligence…part of the geni rather than a singular genius.’

                                                                                    James Bridle, Ways of being. Beyond human intelligence, Penguin, 2022

How might we as architects intervene in relationships between design and the environment while acknowledging that the environment might have other kinds of designs? We have lived in a human-centric world, believing that we are the pinnacle of intelligence and masters of our environment. What if we were, instead, its custodians? What if we were to use our intelligence to learn from others? And to use our findings to think with other forms of intelligence? To produce different, more expansive ways of inhabiting the world and, crucially, cohabiting?

‘We must discover an ecology of technology’

                                                                                    James Bridle, Ways of being. Beyond human intelligence, Penguin, 2022

New technologies and methodologies are allowing us to see things that are wondrously otherworldly — trees talking to each other through the wood wide web, plants responding to sound, and goats predicting earthquakes via supercomputers. To get to these understandings, we have had to de-centre our limited, anthropocentric view, and look to other minds. Indigenous wisdoms, fantastical stories, and the unimaginable are more prominent and prescient than ever.

What would our building structures look like if they were conceived with other lifeforms or intelligences? What fictioning, weirding and othering can be moved though architecture to create new possibilities?

It is U20’s belief that we don’t have all the answers and the thought that we can solve everything through human rationalism is defunct. U20’s modus operandi is one of looking beyond ourselves — expanding our fields of inspiration, understandings and non-understandings — in order to remain critical and to envisage and map out alternate nows. It is a forum for radical propositions via objects, artefacts, collections, architectural curations and their impacts. We look to natural history, science, the techniques of science-fiction writing and the arts and proceed via extrapolation rather than imposition. We follow a process that opens us up to unknown structures and outcomes. U20 looks to test our hypotheses in now or near-future scenarios of our creation, probing technologies and infrastructures as drivers for change.