Communication and composition

Design can only grope with the implications of an Address layer that meets matter at its own scales, and surely, unfortunately, it will do so initially through a demand that everything must appear and be disclosed to the cartographic militation of logistical necessity. But the geographies of communication are never and can never be limited to fixing things according to path and place. Things in the world always communicate and exchange information: DNA, RNA, and hair follicles disturbed by sound waves and sunlight exchanging information with celluloid film, for example. Things inform one another in specific ways, and this specificity is how Michel Serres defines communication as the work of Hermes. Adjacent to this, I see addressability not just as an absolute logistics but as a transalphabetic compositional platform. The logic of deep address is not only to identify discrete things and capture them into the fold by tagging them but also to designate with some manner of practical durability the ephemeral, immaterial, even metaphorical associations between instances, and thereby framing them as addressable events and passing them along as messages. By one perspective, this is what poetry does with written words. Its facility is not in the naturalistic explication of things as they are, but in the ongoing demonstration of language’s ability to contend with the affective contradictions of semantic abstraction. It might do this through the alignment of ideas that, by their positioning just so, are arranged for us as the trace of an alternative perception, or through the fixing of symbols on a surface that, through the poet’s cunning alienation of our interpretation, disclose startling truths about the materials of writing, sounding, reading, and so on. Similarly for deep address, in the assignment of a specific sequence of addressing identities to a precisely chosen web of immaterial associations now made into singularities (a certain view out the window, the falling of an anonymous bit of debris, one moment in the crashing together of dangerous alloys like a car and a driver), we render a composition built of nothing but a stream of applicable addresses resolving (somehow) to the signified arrangement of concepts, proximities, and appointments. The more difficult assignment for design is to compose relations within a framework that exceeds both the conventional appearances of forms and the provisional human context at hand, and so pursuing instead less the materialization of abstract ideas into real things than the redirection of real relations through a new diagram.

Benjamin H. Bratton, "The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty"

The State of Design

A renewed Copernican turn is needed everywhere, including in the philosophy of design. There it begins with the unsettling implications of our century’s circumstances, technologies, and deadlines. In practice, it shifts the balance from experiences to outcomes, from users to systems, from aesthetics to access, from intuition to abstraction, from expedience to ideals. The direct implications for design are fundamental, but habits are hard to change. From the Vitruvian Man to Facebook profiles, centuries of “human-centered design” (HCD) have brought more usable tools, but in many important domains design is far too psychologizing, individuating, and anthropocentric without being nearly humane enough. When raised to a universal principle, HCD also brought landfills of consumer goods, social media sophistry, and an inability to articulate futures beyond narrow clichés. In the name of amplifying the individual’s fertile desires, we’ve made a desert. Maximizing usability came at the expense of a deeper reason. The Copernican shift in the philosophy of design includes a rotation away from human-centered design and toward a fuller understanding of designing the human and the world. I don’t mean this in some transhumanist sort of way, but rather that the design of physical media is more than composing augmentations of a given subject, agent, and form. In Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley’s concise archaeology of design’s history, the practice is always ultimately about designing the human itself through designing its various exoskeletons, afterimages and anaesthetics.

Benjamin H. Bratton, “The Terraforming”


In architecture, it's very hard to find any reason to go beyond the standard solution. And the standard solution becomes one because it's such a good solution to what you're trying to do. But the problem with it is that it's often looking at a single criterion. And a typical standard solution in architecture is a very Bob Moses New York public housing. You know they need X amount of units, they need east/west exposure, they need a minimum distance between them, there's a certain height that's good for the elevator runs and the number of fire stairs. […] But it says nothing about the diversity of household types, the programmatic diversity to create a lively neighborhood, the life between the buildings, or the prevailing winds. There are so many other factors you can take into consideration. And I think the secret recipe we have developed [at BIG] that allows us to go beyond the standard solution is that we don't try to just provide X amount of real estate within a certain density, we actually try to pile on more demands. We also need to create a nice social space at the heart of the city block, we also need to ensure sunlight exposure, outdoor spaces, all kinds of things. And as you pile on these demands, suddenly the standard solution doesn't work any longer and you force the architecture into something different. […] By piling on more demands, by making the architectural problem more difficult to solve we escape the straightjacket of the standard solution and we come up with something that answers a more difficult problem.

Cities for Tomorrow 2015 - Social Infrastructure with Bjarke Ingels