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The parallels I see between architecture and digital design grow every time I read an architectural journal or essay. Yet a serious difference between the culture of the two disciplines is that architects maintain – even claim – a position of powerlessness in the face of growing global inequality.

In general, but especially within geo-spatial contexts, architects are adept at articulating "wicked problems" like social inequity and environmental self-destruction. Yet among nearly all the literature I've read, rarely have I seen a response to these problems other than the problem-framing itself, with most writers concluding with the meek proposal that designers and architects "should think about these problems."

But at least architects are thinking about them (and it's clear they are). Within the deep and rich history of architecture is embedded a current of thoughtful and critical literature. With my limited knowledge, I would even propose that architecture has constantly been guided forward by a selective group of architect-thinkers who do most of the producing of said literature.

As a visible (perhaps a better term is monumental) endeavor, and because it is necessarily inclusive of new technologies, architecture has always stood as representative of progress. But as pointed out by many writers, architecture is less significant as an indicator of the times in the hypervisual urban environment, and has lost relevance with the commodification of the built environment: what Fulcrum calls "the product of some form of real estate exploitation" (introduction / p.1).
^ I need more information on this latter point. Developers and anonymous designers as constrained to specifications ultimately dictated by mortgage holding companies, financial players.

So it makes sense that architecture is in somewhat of an existential crisis right now. Technology and democratization of knowledge has mostly removed the need for architects on major development projects, so despite its history of influential and forward-thinking social projects architecture has been further restricted into the world of academia, or for practicing architects, rich peoples' homes (need better phrasing). Those who "make it out" end up working on "tactical urbanisms," or low-impact "guerilla" projects at a decidedly smaller scale than architecture's grand history.

Why talk about this? Because despite its youth as a discipline, if kept on trajectory, digital design will inevitably end up in the same place as architecture, albeit much less self-consciously. Whether you call it UX design, product design, interaction design, or something else, digital design is in its happy, ambitious youth. Digital design believes it is ready to change the world and take on challenging problems, [links], and its discourse is self-congratulatory and mostly single-minded. Yes, the world-changing potential is there, but our field yet lacks the perspective to see how design is an unwitting contributor to #capitalism problems of wealth disparity and social inequality. But we if we learn from the example of architecture, we can gain that perspective quickly, which we must do if we are not to fall prey to the same mechanisms of commodification and automation that displaced architects from a position of cultural and social influence to one in which they struggle to understand how to help.


Added by Toby Shorin
Updated 3 days ago

(1) a fashion system produces a relative disqualification of the past, due to a particular concept of time that privileges the new. in contrast would be a traditional society, where greater value is placed on the old and respected than on the new and innovative in various kinds of social problem-solving (everything from how to educate scholars to how to govern the polis to what to wear).

(2) in a fashion system, there is society-wide desire for constant, systematic change, as opposed to a social system where change is sporadic and irregular.

(3) Fashion represents a means of individual expression within a framework of social imitation.

(4) in societies where fashion is present, consumption and appearance play significant role in the emotions and the human subconscious. a fashionable society features an esthetic cult of the self, encouraging unique and distinctive consumption in the interest of developing one’s confidence and increasing one’s value in the eyes of others.

(5) In a fashion system, change occurs in superficial forms rather than in major ones. The surface details of a relatively constant, slowly evolving silhouette are what are open to change and thus become outlets for self-expression through visible personal choice. radical attempts to alter major silhouettes (for example changing a garment form, such as substituting men’s trousers for skirts) are met with great resistance.

(6) Fashion systems follow a theatrical logic of excess and exaggeration. Fashion is theatrical in that it necessarily involves conspicuous consumption. it is a performance, requiring an educated audience to be effective. The phrase “logic of excess and exaggeration” refers to how incremental changes in details accumulate, eventually developing a fashionable form to an extreme point at which time a dramatic switchback occurs. Trendsetters move either towards greater conservatism or towards greater audacity in order to preserve their distinction; less savvy imitators may exaggerate a fashion past the point of distinctive discretion to the point of appearing gauche, excessive, or awkward.

(7) Words constitute the economy that gives and denies fashionable value to forms. in this way, fashion is performative, the result of the right person declaring something fashionable in the presence of the right audience. This point is important, because it dictates the need to study fashion through texts and words conveying fashionability and desire to consume, innovate, and express individual distinction.

(8) in a fashion system, criticism is constantly aroused by the rejection of the past and the tendency for continual changes. criticism and disapproval help to perpetuate the system by establishing an old view or product, or somehow a contrary one, against which to innovate and create something new.

(9) a fashion system places value on pleasure, making seduction a social norm. consumption of fashionable objects is seen as a means of gaining attention and approval, and from those things, pleasure.

(10) Because a major goal in a fashion system is consumption at the greatest possible level, when such a system is established there is a gradual movement towards equalization of appearances and accessibility to all social groups. Fashion has frequently been called a democratizing force for this reason. individual groups (groups based on socio-economics, profession, gender, race or ethnicity, and so on) create methods of maintaining distinction, but the possibility remains open for social mobility based on the ability to create objects worthy of consumption or based on the skillful manipulation of impressive appearances. By making all things subject to change, a fashion system eventually destabilizes most sacred institutions, making them open to experimentation.

Criteria for a Fashion System

Added by Toby Shorin
Updated 4 days ago

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