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The debate about the autonomous and the contingent object thus, goes back to the separation of architecture from its skill base in craft and building practice that took place in the Renaissance. This separation also includes the operations through which buildings and cities are produced by designers, clients, users, regulatory codes, markets and infrastructures. The resurgence in the debate on the competing claims of autonomy and contingency testifies that since the Renaissance we have failed to develop theories and techniques that address the relationship between authored architecture and authorless contexts.

As a result, coupled with commercial forces, recent advancements in digital technology and complexity theory claim architecture and the city as self-organization, dismantling architecture and depriving it from relevance in shaping social capital. If in the Renaissance, architecture was separated from the city, which was the relationship between the ways in which a city was built and the urban fabric? How can we better understand the relationship between the architectural project and the processes that configure the urban structure in which it is situated?

This paper argues that for architecture to reclaim its scope as a social discipline it needs to theorise its relationship with the social, the political and the economic processes of its context. This paper is based on our contribution to the recent ACSA Fall conference posing the question of the autonomous and the contingent object. In this paper we argue that it is a binary that falls within a list of other philosophical binary-problems.


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But if architecture had an overarching theory that addresses these binaries it would be as though it had solved all problems in philosophy at once. Our suggestion is that the autonomous and the contingent object carry the deeper question of who authors a work , a philosophical problem that takes its most intensified form in the Renaissance. Is knowledge and architectural authorship provided from outside or is it actively invented from within? How does authorship work? Who is the author of a work? Viewed from the perspective of the humanistic idea of architectural authorship, the idea of architecture as authored and autonomous object is the subject of the artistic imaginative processes of inventing.

Architecture, Culture and Tectonics

In contrast, the view of buildings and cities as authorless evolutionary processes is at the core of scientific or technological processes of taking in existing external information as guidance to design. The paradox has resulted in opposing world-views in design and educational theory, in which architecture is caught in the divide between the Arts and Humanities on the one hand, and the Sciences on the other. Design-research approaches have recently emerged such as the design-PhD programme at the Bartlett School of Architecture , approaching design as research with an inter-disciplinary emphasis.

However, the dichotomy still compartmentalises architecture and education into humanities-based and science-based research in many educational programmes around the world, each seen as being intrinsically different from the other. We argue that none of these two positions gives a convincing account of the source of architectural ideas that is powerful enough to claim social and political agency for the discipline. Gelernter argues that the autonomous-contingent problem goes back to our thinking heritage arising from a conceptual paradox built deeply into the Western system of knowledge.

Known to philosophers as the "subject-object" problem or the "body-mind" problem, this dualism is responsible for similar confusion in many other fields, such as psychology and the philosophy of science. The paradox has originated with the ancient Greeks who devised a cosmological system to explain the workings of the universe that later evolved into a theory of how knowledge is possible, or otherwise to an epistemological system.

This system suffered from a dualistic conception of the individual which allowed for two simultaneous but mutually exclusive interpretations: on the one hand, the individual is a physical object in nature whose actions and behavior are completely determined like all other physical objects by universal laws. On the other hand, the individual can be considered as a creative subject, acting and behaving by his own personal desires and free from external influence. For Gelernter designers identify themselves with the creative side of this equation, while epistemologists with the opposite.

The underlying ambiguity of the subject-object problem has allowed the two sides to blend into one another in the Western production of knowledge. There are theories of creation that look like theories of knowledge and vice versa. Having discussed the subject-object problem and the way in which it ties theories of design to theories of knowledge, we move to the humanistic idea of modern authorship. We suggest that this idea forms a variation on these themes, subjecting architecture to another crucial dualism, which establishes two things: first, the superior status of architectural design to that of building craft and more generally to inherited, collective, non-authored and tacit systems of spatial production; second, the superior status of the design original to that of variances to which the original might be subjected otherwise.

For Mario Carpo, with Alberti, the design of the building became the original, and the building its identical copy. Our argument is that the Albertian model has deeper and wider repercussions than this. It sets the superior status of architectural design to buildings and cities as found , because they are mosaics of accidents, adaptations, adjustments, additions, subtractions, revisions and other errors, most significantly by not having an author. We delight in architecture produced by minds, but also in architectures, which are produced not by the ordering capacities of human minds, but emerge from the accumulation of unrelated acts of building spread over years.

The problem of designed and emergent architectures entails the danger of another duality, with the binaries in the last architecture Biennale in mind.

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This view also marked his approach in his book Delirious New York reading the city as self-organizing grid that maximizes programmatic potential. Assemblages are bottom up and blind to the eventual outcome of design.

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In contrast, the Albertian model of architecture is top-down, clear in its intention but blind to evolutionary process. From the interaction of planning codes with urban plots and infrastructures to informal urbanization there is a growing gap between the artistic aspirations of architects and the systemic operation of architecture as it happens on the ground. In the s Manfredo Tafuri claimed that capitalism stripped architecture of its ideological purpose.

We will now discuss the three artifacts as the means of exploring these questions. We chose to analyse Venice for the following reasons: Venice is the result of the intersection between organic urban growth and conscious architectural intent manifested in the medieval fabric, the monuments and urban spaces in the city. It was also the centre of Vitruvian studies, decisively opening up to the Renaissance during which the humanistic idea of architectural authorship developed in the early sixteenth century.

As such, Venice can illuminate the interaction between architecture — seen as the "autonomous project" - and its socio-economic aspects — or the contingencies of context - including the origin of the relationship between the two. As the city annexed new lands, local requirements such as the need for dual access from water and land led to a network of urban squares and global scale effects.

This pattern captures an evolutionary pattern, since early times, as the churches and squares were the social nuclei of parish islands, semi-autonomous community centres, which contained a market and were serviced through their proximity to water. Left : Choice radius network of street system. Right : Street-canal system. The squares also facilitated water collection through cisterns and channels. The continuous network of through routes indicates that bridges were built so as to link the squares with each other producing a network of multiple interconnecting centralities.

Another key characteristic of the squares is that they belong to a combinatorial syntax of elements: square-church-cistern-canal-bridge-stepped access , leading to the emergence of a recognisable order devoid of preconception. Moving to the analysis of the Hospital Fig. In response to the question of the source of architectural form, this is a clear case in which the architect has retrieved the non-designed architecture of Venice an urban system and creatively embedded it in a new designed reality a complex building.

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Left : Axial analysis of permeability. Right : Visibility. The two networks intersect on the square areas of the Hospital in an analogical relationship with the networks of Venice. Moving to Calvino, the structure of the book is often discussed as a diamond shape. All three artefacts are modular. All three consist of local-scale rules that produce modular and combinatorial patterns at the larger scale, casting light on the emergent and generative logic of bottom-up architectures.

Taking Venice as the main subject of the illustration, the horizontal axis plots variance of artefacts based on whether they are built or un-built or virtual , while the vertical axis locates variations of designed and non-designed or found artefacts.

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The three squares in the diagram capture differentiation of scale to include buildings, building complexes and cities. Works by eponymous architects in Venice, such as Palladio, Sansovino, Codussi, Scamozzi, are found on the right top corner of the diagram representing individual authorship that led to the production of built and authored designs. Venice is located on the bottom right corner, as a city, that largely speaking, was not the outcome of a singular design but emerged from evolutionary collective authorship.

The Venice Hospital is located on the top left side of the figure by virtue of being a designed building complex that was not materialised. In contrast, the ideal Renaissance city of Palmanova occupies the opposite quadrant having been realised as a military planned city for the Venetian Republic in the late Renaissance. Finally, hybrid cases such as speculative architecture fall onto the right side of the x axis, designed by architects but lacking individuality and intentionality of the architectural kind.

Similarly, digital designs conceived in a digital environment as algorithmic models through collaborative authorship and remaining virtual informational models belong to the left side of this axis.

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The example of the Hospital can help us see how found architectures such as Venice get into architecture, and what architecture adds to them: abstract comparative knowledge of the designed and the found. For Hillier, this knowledge is raised to the level of conscious reflective thought, and made the object of creative attention and innovation in a field of possibility expanded by this mode of thought. The three examples demonstrate that ideas travel from the external world of artefacts to the mind and to the world again through creative transformation.

As to the autonomous and the contingent question, this is a matter of dynamic interaction of the bottom-up evolutionary recombinant logic of the mindless with the top-down logic of the mindful at different degrees of actuality, virtuality, and presence. Designed and Co-Authored — the Rocinha design studio Having established the theoretical premise of the discussion we move to the example of a design studio that explores how this model can inform design practice.

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They are objects with a bold identity and character, which are never anonymous and informal, a symbol of the innovation and high quality achieved by the new production systems and by sustainable, ecological materials.