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The Autopoiesis of Architecture: Vol.1 Pages 237~240

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Before moving on to Section 3.6 and finding out why styles are essential if the very fabric of the architectural universe isn’t to be torn apart, I’d like to go back to these four pages. They seem important. They’re a partial summary of what’s gone before, but they also contain a rather dodgy justification for what’s to come – which, of course, is what the author really wants to trumpet – Parametricism. The One True Style. No Style but Parametricism. etc. 

Read this and see what you think.


I need some help here. Am I correct in understanding that the argument goes like this? (Dodgy statements in red.)

  1. Designing is difficult, there are many possibilities. We need a way to reduce the complexity/possibilities.
  2. We can’t do this by getting rid of the idea of beauty because what’s left is insufficient. (‘The reference to performance criteria simply cannot constrain the task sufficiently’.) 
  3. But the idea of beauty does however reduce complexity because we no longer have to make random choices every time. 
  4. Using criteria of both utility and beauty is ideal because, if a designer doesn’t know what to do, he can resort to functional criteria and, for those times when something has been engineered rather than designed, a designer can come along and add some design to it.

This argument is shameful – really shit, in fact. It’s no longer possible to take this book seriously. There’s more. Remember, the author is arguing for why a style is necessary to eliminate the need for time-consuming thought and application of skill and experience when designing. OK, OK, at least I know I’m prejudiced. Read this – the four reasons why we ‘need’ styles.

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  1. The author seems to have a bee in his bonnet about random fiat. I wish he’d explain what the fuck it is as I’m having to guess here. I imagine he’s talking about unguided design decisions or, circularly, ‘formist’ [I’m refusing to use the word ‘formalist’ as it contains a shred of authority] design decisions not guided by a ‘formist’ style. This is a pathetic attempt to knit what’s to come with what went before for, back on page 199, 3.3.1 Design Decisions, first sentence – ‘The elemental operation of architecture is the design decision.’
  2. Saying ‘And totally random design decisions may not be possible anyway.’ is probably true as it’s easy to imagine there is always some criteria, misguided or otherwise, for something being one way and not another. However, it’s still not a reason why a style is necessary to guide decisions that, unlike those decisions based on functional criteria, nobody would miss if they were not made.

  3. But no, for beauty often has a functional and economic logic. I agree. Oh dear. Since the beauty word has been mentioned, ART can’t be far away.


Here’s some snippets I knew would come in handy sometime. This is as good a time as any.

In response to the question ‘Why is art so expensive?’ art dealer Ernst Beyeler reportedly replied, ‘If I can’t sell something, I just double the price.’ 


‘Some people actually prefer to pay more than makes sense’…’I think very often the price paid for a work is the trophy itself,’ says Arne Glimcher, art dealer…’The people who are spending record amounts on art buy more than just that glow of prosperity. They’ve purchased boasting rights.

arne glimcher

So yes, I agree that beauty does have a functional and economic logic. Check out footnote 101 on page 238.

However, these rationales are not manifest, not communicated. The formal principles remain independent from explicit functional criteria.

I’m not so sure. It seems pretty clear what the game is. If architecture is Art and has its own collectors wishing to purchase boasting rights, then formal principles that produce architecture that is A) expensive and B) difficult to replicate would be more desirable. The contorted structures of ZHA and the highly contrived structures of OMA are both examples of formal principles fulfilling the perverse social and economic logic of boasting rights.

  1. Formist principles save time, enable rationalisation, benefit both the economy and the environment and also stop people from getting lost. This is getting crazy. Is white black? Functional or utilitarian principles do all this and without all the middlemen.

The problem of architectural design is to generate spatial forms that can fulfil desired functions and/or to propose appropriate functions to utilise any given spatial form.

Well, this makes sense, especially if form is just the manifestation of perverse function. Here, the author tries to throw us off the scent by advising us to appreciate ‘the co-creation and mutual dependency of form and function as correlates’ and explains that to not do that is ‘archaic’ and not in line with ‘current world society [that] operates on the basis of rather abstract criteria that, in their dialectic, potentially open up an infinite universe of possibilities.’ Check out page 239, paragraphs two and three.

I have a problem with the statement that functionality, like beauty, is historically and culturally relative. This is true, but doesn’t mean that, like beauty, it is subjective or arbitrary or, as the author says, abstract. In the last paragraph, choosing which functionality to focus on shouldn’t be that hard. Perhaps keep the rain out, maybe a certain level thermal comfort, not to difficult to move around in, etc. 

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Designing is like making mud pies, then. The last paragraph (the one spanning the page) introduces a new non-problem for which a non-solution will be forthcoming.  

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Did you get that? It is up to the designer to pick’n’mix between the two codes of beauty and utility. Utility then, is the subject of a design decision and is thus made into the creature of beauty. (This explains a lot.)

But don’t worry, because

  1. everything that claims beauty and utility is a part of architecture.
  2. formal principles and general functional criteria [as opposed to the perverse ones?] are orienting guidelines that facilitate decision making within the design process. [didn’t I tell you? – functional criteria are mere guidelines for design to act upon. Haven’t we come a long way from the beginning where function was for losers?] 

Now you can start to worry again, because

  1. No explicit criteria and guidelines offer water-tight mechanisms that could guarantee strictly predictable procedures and results.
  2. There is no way to calculate solutions.
  3. The problematic [sic.] of the design decision should rather be theorized as the dilemma of having to decide in the absence of sufficient information. A decision has to be made somehow. [my bold] 


An orienting decision making programme is required to steer the design process between indecision and random wilfulness. Within architecture these necessary programmes are called styles. The next section will be treating styles as fundamental structures

(and, before we too almost forget,)

of the autopoiesis of architecture.

And that’s it! I think that’s all the justification we’re going to get. The author’s impatience to talk about why building surfaces should be curvy has given us this bit of literary stitching. Inadequate as it is, it still manages to reveal a lot about the author’s biases – I won’t say intentions or motivations for writing this book because they are still obscure. By this stage, we can say that the book isn’t written with a desire to inform or educate but it is wordy and weighty and heavy going and that’s probably all it needs to be seen to be.


  • Wonderful roasting of this pompous and atrocious assault on both logic and the English language. Your treatment of this cooked goose reminds me of the roasting swan-song in Carmina Burana “OLIM LACUS COLUERAM”
    Many thanks.