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It’s been more than a few weeks since Indexed Memory and my promise to give this blog a problem-based thematic index.

The first iteration is now live but it’s still very much a work in progress. It was much more than the re-tagging I anticipated. I re-read many of the posts and checked their tags and keywords were appropriate or still appropriate. As with rummaging through an attic or a box of old photographs, there were endless distractions, diversions and daydreams but I came to learn that for some posts the intention either wasn’t clear or had faded while others could be read now in a different light. Indexing is a tricky business. As soon as you stray from individual words, it suddenly becomes something not absolute.

Reading many posts within a short space of time brought with it the danger of fragmentation but, countering that, was a new awareness of also bigger themes shared across seemingly unconnected posts. One such theme is now restated as Architecture’s troubled relationship with Nature and is why the recent post Building Nature came about. I don’t expect this theme to go away anytime soon.

Several posts talk about Food and shelter but to index them under Food and Shelter [as they currently remain] tells no-one anything new. We know that food and shelter are necessities for survival before they are even a conceptual pair. The illogic of separating food and shelter at least states a problem. Survival remains as a placeholder topic, even though the embedded problem doesn’t need any stating beyond that. Survival is not the problem. How to is.

Performance is currently a category and performance beauty has been a recurrent tag but the term never really caught on and I don’t many people are or will ever have a problem with the visual being the only measure of aesthetic worth or the only one worth considering. I’m sure they would think differently if they were in the Antarctic. Or perhaps a desert. Or in the way of a hurricane, tornado, flood, tsunami or fire. Performance beauty is not just about the efficient use of resources and thus indirectly linked to sustainability and long-term Survival. Performance beauty is getting closer and closer to survival in the medium term. Part of the problem with Architecture’s troubled relationship with Nature is that Architecture has failed to recognise that Nature ends up killing us whether it means to or not.  Shelter is no longer just about a roof over our heads but surviving the worst Nature can throw at us.

The last topic in the list is yet unassigned and I expect some posts will remain there a while. Of all the posts for which the point wasn’t clear, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find that many have to do with The Media. It’s of course possible a post might not have had much of a point to begin with, but it’s also possible a post might have more than one theme or problem I haven’t been able to isolate. For now, some are collected under How is architectural media complicit? I hope to be able to state the problem more succinctly in the future.

My numerous posts to do with The Autopoiesis of Architecture posed another problem. A supposed theory of everything should solve problems and not create new ones. Again, I suspect each of these posts deals with part of a problem I will get around to isolating and labelling. For the time being, anything to do with The Autopoiesis of Architecture is grouped under Is it worth reading The Autopoiesis of Architecture? This July, I concluded it was, although not the reasons the author and publisher presumably expect. [c.f. The Autopoiesis of Architecture Vol. 1]

Over the years there has been a number of posts dealing with aspects of architectural education but little to link them beyond a keyword or a category. Education is fine as a category but, as a topic, what is the problem and what are the deliverables? Architecture’s troubled relationship with Education made just as much sense as Education’s troubled relationship with Architecture. Rather than pondering What’s wrong with architecture education? as if it were an absolute, I thought it better to ask the question What do we want from architecture education? This seemed a better fit for how I wanted this list of themes to function in terms of solving problems. Hopefully, someone having the same question will read on and find their own answers. I still don’t know.

It may turn out that contemporary architecture education is totally fit for purpose and that it’s our perceptions of its purpose that are out of alignment. Don’t believe me? Well, show me just one assistant architect job advertisement asking for a comprehensive knowledge of architectural history along with pencil sketching skills. [c.f. Architecture Misfits #27: The Analog Student]

I still need to take a long hard look at each of the other categories. The point of writing a post in the category Education might have usually been some variation on the question “What do we want from architecture education?” but what of the others?  Typologies are all very well and interesting and I’m endlessly fascinated by them but the question they all attempt to answer is How best to live with other people? Typologies still exists as an index item more or less mirroring the category but I expect it will split into two or more and How best to live with other people? will definitely be one.

History isn’t so easy. The question “What do we want from architecture history?” doesn’t make much sense even if rephrased as “What do we hope to learn from architecture history?” In the post Indexed Memory that was the initial impetus for this re-indexing, I suggested we think of history not as a visual stylebook but as an extensive library of solutions to all manner of problems architecture has the capacity to solve. Every building that exists or existed isn’t necessarily a good idea or a good solution but might be part of a possible solution to some new problem or set of conditions. How to know what information needs to be accessed and how to access that information is the problem and is what this exercise is all about.

Before one can creatively apply or recombine something, one needs to be aware it exists.

And one only bothers to look for things if one thinks there might be something out there that is part of the answer. The internet is the same as a library in this way. It’s easier to find something if you know what it is you want. We’ve become better at predicting the type of information retrieved by search engine keyword combinations. It’s true that filter bubbles aren’t a good thing but they haven’t exactly done away with ivory towers and other entrenched forms of prejudice, bias and ignorance.

The greater danger is “surfing”. Surfing is an unfocussed search for information or entertainment as diversionary entertainment in itself. It is the opposite of thematic indexing and problem-driven inquiry. Surfing is enabled by links that take us to some predetermined other place with minimal effort and no anticipation other than “I wonder what will happen if I click on this?” Surfing is the death of creative thinking. It is only possible to make creative connections between diverse pieces of information if one expects and wants an outcome other than passing the time.

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UPDATE 21 Nov. 2018: 

The day after I posted this, Mark in St. Louis asked me to clarify what I meant by surfing because to him, it didn’t seem that much different than “meandering” through a bookstore or library for the fun of it. Mark said that the internet has the potential to provide this, even if it’s not very useful for architecture right now.

I was hard pressed to find the difference between my idea of surfing and Mark’s idea of meandering for both are ways to pleasantly pass the time and it’s to each his own on that count. Moreover, both activities are performed with the expectation of being diverting and pleasurable in itself. We both agreed that the value of meandering or surfing both lie in allowing random things into one’s life or, in Mark’s words, to learn of the existence of things. With meandering we might even walk out of the bookstore or library with a book. With surfing we might add bookmarks, but if you’re anything like me, you cull them every few years without once having checked them.

We concluded that “meandering” is an active mental activity yet “surfing” a passive one. Both have the expectation of stimulation but with meandering it’s more likely to turn into something more. Surfing is more like yesteryear’s “channel hopping” (that it effectively replaced). It didn’t matter what programs one watched or partially watched – the act of watching “some television” was the sole point.

Thanks again Mark!