Saturday, March 24, 2007

Severe, High, Elevated, Guarded or Low?

Alright, we’re back after a little hiatus. My apologies for those who were following along (and I know that there’s a lot of you), we’re now back in the country and back into the normal schedule. So let’s get back to business.

Over the break I took a look through an interesting book called “5 Codes; Architecture, Paranoia and Risk in Times of Terror” which as you can imagine holds some relevance to this topic of study. In particular I’d like to discuss Stephan Trüby’s essay similarly titled “5 Codes, On Architecture Paranoia and Risk”.

The book title makes reference to the Department of Homeland Security’s 5 stage warning system (Severe, High, Elevated, Guarded & Low) which we are all aware of its vagary and general unspecified paranoia. Trüby’s essay calls into conversation other perhaps more important codes to architecture. Before jumping straight into the codes and systems by which architecture has been manipulated for the past 5 centuries Trüby outlines what an architecture system should be and that in this case there is no straight definition. His point is that for a system to exist it must function in a binary form, as architecture versus the world outside it. This concept of inside and outside becomes prevalent in the rest of his discussion. His claim is that “It has become more difficult than ever to define a difference between architecture and what could be the world around it”pg16. I think by this he is referring to architects in contemporary practice and their multiple roles that they are now assuming on a much more frequent basis (ie. as sociologists, anthropologists, filmmakers, publishers, politicians, economists, etc…). Although Trüby might not be referring to architecture as built form specifically, my first reaction to this was that with the increasing explicit deployment of security measures in architecture today the line between architecture and the outside world is being clarified and intensified. My other reaction to this is that I don’t think its necessarily true that architecture should only be defined as a binary concept between inside and out, more on this later on.

Back to this importance of inside and outside; Trüby also touches on something that I find fascinating. He examines in classical and medieval times how a society familiar to constant danger (from war, nature, the gods, etc…) blended architecturally the culture of war into their society and therefore its architecture. He mentions the concept of Prepon as the Greeks refered to it or Decorum as known by the Romans. Decorum is a code of design. According to Decorum culture and the military are two sides of the same coin. Culture represents the internal behaviour of the population and strategy represents the external. Trüby explains that in these societies, through Decorum, the architecture was one of welcome to its returning generals and a symbol communicating the success of war. I wonder in our day and age if we need to revive a type of Decorum? Not in the same sense as it was used in classical times but something adopted to fit with out current situation (that is not to invoke images of conquest or glorify war). I think that our current built responses to war demonstrate our failures rather than our success (think about it, what do armored post offices and solid slabs of concrete in front of your apartment building tell you about our efforts against terror?).

Trüby also discusses the difference between danger and risk and society’s evolution from being based on the former to the latter. He explains that danger is an externalized concept of fear in that “danger occurs if any damage that may occur originates externally and can be attributed to the world around us.” where as “…risk exists if damage is caused internally and is attributed to the system”p24. This in combination with reference to the corridor which he also analyzes (and we’ll leave for another post perhaps) he outlines the fundamental difference in attitude towards inside versus outside and the change in location of fear. He describes pre-modern times as viewing the exterior as insecure and a place of danger, as a result it was a society of entering, returning to the interior, to safety. In contrast, modern society was one where civilization had pacified the external and the new danger was from within. This society was one of escape (as codified by building codes). Trüby poses the question then, “what rule settings the pervasiveness of war will lead to, which can identify neither interior or the exterior as security space?”p32.

Trüby suggests perhaps that through some kind of gadget that we might create “pervasive protected space” which exists somewhere in between the interior and exterior. I question his use of the term gadget. He purposely refrains from suggesting that “architecture” will be able to create this intermediary space and that a “gadget” will be necessary, presumably because of his earlier assertion that architecture as a system must exist as a binary between itself and the outside world. I hope that we don’t give up so easily on the possibility that architecture can create a mid-space as the next frontier. I think of examples that already begin to legitimately physically blur boundaries (Diller+Scofidio’s Blur building an obvious example). I imagine two possibilities. The first is that architecture through technology and a change in scale to the personal level could allow for the creation of a space outside the inside yet still as an interior condition and one of safety. Secondly and personally my favorite of the two, is based upon the notion that because of architecture’s role as something that “withstands” (whether gravity, wind, people, sun, politics, etc…) it is perceived as slow, rigid, defensive and too easily exposed. In response to this I think maybe we should consider architecture’s role as that of aggressor, one where architecture takes an active role in life and safety. I know it sounds a little sci-fi but as Trüby already pointed out, the role of the architect has already been blurred, maybe we should make it a little twisted as well.

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