Ian Ritchie Architects

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Architecture & Nature: Essays 1-5, 2002

Essay No 1 : Synthetic Thinking in a More Complex World

Vilém Flusser, the Czech-born philosopher, made a convincing argument in his short essay The Factory, that it is through `the factory’, i.e. the place of manufacture, that we can understand the science, politics, art and religion of a society, and identify the human being in that society. His sense of humour suggested that homo faber (maker) was perhaps a better description of the common characteristic of human beings rather than homo sapiens sapiens.

The materiality and physicality that our architectural thinking ultimately has to engage with is a powerful witness to homo faber, but today, we must ask deeper and more difficult questions if we are to find solutions that respond to the idea of homo sapiens sapiens.

While Ian Ritchie Architects designs have often explored the structural and energy performance of certain materials to help create spatial environments with the pleasure of dynamic light, one of our current concerns, as illustrated by the experimental greenhouse in Terrasson, is to create an architecture using material which is less and less processed by industry, and a as a by-product less expensive. At the same time, we stay aware of research and developments in what I refer to as genuine high technology, such as nano-technology and molecular ‘replicating’ spiders’ webs.

The 20th century concluded with the fact that we have to fundamentally re-investigate design to enable us, hopefully, to be more intelligent in the way in which we negate the status quo. By this I mean that our very existence, as individuals and as a society dealing with our need to survive changes the balance of nature.
The early reflections of ecology to design as a pragmatic search for a clean, green or eco-design methodology has in fact become an investigation into the problem of design in general. The shift from an industrial reductivist to a post-industrial holistic design, requires a more complex inquiry. The new design methodology has to embrace social, political and philosophical criticism of design if we are to redefine design with any sense of value and meaning. The problem is vast.

At the moment, I accept that we can only attempt to open up critical discussion of the role of design in a post-industrial ecological society in the hope that in doing so we can help make it happen.

One action we could take for each and every design decision, independent of its apparent scale of impact, is to question its meaning and impact upon the quality of life on a global level. Of course we cannot expect to answer this with any scientific certainty, but the simple act of asking the question will help us to begin develop a critical sense along with the new analytical tools and methodologies necessary to change the acts and products of design.

Civilisation may be regarded as a system in internal disequilibrium; technology or ideology or social organisation are always out of joint with each other – that is what propels the system along a given track. Our sense of movement, of incompleteness, contributes to the idea of progress.” (Stanley Diamond)

To put it another way, when we are able to appreciate the way the world is really working, it is never quite the way we would like it to be working.

© Ian Ritchie 03/2002