PART 1 of 3:
Surrogate Bodies: architecture [or] individuation: digital tissues, bodily investigations and architectural entities.
“… the project herein, while actively dissecting a digitally developed body of architecture, simultaneously explores a series of scenarios whereby the boundaries between man and architecture become confused, yet inseverable and interwoven …”
The ultimate conclusion is the conception of an architecture which can only be described in biological terms: structure and enclosure have become skeleton, flesh and skin … the architecture-entity has emerged . . .
The industrial revolution of past years inspred the pre-existing concept of the machino-body, while the digital revolution seems to have led to the conceptual reframing of the organic, fragile biological body to the synthetic, ultra-durable, upgradable even, techno-body of the future. Anatomy of the body itself becomes irrelevant, unless of course it relates to the hybridisation of the body and technology.
Traditionally the body has acted as a means of generating architecture based on the measure of the human body, its proportion, scale, and so on. From the Vitruvian Man, Corbu’s le Modular, to Neufert, the body has throughout history been central to the role of architecture.
“the first man, turned inventor in the face of necessity, drove four posts into the ground, strung four poles across them and covered these with branches and moss.”
[Laugier, Marc-Antoine: Essai sur l’architecture, 1755.]
Upon inspecting Laugier’s Primitive Hut, where the primordial need for shelter in an otherwise hostile environment led to an architectural response of erecting wooden members to be known as ‘columns and beams’ to comprise a structure. The primitive hut, the little shelter on the cusp of Laugier’s woods, rose as a response to the desire to enhance our chances at survival. The construction of the hut – itself a monumental moment in man’s history – is undoubtedly successful in the supplementing the human body via an architectural construct.
Mother earth can be hostile; architecture takes the role of the surrogate for the pre-primitive hut, the first house, the mother’s womb. . .
The mythical Daedalus, commonly considered the first architect, is perhaps best known for his inventions which extended and enhanced the human body through the use of technology. It is evident in the story of Icarus’ and his famous flight for example, in which both characters are fitted with identical mechanical winged-extensions, that the one who errs on the side of caution while using this strange new body-enhancement technology is the one who lives to tell the tale.
However, in the account of Pasiphae’s desire to couple with the bull, the architect fashions a mechanical body-suit, a literal second skin, in which she inhabits as a second physical body. The inhabitant’s actual body is still physically unaltered so to speak; however this time it is conceptually, if not quite literally, cast-aside in favor of another more desirable and even more appropriate one to the unnatural task of copulating with the bull.
The sexual act between the, now enhanced, Pasiphae and the bull results in the birth of the flesh- eating, heinous minotaur; though most-likely intended as allegorical device, warning of the danger inherent in pursuing unnatural desire, also leads the reader to (inadvertantly nonethless) form a mental image of these beastly bodies in the throw of passionate intercourse. Repugnant though it may seem, this notion of selecting a specific, appropriate body to fulfill a particular desire is of great importance. The human being is still the active participant in this surrogate body however; while the architectural construct exists merely as a superficial shell, not quite a body at all, a contrivance.
The natural has become the unnatural, the unnatural becoming the natural. The distinction between the body and architecture as confused, yet in-severable and interwoven.
The primordial desire to probe the depths of the human body’s interior has historically been driven by varied and sometimes contradictory aims, pursued through diverse methods, while in many ways contributing to the way we see not only ourselves but our relationship with the outer world – and in turn our relationship with architecture. Corresponding with the mapping of the body through the ages the idea of the body itself has transformed from that of the Daedalean body of mystical potentialities, to the Renaissance body as object to be dissected and anatomized, to the machino-body of the Industrial Revolution, to the digital-data-body of the Information Age as exemplified by contemporary medical imaging – the body as ‘dissolved’ in the digital realm.
Concurrently, as the body has become less and less of a purely organic entity, architecture has become increasingly imbued with notions of the natural; ultimately resulting in a contemporary concept of architecture which can only be described in biological terms: structure and enclosure have become skeleton, flesh and skin.
Keisler’s Endless House, we appreciate it today as a kind of primitive hut in its own right do we not? It surely displays an organic vocabulary in its fluid yet convoluted form, where individual chambers blend into one another in a cavernous and body-like interior. One could imagine that being housed in, nestled in, such a space would likely be a fairly interesting and even sensually stimulating experience, being that it is so radically different from the spaces we humans have created prior to this. Functionally however, there is nothing organic about the house whatsoever; in relation to biological bodies, the Endless House is, in actuality, a mere carcass of a body … a lifeless shell.
Yet, with the incubation of newly born babies, we find a literal minfestation in the incubator-apparatus of this recurrent need for architecture to act as a surrogate for our seemingly inadequate, natural bodies. Here however, we find an example of the architectural edifice transcending its traitional role, that of providing mere shelter.
Through a series of mechanical simulations of natural phenomena such as controlled lighting and temperature, the incubator succeeds in providing a sterile and comfortable, even ideal, alternative environment for the neonatal human being to reside in. We find correlary, if not as extreme, examples of such post-natural tendancies in the housing standards of today as well. The primitive hut has thus been replaced by, or rather intertwined with, technology. The hut is no longer an object, but rather an active participant in its environment, even an active participant in the survival and well-being of its inhabitant.
With the current acceleration of contemporary scientific technology, it is not very far-fetched to speculate that the future world of 3d-printing, medical imaging, and bioengineering will not only allow for the near-instant re-creation of and/or replacement for faulty organs in the human body, while facilitating the creation of completely functional bodies – amalgamations of genetically engineered tissues, organs, vessels. Might this path ultimately lead to post-synthetic, neo-natural bodily constructs?
What of the post-synthetic surrogate bodies of future architectures?
Marcos Cruz, while discussing his notion of ‘flesh and architecture’ provides a clue:
“our surrounding is becoming increasingly infused with principles of the bio-logic (…) merging engineered technology and unrestrained nature until the two (will) become indistinguishable”
[Cruz, Marcos. Unpredictable Flesh. Porto: Mimesis, 2004. p07]
Blurring the boundaries between architecture and nature – architecture as a highly differentiated, functional, flesh. Evolutionary theory would teach us that if architecture were to enter the realm, if only partially, of the natural, then it also would enter the realm of the living; as such, it must eventually go through the process of individuation, become individual and in turn must, itself, ultimately evolve to avoid obsolescence in a complex, ever-changing and even hostile world.
Architecture, not in place of nature this time, but rather as nature itself … or rather, a neo- natural entity of sorts; one which we would undoubtedly inhabit and interact with in new and unpredictable ways.
Is it architecture then?
Or some individuation of an architecture? A post-surrogate entity?
Might such an individualistic, architecture ultimately forsake the function of housing the human being as its sole reason for existence? If not, how might we inhabit such a complex architecture? If so, might our engaging with such an entity lead to the formation of new paradigms in human habitation?
Part 2 coming soon . . .
By: Zack Saunders of Arch [or] studio