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Reconsidering Elementarism

Philippe Morel Studio 
Assistant: Jose Sanchez

The studio addresses the relationships between technology, architecture and mathematics by revisiting research of Elementarism in the 1920s and its cybernetic reinterpretations of the 1960s. Architecture, always more intimately connected to computation and the evolution of its related methods and procedures, is now confronted with a blatant paradox. On one hand it attempts to integrate diverse technologies in various ways causing architecture to solely be a vector of transmission for its related economy (for example, cognitive capitalism for which, to use Jeremy Rifkin’s terms, all materiality is just a ‘support for knowledge-value’). On the other hand it attempts to merge completely with technology denying architecture its fundamental qualities and thereby causing it to cease to appear like architecture at all, including in the eyes of the architects themselves – which partly explains the coldness that still accompanies the work of the Russian Productivists or Buckminster Fuller.

In both cases, whether architecture transmits technology or becomes one with technology, it seems impossible for it to escape the construction of a technological civilisation and results in a sandcastle which, beyond its fantastic or even sublime character, still threatens to collapse at any moment. Faced with this situation (contrary to our society that is supposed to suffer from a lack of intelligent architectural responses despite the increasingly smart and efficient means at our disposal) viewing technology as a single knowledge – devoid of a purpose that justifies the means – is the only desirable response.

Within this framework, architecture would not play any other role than that of an instrument of knowledge, which is content with being formally and materially ‘elementary’ whilst at the same time being theoretically ‘complex’. As a physical construction it would first aim for ensuring the conditions of an Existenzminimum at a time when this is increasingly threatened by fake ‘augmented’ realities. Architecture would not aim for any idealistic or liberal-pragmatic participation in the promotion of material technologies but attempt to make use of innovative concepts from one of the most challenging sector of sciences – the computer sciences – in order to reconsider the full specu- lative potential of Elementarism. Therefore, we can consider models for this architecture within the geometric Elementarism of the early twentieth-century in which a common scientific knowledge materialised, in certain vernacular architectures, which combine constructive simplicity and ornamental wealth as an expression of a shared culture. And going one step further we can look at the example of Islamic sacred architecture that combines the extreme sophistication and spirituality of a small number of its constituent elements with a minimal spatial model – an open but oriented space. By paying new attention to these elementarist variants – geometric, technicist, constructive, structural (thus those of Mies van der Rohe or Peter Eisenman) – the studio aims to define an architecture in tune with ‘the material and spiritual conditions of an era’ (that of computationalism).