E as Event, Envelope, and E=mc²
As pursuers of space, we all seek to see the limit of architecture. We believe that architecture can and should be more than just the limit we see. Yet we are stuck through the realization of our ideas about architecture. We are fascinated by the materiality, or instrumentality of architecture but for us it has always been the greatest obstacle on the way to the truth, the answer or we may say, the better way of living.
I aim to investigate two “what if” starting with two “what is” on the subject of “architect changes the world”, which is, according to Rem Koolhaas, what every architect in his most infantile moments believes.
Tschumi, Koolhaas, and Einstein.
Two architects and one physicist in the same universe on the same diagonal of the fourth dimension.
“I would like to propose that the future of architecture lies in the construction of such events.”2
What is “event”? For Michel Foucault, as mentioned by Tschumi, an event is not simply a logical sequence of actions but rather the moment of erosion, collapse, questioning of the assumptions of the setting.3 The event here means the turning point, the change. Tschumi doesn’t believe that architecture can change the world. Architecture plays only a tiny role in the society. It can’t liberate people. It can’t help the extreme disparity between the rich and the poor. It can’t make world peace. Architecture has not been any origin of any change in the history of mankind. It only follows, adapts the progress of technology, economic. However, Tschumi believes that built environment can, by the will of architect, speed up or slow down the
process of the events taking place in the world depending on the attitude he takes in architecture. To make a simplified example, the conservatives decelerate the event. The progressionist accelerate it.
Tschumi then suggested few possible ways to construct event. For him, to achieve such effect in architecture, one can approach the matter in two methods, strategy and device.4 Strategy here doesn’t mean anything spatial. It’s the way to force architecture become socially, or politically influential. For instance, exemplary action as like the three day construction of a Maison du Peuple on seized land
propagandized the struggle between capitalist development and collective space.5 For another instance, counter design as like the ironic No-stop City by Archizoom in 1968.6 The second method, device,
can take many forms as concepts of devices differ each other. Tschumi’s own work and theory in 1970s about the disjunction of event, space, and movement suggested a possible way of constructing an
architecture of event. Again, as Tschumi stated, the event here doesn’t mean an origin or an end. It is not the turning point itself either. It is rather like a point of acceleration to speed up the process of changing. He is opposed to the utopian modernism claim of what architecture should be. He is against the cause and effect relationship of form versus function. In the Parc de la Villette, he proposed a combination of space, event, and movement that’s not necessary to be in that order. By the juxtaposition of non hierarchical elements of architecture, he tried to achieve an architecture of change.
”I do not believe it is possible, nor does it make sense, to design buildings that formally attempt to blur traditional structure… Architecture does not illustrate theories.”7
What if architecture is an organic life form? By organic I am referring to the life span of architecture, which might, in many cases, longer than human life. What if we don’t see architecture as the state that it was or it is but the state that it has been or it will have been? What if architecture only exist in the fourth dimension? What if non of the spatial dimensions is proper for the discussion about architecture? When we discuss about architecture, we often refer to the conditions in a human perspective. It’s difficult for us to grasp the meaning of something that’s beyond our comprehension of time.
“Shock must be manufactured by the architect if architecture is to communicate.”8
The plot of violence, sexuality, murder in the Manhattan Transcript is not only a device of extremity to make clear the speculative drama but also indicating the dynamics of architecture. If the life cycle of
architecture is a sequence from plan, construction, use, abandonment, to tear down, how can we understand the sequence in a perceivable way? Looking at the tragic event in 1945, Japan, the ultimate violence indicates that all architecture has only one single fate. Space only meant coordinates of critical location. Architecture, as it always has been, is not permanent. It is constantly changing, adapting, growing, decaying. To an extent, the meaning of architecture almost become parallel to the exact same meaning of cloth, of fashion. Its temporality becomes identical. To understand the true nature of
architecture is not to degrade architecture. No, it is not my intention. Before building an architecture of event, we need to understand the fluidity of architecture. It varies from minute to minute. And this, is the true power of architecture. Not the fantasy of immortality, permanence you and I have been dreaming since centuries ago.
What is Envelope? As in an article written by Sanford Kwinter about Koolhaas mentioned, “ the idea of a homeostatically contained group of forces in flux that form a temporary, fluid but historical ensemble”.9
For Koolhaas, envelope means not just the boundary of limit but also the elastic quality of that boundary. we have to know “where the outside of the envelope was…know about the part where you reached the
outside and then stretched her a little … without breaking through”.10 As in the same article by Sanford Kwinter, he mentioned the notion of liquid metal. The form of metal we perceive is just the state of
arrested liquid. We have to know that the nature of metal is liquid.16 It desires to change, to become once reaching the envelope of its stable state. Architecture too is like the notion of liquid metal. The
idea of reaching envelope sounds tempting but for us architects it is certainly an optimistic motivation in reality. I believe it is the same kind of optimistic motivation that keep us go on living. “I think of optimism as a fundamental position, in the sense that it is almost an implicit obligation of an architect.”11
In the envelope of flight, “there was one pilot whose wartime dogfighting skills and natural aircraft handling abilities were legendary”.12 The man who broke the renowned sound barrier in 1947 is
called Chuck Yeager. However, in the envelope of architecture, it’s difficult to define who is breaking the barrier as the concept of architecture envelope is far more complicated than the one about flight that can be easily diagrammed, analyzed and challenged. Looking at Koolhaas, if we don’t see a status similar to Yeager, at least we can take a peek into the momentum of architecture envelope. That is to say, to look at the mass and velocity of the envelope in order to have some minimum understanding of the ill-defined challenge we need to confront. In the context of architecture, velocity means the amount of time and the trajectory of architecture trend. Both of them heavily depend on the progress of technology. The observations Koolhaas made with OMA are like a lifelong journalistic report. They are hardcore analysis based on numerous built projects in Europe, America and Asia. Among those studies, the most interesting, unique should be the discourse on bigness. The discussion about bigness is very critical in globalized, urbanized context. Architecture that exceeds a certain scale is an ultimate form of architecture. It is not just a trend that all the large scale hybrid buildings suggest but also a unique advantage point to observe the phenomenon of architecture in twentyfirst century. The observations he noted that appears in super large buildings coincide with Tschumi’s talk of disjunction in architecture. For instance, the broken link between interior and exterior, independence of spatial elements, programs.13 Perhaps this is because
they both tried to liberate architecture from their mutual enemy, modernism. The correspondence of their theory, though with very different approaches, can be traced back to the competition of Parc de
la Villette. By laying down the model of “eating oysters with boxing gloves, naked, on the nth floor…”14 Koolhaas’s proposal has a similar implication to the one done by Tschumi. The juxtaposition of the two
architects is a simple strategy to better understand the subject. When an architect with theoretical approach meet an architect that has large number of projects built, and when they both have strong
intention to change, it is then easier for us to understand how to perform the action required for changing the world as an architect. Keep in mind that, the architecture as an event of breaking the
envelope is a process that take decades.
“There is a fear of making grandiose statements…and I think that is, under the enormous weight of economic respectability, has been denied by both architects and academics”16
What if there is a higher dimension on which we can have a more complete view into the world and the matter of architecture? What if, all the investigation we do is limited because we never really “see”?
What if Plato’s “imprisonment in the cave” is not just an analogy? What if the perspective we used to comprehend the world is only three dimensional projection?
By now we are familiar with the importance of the concept of time. But perhaps, four dimensions are not enough for us to build a picture of our future as the speed of information runs fiber-optic and the
resolution of information goes beyond retina. The equation Einstein theorized in last century has become the foundation of modern physics. We have been fascinated by the idea of time traveling or to travel in
the universe in the speed beyond light since then. Perhaps string theory is not just a theory.
Our design process becomes more and more parametric. While some of us still feel nostalgic of the good old days, a bright new future is glittering before us. Now, as quantum physics thrives, we cannot
ignore that once the quantum computer becomes a fact, we will be looking at the world in a totally different way. It is a leap of faith. The phenomenon of entanglement not only happens in molecule
scale but it means the universe, or universes functions in a way that we cannot even imagine. Quantum computer will solve the optimization problem, which is the issue of processing an abundance of information. Maybe, just maybe, we will be able to design an architecture on the context of our universe or the universes next to our universe. In quantum world, one bit of information might represent all information. Toward a quantum future, architecture will be the diagram that indicates the laws governing our cities, our world, our planetary system, our galaxy, our universe, and the other universes.
The significance of elevator in the world of Koolhaas perhaps is not just a phenomenon in enormous buildings. It means the desire to be elevated to the moon. It means the desire to inhabit other planets. It
means the desire to be launched like a rocket into the space. The desire to penetrate into the envelope of the envelope, to break the limit of limit.
“So now, I replied, watch the process whereby the prisoners are set free from their chains and, along with that, cured of their lack of insight, and likewise consider what kind of lack of insight must be if the following were to happen to those who were chained.”17
Do you want to change the world?
The long discourse from Tschumi to Koolhaas, from Koolhaas to Einstein is a diagonal extruding toward the eleventh dimension.18
First is to believe that change is possible.
Second is to see how to change.
Third is to understand the envelope.
Fourth is to locate the elastic edge of the envelope.
Fifth is action.
Sixth to Tenth:
Repeat the first to the fifth until you reach the eleventh.
TIGHTEN YOUR SEATBELT. THE ROCKET IS LAUNCHING…
1. Koolhaas, Rem. Rem Koolhaas: conversations with students. New
York : Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. P.59
2. Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. London: MIT Press,
3. Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. London: MIT Press,
4. Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. London: MIT Press,
1994. See Introduction in the book for full explanation.
5. Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. London: MIT Press,
6. Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. London: MIT Press,
7. Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. London: MIT Press,
8. Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. London: MIT Press,
9. Koolhaas, Rem. Rem Koolhaas: conversations with students. New
York : Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. P.80
10. Koolhaas, Rem. Rem Koolhaas: conversations with students. New York
: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. P.76
11. Koolhaas, Rem. Rem Koolhaas: conversations with students. New York
: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. P.53
13. Koolhaas, Rem. Rem Koolhaas: conversations with students. New York
: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. P.16
14. Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York. Rotterdam: OIO Publishers,
15. Koolhaas, Rem. S,M,L,XL. Koln: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH,
16. Koolhaas, Rem. Rem Koolhaas: conversations with students. New York
: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996. P.59
17. Plato, The Republic, VII 514 a,2 to 517 a,7. Translated by Thomas
18. According to String theory, there is a debate on whether the
number of the universes is ten or eleven. Personally, I prefer eleven.
But both could be right.
1. Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, Photograph taken by
Charles Levy. http://www.archives.gov/research/military/ww2/photos/
images/ww2-163.jpg National Archives image (208-N-43888)
2. Zabriskie Point, Michelangelo Antonioni,image taken from http:/
3. First Supersonic Flight: "Breaking the Sound Barrier" 1947 USAF;
Chuck Yeager in the Bell X-1. Public domain film from the US AirForce.
4. Outer space seen from Mars,Image taken by NASA's MER Spirit rover
Koolhaas, Rem. Rem Koolhaas: conversations with students. New
York : Princeton Architectural Press, 1996.
Koolhaas, Rem. Delirious New York. Rotterdam: OIO Publishers, 1994.
Koolhaas, Rem. S,M,L,XL. Koln: Benedikt Taschen Verlag GmbH, 1997.
Plato, The Republic, Translated by Thomas Sheehan. New York: Norton,
Tschumi, Bernard. Architecture and Disjunction. London: MIT Press,
Tschumi, Bernard. The Manhattan Transcript. London : Academy Editions,