By Julian Hunt
[Originally published in Dear Architecture, a collection of letters compiled from the Dear Architecture Competition. Dear Architecture is an ideas competition that challenged designers to explore one of the most important communication tools of all time – the letter. With entries submitted from over 60 countries around the world – the open letters challenge architects and designers to think deeply about the profession they are participating in.]
You may have noticed I am not myself. I confess to sleeping poorly and waking with a feeling that I am becoming a device with a hard, insect-like carapace, and branched metallic antennae that pick up all the signals.
Just before waking, I dream I am an intensely complex data set illuminated inside a vast and growing self-awareness. A tiny hormonal change, la petite mort, initiates a crystallization that instantly reorganizes and locks up the entire structure.
I awaken with the memory of an explosion of a snowflake. My arms and legs, cold and tingling, are no longer my own. The room, a proper human room although a little too small, lies peacefully between its four familiar walls. A collection of textile samples lies spread out on the table - I am an architect - and above it there hangs an undecipherable drawing in a nice, gilded frame. I have a momentary clarity of vision that we are on the cusp of a great revelation. My imagination feverish, I can scarcely hold the thought.
Have we designed a gigantic and aggressive, self-organizing entity, a golem to which we shall soon become strictly subordinate? Has this assembly loosed upon the world a horrible plague of fanatical reaction? I blame myself for not having foreseen, despite my liberal education and professional training, the philosophical implications of this historic trajectory of design in human imagination. This instinctive impulse to impose an inner order, find pattern in the data, has exponentially expanded and left less and less to the outside. I look out the window at the dull weather. Drops of rain can be heard hitting the pane, which make me feel quite sad.
I comes to me at once: The architect must be a child of the devious god Hephaestus who forged an unbreakable net so fine it was invisible, designed to ensnare his promiscuous and free-spirited wife, Aphrodite. Even then, at the mythological horizon, design was already tinged with ambiguity. And later, at the dawn of modernity, in Paradise Lost, became Mulciber, the architect of palaces in heaven before his corruption and fall to become the the architect of Pandemonium, Satan’s palace, then being dismembered and scattered, leaving the field to modernity’s engineers, manufacturers of prostheses, financial fabricators, and designers of ciphered code, the DNA of our operating systems.
We were warned by the crazy poets who realized how wrong they were at the end, but we had no self-knowledge, no peripeteia. At this hour, the profession is fallen into irrelevance, reduced to a cultural metaphor and remnant as a toiling, indebted, robotic laborer in prosthetic service to the new owners of mechanisms of surveillance, anticipation, management and control.
The best we can provide is the recapture of our ancient skills of deceit, the primitive charms of the magician, by sleight-of-hand, to distract the all-seeing eye in the service of an open space, providing a means of escape outside the ever tightening net of our own design.