Interview to Antonino Saggio (Editor of the collection La Rivoluzione Informatica
—The IT Revolution in Architecture)
TALKING ABOUT THE REVOLUTION
authors: Fredy Massad and Alicia Guerrero Yeste/BTBW email@example.com
Leggi Una versione dell'intervista in Italiano
..Published in: "Il Progetto"
#9, january 2001
"(...) the story of my life, as I understand it, is a series of stable states, sprinkled with important events taking place at rare intervals that follow one another at great speed and help to set up the next stable stage". My starting point, and I am not the only one who assumes it, is that, at the end of the XX century we are living one of those rare history intervals. An interval, characterized by the transformation of our ‘material culture’ by means of a new technological paradigm organized around the information technologies.Reality leads us to our being aware of the fact we are fully immersed in (what has been named) Information Technology Revolution. This transitional period is bringing about changes of a certain magnitude into our daily-lives. It has been often dreamt of such a dramatic revolution. Its effects are being gradually incorporated to our cycle of life (but we remark : not in the chaotic way gurus willed to foresee the turn of the century).
Architects, designers, city-planners...have altered their approach to their tasks (through computers, Internet...). The means provided by Technique are endless and are modifying from day to day. But perhaps it should be required to wonder whether our conciousness has evolved in parallel to this technological change that nobody, who wishes to belong to the contemporary field of activity, can refuse to join. The notion of evolution has been frequently based on mere grounds of image, what has lead to a misunderstanding of our current culture, that has been wrongly defined as "basically visual". Possibly the mistake would spring from playing down the potential of the new starting era. Until now, we have just been able to glimpse the surface of this new era, but it is necessary to assume urgently the fact that this revolution (understanding "revolution" as a substantial change of the prevailing customs —since we do not intend to talk about evolution but about a radical change-) is in progress and to understand that both form and underlying context must be taken on: we must start working embedded in the spirit of times .
Antonino Saggio is the creator of The IT Revolution
in Architecture collection, a series of books, which analyse the impact
of the virtual dimension in current architecture. Saggio (Rome, 1955), who
has taught architecture and computing in Pittsburgh, Zurich and Maputo, is
currently lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning of Università
de La Sapienza in Rome.
AS: This collection stems from an old interest of
mine in informatics, which began back in 1984, by the time I got my first
teaching job at Carnegie-Mellon (University of Pittsburgh, USA). I have the
conviction that an architect must address to an instrument, which shows formalisms
and procedures of its own, with intellectual curiosity. It is not, therefore,
an ordinary instrument. Our relationship with informatics must be structural,
cultural and formal all at once.It is structural because the whole society
is centred on the values of information; it is cultural because it is fundamental
to get one’s bearings in this new setting; and it is formal because the thinking
procedures put into practice in the computing area can have an influence
in our very way of thinking about the form. "
BTBW: Saggio had the idea for this collection by the end of 1996; at the time, he had just released a book on Peter Eisenman and was preparing another one about Frank Gehry. Both titles were part of the pocket books collection Universale di Archittetura (published by the Turin-based publishing house Testo&Immagine), which was directed by Bruno Zevi, whose incessant and determined activity in the publishing field distinguished his career.
"I met Bruno Zevi in 1976. I was his pupil for several years, I have published books and articles in the collections and magazines he was responsible for, and we were in correspondence for a long-time. In short: he was my master. The Universale di Archittetura books were released monthly —and they were available even from newstands -; their quality, from a technical point of view, was remarkable: they were printed on good paper, they had colour photographs, they were affordable and they were shacking the noisy Italian cultural debate. These books were the result of the long and passionate battle of Zevi for communicating."
The collaboration and support of Bruno Zevi and the influence of the Universale di Archittetura would have a substantial importance for the gestation of the new series.
"Towards the end of 1996, the DELEGATE MANAGER of Testo&Immagine- approached me in order to offer me assuming more responsabilities, besides my author’s role. I did not want to do anything,that might confront me to my master Bruno Zevi: thus, my decision was proposing a new group of books that would deal with the relationship between architecture and computing from the structural, cultural and formal perspective I mentioned before. In short, not technical books but books, that would initiate an intellectual debate on the relationship between architecture and computing. I designed an editorial programme and decided the first titles and the fundamental structure of the collection, all of which were enthusiastically accepted by the publishers. We were not aware at the time, but we were pioneering: we were doing something entirely new, which did not exist yet anywhere else in the world.
Plus, instead of creating a totally independent collection (with a different format and distribution), I proposed my master Bruno Zevi to enclose this collection about informatics in his Universale. So, my collection could pursue the successful path of those pocket books and would contribute to expand the influence of the collection.
Zevi did some important and overriding things. Firstly, he accepted the idea for the new collection; secondly, he made clear -both to me and to the publisher- that I was the only responsible for the collection and then he and I started an interesting exchange to decide the eventual title of the series until we agreed on La Rivoluzione Informatica , which is a peak of wit that would not have been achieved without Zevi' s contribution. Finally, he accepted that my name would appear next to his in the books' covers. This is a honour that Zevi, all through his long career, had just conferred twice previously."
Thereby, with the release of the first two volumes in Testo&Immagine during the spring of 1998, La Rivoluzione Informatica was born. Later that year, the editor in chief of Birkhäuser (publishing house with offices in Basel, Berlin and Boston) expressed his interest in the English translation of those books. The work between Basel and Turin was quickly undertaken and all the main organizational details were decided in May 1999: basically, the name for the English version of the collection became IT Revolution in Architecture (Information Technology Revolution in Architecture) ; some very little details of the volume were changed and the cover graphics were completely re-designed.
Thanks to Birkhäuser ‘s management, the distribution
of the English version of the collection is excellent: the books can be currently
purchased in worldwide stores or also through Amazon.com.
Are the contents of each book the result of proposals you made to authors or it was the authors who came up with proposals to you?
On behalf of the relationship with the authors, let's say there can be different types of approach. The first one is that I develop a subject I consider important. Usually, in this phase, I also decide the book's title (for instance, Nati con il computer) and afterwards I start looking for the likely best authors to write on that subject.
In other cases, the book stems from a dialogue between
the author's interests and mines; then, the book is structured jointly (for
example, Digital Eisenman or New Wombs). It is less frequent
the case of an author who has got a book perfectly ready or structured, and
with whom I just have to find a suitable title. Until the present day, this
case has just happened with Gerhard Schmitt, whom I have flippantly nicknamed
‘The Informatics' Schumacher', since I do not know anybody else who possesses
his level of competence, his vision and his speed.
Which names and works may have settled the theoretical and methodological basis to analyse the present moment of architectural production and have also been a reference for the authors of the IT Revolution series?
I would say that the reference authors, that are most frequently turned on to , can be easily deduced from the sector's top list. Interestingly, some of those authors, such as Derrick de Kerckhove —among the critics and philosophers-, or Gregg Lynn or Lars Spuybroek —among the new architects-, are currently writing books for this collection. Kerckhove's Principles of Web Architecture is due for immediate release.
I must note that I have tried to state an opinion
about this reference mark in a recent essay, which I have titled A Manifesto
for Architecture Information and is available from the net after having
been published on "Il progetto".
A Manifesto for Architecture Information, subtitled "New substances: information technology and the renewal of architecture" is a text where Saggio asserts that three new substances are guiding the current process of architectural renewal: a renewal that academics are discrediting for they consider it frivolous and too dependent on showiness and promotion . This attack, the Manifesto says, is apparently made against a specific aesthetics; but what academics are actually opposing to is against a renewing tendency, which addresses itself towards the achievement of a new conciousness about a different vision of the world. Information technology does not merely imply (and nobody should be allowed to keep on sustaining such a banal statement) that nowadays "we design at the computer" but that we are immersed in a phase of change of epoch: computers have changed of our sense of being, our place in the world and have opened up new possibilities for our future . Quoting Mies Van der Rohe, Saggio aims to express that any attempt to escape from the reality of the times we live in would be totally impossible: the new times are here, they are an inevitable evidence, regardless our willingness to accept or to reject them. And these days, it is inevitable to escape from the presence of computers, which is the feature of our times. And it is everybody's concern deciding "how" to use them.
"Fluidity" is the key word for Information Technology, the dynamic quality that characterizes the present moment: an age whose messages are getting gradually expressed more metaphorically, also in Architecture.
A building is no longer good only if it works (...). We know that the process of metaphorization permeates a large part of the architecture of today and that its fundamental field is a new interiorization of the landscape and the relation between man and nature.
The quotation above is an excerpt of the afterword written by Saggio to Hyperarchitecture. Spaces in the Electronic Age, one of the texts, which along his Manifesto and the foreword to Natural Born CAADesigners, do integrally unfold his vision and stand on behalf of the architecture renewal. The guiding substances of this renewal are three: a new conciousness about the fragmented nature of the metropolitan landscape; the conception of landscape as a great paradigm of the contemporary research about architecture, which puts into play the relation between it and nature; and a third one, which conceives the building as a "system" and not as a mechanism just related to the building's inside .
In the preface to one of the books, you mention that the first conclusions on behalf of the main issues risen in Hyperarchitecture had been evolving throughout the realization of the other books of the series. This would be an evidence of the fact that these books are generating active reflections and debates on the relationship between architecture and computing.
When I wrote that preface, in December 1997, I realised about the need of an interactive architecture or, as we rather called it, "creator of metaphors". Therefore, I decided to title the book, forcing the author's hand, Hyperarchitecture. I have kept on reflecting and researching on the subject and I have reverted to it in the foreword for Nati con il Computer, "Interactivity". Lars Spuyborek's book is going to deal on this topic; together with Nox, they have made this subject become their main point of interest. Lars' book will mean a step forward in this direction, along with Gregg Lynn's.
We are completely for the possibilities of the technological revolution and agree with the debate posed in these books. But some time, we might be tempted to ponder whether we are being too euphoric about the present and just do not realise that information has always been there; and the actual revolution consists in the fact that information can be transferred faster, and the availability and amount of info has increased . Still, what it is required -and has always been- is a capability/an awareness to analyse all this available information. Information is nothing without reasoning, isn't it?
Exactly. The problem is knowledge, not information per se. And knowledge has got no value, no sense, if it is not part of a cultural frame. I mean, and I have thoroughly debated about this with Peter Eisenman in a symposium held in Zurich with the collection's authors, that our duty is to create the cultural horizons, where knowledge and then information will take place. This job of "creation of horizons" is the real purpose of the collection.
The energy invested by Saggio in this collection becomes evident in the quality, interest and innovative value of each of the books, which are dealing topics that present technology as an approachable device, whose applications are tangible; and also expound concepts related to the new aesthetics generated through CAAD programs.
In these essays, technology is not conceived as an abstract agent, sprung up from science fiction or some twisted philosophical thought. None of the authors aims to be on a bandwagon that leaves the reader behind. La Rivoluzione Informatica/The IT Revolution in Architecture books are tools for reflection, not self-referential writings (not manifestos nor speculative thesis).
In our opinion, one of the main virtues of the IT Revolution books lies in the fact they show a very accurate research and a rigorous analyse, which unfortunately doesn't seem to be present in the majority of architectural publications these days. Would you agree with the idea that these days there too many "easy" books on architecture being released (namely, books that try to introduce "revolutionary" concepts about the possibilities of technology applied to architecture and which don't reflect carefully about the subject)?
What's your opinion about the current international scene of architectural books devoted to critic and theory?
Everyone tries to do their own work and bring their own vision of the world into play. Besides, it is acknowledged that there is a substantial difference between books edited by a collection curator; and books that just show a mere relationship between author and publisher. As I explained before, through my master Zevi, I have assimilated a notion of culture —and, consequently, of the art of publishing architecture- which involves many sides at once: firstly, it is a capability of being cultural orientation; secondly, it is a capability for communication (through a direct fast writing, in many levels); thirdly, it is scientifically orientated, it is serious but it definitely not philologically pompous (see the "Further Reading" section at the end of each book);fourthly, it uses images to communicate concepts; fifthly, it is also narrative. This approach is very different when it comes to coffee table books, which pervade bookstores; or to the "scholar dissertation" kind of volumesnorth-american publishing houses produce; or even to the great Architects-Theorists books, which can be done only by a few ones .
But as football coach, the truest and fairest answer
to your question is: everybody is trying to do their own work according to
their own principles and are not expecting me to judge or make any comments
on the way other people are "coaching" or directing collections.
Which is the role of the architectural star-system within this process of evolution/change described in the IT Revolution books?
Isn't technology for many architects just a tool that allows carrying out things that had been technically impossible or excessively complicated before? Whereas for other architects -not only young generations- is a tool that implies a theoretical reflection about the development of architecture?
For example, Gehry used computer programs to develop the Guggenheim Bilbao project;but Gehry had no contact whatsoever with a computer during his training as an architect, therefore he doesn't think in the same terms that any of the architects named in Natural Born CAADesigners (Winka Dubbeldam, Gregg Lynn, Diller + Scofidio, Marcos Novak...) or Toyo Ito, for example.
Again, I agree with you. I think that the "original landscape" one moves in, it is very important. And it is obvious that the new generations, and particularly those ones that are currently showing themselves to architectural practice, have at their disposal more resources because the computer is part of their lives.
We guess we should consider the present moment a small step in the beginning of the race. When you explained in one of the prefaces how did your son Raffaele play with a computer when he was fourteen months-old, you made us think that the generation, which is currently working with the computer, is not a generation that was actually born next to a computer, but a generation that approached the computer during their teens or early adulthood . In fifteen years' time we will be witnessing the work of a new generation of architects, which will have entirely developed their minds using a computer from their earliest childhood.My son Raffaelle is now fourteen years-old, and his relationship with the computer is rather cool. He uses it to play, netsurfing...but his real passion is a quite traditional pastime such as playing basketball. Fortunately, in these new times the all-time things remain. What I find more characteristic of these new generation is the fact that technology for them does not have an "aura", it simply is .
Which would be the main difference between the IT Revolution and the other technological revolutions that have taken place throughout History? Could it be that this is the first technological revolution, whose development is taking place right before us, so we are entirely aware of its being in progress?
Yes, what you say is quite efficient. The real difference in respect with our times consists in the amount of time that we are employing to produce a certain good. A thousand years ago, to produce and to sell a vegetable it was hardly necessary any information. Today, the same vegetable has encapsulated about 95% of information. Being aware of the growing role of information, we are attending our revolution in real time, since information is playing three or four fundamental roles, -among others, it "explains itself".
Manuel Castells states in The information age: Economy, Society and Culture (Vol.I: The rise of the network society) that the Industrial Revolution actually consisted in two revolutions. The mains changes into Architecture derived from the Industrial Revolution were introduced during the second phase of the revolution's period —namely, by the end of the XIX century . Reinforced concrete and the elevator brought a substantial change into the architecture for daily life. As for the IT Revolution, should not we have to wait for a second phase in this revolution to see any substantial change into daily-life architecture and in the re-definition of the ways of dwelling?
I do not think the real problem is the "number" of revolutions, or the diverse ways scholars try to structure the technological innovations waves into. Perhaps, as I am an architect and not a sociologist, what is overriding for me is the concept of "crisis". And through this process the intensity of the world changes instigates a change of the own vision and of the disciplinary frame. The concepts of "crisis" and "horizon" are, therefore, closely linked together. If we want, the creation of horizons, where the society's transformation phenomena must be place, is a duty for intellectuals and artists. In other words, using a formula that goes from Baudrillard to Zevi, "how to make crisis become values".
If we think about what happened in the nineteen twenties, we will see that intellectuals such as Walter Gropius (and Le Corbusier and Mies) were capable to "completely" reformulate Architecture over the stimulus of the new mechanical and industrial new world. No longer an architecture of churches and palaces, but an architecture of suburbs and houses for everyone; no longer a continuous and stark construction but a construction made through structural points; no longer a panoramic static image but a dynamic one, like the new industrial landscape; no longer an organization based on fixed typological schemes but on a free articulation of functions . And also: the serial, rational, standardizable processes of industrial production have been assimilated by architecture. But a long time has been required to do this. Our keywords now are other ones: we do no longer think in terms of standarization but of personalization;we do no longer think of "division into cycles" processes or "assembly lines", but of a "unity in diversity" (for example: in the city, the idea of zoning, has been substituted by that of pluri-functionality); we do no longer think of the "repeatable model" (Ford Nera for everyone) but in terms of adaptability (look at Smart: everyone has got their customized car), we do no longer think of Architecture in terms of immovability but in terms of interactivity .
Three stages can be made out in the evolution of computer as a creative device: in the first phase, it revealed its possibilities to the artistic field;in the next one (presently in progress), the computer is breaking up the traditional forms and gives way to new procedures;and, in an upcoming stage, the computer will reveal its capability to instigate the mind to work in radically new ways.
Leaps are made by small group of people belonging to a network . I feel a bond for change is weaving between our readers and us.
...the space of flows rules the space of places and timeless time substitutes the clock time of the industrial era.
With this sentence, the sociologist Manuel Castells
sentences the change of age. It is necessary becoming aware of this change,
and it is necessary (re)thinking the times we are entering. When talking about
architecture, the main issue is doing well; therefore it is not necessary
to wrape architecture in technological frills or gratuitous imagery. In our
opinion, Antonino Saggio takes us into the deepest side of the interminable
architectural debate, focusing on its present change of setting: since we
have left the era of industrial technology to inevitably go into the era
of information technology.
With these books, Saggio, the collection's authors and
its readers are taking sides in this age.
Fredy Massad & Alicia G.Yeste
Calle Artur Mor, 4, 4º 2ª
25003 Lleida, Spain
tel.34 973 271533