dan hill on the sentient city – mammoth // building nothing out of something

dan hill on the sentient city

City of Sound’s Dan Hill comments on the Architecture League’s exhibition “Toward the Sentient City”, at the Sentient City website. While he praises the intent and content of the exhibition, he wonders if it doesn’t go far enough in several ways. The last of these, “the positioning of architecture itself”, is particularly relevant to themes mammoth has been concerned with lately:

The Melbourne-based educator Leon van Schaik suggests architecture took a wrong turn when professionalising in the mid-19th century, in thrall to the engineer of the emerging industrial economy. Van Schaik’s critique is profoundly important, as it describes the seeds that have led to architecture’s near-marginalisation but also of its potentially influential future:

“To complete with this practical glamour our forebears went to the heart of making in architecture – its technologies of carving, moulding, draping or assembling – when they staked their claim to be caretakers of a body of knowledge for society. The architectural capacity to think and design in three and four dimensions, our highly developed spatial intelligence, was overlooked, and for the profession space became, by default, something that resulted from what was construction … What if our forebears had professionalised architecture around spatial intelligence rather than the technologies of shelter? Might society find it easier to recognise what is unique about what our kind of thinking can offer?” [Leon van Schaik, “Spatial Intelligence: New Futures for Architecture”]

The articulation and exploration of spatial histories that van Schaik suggests would be a fascinating next step for exhibitions such as this, and the designers involved. How might exhibitions help develop this understanding of how spatial intelligence, and how it augments the other intelligences of kinetic, natural, linguistic, logical, mathematical, musical and personal?…

I haven’t read van Schaik’s book, but it sounds like I ought to. One could certainly offer the same complaint about landscape architects that Hill offers about architects — that, in the attempt to carve out a niche of technological expertise for ourselves (to own a piece of what Habermas or Ellul would call ‘technique’), we’ve ceded the big picture (and, with it, the really interesting work) to the accidental whims of the engineers (experts in infrastructure), planners (experts in navigating the regulatory terrain of city-shaping), developers (experts in financing), and ecologists (experts in the science of relationship). If, without having read anything other than this quote, I understand van Schaik correctly, he’s suggesting that architects (and, by extension, landscape architects) ought to expand the terrain of architecture not by grabbing at other pieces of expertise (which would be essentially a zero-sum project), but by offering an entirely different kind of expertise, which is now offered only accidentally or incidentally, if at all.

4 Responses to “dan hill on the sentient city”

  1. [...] the laundry list of actors involved in framing the urban environment invoked by Rob Holmes’s recent post on big-picture thinking: “…engineers (experts in infrastructure), planners (experts in [...]

  2. [...] Greenfield’s post “Towards Urban Systems Design”, which includes some response to my brief note on Dan Hill’s post at Towards the Sentient City.  A couple items from Greenfield’s [...]

  3. [...] have developed an excessively narrow disciplinary territory, as previously discussed by mammoth here and here; Wirth’s full essay is available here, and worth reading.] This entry was written by [...]

  4. [...] like architecture, possesses some strong disciplinary aptitude for something(s) like “spatial intelligence” which make the discipline at least as valuable when it is understood as a way of thinking as when [...]