To celebrate this September being the fiftieth anniversary of the coining of the term ‘cyborg’, Tim Maly — whose Quiet Babylon is, as it used to say on the cover, concerned with “Cyborgs, Architects, and our Weird Broken Future” — has corralled a team of bloggers and guest writers to produce fifty posts on the subject.
The first question that might occur to an architect, I suppose (assuming that this imaginary architect is not a regular reader of Quiet Babylon — though he should be), is what, exactly, architecture and cyborgs have to do with one another.
The answer is quite a lot — but realizing this depends on understanding what a cyborg is. Though, as Tim explains, the word has come to refer (particularly in pop culture) primarily to extreme biological-technological hybrids like Schwarzenegger’s Terminator or Star Trek’s Borg, it originally (and perhaps more usefully) refers to a much larger class of bodily augmentations, which Tim describes as “non-hereditary adaptation[s]“, or “technological interventions that change the course of biological existence”.
Because, again using Tim’s words, “visions of cyborgs are all about the relationship of technology to the body”, it turns out that, as Geoff Manaugh points out, the cyborg can be read as a negation of architecture:
The cyborg [under Clynes and Kline's original definition and] in this specific sense, then, is an organism that does away with the need for architecture—it brings its environment along with it, in the form of artificially created internal feedback systems that adapt, on their own, to often radically changing environmental conditions.
I think Geoff is careful to provide that qualification in this specific sense, though, because when we accept Tim’s broad thesis — that the best image of a contemporary cyborg might not be Robocop, but a woman wearing glasses and holding a cellphone — we soon realize that the line between the architectural and the cyborg can be quite blurry1.
Take, for instance, Keiichi Matsuda’s “Augmented City”. Matsuda (whose previous video, “Domestic Robocop”, we noted at beginning of the year) produced the short for his Masters Thesis at the Bartlett School of Architecture. In both “Augmented City” and “Domestic Robocop”, we see one example of what a cyborg architecture might be. Rather than using the traditional tools of slow architecture to construct and re-construct the built environment around themselves, future cyborg architects might internalize the process of construction and re-construction, altering not the physical substance of the built environment, but their own perception of it. As Matt Jones notes after Archigram, “people are walking architecture.”
If that possibility — or the history of cybernetics, or the idea that cooking might be understood as a bodily augmentation (a “pre-stomach”), or teasing out the connection between Christopher Alexander and cyborgs — is at all intriguing to you, you’ll want to subscribe to 50 Posts About Cyborgs. (You can also follow the discussion at the twitter hashtag #50cyborgs.)