Customized Automation



The post-industrial, cybernetic factory effectively reverses the present relationship of manufacturing concerns to the social systems they are meant to serve. It is a characteristic of social systems, as it is of all evolving systems, that in order to survive they may adopt one of two main strategies. The system can either respond to environmental pressures by a process of mutual give and take, reorganization, and the learning of new patterns of behaviour, or it can seek to dominate the environment as far as it can, and so trim external pressures to its own demands. The latter method, we have learnt, accurately describes classic consumerism. Dinosaur sanctuaries may not be hard to find in any social sphere, but while they may be able to contain divergent pressures for a time, they tend to be unreliable in the longer term.

Notwithstanding such drawbacks, the mass-production line has been upheld as a panacea for a backward building industry. It is a sad comment on any design profession that it should be so eager to embrace a technological strait jacket in order to impose its own dubious ideas of a visual order onto consumers. It is also very short sighted. Instead of tuning the consumer to the machine, we can now tune the machine to the consumer. Even assuming that architectural designers will eventually adjust successfully to mass-production technologies, it would be a misguided reconciliation. Designers for a manufactured environment are likely to find that they have come to terms with the wrong animal.

From: 'Ditching the dinosaur sanctuary'. Architectural Design, August 1969, p. 424.

These then, briefly, are some of the more significant implications and opportunities which the current technological revolution presents us with. The changes involved cannot be overestimated. It is going to take an equivalent revolution in architectural and educational practices for architects to come to grips with the post-industrial age these technological advances represent. Should it happen, we may have to re-evaluate that earlier revolution trumpeted by the Heroes of the Modern Movement for the very misleading event it was. For all the rational and scientific trimmings that went with it, the ideal of mechanization at the heart of orthodox Modernism has turned out to be defunct, at best a staging post on the way to a very different Machine Age. The crucial battle for the real Modern Movement - the one in which architects and humankind in general master their machines and bend them to humane use - has only just begun.

From: 'Return to craft manufacture'. Architects' Journal, 20 April 1988, p. 57.

Based on the same binary principles by which the neural systems of the human brain function, the computer is the world's first general purpose machine, and can be programmed to simulate limitless different kinds of decisions and actions, both machine-like and life-like. Connected with appropriate devices and sensors, it can even reach beyond itself and respond to feedback from other machines and situations, in the same way an organism responds to changes in its environment, learning to improve its responses as it does so. From modelling nature on an analogy with machines, humankind has progressed to modelling machines on an analogy with nature, an evolutionary step and change of thinking with far-reaching consequences for the future of architecture, as well as every other aspect of life.

From: 'Technology and process'. In P. Knox and P. Ozolins (eds). Design Professionals and the Built Environment, John Wiley, 2000, p. 325.