In the aftermath of WWII Heidegger delivered a lecture called "the Question Concerning Technology" that has become a touchstone for technologically inspired practice.
Heidegger lore describes a “kehre” or “turning” in his thought that most critics place after the seminal Being and Time, though some locate it between the early lectures that led to this tome and the composition of the work itself. The “Question Concerning Technology” is an instance of this turning, and the difference between the tone and message of this work and his earlier work, written on either side of the last world war, teases the reader with a hint of what has been lost, in the same way that his own etymological archeology of the Greek philosophers gave him a glimpse of an original experience of reality, unmasked by language or logic.
In this lecture he investigated the essence of technology as an all-embracing framework of experience, reinterpreting in a (newly) negative light what could be called the embeddedness of things in the world. Earlier he had identified this character of stuff more positively in his "Being and Time." In that work he showed, among many other ideas, how the meaning — or even understanding, or even recognition — of a thing was properly given only through reference to the world in which it was embedded — only through its use and relation to what in architecture is called its context could the object be known: bracketed apart from this experience the thing in itself was mute. Heidegger’s understanding of the object from that period was in explicit contrast to his mentor’s (Husserl) belief that some more essential truth about the object could be gained by stripping away these relationships, that the object should, could, be most properly and essentially known in itself alone, and that the role of the philosopher was to abet this aloneness. One example Heidegger gave in Being and Time was the hammer, which he felt was not appreciated properly unless it was at work, in action, pounding nails. Only through this activity did its otherwise ridiculous form make sense. Driving nails reveals the logic in the shape of the hammer’s head, the reason for the length and size of the handle, the advantage of the heft and the natural arc of the swing in from the body, by which the hammer is yet intuitively and directly known. As a corollary to this he shows how it is only when this constellation of sense breaks down, when the head misses the nail and hits the thumb, or the flies off to hit something else, that this truth and the hammer it names becomes more consciously visible beyond the experience of direct intuitive acceptance of its embedded condition (to which of course the user belongs as a part and witness). Heidegger’s description of its embeddedness casts the hammer as luminous in its evocation of the extended world it nails down, an inspiration to engagement with the world "lighted" by its use.
In the “Question Concerning Technology” and other works that come after the turning, this benign view of the world has been replaced by a darker vision, fueled by fear and disillusionment — which is pretty understandable given the events of the previous decade. In this latter view, the hammer has become technology. Like the famous cut in Kubrick’s film of Clark’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, from the rotating club/bone to the revolving space station, the head of Heidegger’s hammer has flown off to become a missile. Yet, what is questioned is not the direct destructiveness of this missile, but, almost paradoxically, the opposite: its fit-ness. What previously was seen in the positive, almost social, light of establishing identity through wide relationship, has become fitness to stand-in-reserve: the extended reference that formerly connected the object to the world now enslaves the same object in that world, which is now understood to be revealed through the actions and form of the hammer to be everywhere inescapably technological. The hammer’s world-affirming/building fitness for its task is now seen as its being fit to its task — being fit into a world pre-determined, and thus un-free, constrained and trivial.
The hammer no longer builds the world spontaneously, joyously, around it through its actions, with the freedom implicit in that activity to build other worlds. Instead those actions and all other possible actions are themselves forced into the only patterns permitted in the one and only world. As given to viewer, forced on him, by technology. This is monstrous and tragic — monstrous because of what is lost, and tragic because humanity is inescapably its agent and witness and is similarly trapped in the world given to — and by — the hammer.
This paper will discuss this monstrous and tragic condition from the perspective of architecture — how architecture might be implicated in its coming to pass, and how architecture might yet represent the saving-power of which Heidegger spoke. Architecture was there at the beginning of what might be considered the beginning of this transformation, and it is here now at what seems to be its end.
In what could be argued to be the most important photo to emerge from the modern movement, Le Corbusier posed a Voisin 10 CV in the foreground of a view of the villa he had just completed for the Stein-de Monzie family in Garches In fact, there are several versions of this photo, with the car placed differently in each. These images fulfill the suggestion made two years previously in Vers Une Architecture by the more famous spread recording the evolution from Paestum to the Parthenon and the Humbert to the Delage, across facing pages. This earlier layout forcefully made the case for the appeal to standards it was intended to illustrate, as well as the relationship between the auto and the temple as the paradigm for their age, which it only implied. In Vers Une Architecture Corbu was only able to predict an architectural demonstration of this idea, though — despite its lavish illustration it included no built examples by him equal to the prediction. This awaited the completion and publication of the Villa Stein-de-Monzie, and then a few years later, the Villa Savoye.
The reason the Villa Stein photo is more important than the Vers Une Architecture spread is that it includes architecture, not just history, and includes it as a living bet that it will become history, and also because that bet is proving likely to be won, though not in the way intended or hoped. The reason for supposing the ultimate importance of this photo, beyond its already certain recognizability, is that it encapsulates an attitude towards architecture as a discipline that may not survive the embrace of the technology it seems to celebrate. The future could look on this photo as the image of a discipline’s suicide.
In these photos Corbu seems to dare the viewer to doubt that the building is as cool and contemporary as the car. Informed opinion at the time felt that architecture lagged behind technology, and Corbu was trying to narrow the gap with the project in this photo. There is either hubris in this or defensiveness, but the photo is clearly polemical. The Voisin 10CV was in fact designed (its appearance) by an architect. Since it is presumed that his main interest in the juxtaposition was for the house to be seen as the same sort of engineered object as the car, the apparent irony in this depends on understanding that choice as a mistake. Yet, whether Corbu was aware of the car’s provenance or not, he was clearly respectful of its design beyond the simple fact of its existence as technology: in contrast to his interest regarding the homme typical, the domino frame and Citrohan House, this is a particular car, in fact a luxury car, not an everyman’s vehicle that could stand in for mere engineering. And the Villa Stein also is a mansion, not Pessac, or the Citrohan House: so this is the temple and the Delage again: exemplary standards for the age. Despite the general aim to reference and appropriate technology, and the possible suggestion in that of a generalized regard for it, Corbu was discriminating in his technophilia.
More than anyone else at the time, Corbu seemed to understand that architecture is (through at least its relation to building) technology. In engaging the inarguable effectiveness and increasing cultural influence of technology, Corbu sought more than just inspiration for contemporary form, though. He sought in technology’s ascendancy a compensation for the discipline’s loss of history or tradition — a loss that could be laid to this same technology. Without history or tradition, architecture — as well as the rest of culture and society itself — lacked a source of standards and meaning, a counterweight for the commercial progress that was sweeping the age off its feet. Where previously the canon had provided the roadmap, as from Paestum to the Akropolis, there was in the dawning age of steel and glass only confusion and a lack of conviction. The Humbert seemed to know how to become the Delage, though, and architecture could learn from this. What exactly could be learned, or what Corbu chose to see as the lesson, depended on where one looked. In chiding the “eyes which do not see” Corbu seemed to divine several lessons, yet ultimately he narrowed his influential interest to just one. The situation Heidegger later diagnosed in his Question Concerning Technology is the result of that narrower focus. How could this have happened?
Despite his famous references to planes and ships, the technological spirit of the age was truly embodied for Corbu by the mass-production of the automotive industry. His bold urban proposals might be rationalized as something best appreciated from the air, but the eponymous Plan Voisin is more likely named for the auto that graced his Villa Stein photos, and the Citrohan house was certainly not named after a ship. This is all the more striking because the technology of the plane and scale of the ship were more obviously and directly related to architecture than the production method of the car. To answer the question of how this reorientation might have occurred it is useful to consider alien intervention.
(The story of Corbu vs. the Aliens was told in the previous volume, Instrumental Form. Here in outline is what happened and why: during the industrial revolution the aliens who were charged with keeping tabs on Earth’s progress became alarmed at the tremendous increase in the rate of technological development. They sent a disguised representative to the planet’s surface with the mission to slow down what seemed to be a human juggernaut to the future. The aliens decided to do this by stifling the growing human comfort and familiarity with technology. So this alien met with Corbu early in his career — when he first arrived in Paris, in fact — and, posing as an admirer, he gave Corbu some infectious ideas. Basically, the alien steered Corbu on the path to technological abstraction, purity, and, ultimately, sterility by arguing that these attributes contrasted positively with the messy urban scene of the time. The alien emphasized mass-production and machine manufacture as the characteristics of the emerging technology that were most worthy of celebration)
Technology seemed to threaten; yet it was technology, marshaled in the forces of industry, that had the inarguable importance and reach necessary to the foundation/underwriting of a discipline. Only technology was powerful enough to carry architecture across the howling void traditionally bridged — and masked — by history. But still, the question was which technology, and how? The aliens offered Corbu the bait, he bit. The aliens rubbed whatever passed for “hands” in satisfaction.
The difference between Wright and Mies, and Corbu in regard to their feelings about technology shows why the aliens contacted Corbu rather than the others: of the three, it is only Mies that seems to have a serious sense of technology’s downside, as an agency of soulless chaos, while Wright was too invested in his own personal vision to permit technology any significant impact, as his flying car designs attest. Corbu, on the other hand, saw technology’s order as inspirational and a source of value to which he was willing to defer. Seldom has there been as powerful and evocative a slogan as the claim that the house was a “machine for living.” Despite his protest that architecture touched the heart, while technology only spoke to the mind, Corbu recognized buildings as machines, while Wright and Mies felt architecture to be a different kind of construction. Their work was not unfriendly to machines, indeed made use of machines, but was not a machine itself. Corbu was Promethean, willing to play with fire and gamble, while Mies and Wright were more cautious. While Mies was perhaps the most comfortable with the actuality of building technology, and Wright with structural engineering (Wright was the only one of the three with any engineering training), Corbu was the most overtly artistic (the one who also painted and sculpted), and maybe for this reason the most daring in his dalliance with technology. Wright and Mies knew better.
This is what they knew: the incontrovertible and absolute ideal of technology is efficiency. Underlying all the inspirational formalism of the planes, ships and cars was a single-minded focus on purpose. This was what gave technology the strength that was so inspirational, but also what would prevent its transference. Though Corbu may have looked to technology for a replacement to history, technology has no use for its own history, for restraint or convention or disciplinary boundaries. The history of technology is a record of thresholds crossed, without looking back. Efficiency has no interest in less efficiency, and consequently no interest in or use for its own history. Yet, with the alien whispering in its ear, Architecture felt it could handle efficiency in the same way it had previously elevated the technological facts of structure or technique. But efficiency is not a material or technique, it is a god. Efficiency cannot be further elevated; it cannot be “treated” architecturally. Efficiency cannot be expressed, it can only be. The excess necessary to expression makes expression and efficiency logical antagonists. So, however much architecture might claim that form follows function this essential antagonism must eventually catch up with it and the new god exact its due.
To get back now to Corbu’s car photos: the cross-disciplinary leap by architecture recorded in Corbu’s photos seems brilliant but the new god must eventually be served. Histopomo was an awakening to the dilemma, and its lack of success evidence of the dilemma’s intractability: pomo was too late and missed the essential point anyway: beyond the fact of architecture’s technological presence, technology was already so embedded in the idea of architecture that pomo was reduced to a veneer, and made ridiculous because the judgment came on technology’s terms.
The form taken by the disciplinary suicide foretold in Corbu’s photos is the opposite of the retreat attempted by pomo: it is a fatal fascination that embraces the technological so completely that the architectural falls out, leaving only the technology. This auto-da-fe is manifest in the blob. Ironically, it is the technology of architecture, of building, that alerts the viewer most forcefully to this end in the uncritical technologization of the blob. The disjunction between what can be built and what the blob desires forces the blob all the way over into technology in its attempts to answer it: the only way to satisfy the blob is on technology’s terms, from the authorless parametric diagram right through the computer to the CNC mill to the field, directly.
It seemed for so long the ultimate credit to architecture that in Corbu’s photos the building makes the car look old, and that this difference continued to increase through the decades as the car faded deeper into anachronism while the building remained recognizably contemporary. Indeed, it is from this almost jarring temporal disjunction between the car and the building that we take the most persuasive evidence of the apparent fulfillment of the alien’s apparent promise: the building seems like an exotic spaceship landed among model T’s.
Cars also graced the work of Wright and Mies, but were never equated with it, as they were with Corbu’s work. It is this implied continuity that makes Corbu’s work seem sensationally in advance of rather than simply adjacent to (at least the visible face of) the technology of the time. Yet, it also makes it more susceptible to such datedness itself — as the technology it embodies and the references it makes become themselves dated. The only thing that can make Mies’s or Wright’s work feel dated is other architecture, while Corbu’s work can be dated by any more advanced machine. And so, the blob’s dating of the Villa Stein reveals their common technological affiliation and the blob’s greater investment in that association. Since the threat of obsolescence — for the Villa Stein, in this case by the blob, but otherwise in general for any work by another — is actually meaningless in architectural terms, its common use today must be further evidence that at least the mediated regions of the discipline have been technologized.
And yet, obviously, the suicide has not been fully consummated: though the blob is oozing out of the louver grilles and filling the projection booth, the theater patrons are still alive and aware enough to protest. In the midst of the technological “enframing” Heidegger called the “danger,” he recognized the possibility of a “saving power.” He proposed that the possibility of rescue would emerge from within technology through technology’s essential kinship to the arts in their joint provenance in techne. This can be taken to mean that the polemical assertion of kinship in the Villa Stein photos need not only condemn humanity to the future the aliens sought to ensure. It might in fact save the humans from that future. So, the comparison between the car and the house could be read the other way.
What is remarkable about the photos from the perspective of the present is not just the temporal disjunction, or how much the house is like the car, but the converse: the car seems very architectural. The car is positioned in different places in the various photos, but in each it is squared up and aligned according to architectural principles. In some cases this alignment is clearly counter to the car’s performance requirements, violating any logical automotive relation to the roadway or direction of travel. In Vers Une Architecture Corbu had juxtaposed the auto with the temple to make the case for the evolutionary perfection of each — that is to show how each was the product of evolutionary work within a discipline. Here, two years later, he seems to be making a similar statement with the Villa Stein photos, but in this case the intended comparison is supposed to be cross-disciplinary. In which case the architectural provenance of the chosen vehicle is not a mistake, but makes the intended connection easier and stronger. The car is architectural, as the house is automotive; that is to say, while both are exemplary of disciplinary achievement, that achievement is itself a product of cross-disciplinary awareness, respect, and even emulation. The photos go beyond the establishment of kinship, though, to suggest where the saving power is to be found and how it might be applied.
These photos can be seen as evidence of a prescient Corbusian strategy for avoiding the apparent disciplinary suicide by showing the possibility of the influence going both ways, of architecture domesticating technology.
To better understand this another telling of the Corbu vs. aliens story can be imagined, in which, unlike other recruits such as Marinetti, Corbu actually outsmarts the alien, crossing his fingers behind his back and guiding architecture on a path toward a relationship with technology that would lead to its eventual domestication by architecture — and thus ensure its continuing familiarity and companionship, rather than the sterile alienation it threatened. But he buried his double-cross where it would work subtly, invisibly, in the very materials that seemed to make the case for the ultimately barren triumph of technology. He buried it deeply, and it has taken all of the subsequent history, and the specter of the blob that signals the very edge of ruin as the apparently inevitable culmination of that history, to reveal it.
On the evidence of the reception of the work, Heidegger might have held up Corbu as an expression of the danger, evidence of how technology had invaded even the arts after the war. To many it would seem that Corbu was following the path encouraged by the alien. Casual inspection would seem to show Corbu still enamored of the forms of mass-production that is itself the essence of enframing — but no longer the planes, ships and automobiles of the earlier work, which like the hammer might be seen to “tease nature into unhiddenness” as they performed. To Heidegger, it might appear that Corbu was simply acknowledging the harsher realities the war had awakened, adapting to the postwar material shortages with the abstract prisms of the unite, acknowledging power with the more overt mechanisms of Ahmedhabad, and foreshadowing the rise of sinister new capabilities with the rhyzomatic sprawl of the Venice Hospital. These would stand for Heidegger as examples of the extent to which enframing had permeated even the arts, not only with the imagery of the machine, but with its processes and prerogatives. Corbu might have been pleased by this reading, since it seems to acknowledge the depth to which his efforts had understood the technological and surpassed the literal imitation of the planes, ships and automobiles in his earlier work: no longer did the buildings simply ape their obvious technological exemplars, but instead embodied the technological in being themselves. Yet, it is obvious that though the formalism of this work is much more overtly of-the-machine it couldn’t be less mechanical in its production; it is painstakingly hand-crafted and proud of that. This work could more properly be seen as a transmutation of technology into the arts: despite the easy mechanical reference, this work remains architecture, or with fingers crossed, goes beyond, to be emphatically more architectural in that embodiment. These buildings no longer seem to fight against the technological necessity in their presence — a necessity that caused Alberti first to split design and construction — or to pretend to be a different technology — like the earlier white cubes that wanted to be produced in a factory. This work embraces the technological necessity in its presence, as well as its particular mode of production, as natural to it. So: even at the time of the Question Concerning Technology, when Heidegger would have condemned Corbu, and in the very buildings for which he would have been condemned, Corbu was showing the world a possible saving power in the architectural domestication of technology. The work in concrete, his famous “beton brute,” expressed as such, transmuted the false plastic and metal in false plaster and wood and block translation of Villa Stein to the real, continuous architecture of the beton brute. The machine shone through, but transmuted into architecture, as such.
This transubstantiation was not simply material, and not only tectonic, though it is tectonically explicit and materially glorious. Rather, it enjoins a more generalized architectural form-logic that has been elsewhere called, for desperate lack of a better word, “topological.” There is not enough space here to get into the details or demonstration of this form-logic in his work, except to say that Corbu’s mastery is a sign of that work’s architectural sophistication according to a formal value system much older than the modernism or technology it overtly engages — as old as the “lessons of Rome” he first used to anchor to tradition and legitimize the alien’s suggestions of abstraction. All architects know that Corbu never really subscribed to the idea that form just follows function. He recognized that the expression of efficiency, the potential for its cold numbers to touch the heart, was not possible without an assertion of the will, and thus must be at odds with technology, which follows nothing but number. The will is manifest in topological manipulation: this is the play Corbu found magnificent enough to be architecture. The variation between the technological, tectonic and topological makes explicit the importance of the will in the architectural, and how Corbu’s domestication of the technological in architecture can seem to alternate, in a sort of building scaled Mueller-lyre effect, between the technological and architectural, as it exercises its topological sophistication.
However inspirational, Corbu’s example does not provide the entire answer, though, to the problem — or danger — Heidegger warns about in the Question Concerning Technology. It remains for architect’s today, after Corbu has shown how architecture could throw itself on the grenade and absorb the technological into itself, to heed the warnings of the blob’s example: the blob shows that this is a dangerous practice, not easily controlled much less mastered, but even if mastered only effective within the limited world of the architectural. It remains for architect’s today to try to understand what it would mean to go the other way and assert architecture into the technological, even where it would not naturally be found, that is, not just in building technology but in the world at large. Even if it is decided that architects have neither expertise nor interest in this larger sphere, and that they should be happy to confine their efforts to the narrower scope of what architecture can effect, it should be remembered that architecture itself depends on a certain hubris for its effect in this regard, and so the look outward must help within.
So what could this be? What could it even be called? In order to distinguish between this question and Corbu’s domestication of technology within architecture, perhaps it could be termed (clumsily), the architecturalization of technology. The attempt to answer these sorts of questions — not to mention the invention of clumsy words — cannot avoid partaking of that hubris. In fact, noting the difference between architecture’s call to hubris and the even greater arrogance of technology’s disregard for the human dimension that makes it tragic would put the contemporary architect on the path. The architecturalization of technology — whatever that turns out to be — must involve, must be based on, a consideration of judgment, of the nature and possibility of judgment appropriate or meaningful to architecture and technology.
That is because, in fact, architecture is precisely the institutionalization of judgment, the establishment of the capacity for judgment, and thus mis-judgment, while technology is the disregard, or maybe transcendence, of that need. In the (presumption of) order that necessitates assessment, architecture embodies judgment in the same way that technology, as the actuality of that order in enframing and commanding and standing in reserve, represents measure. This structural congruence makes architecture technological at the deeper level Heidegger described — forming the bond that will allow it to deliver the saving power — but it is the radical difference in the effects of that structure that necessitates the discovery of such a power.
To anticipate that discovery in the architecturalization of technology, without saying what form it might take, perhaps it can be imagined simply as the meaningful introduction to technology of judgment (in the architectural sense). In its reliance on quantification, its transcendence of the need for judgment, technology is thought of as non-judgmental. By always letting the numbers decide it is believed to be neutral (and that this must be laudable in a democratic world). But it is biased — towards efficiency — and in this it is in some way the harshest judge, allowing no possibility of argument or appeal. The fact of the holocaust alone, not to mention all the other events of the decade preceding the Question Concerning Technology that Heidegger refused to address, attest to this (though it is possible to see the Question Concerning Technology as a veiled statement about the holocaust). The possibility of argument, which marks the uncertainty of architecture and therefore the struggle of architecture against that uncertainty, and therefore the brilliance of the effects of that struggle, which are institutionalized in the canon, is the difference between architecture and technology, considered as systems of judgment.
Any consideration of judgment must lead to a consideration of the boundary’s within which that judgment is meaningful; the values that are assessed are revealed in their respective attitude towards the limits of such meaning. In architecture what is judged is goodness, excellence (or more likely today, novelty or coolness, but that’s another discussion, held elsewhere in the present volume), in technology what is measured is efficiency. Architecture is complicit in setting its own limits; technology is constituted in testing its limits. Goodness cannot be judged absolutely, and thus there is argument and respect and stewardship; in technology efficiency can be determined, and so there is calculation and dare and jeopardy. If architecture is itself technology, in the sense that it depends for its definitive existence on the technology of building, it could be defined as that technology which is miraculously constituted in a denial or contestation of efficiency, that technology which refuses its “natural” limit while respecting its own unnatural boundaries. The limits of technology describe what is clear, challenging and possible, the limits of architecture what is uncertain, respected and desired; the limits of architecture as technology describe what can be expressed.
Architecture shares with technology a capacity for certainty only in architecture’s relation as a human enterprise to human mortality; otherwise architecture’s limits are chosen, are an achievement, and thus ultimately uncertain, while technology’s are imposed, by nature, which slaps it down as it tries to ignore them, and thus are incontestable. The nature that is teased into unhiddenness by technology, and the desire that is teased into unhiddenness by architecture, color the play about those respective limits and give a face to the challenge or respect they essentially elicit.
Technology seems to attempt to work against the limits imposed on it by nature, but it might be more accurate to say that it approaches those limits asymptotically. No matter how hard it works, technology will be constrained by nature. Since architecture on the other hand authorizes the limits that circumscribe it, its respect for those limits cannot be explained by an inability to transgress them; expertise is continuously expanding the boundary’s of physical possibility and already the traditional structural impediments that compelled pediments no longer repel architecture. Another way to put this is that the obverse side of the blob’s present constructional difficulty is the likelihood of its future easiness, and eventually nanotechnology will make anything physical realizable. The survival of architecture in that future of infinite possibility will only make obvious what now is hidden: the idea of architecture as the institutionalization of judgment could be restated as the conversion of constraint into restraint.
If the measure of how close technology can approach its asymptotic limits is efficiency, then the measure of how close architecture can approach its limits is sophistication. The assessment of sophistication relates to the essence of what is thought of as design in architecture. Design sophistication, as discussed here, is not simply an appraisal of complexity or subtlety, or disciplinary arcana, though. While sophistication has come to be associated with effete or elitist effects, this is not its true meaning. Design sophistication is primarily and most purely an effect of topological mastery in all its possible dimensions.
The architecturalization of technology would seem to require the discovery of a measure different from efficiency, which is still non-arbitrary and emergent from technology, which has the character for technology that design sophistication or topological splendor has for architecture. It certainly cannot mean only the acceptance of inefficiency in technology. Or really even the celebration of inefficiency, though it could be said that this is what happens in architectural expression. Is there possible in technology a place for the “appropriateness,” “rightness,” “stateliness,” “grace,” “magnificence,” or “correctness,” apart from number, that sophistication measures in architecture? Could it be tied to the limitations of human perception, of the human scale (where architecture must operate)? Humanity has become accustomed to technology’s taking it beyond the senses — and beyond sense (witness, for example, quantum physics), and maybe it could be argued that it is this realm where enframing is spawned — beyond the possibility of contestation because beyond the reach of sense.
Sophistication is a sign of topological intention. Topological mastery is a sign of the nearness of limits, since that the mastery is demonstrated by nimbleness along the edge. But in architecture that edge lies in restraint, threading throughout the possibility that striates the field. Truly architectural limits are not out there, but immanent in the very operations possible on any particular object. How can this be understood within technology? Does it mean limits that are similarly not to be seen as imposed from without by the possible (nature), but to be derived, in the task at hand — this in turn determined neither capriciously nor again from nature, but from a complicit restraint related to what in architecture would be thought of as design, where the best “solution” is determined not by the greatest efficiency in either an absolute or pragmatic sense, but, say, by the degree to which it reveals some other “truth” as topological magnificence or exquisiteness might for architecture. It would not be unreasonable to wonder how that could ever happen.
At some point, the asymptotic approach of technology to the limits of efficiency, considered from the less absolute human perspective that must in the end author-ize it, must (seem to) level off and reach an effective final state. At that point, when the god of efficiency has been appeased, at least to the extent of human apperception and appreciation, functionally equivalent solutions, designs, conditions, influences, will present themselves and choice will reenter the equation. When the service of efficiency is already accounted, then some other measure will be needed to decide among these choices. And at that point, if not sooner, architecture, if it survives, will be there with the model for making such decisions.
Architecture is the arena of magnificent form. It is possible that the achievement of perfect efficiency would require that all dimensions of the situation would be contributing to that achievement, including form and process or history — the perfect efficiency would have to take account of the extended resources that went into the production of the thing, as well as the extended effects it would have throughout its environment and throughout its future — and this would constitute the realization of the adage about form following function. If there were a way to imagine a perfect efficiency apart from the energy death/absolute entropy of the end of the universe, or the collapse of all possibility-of-which-efficiency-could-be-predicated into a continuous singularity that would trivialize this process and history, then the mere existence of perceivable form would be the signal for or sign of the presence of architecture in the handle it provides to human choice. And then architecture and value devolve to the mere possibility of difference that the visible form presents to the viewer: because it is so, there, it can be imagined otherwise, here. And that simple possibility becomes charged with the definitive significance of the realization that any alternative must be gloriously less efficient, and yet capable again of becoming perfectly efficient (assuming technology so advanced to achieve the perfectly efficient can do it at will).
And in the difference between the two lies a new world.