GAM 10


Urs Hirschberg

Intuition is essential for architectural design. No matter how thoughtfully and rationally you proceed, the portion of design decisions that are made or maybe even have to be made “from the gut” is always substantial and often enough distinguishes good from mediocre designs. Interestingly, however, there is little discussion among architects about how intuition actually works. The reason for this may be that intuition is something that happens in the subconscious and that we therefore cannot speak of it. Is intuition thus one of those subjects whereof—to speak with Wittgenstein—one must be silent?

For the tenth issue of GAM we asked for contributions to break this silence. The title “Intuition & the Machine” explains why: digital machines present in architecture engender this debate because they have long ceased to be machines in the traditional sense. They are taking on more and more of our cognitive tasks and developing rapidly, thus creating the field of tensions that this issue of GAM is devoted to.

The topic seems to touch a nerve. The relationship between architects and their tools is changing in many ways. The debate is not just about digitally enabled possibilities, but precisely about our very own human capacities: our esthetical judgment, our feelings, our intuition. Can they be delegated to the computer as well? Or is the opposite true: Are human design factors being strengthened by digital technology? Is their importance better appreciated, could they even be put to better use thanks to advances in technology? These are questions our authors deal with in various ways in the following pages.

Popular opinion on the subject of intuition is varied. On the one hand there is intuition as the motor of creativity, the unerring inner compass, as described by Einstein: “The intellect has little to do on the road to discovery. There comes a leap in consciousness, call it intuition or what you will, and the solution comes to you and you don’t know how or why.”[1] On the other hand there is skepticism, as in the quote by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt who quipped that “intuition is the capacity of certain people to incorrectly assess a situation in a matter of seconds.”[2]

Likewise there is no consistent take on intuition in the contributions to this edition of GAM. That one can intuitively make wrong assessments, especially when dealing with digital media, is discussed in several texts. Many developments in the realm of information technology seem to directly go against our instincts. With regard to the computer we often can’t trust our intuition too much. On the other hand, the human hunch is probably something that we won’t teach computers anytime soon.

In good GAM tradition the thematic contributions to this number are colorful and controversial. Furthermore our authors are for the most part not only people who observe and reflect, but also who write from their experience of being actively in- volved in research and developments that shed new light on the topic of “Intuition & the Machine.” The multi-perspective view that results includes a variety of positions and tendencies in contemporary architectural discourse. The topic attracted contributions that don’t reflect primarily on built architecture. Instead they focus on the design process and on novel procedures that are currently becoming possible. Much of this work is experimental and some of it appears to be far from practical application, but apart from the fact that our intuition might be wrong about this, too: the fundamental conditions that are shaping tensions between intuition and machine were important in our selection of contributions.

The issue is structured in three sections: The first, Senses and Tools, discusses our perceptual senses and the effects and affects that novel digital tools could have on them. What could another way of dealing with complexity be? How can the use of novel digital tools be made pleasurable? How can new synergies between analogue and digital processes be found?

The second, Mind and Matter, brings together contributions that focus on the philosophical basis of the topic, taking a longer view of the development of algorithmic design. The beginnings of the “Paperless Studios” are critically assessed, as are the influences of postmodernism, of cybernetics and of mathematics and philosophy on current designerly thinking.

In Interactions and Mutations, the third section of GAM.10, practical applications of innovative interactive design- and fabrication processes are featured. They demonstrate how the topical spectrum of architecture is changing and expanding and the surprising possibilities that arise when machines become partners and materials are digitally informed.

Each section ends with an interview: respectively with psychologist Edith Ackermann, ETH CAAD researcher Ludger Hovestadt and director of the MIT Self-Assembly Lab Skylar Tibbits. The two photo-series that separate the three sections showcase works from the labs of the latter two: Digital Grotesque, Decibot and Fluid Crystalization—research projects as fascinating for their innovation as for their beauty.

Fascination, not only with novel technical possibilities but also with our emotional reaction to them, is an important aspect of this issue. Fascination can keep us wondering, can lead to new insights, can challenge our intellect as well as our intuition. In this sense we hope you will be fascinated by what you read on the following pages and thereby inspired to think about machines and intuition.

Finally a personal remark: this is the tenth issue of GAM. Over the past ten years many different editors have contributed to establishing GAM as part of the TU Graz Architecture Faculty and as part of the international academic discourse about architecture. Of the founding editors I’m the last remaining—now for me, too, it’s time to step aside. I want to thank all my colleagues for their excellent collaboration and for the opportunity to act as guest editor on this “jubilee” number. As usual you will find information about our plans for the upcoming 11th issue of GAM in the Call for Papers on the last pages. ■

[1] Larry Chang, ed., Wisdom for the Soul (Washington, 2006), p. 179.

[2] Monika Mörtenhummer, ed., Zitate im Management (Vienna 2008), p. 192