Synapses speeches

On Neurobiology, Computation, Robotic, Philosophy… and incidentally architecture

Organised by / Le Laboratoire / François Roche /

with Mark Burry, François Jouve, Rupert Soar, Antonio Negri, Judith Revel, Behrokh Khoshnevis, Jean-Didier Vincent, Jeanette Zwingenberger, Chris Younes, Stephan Henrich, Winston Hampel, Natanel Elfassy, François Roche / Moderator / Giovanni Corbellini

Location /École nationale supérieure d’architecture Paris-Malaquais, 14 rue Bonaparte 75006 PARIS / 16th February / 13h-19h / Location /Amphi 2 des loges


13:30 / Preambule / Introduction …. F. Roche


-Natanel Elfassy / “Stuttering protocols”

-Winston Hampel / “Monkey bridges”

14:00 / Animalism-Animism

-Rupert Soar / “How nature integrates processes, its implications for functional structure generation”

-Jeanette  Zwingenberger / “le corps acéphale_ acephalous body”

-Jean-Didier Vincent / “biology of emotions”

Moderator Giovanni Corbellini

15:15 / Machinism-Uncertainties

-Behrokh Khoshnevis / “Adaptive automated construction”

-Mark Burry /  “Bone from stone“

-Stephan Henrich / “operatives machinism”

Moderator Giovanni Corbellini

16.30 / Multitudes-Narratives protocoles

-Toni Negri, Judith Revel / “Multitudes”

-Chris Younes /  “Coryrhmics”

-Francois Jouve / “Mathematics  & emergence of the unknown“

-François Roche / “Speculatives narrations“

Moderator Giovanni Corbellini

18:00-19:00  Last roundtable with everybody….




Transcript bubbles


The Biology of emotions / Jean-Didier Vincent


But say it is my humour(Shakespeare, The merchant of Venise)

“The humours,substances secreted by the cells and  fluids which transport them, make of your body a veritable witche’s brew, and our sweet or ill humour varies with its composition.

The fact that the same words are used to refer to our bodily fluids and our feelings underlines the causal links which unite them. The primacy of the liquid element in the organization

of life was the basis of Hippocratic humourism, which would later clash with mechanistic theory.


The morning light filtering through the curtains tells me that it will be grey day. Is it the coming rain or the substances my sleepy brain has carted about during the night that has put me out of humour? Our path lies between this humour and the humours that permeate our body.

According to J.Delay, humour is “that basic instinctive and emotional disposition which gives each of our moods its pleasant or unpleasant character, oscillating between the extremes of pleasure and pain. Humour is to the thymic or emotional sphere what consciousness is to the noetic or intellectual sphere: that is to say its most basic and general manifestation.” This definition introduces the affective and intelectual contestants for the endless battle between the emotional and the cognitive: the mashy pulp in one corner versus the dry rigour in the other. A little semantic musing on the word “humour” leads us inevitably to the liquid element-a good example of  “substantial imagination” where the symbol includes both cause and effect.

Humour and passion are both singular and plural: the fast fleet of the passions drifts at the mercy of currents and winds upon the sea of humour. This sea, alternately calm or violent, has its own humours whish becalm the ship or hurl it to the darkest depths. Confronted with humour and its humours, reason invokes the rigour of its nerve mechanisms. This dualism has been present throughout the history of physiology.


This birth of neurophysiology dates back to the end of the eighteenth century, and from the outset it sought to study functions and relations such as amovements and perceptions which were best suited to mechanistic and the nervous system, to reduce them to a heap of spare  parts. “It is neither the growth of the vegetable nor the visceral and viscous palpitation of the mollusc which gave rise to mechanistic explanations, but the distinct successiveness of movement in the vertebrate whose central nervous system controls and coordinates segmentary reactions: those very reactions which lend themselves…to mechanitic simulation. As von Uexkull says, an amoeba is less mechanical than a horse”. Faced with this dry mechanism, the wet was long neglected. The field Bichat calls ” vegetative life” as opposed to animal life” is less amenable to mechanistic explanation. Vegetative functions are emotional by nature. With this idea of the internal milieu and the discovery of hormones, back comes the wet to its rightful place. Neuroendocrinology and neuropharmacology have allowed humour-tranported gland secretions to invade the brain and explain changes of humour. The brain itself has acquired the status of a gland. From Hippocrates to Guillemin the paradigms have been dancing in circles.


More than by its formal description of the system of the four humours, it is by the living dialectic of its dynamic balance that Hippocratic humourism announces modern physiology. The body is an aggregate of fluids, the humours, and the solids which contain them. Vital phenomena are born from the action of these fluids. The cardinal humours are blood, phlem, yellow bile and black bile. The balance of the humours constitutes crasis; its breakdown constitutes dyscrasia.


Amongst the humours,a special place must be set aside for black bile or melancholy, an excess of which is responsible for the ailment of the same name. The name given to the substance has such metaphorical power that it also serves for the illness it causes. Black bile is a concentrated humour which through evaporation has accumulated the piercing, corrosive and aggressive properties of yellow bile (choler). Like the melancholic patient, it is self-consuming.


The role of black bile in the birth of a mental disorder provides the first example of physicians recognizing a causal relationship between psychic trouble and a biochemical anomaly. The second half of the twentieth century is strewn with attempts to explain mental illness by means of a chemical substance. The corresponding treatment still follows Hippocratic logic by trying to restore the disturbed metabolism of the substance or by neutralizing its harmful effects.We can only regret that words like dopamine and serotonin do not have the metaphorical power of melancholy or black bile. Attention and intention are the two attributes of desire. are they produces by dopamine andif so, where does this amine lodge in the brain? There was a time when neurologists and physiologists tried to find a centre of law and order in the brain for every function of the body and mind. There is an explanation for such an attitude. As is often  the case, the development of scientific concept is linked to that of the method used.


The rise of biochemistry and neuropharmacology has overthrown place and crowned subtance. Ana tomical centralism has been replaced by biochemical centralism. Catecholamines in general and dopamine in particular have thus been given a role in many functions.


Dopamine thus appears to be a non-specific central activator. It has been spoken of as an agent in behavioural wakefulness, the expression of desire at an elementary level. This leads us to dicuss the general concept of activation as a basic spring of desire.


Up to this point we have for practical reasons more or less led you to beleive that dopamine, the central state and desire are one and the same thing. The time has come to clear up a possible misunderstanding. Dopamine is not the central state any more than it is the hormone of desire. The central state is the multiple and fluctuating expression of all the neurohumours. In the continuum between interest and lack of interest, other substances are at work.


The catalogue of substances which play a role in the central state is far from being a mere list of amines. Luliberin, along with males hormones, changes a shy male hamster who is intimidated by his aggressive female into a willing and intrepid lover. Acetylcholine modulates the activity of the prefrontal cortex and limbic brain. Morphinic peptides have many receptors in the cortex and regulate the level of sensory input.


We have already defined the central state as an image of the subject’s corporal and extracorporal space. An object, smell or sound in the environment can be ignored if the central state does not invest them with a particular value. An extra dimension of this state-time- has not yet been mentioned, but will be discussed in detail for each of the passions. Desire is not only the result of the fusion of body and environment, but is also a product of personal history, expressed by the plasticity of the brain and the fluctuations of the humours. Is there a more beautiful example of the working of the central state with its three spatial and temporal components than the famous tea and cake episode in Proust? Marcel gives a description of an internal state that is as pleasant as it is vague:

A delectable feeling of well-being had come over me, cutting me off from the others, without my knowing why. It had immediately made me feel indifferent to life’s ups and downs its trivial catastrophes, its derisory shortness, in the same way that love does by filling me with a precious essence: but rather should i say that this essence was not in me, it was me.”


Stuttering Protocols…to think along dotted lines / Natanel Elfassy | R&Sie(n) Architects

[1] I’ve heard about something that builds up….

When we come to consider the situation of a residential building, The particular building we have in mind is a ramshackle set of unruly inhabitants each having their own position, Strengths and weaknesses, psychotic disorders … humeurs; all of whom are united, however undisciplined and chaotic their life, by their belonging to that building.

Now, Lets Consider stripping a residential building of all its properties to the extent that even its identity and unity are removed; That is leaving all of a situation’s properties aside and considering only the basic relation which holds throughout its multiplicity. That way, we can schematize a situation as a set, and reformulate the classical language of architecture – being, relations, qualities – in mathematical terms; more specifically, relational operators, those of set theory[2]

What would be left would simply be the being of that ‘something’. An assemblage of multiple multiplicities, inconsistent, like you and me; within each individual generates his own form through his behaviour, his way of coming across, and the way he addresses others, negotiations and tendencies[3]that comes about in the borderline area, at the frontiers, where the individual struggles with the other. Therefore, this architecture, our residential building, is merely a relational property,

in a perpetual transactions with the subjectivity of others; suggests other trading possibilities than those in effect within this system[4], towards the horizon of human interactions and social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space.[5]

When we provoke the question ‘What was there before all situations?’ we provides no possible access to this ‘before’, it is impossible to speak of in any direct way….relational architecture therefore touches on its own limits;

There is no predestination. There is nothing other than chance encounters between particular humans and particular situations; and subject may be born out of such encounters. There is no higher order which prescribes who will encounter a situation and decide to act in relation to it.

Every situation is ultimately founded on a void, the void of a situation is simply what is not there, but what is necessary for anything to be there :

How can we [as architects] record this silent, still life formed by relationships with the other?

This silent, this gap, is the space between things, between individuals…. Is an elusive space always leaning on Les malentendues…as a wound that requires that the source of the wound heal the wound. The subject-object divide is an abyss crossed by the secret language of Being.

This gap, that we’ve named <Les Malentendu> is a force in motion, a potential  that links an “already” and a “not yet”;  Inconsistencies ,contradictions and conflicts :

“I’d love to but at the same time / and maybe / not / and the contrary.”

Broken symmetries that bring new relations to light…. As a symmetry that renders the disparate fluid in order to intensify an individuation…

“Les Malentendues” provides some reserves for the act of architecture, as an operational mode, allowing architecture to become their transactional vector. And no longer restricting architecture to a verbal statement paraphrasing operativity and allowing  it to venture into a concrete and precise approach of the preformal and the intuitive and to grasp virtuality according to a mode other than an influence of a matrix of ideas or a cultural and sociological context.

Following Les Malentendues , the act of architecture does not exhaust motion; it respects and exalts the latencies coiled up in our the body and language; escapes the grasp of an abstraction that denies or grants mobility to beings, and obliges the act of architecture not to abandon motion by assimilating it to a transition between states governed by desire. arouse intuition, amplify and condense it.

To conclude,

Une Architecture des Humeurs deal with the architectural phenomena wishing to push language to the limits of meaning by breaking up the traditional linear struc­ture. Learning to inhabit the world, instead of trying to construct it based on a preconceived idea of historical evolution… no longer to form imaginary and utopian realties, but to actualize ways of living and models of action within the existing real. We dwells in the circumstances the present offers us;

Understanding that while traditional language, even in its more poetic usages, does not fulfill its promise to express the emotional intensity of human existence.

The necessity to address urgent questions of architec­ture and thought, turn to the abyssal unknown, beyond traditional limits of language, beyond the superficial level of the signifier – the desire to go beyond the law of non-con­tradiction, indicates not silence, not in­comprehensibility, but an attempt to portray carnal, sensual, and conceptual reality in all its intensity – Stuttering in language, stuttering the language: architecture becomes-  an eternal reassessment [6]- Stuttering Architecture.[7]

Stuttering, as francois once told me:” is conflictual… a disruption of continuity between emotion and language – how they simultaneously corrupt each other.”

X without X, architecture without architecture, is not merely a negation, a cancellation or destruction, but a new indication of X, an opposite motion opening X in a different way. A construction wishing to touch upon un-construction, to make present an uninhabitable space, which belongs not to the time of man’s deeds, but to the “other time”[8] an non-phenomenal space, uninhabitable, incapable.

X and not X, stuttering architecture contains both ends, architecture and non-architecture, before the word and after the word. Reflects the ability or the inability to contain me as well as the end opposite of me [body and thought …]. To grasp what has already changed and what is still changing.. bringing to the present a past which is not part of the contemporary structure where man lives, a past farther away from any referenced past, alluding to a future which cannot be expected, which is not approaching us from the horizon, but rather disrupting the structure of the horizon. A future toward which one cannot walk, a proposed transition always blocked by the borders of the possible, fenced in and yet always leaving its mark – the stutter;

Stuttering architecture is rearticulating intuition and operation and does not represent a theory of architecture [ this would imply the statement of an origin and a destination], but a theory of form – A coherent unit, a structure , independent entity of inner dependencies.

Form is defined as a lasting encounter: turn out to be lasting from the moment when their components form a whole whose sense fit to inner and declared desire…always as a “malentandu”… at the moment of their birth, stirring up new possibilities. New potential. “Block of affects and percepts” that keeps together moments of subjectivity associated with singular experiences, gestures… potential….form is spreading out from its material form: it is a linking element, a principle of dynamic agglutination.

If each situation  is a dot on a line, Une Architecture des Humeurs can be seen as the drama of the production of possibles …as thinking along dotted line….

[1] I take this expression from Gilles Chatelet, Virtuallity:Plastic and Offensive, trns. Charles T.Wolfe
[2] Any mathematical proposition can be rewritten in the language of set theory.
[3] Is not so much a question of how a subject can initiate an action in an autonomous manner but rather how a subject emerges through an autonomous chain of actions within a changing situation.
[4] Comparing to the present day social context which restricts the possibilities of inter-human relations all the more because it creates spaces planned to this end. The general mechanisation of social functions gradually reduces the relational space, city streets are swept clean of all manners of relational dross, and neighbourhood relationships gradually fades into silence..
[5] It remains to be seen what the status of this is in the set of “states of encounter” proposed by the Multitude
[6] Maurice Blanchot, La ressassement eternal, Paris: Minuit, 1951.
[7] Stuttering architecture is searched for consciously, in different forms, and in each period of time using the ways and means [technology] typical of it … coming from the margins, sneaking in from the periphery, immigrating from the minor to the major. Today, these attempts of stuttering architecture represent a different kind of thinking and creating architecture, in which complex relations between architectural theory and practice re-perform the relation between the unknown and the known. Therefore, stuttering architecture cannot be understood to be a fleeting artistic fad, but a momentous contemporary stage in the history of design and thought, which characterizes the present moment in the history of creativity and urges us to rethink what has been taken for granted in architecture.
[8] A term used a lot by Blanchot

Bone from stone / Mark Burry

Sole authorship and the conversion of an idea into a made object is a fluid relationship, its precise character depending on the size of the ‘thing’ being produced and its degree of complexity.  Can we talk about Limoges figurines in the same breathe as cathedrals in terms of the artist-craftsperson and thinking-making commitments? Probably not for big buildings demand big design teams surely, yet there are instances of heroic individual endeavour pursuing such ambitious targets.  There are cases of the sole author trying to transcend the challenges of both scale and technical near-impossibility to bring off the one-off architectural wonder single handed. Along the way such visionaries have sought to treat their design process as not only an essential personal development – an experimental approach towards often quite fuzzy goals, but they treat the experience also as an opportunity to bring others along in their wake: their design practice is both a self-education as well as an apprenticeship opportunity affording a level of transference of the dream to, at times, unknown future collaborators.

Antoni Gaudí (1852 – 1926) is a one such exponent of this trait. Along with our other heroes including Villard Honnecourt ( c. 1175 – c. 1240 ), Philibert de l’Orme ( c. 1514 – 70 ) and Gaspard Monge ( 1746 – 1818 ) – and not forgetting Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc (18141879), Gaudí played his part in the quest for a stereotomy equal to the task he was setting himself.  The task, however, one seeking to resolve through descriptive geometry the transformation of crude rock into precisely described and cut stone pieces for an architectural whole was complicated by that whole still being designed meanwhile.

Stereotomy demands undeniable spatial brilliance, but we are now in the latest machine age of digital rendering, NC milling, material deposition and laser cutting… what use the intellectual gymnastics used to find the optimal geometrical path from quarry to building component if the machine can do everything?  In a world of nano-composites, what is the relevance of the fine grain of timber, the infinite textures of stone, and the manifest ductility of metals to our 21ST century designerly devotions?

Long after his death in 1926, Gaudí’s legacy includes an amalgam of anachronism and futurism.  The ongoing construction of his Sagrada Família Church in Barcelona plays out this paradox subtly for all those who care to look for it.


Monkey Bridges / Winston Hampel | R&Sie(n) Architects

The development of “une architecture des humeurs” was characterized by the fact, that we did not aim at designing a particular space or building, but essentially a process. Likewise the computational focus was not put on parametrically generating an element or the entity of the structure, but on developing this very process, of which the aesthetic is at the same time the intention and the byproduct.

I will now try to give a small insight into this approach, and especially into the system of connections between the individual elements of the generative process. It is important to clarify that this – just like the computational procedure itself – is intended to be conceived as a narrative concept.

The early stage of the project was largely made up of try-outs with the structural optimization protocols by François Jouve. Faced to the highly complex environment of these routines, we had to find a way of intruding their logic.

After we had adapted ourselves and we were able to manipulate the system – producing various results, changing parameters, and so on – we had to consider how to transfer previously created data in and out of it. How could we inject or eject information and most important: how should we determine WHAT to transfer…

Simultaneously to putting this “Algorithm” to test we developed several other generative protocols for different aspects of the project. Each of these generators is different not only in conception and purpose, but also in terms of its computational approach. Essentially such a generator does not even have to be a procedure of abstract computation but could just as well be a robotic process – like those later presented by Stephan Henrich.

As every protocol follows its own inherent logic, the individual proceeding and its results are apprehensible almost exclusively to the respective process itself. For instance the logic of the structural optimization protocols include not only “If then”, “While”, and “For … Next” commands, but also “Maybe” or “Perhaps” functions. The VB-script language we were using on some other modules is however limited to standard commands. When these two processes have to exchange information, it is necessary to consolidate two entirely different approaches.

To achieve this, we had to find a technique of transferring data between these processes. Obviously the most effective way to do so, is to use the most basic format – one of which is a pure text file, which can be read, administered and edited with and by practically all commonly available tools. This simplicity enables the .txt file to act as a computational lingua franca between our variety of programs and scripts. With this communication medium we were able to construct bridges between our computational “islands“, which are enabling the delivery of information from one generator to the next…

Every generative process we use produces an immense amount of data, most of which is neither necessary, nor comprehensible for the one to which data is being transferred. In order for both sides to be able to understand what and where information is communicated, it was therefore crucial to select what to transmit and what to leave out…

For example going from our psycho-morphological script to the local structural calculation, all the necessary data about the volumetry, organization, position and so on is stored within one text file.

The first lines give the position of the volume in global space. Following are all the centers of our minimal human living spaces, which are succeeded by the actual volume taken up by our living cells. This information is given in local space, defined by 27 cubes in X,Y and Z-axis, resulting in a grid of 19683 fields that are either occupied or not. Exist as a volume or not. True or false. Declaring only the true values, we get a basic list, which perfectly describes the “habitable” volume. Lastly the local aspect of the distribution network is described by a point and a vector.

Thus we have condensed the highly complex 3D data of surfaces visible and usable only within designated programs, into a list of numbers accessible from almost any software. This deliberate limitation serves not only the control of the data flow, but also produces a certain amount of indetermination. The result is a skeleton, stripped of its flesh – allowing every program interpreting it, to regenerate the flesh according to its own interpretation.

This room for interpretation enables the project and all aspects of it to constantly transform themselves. What is not defined within the information coming from the previous operation will be recreated – with an entirely different scope. Of course this approach leads to mutations and anomalies within the data produced – but it is exactly these artifacts that enable this project to overcome determinism and create something truly unpredictable.

Working with these “lose bridges” and integrating the „failure“ as vector of indeterminism continuously re-influences the project and it‘s aesthetic. Embedded within these fragile links is the potential to open the door to an iterative development, which could cease to be predefined and evolve from within the process itself.

It would be great, if we could likewise create some “monkey bridges” between the different disciplines present here today.


Utopias of nature, nature of utopias / Giovanni Corbellini

Architectural utopias arise always against architecture.

The egotist approach of architects, their will of form, even their specific knowledge as such are often felt as obstacles both to get performance (of objects, houses, spaces, urban settings…) and to represent simbolically and aesthetically individuals, groups and societies. In some way, the more a building expresses its ambition to be a masterwork of architecture and the less inhabitable it becomes. Modern masterworks as Mies’ Farnsworth House, Corbu’s Maison Savoye, Wright’s Fallingwater show how the aspiration of architecture to control space and time, forms and behaviors, clashes against the evolutionary, dynamic, unpredictable unfolding of life. That’s why even a revolutionary thinker and designer as Adolf Loos, writing is famous text Architecture (1910), identified the essence of the discipline in tombs (“When we find a mound in the woods, six feet long and three feet wide, raised to a pyramidal form by means of a spade, we become serious and something in us says: someone was buried here. That is architecture.”) and one of its inexhaustible sources in the environment modified and produced by simple people for their needs, with rough techniques, locally available materials and a shared knowledge (“May I take you to the shores of a mountain lake? The sky is blue, the water is green and everything is at peace. The mountains and clouds are reflected in the lake, as are the houses, farms and chapels. They stand there as if they had never been built by human hands. They look as if they have come from God’s own workshop…”)

This kind of argument constitutes the powerful basis for all the “nostalgic” utopias which propose to look at the “architecture without architects” as a set of necessary answers to constraints and opportunities: a sort of unavoidable, “natural” phenomenon that makes the architecture of architects accordingly unnatural, fake, phony. Along Loos, many architects (Wright, Gropius, Le Corbusier, Muratori, Rudofski, Alexander, Frampton…) tried and try paradoxically to wash their brain anew looking at historical periods or cultures in which the disciplinary knowledge isn’t yet involved in the production of the houses for the people. The same aim that drives scholars, though within a different aesthetic and ideological attitude, towards the analysis of the slums of the third world metropolises or other “spontaneous” outcomes (and Koolhaas’ research about Lagos is just the most famous recent example).

On the other hand, conscious that becoming innocent is conceptually incongruous, “progressive” utopias try to overtake the disciplinary gaps through technology. Again Loos, in that same text, asking himself “Why is it that every architect, whether good or bad, desecrates the lake?”, acknowledges that other actors are able to intervene in the territory in a more confident way: “The farmer does not desecrate it”, but, less obviously, “Neither does the engineer who builds a railway on the shore.” Machines provide direct answers to desires and needs, without aesthetic prejudices. Their “blind”, fast, automatic, objective action can free women and men from the system of constraints on which the traditional approaches are organized. In other words, this means freedom – again – from architects and, in perspective, from the other professionals, contractors and every middle man between people and the transformation of their environment. Le Corbusier’s Plan Obus started in the thirties imagining huge stackings of villas, freely built in the most different styles, as a first answer to the contemporary call for individual self expression. The generic infrastructure of the Ville Spatiale by Yona Friedman would have been, the support of very specific dwellings “designed” by their residents through an automatic interface, the “Flatwriter”. And underground machines would have set free the inhabitants of Constant’s New Babylon from iterative work (and the constraints of family, hierarchies, social roles…), transforming their life in a continuous drift and creative reconfiguration of the space able to house their playful activities. Again play would have been the activity run in the ever changing Fun Palace, designed by Cedric Price as a set of frames, cranes and moving elements endlessly reconfiguring through the desires of the users, collected and elaborated through a sort of software. Indeterminacy and mobility fueled then the ideas of Archigram, with the travelling capsules of their Plug-in City, and those of the Japanese Metabolists. All these projects are part of a long list of radical proposals, culminating maybe with the most extreme idea of Superstudio, which in the early seventies thought the city as an almost immaterial network able to provide flows of goods, energy and informations, where naked people (genetically mutated in a process of mutual adaptation between human biology and infrastructure) were free to move and gather.

The main issue at stake, in both the approaches, is how architecture deals with nature at large and especially human nature. The idea to come back to situations characterized by a balance between collective behaviors and environment, looks at people like a sort of swarm, able to self organize. Of course, this means a relationship between individuals and society where the firsts are strongly subordinated to the latter: a compliance (spontaneous or forced) to a kind of “tribal” order, like in the movie Avatar (by the way, the Na’vi live beneath a big tree, they don’t build anything…). So, from this point of view, being “natural” would mean coming back to an almost animal condition, to an instinctive behavior where a decreasing of means in terms of energy supply, tools and technology should provide the conditions for an equilibrium. State of the art and/or forthcoming techniques and unlimited sources of energy would literally build, vice versa, running room for individual expression in a dynamic materialization of free will. Technology – a human product coming from the deep insight in nature mechanisms provided by hard sciences – sets human nature free to unfold, expanding the possibility to make personal choices without undermining the whole society.

The utopias proposed by R&Sie(n) in this dawn of a new millennium – I’ve heard about and Une architecture des humeurs – mix up interestingly both the approaches, starting questioning how much free is free will in our contemporary media society. Especially their last experiment overtakes the negotiation based upon conscious individual requests, going directly to detect, through a kind of “smart dust”, the emissions of the body and the emotions from which they are produced. Here, the progresses in the most different fields of science, from biochemistry to mathematics, from ethology to robotics, make possible a radical liberation of human drives, even from the control of each one brain. The sum of all these natural/human/bodily reactions give way to a dynamic social confrontation, where the continuous and immediate feedback affect the society itself. Phenomena like the temporary autonomous zones and/or the smart mobs are shifted to a collective behavior: an unpredictable multitude, much more than a people. This kind of primeval swarm can rely on a very sophisticated infrastructure, able to react in real time to single desires. A set of software and hardware elaborates the individual emotions, translating them in an ever changing spatial frame, the viability of which, in terms of structural strength, accessibility, installations and so on, is calculated and immediately made real through robots.

Advanced technologies allow R&Sie(n) to make another step in the utopian evolutionary trend to indeterminacy. Both nostalgic and progressive utopias try to substitute top-down architectural methods with bottom-up procedures. This means the burst of unpredictability into a discipline founded on control. Architecture, stated Aldo Rossi with his “locus theory”, should be autonomous, disconnected from specific functions, able to house in time different action and uses. This aspiration to eternity feeds also the approaches of those longing for a lost innocence. The changes of life, interpreted however as part of a slow, cyclic and rhythmic breath, are traditionally dealt with through simplification and redundancy of walls and rooms, solid and voids. But technology works towards optimization and specificity in space and time, introducing the possibility to adapt faster and faster the environment to changing demands and needs. Progressive utopias investigated this possibility moving the threshold between generic and specific, engineered and spontaneous, without succeeding, anyway, to eliminate the split between bearing frame (heavy, mineral, unmodifiable, designed as a precondition) and living facilities (light, dynamic, self built, without architects…) that we can see from Corbu’s big shelves in Algeri to the almost immaterial square grid of Superstudio. R&Sie(n)’s experiments allow now to think at the structural frame as a byproduct of fears and desires, something able to build and modify itself in an unpredictable growing pattern through an automatic control of its static and functional parameters.

This restless set of humans and machines, mutually interacting through continuous feedbacks, acts as a sort of fractal brainless body. A haunted, self similar, organic, animal “thing”. Something of formless and, at the same time, visually powerful. The scientific and narrative construction proposed by R&Sie(n) is supported by a dominant imagination, by the production of fascinating (and threatening) design outcomes. The insectoid robots extruding and weaving fibercement, the weird tangles of filaments and bubbles resembling organic tissues, even the nubby particles of the smart dust trigger deep emotional reactions. Because utopias are not reality, they are fiction, extreme developments of plausible scenarios. Their aim is to build up conditions, to inflect reality, to infiltrate minds and “bellies”.

Architectural utopias arise always when architecture needs a shift.


Natural machine / Chris Younès

« Nature is full of life. » [1]

The difference between an artificial machine and a natural machine is like the difference between the finite and the infinite, the static and the dynamic, the fixed and the mobile, the finitely producible or reproducible and the infinitely reproducible. In an ambiguous passage in his De ipsa Natura, Leibniz praises Boyle, a great English scientist of his day, for his attempt to reconcile Aristotle and Descartes, and especially for arguing that “we should consider the mechanism of a body to be its very nature.” [2]. This formulation demonstrates that nature and machine are inseparable no matter how far we descend into nature’s depths. No matter how small a machine may be, there are always machines within machines and so on ad infinitum.

An infinity of organic machines

No matter how far we venture in analyzing matter, there is an infinity of organic machines for us to perceive. Even beyond or behind what we would call an inert body and what Leibniz called an aggregatum: a “block of marble” is like “a lake full of fish” in that both are made up of an agglomeration of living substances. In other words, behind the inert there is the living. The invisible relays the visible, and the micro the macro. Thus there is neither emptiness nor discontinuity in nature, because wherever we go, there will always be fullness and continuity. But this fullness and continuity are not left to chance or chaos. They are ordered or organized in ever-smaller machines encased in one another, and when they are unencased again, so to speak, each brings to light beings one after another, each perfectly formed and organized, going from the invisible to the visible, from the transparent to the opaque and so on. This is what the theory of preformation called evolution or development.

For Leibnitz the best interpretation of unity is union, integration, cohesion, and likewise order and organization, the structuring of matter in a rational form. That’s what he called “metaphysical unity” or a “metaphysical point.” The expression “organic machine” thus leads to the idea of a dignity particular to a body, one that comes from its own order, i.e. its participation in the infinite organization, “the machine of machines” or the machine in each of its points. Leibniz emphasized that death or organic decomposition is nothing but “the destruction of the coarse parts” that a lifetime of “development” has added to the original structure, the divine machine conceived and realized in the best of all possible worlds.

Mechanicalism and pan-vitalism
Far from opposing mechanicalism, Leibniz wrote to Arnaud that “all bodily phenomena can be explained mechanically or by the corpuscular philosophy.“[3] His aim was simply to show the limits of a mechanicalism he believed incapable of producing forms from shapeless matter.[4] It seemed that the weakness of mechanicalism consisted not in its inability to imitate, that is, to copy nature’s works, but in its powerlessness to go beyond imitating their external and least essential aspects. This mechanicalism’s theoretical error was that it believed that it had brought living beings and natural objects into the ambit of geometry. In this way, Leibniz held, it had failed to take account of what he called substances, i.e. the “true unity of what is called the self in us.” In other words, between the products of human art and those of nature there is the same distance that Leibniz habitually put between aggregatum (the ensemble or aggregate of unities) and substance (unity and organization).

Leibniz rehabilitated vitalism for modern philosophy, not because he considered the world an animal but because it is “full of life.” In this sense it is as analogous to a “block of marble” as “herd of sheep” or “a lake full of fish.” This was his reaction against the predominant form of mechanicalism in his time, Cartesianism, which considered nature homogenous and inert. In opposing the reduction of physical bodies to mere extension and a passive inertia, he affirmed their activity and dynamism and endowed them with action and power.[5] Step by step Leibniz populated the world with animated and living beings. What brought him to panvitalism was the conception that every segment of matter is inhabited by living and animated bodies – substances. He underscored this point, saying, “It is true that (according to my system) there is no portion of matter where there is not an infinity of organic and animated bodies.“[6] Consequently substances, which are the most authentic expression of the principles of life, are everywhere and animate everything. They represent what is truly real in all things. The rest is nothing but their shadow and their relationships

The root and foundation of Leibniz’s vitalism is the theory that everything is composed of substances, the things we call inert as well as those called living (animals, plans, etc.). Everything that is, everything that exists, is composed of substances. In turn, each substance is composed of a complex structure of form and matter. It is the infinite interplay of these little organic and living machines that constructs all the things of this world. This interplay produces the unity and diversity of nature, where everything is living and nothing is like anything else, since it is in a constant state of becoming and therefore forms and reforms constantly.

[1] Leibniz, Principles of Nature and Grace, Based on Reason.
[2] Leibniz, De ipsa Natura.
[3] Leibniz, Letters to Arnauld.
[4] Leibniz, “Considerations on Vital Principles and Plastic Natures.”
[5] Leibniz, New Essays in Human Understanding.
[6] Leibniz, Considerations (Gerhard edition, Vol. VI)


Molecular Interfaces / Jeanette Zwingenberger

Since its foundation in 1989 in Paris by the architects François Roche and Stéphanie Lavaux, the projects and experiments carried out by the R&Sie(n) architectural agency bespeak of critical architecture conceived as a complex and evolving organism. Through their exploration of the links between a construction, its context and human relationships, R&Sie(n) have redefined the rapport between the human body in its sensual dimension and its environment. The exhibition Une Architecture des Humeurs on show at the Laboratoire is the culmination of this research between architecture and science proffers an immersion in real time based on the neurobiological emissions of each of the spectators. The body is thus no longer considered for its exterior aspect, for its narcissistic appeal, but in its intersubjectivity with other living things.

All the décor of the exhibition is in white. Long sheets of milky plastic separate the different spaces and only the spectators stand out against this background. At the entrance a video showing a person stuck in an elevator facing a mirror and repeating “I am late…” invites us into this parallel world. This reference to the rabbit from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” (Carroll, as François Roche loves to remind us, was above all a great mathematician, who enjoyed turning our so called logic on its head.) situates this

exhibition on the other side of the mirror within a physiological and biochemical process.

On entering a cabin, the spectator is invited to take a seat facing a screen and a person dressed in white says in a soft voice: “Please place your hand in this receptacle… Over the next 30 seconds it will assess the balance of your body. Your body will thus become the vector of your emotions. During the test a harmless vapour will be released to help us record any evolution in your emotional state. Please allow this vapour to flow through your body. Breathe in deeply. This vapour is in no way harmful… I will absorb the same substance simultaneously. Facing you is a constructive machine, a robot. It will act as both your guide and at the same time an indicator of the state of your emotions. It is a dynamic portrait of you… Its movements are directly affected and influenced by the nanoparticles that you will be inhaling and exhaling. Please

breathe deeply and slowly… lose yourself in the labyrinth, the twists and turns, the ramifications, the arborescence…” This protocol is an extract from a scenario concerning the collection of physiological data through the use of nanotechnology. It was put together with the help of the artists Berdaguer and Péjus for the first act of this research – “I’ve Heard About” – presented at the Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris in 2005 and on this occasion has been reworked by Gaëtan Robillard, Frédéric Mauclère and Jonathan Derrough. The screen of this robotic machine maps out the four “moods” revealed by your molecular emotions: Dopamine – the pleasure molecule –, Adrenalin – the molecule of the ability to react to a need for energy –, Serotonin – the molecule of melancholy or “depression” –, Cortisol – the molecule of anxiety or stress. For The Pre-Socratics, man was made up of four elements – water, fire, air and earth. Today, biochemistry is looking at things on a molecular level: that of hormones, whose continual yet undefined communicative functions are still not fully understood.

Acephalous Bodies

So you have now discovered the invisible face of your animal body with its secretions and fluids, reflecting your emotional disposition towards your environment: the chemical interface that your body is not aware of and that our sanitized society is trying to erase. Unlike the standardization of prefabricated living spaces, the habitable morphologies created by R&Sié(n) are the materialization of ones relation to another or groups of others. From this point, conflict becomes a way of life in a permanent confrontation between the multitude of often arbitrary or contradictory impulses and the singularity of a desire. It is thus an architecture of psychological and psychic relationships, which takes into account the empathy between inhabitants by reacting to their bodies. The protocol: “At last a habitat that reacts to your impulses… More precisely… it is itself the vector… synchronized with your body, your arteries, your blood, your sexual organs, your pulsating organism… and you become an thing, an element among the rest, an element in fusion, porous… which breathes and yearns to be its own environment… Here everything combines and intertwines. Everything is here, its happening now, a movement happening now… Let yourself go. Don’t think about it. Let yourself glide into the strangely silky embrace, a little scary but whose soft caress…”

With this experiment, R&Sie(n) are attempting to explore the phase before the Mirror Stage where the new-born child is still in a symbiotic relationship with its mother and its environment, its disjointed body concerned by its need to survive and its impulses, and which has not yet been unified by its own “body image” (1). This disunity engenders a separation and even an alienation from oneself. According to Jacques Lacan, the subject is not a being, but rather an operation, which illustrates this dynamic of disunity and the mirage of unity, since this form observed in the mirror or in any “other” that emerges, situates the instance of self inextricably in a line of fiction for the particular individual. (2) In the same manner, R&Sie(n)’s architectural and social organisation reassesses our spatial and hierarchical reference points, breaking with the vertical notion traditionally separating man from animals. The frontier between the species opens up onto a multitude in a state continual metamorphosis. The human body is caught between the outside and within, between the organic and the inorganic, filled with primordial energy close to a state of nature of non-separability. (3)

Coral Architecture

In other rooms of the exhibition, you will discover architectural models, which resemble coral structures that do not simply evolve upwards but which proliferate in every direction like a relief map: In this way branches and subdivisions are able to reunite even after their division. According to Horst Bredekamp, the growth of coral gives an anarchic dimension to evolution with its growth pattern contradicting the tree model(4). R&Sie(n)’s “Architecture non standard”(5) works in the same way by rejecting any form of planning that later developments might impose, thus doing away with the Euclidean grid. This was the ideal during the Renaissance period, with its use of perspective based on realistic representation imitating so-called reality with everything organized around a unique vanishing point. So what constitutes reality for R&Sie(n)? According to Deleuze, their architecture resembles rhizomic growth: a continuum, which has no beginning or end, no centre and no periphery. The mathematical form of open algorithms leads to growth creating hybrid spaces. The Platonic logic of an architectural plan dictates that a number of different parts be subject to a consideration of a Whole, whereas according to R&Sie(n) each part conserves its autonomy with the result that the Whole remains a part itself. The organic nature of desire for growth results in an uncontrollable force. Biology revamping present- day policy. The culture of human construction imitating natural organisms: culture and nature becoming interchangeable rather than systematically in opposition.

Emerging Geometry

In another room of the exhibition, a white robot, whose long spindly legs evoke a prehistoric insect, transports us to the animal side of nature. A film shows it at work. For R&Sie(n), architecture as computational development resembles a mutant organism interacting with its context. In order to develop dynamic structural strategies, François Jouve has not contented himself with simply following R&Sies(n)’s advances concerning the use of set theory to define relational modes within the topology of the family or the neighbourhood. Together with Marc Fornes, Winston Hampel and Natanel Elfassy, he has developed an algorithm which aims to create structures through optimal calculation without drawing up the structural trajectories in advance. This “algorithm” is based (mainly) on two mathematical strategies: the first follows on from function derivatives and the research carried out by Cauchy-Hadamard, the second originating from a procedure for showing complex shapes by means of meshing thus creating a resulting topology. This is an empirical mathematic process, which makes it possible for the architectural design to react and adapt to previously established constraints instead of the opposite (oriented geometry). R&Sie(n), along with Stephan Henrich, an architect and robotics designer, have created a secretion and weaving machine capable of producing a vertical structure through a successive processes of sintering and extrusion using a hybrid material consisting of bio-plastic cement, which agglutinates and coagulates chemically. They no longer work with prefabricated concrete pieces, which correspond to a preconceived shape. Bio-cement, an agricultural polymer, is secreted in real time, and presenting characteristics of viscosity and adhesion, is ideal for generating structures with complex morphologies(6). Another film presented in the exhibition shows the medical application of recent research carried out by Mark Kendall, the Australian scientist, who invented Micro-Needles or Nano-Patches (NP). Micro-nanometric projection is a noninvasive technique for detecting biomarkers in the outer layers of the skin, which indicate the presence of different pathologies – cancer or viral contamination for example. In the context of the exhibition the visitor becomes aware of the possibility of using such new clinical tools to collect information necessary to “mood-driven architecture”. The R&Sie(n) experiment raises questions concerning the process we know as feedback, the retrospective procedure concerning a situation an action or a statement, which can equally exist in our bodies or a technical process, by obliging us to reflect on this internal or external negotiation zone. In this day and age, where we are constantly solicited by hormones of every nature, this exhibition puts us in touch with this aspect of chemistry known better to animals than humans. The visitor discovers an extraordinarily sensitive world of molecules created through the perception of our nervous system. At once animist, vitalist and machinist, this exhibition expresses a fascination for eternal biological life, rhizomatic growth, space for expansion propagating within designs for immortality. The polymorphic character of the living space as a result of potential mutations and its different aspects/shapes contained in an oeuvre reveal a creative process: evoking an ever-changing space with multiple configurations in permanent mutation.

Could it possibly signal a return to vitalist philosophy, moving towards a new natural state?


Protocols & Process / Dialogue between Francois Roche & Caroline Naphegyi

How do you do research and an exhibition at the same time?

There are two parts. Research unfolds in what we call the Process room, a pretty basic space. You have to take your time so that the interactions between physiology, robotics and computation fully emerge in their logic and interdependence. The other part, the exhibition, is a suite of visual indices. Since these clues are neither didactic nor chronological nor pedagogical, visitors construct their own logic and subjectivities.  Furthermore, this part has an immersion area, a physiological testing station, where visitors, called prospective purchasers by analogy to a sales office, are themselves experimental subject and object. This cognitive and immersive mechanism thus articulates a thirst for knowledge and a willingness to lose oneself in that quest.

What’s this about?

It’s an unprecedented experiment in which architecture harnesses several different fields of exploration – neurobiology, mechanization and math protocols – working together as an ensemble of structural, transactional and relational operating modes.

This is not a sequel to the I’ve heard about show held by the MAM (Paris municipal modern art museum) in 2005, although that show did explore the relationship between physiology, computation and indeterminism in the sense of its preconditions, its genesis. That earlier piece sought to understand and write (in the sense of writing code) biological geometries that mimic natural ones. The predominant figure was that of coral and its growth. This second piece, at Le Laboratoire, goes beyond that representation, since we’ve already worked on what conditions the emergence of such a geometry, namely principles of exchange, dynamic principles based on a system’s immanent forces.

But that’s not all. We wanted to get a better handle on something already sketched out at the MAM show: the capture of body chemistry as an element able to disturb and alter linear logics, the logics of authorities, replacing a top-down approach with a bottom-up one.

In fact, for you, the axiom on which your “architecture of humors” research is based is the contingency of the humors of the inhabitant on the habitat itself.

Humors in the sense that Hippocrates used the word, a concept brought up to date by today’s possibilities for detecting body chemistry.

Until now the acquisition of information used in residence protocols has been based exclusively on visible, reductive data. In our research we want to add the corporalities and their own substances. They can provide information about the relationship between bodies and space, and especially about the social relationships of bodies, the relationships between them, of the self to the other, both inside a single housing unit and in terms of the osmosis of vicinity.

In the physiology station located at the entrance to the exhibition, a machine captures visitors’ chemical data. So visitors are put into a very particular psychological state. As she asks you to slide your hand onto a screen, Melisa whispers into you ear, “Your body becomes the vector of your emotions. These vapors help you capture the changing course of these emotions…”

The signal collection station makes it possible to perceive individual variations and how these changes in emotional state affect the resulting geometries and influence the morphological protocol at the “living together” level.

This physiological test works like an emotion detector. It unleashes your corporal chemical reactions, principally molecules like dopamine, adrenalin, serotonin and hydrocortisone that feed us information about your animal reactions/degree of pleasure or repulsion, curiosity or disinterest. This physiological test helps us map the visitor’s future dwelling area. It only takes seven minutes. The protocol is simple. During the test, a sort of vapor (of nanoparticles) is emitted, so that we can detect the evolution of these emotions without noxious intrusion.

A voice whispers into the visitor’s ear, “Let it enter into you, breath it in. You are in absolutely no danger from this vapor… Your family has become a conflict zone and you can no longer calm things down. It’s an illusion to believe that architecture can help you with that. But you can negotiate the distances by negotiating the details… The area where you live can react to your desires. It has the power… to allow you to experience this conflict without denying its existence or making up fantasies about it. Your living area can be transformed into a morphology of the moment. You’re free to go along with others or retreat into yourself.”

For us this is an occasion to interrogate the confused region that lies between the notion of enjoyment and that of need, by detecting physiological signals based on neurobiological secretions and thus realize a “chemistry of humors”, treating future buyers as inputs generating the diversity of inhabitable morphologies and the relationships between them. Consequently the formulation of desires in language is inflected by another realty, another complexity, that of the acephalous body, the animal body, so that it can tell us about its adaptation, its sympathy and empathy, in the face of specific situations and environments.

Why do you introduce contradictory signals – what you call “misunderstandings” – into the heart of your architectural protocol (the inhabitable morphologies)? How does this physiology of desires, this living and unpredictable material, radically shift the architect’s whole approach?

We decided to take the preliminary step of revisiting the contradictions within the very expression of these desires, both those that traverse public space because of their ability to express a choice, a desire conveyed by language, on the surface of things, and those preexisting and perhaps more disturbing but equally valid desires that reflect the body as a desiring machine (as Deleuze put it), with its own chemistry, imperceptibly anterior to the consciousness those substances generate.

The “architecture of humors” is a way of breaking and entering into language’s mechanism of dissimulation in order to physically construct its contradictions. It means staging a break-in to the logic of things when language has to negotiate with the depths of the body, down to the bottom folds, like with Antonin Artaud and his compulsive catatonia.

The concept of free will may be simultaneously the most beautiful and the most corruptible of all. The cultural media pierce us to the core; their influence penetrates us everywhere, generating a conformism that can be considered obscene. We are both its vector and instrument. What we like to do is just the opposite, to seek out the dark side, our animal side, in order to subvert the other side using reactive and emotional data. We’re glad that our choices are not guided exclusively by architectural conventions, both the conventions of the client and those of the architects themselves.

There’s more to architecture than serving the prince and his totems, as people around here like to do. To speak to some of today’s issues, the debate about high-rises is pathetic. Of course density has to be rethought, but I don’t think it’s relevant for southern Paris to be filled with reproductions of models of verticality conceived for 1950s business districts. The proposals submitted by the architects selected by the city are puerile in that regard, and the plans for Greater Paris no less so. Architecture has become like a schoolyard full of kids who constantly flatter politicians about what is really that world’s weakest point, its modes and fantasies of representation… and then they end up crying about it when the politicians don’t commission them to design their Xanadu, like Jean Nouvel in his Le Monde article. The politicians have largely sucked the lifeblood out of the past. Let’s hope that the future can be different. But that’s not what we’re supposed to be talking about…

You introduce the possibility of contradictory relational modes into the residential units themselves. How has set theory made you able to handle these “misunderstandings” and the contradictory ways in which individuals relate to their family and those around them?

The interviews at the physiological station make it possible to collect some seldom-seen materials. They make visible how the body reacts to a situation of exchange, and indicate the degree of pathology that would afflict the visitor – I mean the “future buyer” – if she or he were placed in a productive reality. I would have loved to be able to set up a sales office where people could make a purchase and concretize their bio-architecture in a collective aggregation.

The data obtained from the physiological interview tell us about:

Familial socialization (distance and relationship between residential areas within a single unit), neighborhood socialization (distance and relationship between residential units), modes of relations to externalities (biotope, light, air, environment, and also seeing, being seen and hiding, modes of relating to access (receiving and/or escaping, even self-exclusion) and the nature of the interstices (from closely spaced to panoptic).

We use formulations taken from set theory to define these relationships. This branch of math was founded by the German mathematician Georg Cantor in the late 19th century. Its aim is to define the concepts of sets and belonging. This theory can be used to describe the structure of each situation as a kind of set defining the relationships between the parts and the whole, while taking into consideration that the latter can’t be reduced to the sum of its parts or even to the ensemble of relationships between the parts. It allows you to define all the properties of a situation as relational modes, both the relationships between the elements (residential areas) and those between these elements and the ensemble or ensembles they fit into.

The operators of belonging, union, inclusion, intersection and disjunction describe morphologies characterized by their dimensions and position and above all by the negotiations of distance they carry out with the other parts. This produces relational protocols, protocols of attraction, repulsion, contiguity, dependence, sharing, indifference, exclusion, etc. Before the morphology of a habitat is reduced to a functional typology, first it’s structured as an area of exchange.

Mathematical formulas aid the development of these combinations and thus become the matrix for the relational structure on which an inhabitable space is based.

In contrast to the standardized-model formatting of habitats, this tool offers the potential of negotiation with the ambiguities of one’s own humors and desires. It makes it possible to mix contradictory compulsions (appearances) and even some “malentendus”, which could be translated by both misunderstandings and mishearing:

“I’d like that but at the same time / maybe / not / and the opposite.”

These “malentendus”are directly influenced by the pathologies generated by collective living: Claustro_(phobia-philia) / Agora_(phobia-philia)/ Xeno_(phobia-philia) / Acro_(phobia-philia) / Nocto_(phobia-philia) / Socio_ (phobia-philia) / Neo_(phobia-philia), etc.

In other words, you approach architecture as a dynamic principle, incorporating incompletion, incertitude and indetermination. These parameters are the basis of your parametric construction system, aren’t they?

Nature is basically made up of indetermination protocols. Algorithms can simulate the growth of a tree in terms of reproducing its geometry, but the fit between geometry-photosynthesis-equilibrium-growth is and always will be a hidden protocol that can’t be reduced to its simple mathematical and geometrical dimensions.

Using the “architecture of humors” we have staged a constructive and narrative machine that is receptive to two contradictory inputs, the order of desire codified by language and the order of its anterior and even hidden chemical secretion. We wanted this schizoid rereading of an architect’s brief “in constant becoming” to be able to generate protocols of incertitude and incompletion.

An urban structure based on these computational and robotic procedures, these vectors of variability and indetermination, makes visible the potential of these heterogeneous aggregations.

One of the subjects of this research was to consider the bearing structure of these residential units, and thus the final the final shape of the building, as a product and not the starting point. The fact that the bearing structure is not designed beforehand makes it necessary to constantly recalculate the segments and force trajectories that carry these inhabitable cells.

How did math solve one of architecture’s problematics: how to respond to indeterminate situations, a construction based on affective variability, with a constantly changing form (you use the metaphor of trees, which grow incrementally)?

How did your partnership with the mathematician François Jouve start?

One of the objectives of our research was to imagine structure as a postproduction element, emerging a posteriori to the inhabitable morphologies, which are themselves thought as unique entities, “singularities,” emancipated from the conceptual logic where the structure is the starting point, the matrix for human organization, so that the spatial contract takes the place of the social contract. Since it’s conceived a posteriori, the structure is reactive, adaptive to multiplicity, “the multitude” to use Antonio Negri’s term.

François Jouve developed a mathematical process for “empirically” seeking optimization by creating forms out of constraints and not vice-versa. That’s different than “direct calculus” methods which, for instance, calculate a building’s beams after establishing its design. Instead, it calculates form based on trajectories, the vectorization and intensity of forces, without that form being predetermined. Produced by a simultaneously recursive and incremental optimization protocol, this form, which appears only through the calculations themselves, has to satisfy precise inputs (material constraints, the client’s brief, initial and environmental conditions, etc.). In this particular case, the unknown is the form, the hidden part revealed only by the experiment itself.

Through the use of these computational, mathematical and mechanization procedures, the urban structure engenders successive, improbable and uncertain aggregations that constantly rearticulate the relationship between the individual and the collective.

You emphasize the passage from an industrial era ? (seeking uniformity and standardization) to the reintroduction of the concept of singularity in architecture by means of robotics and computations. More recently, what has science –

especially math – and technological development – robotics and a biochemical understanding of raw materials – brought to the table in architecture? What new speculative issues has it raised, particularly in France?

Nothing is happening in France. The field of architecture is totally sclerotic and held on a leash by a dozen people. It’s shameful. Along with our “professional” practice as R&Sie(n), we have a research organization called “new-territories, and for the last five years I’ve been teaching labs at Columbia University. Not only are these core questions in today’s debates; they’re also a core source of speculations and learning.

The point is to get back to the idea that architecture should be a site for knowledge and debates, a site for experimentation, and not just for grandiose celebrations of necrosis organized by the Palais de Chaillot and its “Cité du patrimoine”.

Regarding your question, it only takes a few years for technology to drain and absorb speculations that once seemed unreal. For instance, in Switzerland and Japan we’ve designed two buildings entirely conceived by numerical control using optimization algorithms, one made of solid wood and the other of polyurethane foam. In five years what once was plausible has become possible. In this case, it’s important to conceive protocols and designs not to stand out in some glamour interior decoration magazine but to magnetize a point in the near future, so that it draws our present towards itself.

Regarding the “architecture of humors,” Bherokh Khoshnevis and Stephen Henrich have done research in robotics and mechanization that make it possible to foresee the first prototypes in two or three years.

Since its opening in 2007 Le Laboratoire has sought to give visibility to research projects jointly undertaken by scientists and artists. In the “Processes” space that is at the heart of this show you unfold the various phases of your research, going so far as to make the computational script available as open source software. First of all, the software is available for anyone who wants to further mutate it. Second, the building’s final form is the result of a structural calculation and not vice-versa; it’s out of the architect’s control. What do you expect from this stance, this renunciation of authorship and even copyleft?

A script is above all a form of writing, a language. There’s no point to it unless it’s shared so that other people can take it up and improve it. But it’s a tricky position. We all remember the madness of the computer programmer in Tron whose all-powerfulness makes him think he’s the master of the universe and that he knows everything about everything. Luckily, the mathematicians we’ve worked with are protected against this kind of positivist mysticism.


Shape Optimisation / François Jouve





Who’s who

Dr. Rupert Soar BSc, MSc, PhD, Director Senior Lecturer in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, 10 years full time teaching in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at De Montfort University (1998 -2000) and Loughborough University (2000-2008) – Rupert Soar has over 15 years experience in rapid prototyping and rapid manufacturing and share his time with  his works in Namibia uncovering transient ventilation strategies and structural homeostasis within sub-Saharan termite mounds.

François Jouve is mathematician. The François Jouve’s research relates to applied mathematics, more specifically to numerical analysis and scientific calculation. He’s interested in the mathematical modeling of physical and biological phenomena. He’s also a teacher in university, as “Ecole Polytechnique” and “Ecole Normale Superieure” in France.

Jean-Didier Vincent, né le 7 juin 1935, est professeur de physiologie à la faculté de médecine de l’université Paris XI et fut de 1991 à 2004 directeur de l’Institut de neurobiologie Alfred Fessard du CNRS. Il est également membre de l’Institut (Académie des sciences) et membre de l’Académie de médecine. Il a écrit plusieurs ouvrages, dont La Biologie des passions, et de nombreux articles. La Biologie des passions, éditions Odile Jacob, 1986 et coll. Opus 1994

Behrokh Khoshnevis is a professor of Industrial & Systems Engineering and Civil & Environmental Engineering, and is the Director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT) and Director of Manufacturing Engineering Graduate Program at USC. He is active in CAD/CAM, robotics and mechatronics related research projects that include the development of novel Solid Free Form, or Rapid Prototyping, processes (Contour Crafting and SIS), automated construction of civil structures, development of mechatronics systems for biomedical applications.

Jeanette Zwingenberger Jeanette Zwingenberger is an art historian. Her first collaboration with François Roche started was with her exhibition: “L’Homme-Paysage, Visions artistiques du paysage anthropomorphe entre le XVIe et le XXIe siècle”, (“Humanlandscape, Artistic Visions From Anthropomorphic Landscape From XVIth Till the XXIst Century”) at the Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille, 15.10.2006-14.1.2007 and her seminar at the Collège international de philosophie where François Roche was among the distinguished scholars who were invited. Her present research about biotope, man as a living interface proposes a new alliance between nature and culture.

Chris Younès is a psycho-sociologist with a PhD and degree as a research director in philosophy. She is a professor at the Ecoles nationales supérieures d’architecture (ENSA Paris La Villette and ESA), Director at the Laboratoire Gerjau/UMR CNRS LAVUE (Architecture Ville Urbanisme Environnement) and co-director of the Réseau Scientifique Thématique PhilAU
(Philosophie Architecture Urbain).
Giovanni Corbellini (1959), Ph.D. in Architectural Design at IUAV, taught at the Universities of Ferrara, Milan and Venice and is currently. Professor at the University of Trieste. Author of many essays, his last book: is /Bioreboot. The architecture of R&Sie(n) / (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009). He received awards and mentions in design competitions and is currently editor of the column /Parole chiave/ for  the digital magazine /arch’it/.
Toni Negri est philosophe, auteur entre autre de / L’Anomalie sauvage : puissance et pouvoir chez Spinoza, PUF, 1982, réédition, Editions Amsterdam, 2007 / Multitude : guerre et démocratie à l’époque de l’Empire (en collaboration avec Michael Hardt), La Découverte, 2004 / Empire (en collaboration avec Michael Hardt), Exils, 2000, L’Idée de communisme, Nouvelles Éditions Lignes, 2010…

Judith Revel est philosophe, ex-membre de la rédaction de Multitudes, ancienne élève de l’École normale supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud, agrégée et docteur en philosophie, docteur en histoire de la pensée contemporaine, Membre du Bureau scientifique du Centre Michel Foucault. Dernier Ouvrage Les mots et les choses. Regards critiques 1966-1968 (J. Revel, Ph. Artières, Jean-François Bert, Pascal Michon, Mathieu Potte-Bonneville éds.), Presses universitaires de Caen/IMEC, 2009.

François Roche / R&Sie(n) / Paris. This group works simultaneously through the architectural practice R&Sie(n) and the “new-territories” research organization. It also leads architectural research labs such as the Advanced Studio at Colombia University-Gsapp in New York. Web site: . Their architectural designs have been show at, among other places, Columbia University (New York, 1999-2000), UCLA (Los Angeles, 1999-2000), ICA (London, 2001), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo, 2004), Centre Pompidou (Paris, 2003), MAM / Musée d’Art Moderne (Paris, 2005, 2006), the Tate Modern (London 2006) and Orléans/ArchiLab  (1999, 2001, 2003). Work by R&Sie(n) was selected for exhibition at the French pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennales of 1990, 1996, 2000 and 2002 (they rejected the invitation that year), and for the international section in en 2000, 2004 and 2008, and they have been selected in the next one, International Pavilion, in September 2010.

Stephan Henrich est architecte. Il vit à Stuttgart, Allemagne et à Paris, France. En 2007, il est diplômé en Architecture et Design Urbaine à Université de Stuttgart. En 2006, il a gagné le AED Award pour son approche robotique à l´architecture. Depuis 2004, il désigne des machines avec et pour R&Sie(n), qui ont été exposées à la Biennale de Venise 2008 où il était associé. En 2006, il a enseigné à AA School à Londres (Summerschool), en 2008 à Die Angewandte à Vienne et en 2009 à USC à Los Angeles avec François Roche et Marc Fornes. En 2010, il est membre à l’Akademie Solitude à Stuttgart en Allemagne.

Winston Hampel est né le 02.09.1983 à Hambourg en Allemagne. Il vit entre Stuttgart et Paris. A partir de 2004 il fait des études d’architecture à Hambourg, Stuttgart (SAdbK) and Paris (ESA). En 2009, il a enseigné à l’ESARQ (Barcelone) avec François Roche.

Natanel Elfassy, est né en 1979, Israël, architecte et chercheur. Il est diplômé de l’Université d’ l’Architecture de Tel Aviv, où il est un David Azrieli Research fellow et candidat MA  dans le département de philosophie. Ses recherches, intitulé Poetic Animality se concentrent sur la critique philosophique des formes contemporaines de l’espace et des nouvelles pratiques de configurations spatiales [(topo)philosophie]. Ses projets et recherches, ont été exposés  à Los Angeles, Milan, Gênes, Köln et à Tel-Aviv; En 2007, il a gagné le AICF  Award.