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The contingent city: De-coding the possibilities of the city’s sociospatial metabolism

Passia, Yota and Roupas, Panayotis (2018) The contingent city: De-coding the possibilities of the city’s sociospatial metabolism. In: Proceedings of RSD7, Relating Systems Thinking and Design 7, 23-26 Oct 2018, Turin, Italy.

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Official URL: https://systemic-design.net

Abstract

Introduction

While the continuous flow of events – within the complexity and dynamic systems theory – seems to be a given, we still cannot tell the exact nature of future events, prior to their emergence. This research aims to establish a code for the city as a semantic system that models cities and monitors their sociospatial metabolism. In setting the general schema for its ontology, the research disregards the difference between the observable and the nonobservable as well as the anthropocentrism this distinction implies (DeLanda 2013). In this context the city is composed of both the actual and the virtual, the “city as is” and the “city as it could be”, respectively. As they both inform and enhance the city’s identity, its production is to be explained through a process ontology format without the need for a designing author.

Such an autopoietic system Humberto Matura and Fransisco Varela classified as a ‘machine’ which is ‘organized as a network of processes of production of components, continuously realizing the network of processes that produced them’ (Maturana and Varela 1980) thus able to process information over time. As this information is both actual and virtual, the concept of a code is introduced as a mediator mechanism. The material agency of this productive process, key to Deleuzian ontology, is described as a bifold process which constantly informs itself, including a “convergent phase of selection” and a “divergent phase of design” (Spuybroek 2008: 189).

For the convergence phase – one to inhabit the virtual domain – a code of Design Patterns (Passia, 2016) is organized by gathering information that is relevant and providing its topological structure, one that concentrates on the relations instead of the components. A movement towards quality, order and organization. In the divergent phase – one to inhabit the actual domain – an affective mechanisms’ index (Roupas, 2016) is organized to guide the actualization as the code germinates and transforms into actual spatial structures with geometric and qualitative properties. (Spuybroek 2008: 189) A movement towards quantity, matter and structure.

Convergent phase: the code’s organization

To propose a framework for the code’s organization, we introduce Christopher Alexander’s (Alexander et all. 1977) 253 Design Patterns as the code’s elementary units. Each Design Pattern is a diagram that describes form through a set of rules or criteria, expressing a relation amongst a particular context, a particular system of forces that is repeated within the context, and a spatial configuration that allows these forces to balance. Design Patterns’ internal structure, already quite fluid and dynamic, is essential for the code to simulate two important processes: the process of representation – that is to gather and store information about the city – and the process of self-organization – that is to develop organized structure and adapt it to cope with the changing fields of information (Cilliers 1998).

In that respect, Design Patterns are introduced onto a surface in space as assemblages pointing to modes of information transmission (Wilden 2011: 220). On that surface they are free to assemble and reassemble anew, as they use their ability to communicate at different spaces, levels and scales. Through a two part population-thinking process their regularities and tendencies are documented and protocols of interconnected networks of communication are established. (image 01) These two parts of the populationthinking process agree with Henri Bergson’s distinction between difference in kind and difference in degree (Bergson 2014: 23). Mapping their difference in kind describes the city’s dimensions as Design Patterns’ assemblages while mapping their difference in degree defines its dimensional gradients as degrees of Design Patterns.

As Design Patterns start populating this autonomous surface, the manifold gets activated and energized. At the end of the first part of the process, the manifold will have four spaces of possibilities pointing them as the city’s four dimensions, each inhabited by specific Design Patterns:

interiority vs. exteriority
integration vs. separation
concentration vs. decentralization
similarity vs. heterogeneity

After the second part, each dimensional space will be organized according to four varying degrees of intensity called dimensional types, where the same Design Patterns will be employed to produce the full array of all degrees. (image 02)

Through this bifold process, we have defined a number of attractors for the city’s code: its four dimensions as the genera of exteriority, cohesion, integration and differentiation, and also the intensive boundaries of their internal variation. Through the attractors, it is possible to explain the city’s identity in relation to networked patterns of communication between its elementary units, themselves consisting of degrees of intensity (Passia, 2016).

Divergent phase: the code’s structure

Entering the divergent phase and while the code maintains in full its topological organization, it transforms its structure to become formative by replacing its elementary units. To allow for the material structures to remain open and thus able to create variations of oneself, an affective mechanisms’ index is created, a map of the affective capacity of spatial objects at different scales, from design objects to buildings and urban configurations. Those spatial structures are theorized as assemblages, that is systems composed of interacting parts. And since all assemblages are parts of larger assemblages, their components’ ability to engage is contingent. (Meillassoux 2012:10)

In order to analyze and produce spatial assemblages of that kind, we point to their more stable characteristic: which is their ability to affect and to be affected. (Deleuze & Guattari 1987:xvi) In mapping the assemblages’ affective ability, spatial objects are analyzed in two axes. (Delanda 2006: 13) The first axis focuses on the relations that the assemblage’s material and expressive components develop in order to enter the assemblages. The second axis records the processes known as A-signifying signs or A-signs, (Guattari 1995: 54) which are the triggering mechanisms able to stabilize or destabilize the assemblage and thus allow its parts to assemble anew. These mechanisms are introduced as intensities that transform the object beyond meaning, beyond fixed or known cognitive procedures. They belong to a molecular level which is populated by modulations, movements, speeds, rhythms and spasms. (Lazzarato & Melitopoulos 2012: 240) As a-signs cannot be isolated from matter, we thus point to affects as the result of the a-signs’ capacity to trigger the selection of one action possibility – affordance – among many.

To that end, approximately 100 a-signs have been mapped via the analysis of numerous contemporary spatial objects of various scales, including works of art and installations. In that respect an affective mechanisms’ index is created (image 03), one where all the a-signs are listed as an index of techniques that could enhance the affective capacity of the final design object. Each a-sign is now connected with the list of affects it triggers and which thoroughly defines it. And vice versa, as the same affect can be triggered by different a-signs, the design object is allowed to lie in a perpetual state of becoming. Through the affective mechanisms index we are now able to analyze and direct the design objects’s final form while at the same time establishing the mechanism to measure its continuous transformation.

To define spatial objects, A-signs are categorized in terms of their aesthetic power to affect and to be affected and are placed onto the respective dimensional areas of exteriority, cohesion, integration and differentiation. On the basis of the general categories of form, structure and surface, different part’s degree of contingency are evaluated and measured. (image 03) By replacing Design Patterns with A-signs we introduce affects as material information that is immanent in the spatial object while at the same time they confer no meaning; they only convey some information without semantic content. The affects’ ability to merge with the material world without mediation allows them to avoid the realm of representation. With this codification we are able to control the final form of the design object while at the same time establishing the mechanism to measure its continuous transformation.

Conclusions

Having the same code with different components – Design Patterns and A-signs – we are able to construct a machine that connects the convergent phase of selection with the divergent phase of design. Through this bifold process, we have defined a number of attractors for the city: its four dimensions as the genera of exteriority, cohesion, integration and differentiation, and also the intensive boundaries of their internal variation. Through the attractors, it is possible to explain the city’s identity in relation to networked patterns of communication between its elements, themselves consisting of degrees of factors. At the same time, through the a-signs we have actively connected the convergent and divergent phase. In the code we organize for the city, the elements and the relationships exist in the same continuum thus effectively bridging the gap between the actual and the virtual city. The code we have organized for the city resembles Deleuze’s abstract machine : ‘a map of relations between forces, a map of destiny, or intensity, which proceeds by primary non-localizable relations and at every moment passes through every point, ‘or rather in every relation from one point to another’.’’(Deleuze 2016: 36).

Appendix of images

Work in progress: Map of Communication 03_12 criteria list
Work in progress: Map of Communication 04_the city’s 4 dimensions
Work in progress: Extract of Affective Mechanism Index
Work in progress: Code table with A-signs

Item Type: Conference/Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: 253 Design Patterns, Christopher Alexander, Spaces Of Possibility, Manifold, City’s Dimensions, Elementary Units, Code, Autopoiesis, Sociospatial Metabolism
Date Deposited: 17 Jul 2019 18:27
Last Modified: 21 Aug 2019 18:32
URI: http://openresearch.ocadu.ca/id/eprint/2752

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