ATMOSPHERE 9

BEAUTY MEMORY ENTROPY

ABOUT 9

 

Preamble

What are the shared values and challenges framing interdisciplinary design? This symposium suggests three: Beauty, Memory and Entropy. These are conditions over which designers have limited control, but which we nevertheless desire, succumb to, and cultivate. Beauty, Memory and Entropy represent common aesthetic, ecological, and cultural ambitions of interdependent design disciplines. Researchers are invited to submit paper proposals addressing one or more of the symposium themes through discussion of specific built works, settings, theories, or pedagogies.

 

 

Beauty

Plato admitted perplexity before the beautiful, qualifying it as “a soft, smooth, slippery thing… which easily slips through our hands and escapes us” (Lysis, 216d). In spite of its persistent elusiveness, beauty remains a quality that is ardently desired and powerfully affective. However, for contemporary designers working in and across expanded fields, there is an important question: where does beauty reside? To what extent is beauty built into a crafted work? found latent in a site? revealed through environmental agencies? and/or manifested during the enactment of cultural practices? Beyond the elusive problem of aesthetic judgment, this Atmosphere Symposium invites reflection on dispersed and temporal manifestations of beauty, through discussions of particular works and settings.

 

Memory

Alvaro Siza holds that “all gestures—including the gesture of drawing—are laden with history, with unconscious memory, with incalculable anonymous wisdom” (Writings on Architecture, 17). Though here emphasizing drawing, the wisdom of unconscious memory may also be found in ephemeral patterns of cultural activities and in material sediments of sites. Memory tends to recall past experience, yet Siza reminds us that the past is also present and operable in the present. How can designers, who are usually projecting works in the future, engage the power memory? In design disciplines frequently obsessed with novelty, how can the past be engaged in ways that “invigorate” (to use Nietzsche’s word)? In what ways can works and settings, both intentionally and serendipitously, help to sustain and revive cultural and natural heritage?

 

Entropy

“Architecture is what makes beautiful ruins” (Auguste Perret/1935). Whereas beauty suggests an active pursuit of enduring harmony, entropy tends toward inevitable decay, disorder, and loss of energy. Yet, this is not a wholly negative process. Through such decline, as Robert Smithson suggested, “lethargy is elevated to the most glorious magnitude” (Entropy and the New Monuments, 1966). Expanding Smithson’s thesis, Alessandra Ponte has shown the apparently destructive forces of climate and time to be productive and regenerative agencies (House of Light and Entropy, 2013). For designers seeking permanence, resilience and integrity, natural forces present Sisyphean challenges. In what ways can design best collaborate with the ultimately ruinous forces of entropy?

 

Postscript

Atmosphere 2017 is, in part, a 50-year celebration of the interdisciplinary pursuits of our Faculty’s Environmental Design Program. The triptych of topics reflect both the origins of this program and the need to continually re-articulate common ground for trans-disciplinary fields.