BLACK BOX: Articulating Architecture's Core in the Post-Digital Era
In his final essay, written while on life-support and published posthumously, the prolific architectural critic, Reyner Banham, attempted to draw a distinction between architecture and other modes of design. Banham’s essay likened the discipline of architecture to a black box – a device known only through its inputs and outputs, but never through its content. The elusive and absolute quality of architecture that Banham wanted to articulate resided, for him, in the how rather than the what, in the performance of architecture rather than its meaning. For Banham, the trope of the black box alludes to an absolute quality of architecture, a disciplinary core, but one senses in the unfolding of his argument, a similar dilemma to the one Chief Justice Stewart Potter encountered in his refusal to define pornography, and his defiant claim that he knows it when he sees it. In the nearly thirty years since the essay’s publication, we find ourselves in a post digital world in which architecture has continued to broaden its arsenal of techniques and operate across an increasingly expanded field. The driving questions for this conference are: Has this unprecedented proliferation and migration distanced architecture from its disciplinary core or helped to transform and reinstate it? And what impact do these radical transformations in architecture’s cultural production have on the discipline?
If Banham’s ruminations migrate towards architecture’s core, then at the opposite extreme Jane Rendell, architect and critic, conceptualizes architecture as a subject encompassing a number of disciplinary approaches. Contemporary architectural education reflects this breadth, encompassing nearly as many approaches and methods as there are educators. Given this exceptional diversity, the conference asks a deceptively simple question: What constitutes the core education of an architect? This question is complicated by synthetic curricular approaches that foreground the imbrications of design, technology and history/theory, promiscuously appropriating techniques across these distinctive epistemologies.
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