From the complex thing. Symbol and Behavior | Miquel Lacasta

Sequence, upper Strip, driving north, fue tomada por Denise Scott Brown en Las Vegas en 1968
Sequence, upper Strip, driving north, It was taken by Denise Scott Brown in Las Vegas in 1968

From the complex thing. Symbol and Behavior.

Annotatting the reflections it brings over of the complexity, they are necessary two categories that they send to the idea of the intersubjective thing. In many of the previous texts and surely in future texts, the intersubjective thing is present of underlying form. The idea of intersubjectivity divides of stating the mistake of trying to be purely objective, that is to say, to presume that there can be encased the feelings, the emotions, difficult and complex management of “me” and leave the personal considerations to the margin. On the other hand purely subjective being is to avoid any type of empathy, that is to say to feel the need of expression from the subject without thinking that “the different thing” has a specific determinant weight. Another mistake.

The reason of the intersubjectivity is to assume the condition of “me” in relation to “the different thing”. It means to assume that the construction of the architectural statement has to structure necessarily from the bidirectional traffic between the identity (recounted to a perfectly definite “I”) and the reality (understood as a disposition apilonada of preexisting situations, situations in construction and situations subject to future transformations1). In short, the intersubjective thing increases enormously the vector complexity and sends directly models of communication between different entities, to confrontations between realities not always coincidental and to the need to construct genuine statements.

As expression of the complex thing from the intersubjective thing, one proposes here the introduction of the concept of symbol and of the idea of behavior.

The symbol.

After years where the effort centred on eliminating any symbolic consideration of the architectural thing, in the 60s this notion recovers for two totally different routes, inaugurating this way a time (that is expanded even today), where the symbolic thing becomes central.

The complex modernity, according to the nomenclature used in post previous, returns to the architecture his symbolic value, if it is that really some day had lost it. Under Robert Venturi’s point of view, this first affirmation is true well if we bear in mind that for him

“it was a time in which, in the architecture, the form was emphasized instead of the symbol, when the industrial processes were considered to be determinants of the form for any type of building, in any place”.2

Certainly, any symbolic value in architecture partner takes a form, whereas an architectural form does not have why to represent symbolically anything. The form is a necessary but not sufficient condition in order that the symbolic area could arise.

In the modernity, the architecture was aspiring to be a form without being a symbol, that is to say, to be an abstract form, where nothing was recognizable in symbolic terms. It had to make architecture taken off of any evident, figurative reference, and of this form stop to see the “necessary abstraction”,3 paradoxically this lack of symbolization, it symbolizes the whole epoch that the alternative voices of the 60s strain in dismounting.

In any case the recovery of the symbolic role of the architecture becomes clear in the reflections brings over of Venturi’s context and also, everything it is necessary to say it, in the formal structure of Peter Eisenman’s projects. In fact the symbolization of the complexity is in Eisenman one of the principal reasons as which his work has a paper so emphasized in the architecture of ends of the 20th century and beginning of the XXIst, overcoming in force the same Venturi.

Here again a paradox takes place, while Venturi’s symbolic ambition is evident in the architecture that he proposes, this ambition is a product of a reflexive process that tries to recover of a given context, those own expressions of the popular culture, therefore the evident thing, the symbol, is born of a previous concept.

In Eisenman everything opposite happens, his conceptual process is extraordinarily strict and is constructed totally removed from an intention of symbolizing nothing. What happens is that the process is so complex that the result, as geometric formalization of the processes, for fault, ends up by being equally complex and finally his offers end up by constituting a symbol of the idea of the complexity. The symbolic thing is born of a previous process.

These two ways of forming the symbolic thing in architecture from the 60s, from looked previous reflection and from found as fruit of a process, are going to form a geometry, it forms a of the architecture, more complex, until the socialization of the computer at the end of century is going to allow in productive terms take the symbol of the complex thing up to his last consequences, everything it is necessary to say it, with very unequal results.

There is no contradiction in this respect in Venturi’s intellectual approximation and that of Eisenman, both, from initial totally distant points they end up by forging the territory of the symbolic complex thing.

The same thing might be said of the Utopian architecture of the 60, already be for visceral reaction to the modern abstraction, already be for a complex process of reflection, the last expression of the architecture of this epoch is of an exuberant complexity in most cases, up to the point that the symbolization of the complex thing dominates the architectural space of the moment.

The behavior.

The idea of behavior is in the base of the configuration of the complex modernity. While the modernity up to the decade of the 60 closes the great illustrated consistent project in listing the reality, knowing up to the last corner of the world, extracting samples and elaborating an enormous taxonomía, that is to say centres on knowing “what”, from now the great project it will centre on “how”.

Traditionally the science was operating isolating the components of the reality, developing categories and studying some aspects of the phenomena that were affecting these. In consequence the different branches of to know were acting isolated, without contact or exchange.

The General Theory of Systems developed by the biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy is born of a systematic and holistic conception of the biology, under which an alive organism is understood as an opened system, in constant exchange with other systems by means of complex interactions, or behaviors.

This initial idea will be developing progressively in different conferences until in 1937, he reads the first sketch of the General Theory of Systems in Charles Morris’s seminar in the University of Chicago, once seated as scientist in the United States.

Finally in 1968, delayed the edition innumerable times through the fault of the World War II, publishes General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications.4 Actually the General Theory of Systems is behind the majority of the theories associated with the sciences of the complexity though someone of them was published by them previously.

The General Theory of Systems searches models of behavior applicable to any system and in any type of level of the reality, of the sub-atomic scale to the scale of the universe. This theory arose from the need to approach scientific the comprehension of concrete systems that shape the reality, generally complexes and only ones in what to his behavior it refers, resultant of a particular logic, in contraposition to the scientific model of the modernity who was studying systems abstract and simplified as those of the physics.

The system idea immediately relates to the description of a specific behavior, of an interaction, puts the accent in to proceed, more than in the specific knowledge of the physical nature of the things. The own Bertalanffy recognizes the popularity of the system idea when it affirms:

…in innumerable publications, symposiums, conferences and courses there are the devout ones of her (the system notion). Professions and works have appeared in the recent years that, known only a few years ago, use names as system design, analyst of systems, systems engineering and others. They are the authentic core of a new technology and of a new technocracy. His medical instructors constitute the new utopistas of our time that work creating a New World.5

Therefore it is necessary to say that the trend of the science in the decade of the 60 is in full effervescence of the systematic one, and structures a thought increasingly complex.

In short we can affirm, as says Mauro Costa

“that the General Theory of Systems arises from the verification of that the particular knowledge of the elements is not sufficient to explain the complex phenomena, since it is necessary to know the relations between the above mentioned elements.” 6

Analogous to what happens in the science, we have seen that by means of the putting in value of the context in architecture, during these years, structures a way of understanding the project very related so much to the system idea, as with the idea of behavior. The architect already is not that one who arranges the necessary elements to create “machines of living”, but it devotes himself to structure conditions, to design behaviors in order that the architecture develops according to a before definite strategy.

The important thing in architecture tilts between the effect that provokes the use of symbols, and the configuration of geometric models increasingly complex. The architectural object aspires this way to the interactivity, to build his capacity reactivates and to molding a behavior in resonance with the human scale of his users, with the urban scale of the streets and squares that surround it and with the metropolitan scale of the city that receives it.

The complex structure of a new modernity that arises in the decade of the 60 is formed from lines of force, understood as trends of the reflection and the action, which they can be applied so much to the area of the sociology to describe the present time like for mapificar those essential aspects that affect in the architecture; the ambiguity, the difference, the time, the symbol and the behavior delimit the area of game in which the complex modernity is going to form the concept of architecture.

Miquel Lacasta. PhD architect
Barcelona, july 2012


1 A suggestive image of this disposition apilonada, might be understand the reality as a lasaña of times, that is to say a body you multigeld with multiple landfills.

2 VENTURI Robert, y SCOTT BROWN, Denise, A View from the Campidoglio: Selected Essays 1953-1984, Harper and Row, Nueva York, 1984.

About the idea of abstraction, to see LAHUERTA, Juan José, La Abstracción Necesaria en el Arte y la Arquitectura Europeos de Entreguerras, Anthropos Editorial del Hombre, Barcelona, 1989.

4 VON BERTALANFFY, Ludwig, General System Theory: Foundations, Development, Applications, George Braziller, Nueva York, 1968.

5 Ibídem, p. 3.

6 COSTA, Mauro, Analogías Biológicas en ArquitecturaDoctoral thesis directed by the Dr. Alberto T. Estévez of the School of Architecture of the Universitay Internacional of Catalonia, Barcelona, 2008, p. 52.

Es cofundador en ARCHIKUBIK y también en @kubik – espacio multidisciplinario. Obtuvo un Ph.D. con honores (cum laude) en ESARQ Universitat Internacional de Catalunya UIC y también fue galardonado con el premio especial Ph.D (UIC 2012), M.arch en ESARQ Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, y se graduó como arquitecto en ETSAB Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya . Miquel es profesor asociado en ESARQ desde 1996. Anteriormente, fue profesor en Elisava y Escola LAI, y también en programas de postgrado en ETSAB y La Salle. Fue arquitecto en la oficina de Manuel Brullet desde 1989 desde 1995.


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