CHAOS ARCHITECTURE: An Ecology of the Mind

In Creative Evolution, Henri Bergson first jolted the materialist assumptions of science by reframing the notion of time “beyond the spatialized time in which we believe we see continual rearrangements between the parts” into “that concrete duration in which a radical recasting of the whole is always going on.” He further declared, “Time is creativity, or it is nothing.”

As the notion of structure is radically revised to embrace what Prigogine refers to as “time’s arrow,” we are

Steve Pickering sketch superimposing vortical motion over a section of Goodman2 design by David Baker Associates

Steve Pickering sketch superimposing vortical motion over a section of Goodman2 design by
David Baker Associates

presented finally with a natural basis for unifying physical form with complex, 4-plus dimensional functioning, that is, structures designed to accommodate the unfolding of mind, of meaning–of self-corrective change–from within. Since we are no longer conceptually restricted to the notion of the primacy of inert matter that is acted on from without, but with a dialectical, co-evolutionary process that “eats” chaos, extracts its nuances, and incorporates,

Then iterates them into higher contexts and new externalizations, we are presented with a radically reconstructed functioning to house. This nonlinear functioning no longer focuses primarily on individual physical functions but on a liberated range of intersubjective, democratic whole functioning within the context of a complex, open environment designed to co-evolve with its residents.

In Gregory Bateson’s language, such a form/process zigzag constitutes a circuit structure–an ecology of the mind we are share. The pathways of this “pattern that connects” include not only conscious processes but access as well to the archetypal patterns that comprise the primary non-conscious and unrestricted opening to the seemingly random or chaotic processes of experience. Only by reconnecting this full circuit can we go beyond the “short arcs of conscious purpose” and escape being caught in what he calls “an evolutionary cul-de-sac.” In Negative Dialectics, Theodore Adorno wrote “The bourgeois interior has no room in which to unfold. It exists, once and for all, frozen in the still life of a furniture arrangement and thereby provides the concrete image of the ‘indifference’ between subject and object.”

Circuit structuring–modeled on the cosmic architectural process that sets in motion multiple turnings between subject and object, context and chaos, micro and macro orders–achieves this unfolding by deconstructing static, bourgeois structuring with a higher order, evolving structure. An architecture based on nonlinear process could be called circuit, fractal, recursive, cyber, autopoietic, vortex, integral, or reconstructive. Each term describes the dialectical/alchemical feedback between the patterning and flux of experience that constitutes life. But it is its emphasis on unrestricted access to (and complementarity of) the mirror realms of micro and macro nature that leads me to call it chaos architecture and thereby adopt an archaic symbol that evokes the vision of a higher-ordered, non-reductive environment. In reactivating the organic vortex of cooperative living and working at this postindustrial moment, chaos architecture can function to dissipate the entropy of a system that no longer works, becoming radically reconstructive.

Like the early Russian Constructivists, the reconstructive goals of chaos architecture include not only the deconstruction of a decadent order but the construction of a new order. In contrast, however, where Constructivist dynamics derived in large part from the machine, chaos architecture’s reconstructivist program derives from far differently conceived notions of both form and function made possible by the lessons of recent history and the findings of nonlinear science. And whereas the socialist Constructivists saw the Industrial Revolution as a means of liberation, chaos reconstructivism holds that industrial modernism, by placing technology and economy above local culture and the imperatives of efficiency and profit above sentiment, achieved its advances at the cost of massive dislocations of communities, social relationships, and subcultures, and that these dislocations have led to a debasing of the nature and meaning of work, to urban decay, violence, and pervasive alienation. As Marshall Berman argues in All That is Solid Melts into Air, the “tragedy of development” is that in order to liberate mankind you must uproot it. Chaos architecture’s reconstructive program is to design re-rooting enclaves, structures to support the practice of an alternative mode of development–the redevelopment of living wholes, from within, from below.