Hipo F / Thoughts on the ethics of representation

Thomas-Bernard Kenniff, London, October 2010
Architectural design is an imposition on the agency and identity of individual persons and groups. This becomes especially problematic when the object of design is the public realm because heterogeneous social identities tend to be homogenised as a ‘general public’. In this case the interest for architectural design is not the legal responsibility tied to contracts and professional deontology but rather the ethical issues that are raised from representing and interfering significantly in the public life and social practices of others.

The critique of authorship in architecture, while it attacks the myth of individual production, raises the important issue that to accept the agency of users and interpreters in relation to the work means that every work of architecture continues to be designed well after the official handing over of the ‘final’ product. Thus, appropriation and interpretation can be seen as two facets of what is called participatory design and as forms of authorship in themselves.

In a recent personal interview with a member of a critically acclaimed practice doing ‘open design’ (design that is open to interpretation and various uses) it became clear that the ethical response of ‘openness’ did not necessarily involve the acceptance of shared-authorship. While some of their details were specifically designed to support subversive alternative uses they still existed as fixed elements, however ambiguous, of a totalising aesthetic vision. When pressed to know whether changes to the original design by its users could be welcome, the reply was a very honest negative. The behaviour of users, it seemed, however emancipative, still had to fit within a set of preconceived possibilities.

The disjunction between imagined openness and actual fixity, between an emancipated user and a predictable user is not necessarily hypocrisy. The question this raises is rather one of ethics and representation, and of potential versus actual. When an architect claims to be designing according to the agency of the user they are in fact responding to a preconceived representation rather than an actual user. This potential user may be welcome as co-author during the design stage, but it is altogether another issue once the actual asserts their agency over the potential.

As a trending topic, ‘Open design’ flows along the websites around the world. I agree with these arguments, but I suggest a couple of shifts: hermeneutics instead of ethics, in order to improve Otherness, and potential/actual (before this, from Aristotle and Plato thera was Form/Figure and later, for Scholastic, hylé/Morphé) substituted for virtual/actual including architecture architecture and industrial design in this relationship, only now completely renewed.

Ciriacocd: La Colifata

“Human beings are extraordinary” This was a slogan of a well-known adevertisement campaign for a beverage company.
...and I will add unpredictable. The city changes and evolves while objects interact with users. There in no mathematical formula that will make one designed object succeed. Why don´t we experiment? The city is a huge field. We cannot just remain under the user/potential dualism; there is another series of factors, economy, durability, attraction... a big interdisciplinary list in which we should think differently in order to do differently.

PinzónSobre la ética profesional
El arquitecto, como profesional en su campo de conocimiento, está obligado a dar la mejor respuesta a los problemas que le plantea la sociedad pero partiendo del hecho de que es ésta quien presenta unas necesidades y quien acaba valorando las soluciones. Por tanto, la labor de proyectar debería ir en la línea de escuchar, actuar y volver a escuchar.

GarcíaGermán: Neighbors meetings
The architect becoming a sort of set-back negotiator can be seen as in denial of his stance as someone who has to ‘project’, i.e., throwing something forward only to verify later on, and thus becoming a strategist, deciding the steps to follow whilst driving away from this self-proclaimed skill as mediator. A skill close to those of a priest, exacerbating his abilities as a ‘producer of consensus’.

más info: http://www.hipo-tesis.eu/numero_hipo_f.html