Notes from
Valle Medina and Benjamin Reynolds

View work at PAL/AC/E


04/03/2009, by

The Commands of (Architectural) Language

Speaking about the constructed reality is made easier because there is physics embedded within language and language has the flexibility and innateness of becoming reduced to simple forms to just “consist of language and the actions into which it is woven” (Wittgenstein, 1953/2001, pg. 7). Success of the process of construction is based on communication and the dialogue learned by the partakers of its success. We naturally deteriorate macro-languages by relating our own syntax and the “vernacular of the milieu of the space” (Goh, 2001, pg. 13).

Because “semantics is (not only) about the relation of words to thoughts, but it is also about the relation of words into other human concerns” (Pinker, 2007, pg. 6), there are conflicting ways to see points of view or reasons for taking actions in certain circumstances. The language of thought - conceptual semantics - “provides … the dramas of social life. And sets the stage in countless arenas of human disputation” (Pinker, 2007, pg. 5). The way we construe events might reflect our alignment with select political party or to an ideal be it individually developed or a hand-me-down. “Is the American military incursion into Iraq a case of invading a country or liberating a country? …Are high tax rates a way to redistribute wealth or to confiscate earnings?” (Pinker, 2007, pg. 6). Is a belief in the Book of Genesis a disillusioned view of the world’s beginning, a trap for thinkers not to find pragmatic evidences or a divine event that justifies the world’s beginning? Is sustainability a “a foreign currency, the joker in the Oriental pack… an incorrectly catalogued fetish” (Chinchilla, 2006) or a responsibility?

Thankfully there is rarely confusion in such basic/reduced vernacular used in the construction industry, as this is indicated in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein describes a simple language game (Sprachspiel) a concept intended “to bring into prominence the fact that the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life” (Wittgenstein, 1953/2001, pg. 23).

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1889-1951).
Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1889-1951). Sourced from the homepage of Tony Bellotti.

This is a universal deconstruction of Wittgenstein’s Builders, not merely an attuning to the industry I so align.

“Let us imagine a language for which the description given by Augustine is right. The language is meant to serve for communication between a builder A and an assistant B. A is building with building-stones: there are blocks, pillars, slabs and beams. B has to pass the stones, and that in the order in which A needs them. For this purpose they use a language consisting of the words ‘block’, ‘pillar’, ‘slab,’ ‘beam’. A calls them out;—B brings the stone which he has learnt to bring at such-and-such a call…” (Wittgenstein, 1953/2001, pg. 3)

The important point is to realise that the builder’s language is an activity - the orders given by the builder and the executions of those orders by the assistant - into which is woven something we would recognise as language, albeit in simpler form. When the builder says ‘pillar’ a certain type of act is performed. Success is judged if the assistant passes the a ‘pillar’ to him.

Wei-wei, Ai. "Table and Pillar" 2002 (background) "Table and Beam" 2002 (foreground)
Wei-wei, Ai. “Table and Pillar” 2002 (background) “Table and Beam” 2002 (foreground). Sourced from Galerie Urs Meile.

There is a direct connection here between words and extra-linguistic reality. The builder sends the command, as in a command-line software and the worker reacts through a number of stored, predetermined and accessed movements, as in a macro, combining two or more events.

Deleuze & Guattari report of the order-word, a procedural, seemingly void of expression, interpretation of language, that utilizes a sequence of instructions to achieve the retrieval of information. “The elemental unit of language - the statement - is the order-word. Rather than common-sense, a faculty for the centralisation of information, we must define an abominable faculty consisting in emitting, receiving, and transmitting order-words. Language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed, and to compel obedience.” (Delueze-Guattari, 1987, pg. 76)

This account, raises the question, could a language exist which consists entirely of commands? All art forms have been churned through the reduction machine, stripping back Baroque to Breuer to Pawson, Shakespeare to Hardy to Hitchens, Banquets to Burger King to vending machines. Is it possible that the information age will consume creative writing however passively informative creative writing can be. Consumed by command-line requests that spill to conversation and human interaction - to live is to request both virtually and physically.

Garnier, Charles. Opéra Garnier. 1875.
Garnier, Charles. Opéra Garnier. 1875. Sourced from Gay Paris.

Pawson, John. Set design for Chroma at the Royal Opera House. 2008.
Pawson, John. Set design for Chroma at the Royal Opera House. 2008. Photo copyright of Richard Davies. Sourced from Dezeen.

Command-line. Sourced from Wikimedia.

If we dive further in the understanding of linguistics moving from Wittgenstein we find that in reality objects are 3-dimensional arrangements of matter, but language idealises objects as essentially 1, 2 or 3-dimensional. For example the word ‘line’ indicates something as 1-dimensional, the word ‘road’ indicates something as 1-dimensional (+ width), the word beam indicates something as 1-dimensional (+ having a finite thickness), the word ‘surface’ indicates something as 2-dimensional and the word ‘slab’ indicates something as 2-dimensional (+ a finite thickness). (Pinker, 2007, 5:07 mins)

The boundaries of objects are treated as objects themselves; ‘edges’ which define the 1-dimensional boundary of a 2-dimensional surface. ‘The patron walked along the edge of the parapet’, and ‘end’ which is the boundary of a 1-dimensional ‘road’ or a 2-dimensional ‘beam’). It can be summarised that space exists in our prepositions, matter exists in our nouns, naturally time exists in our tenses and is causality exists in our verbs. (Pinker, 2007, 7:00 mins)

However uncanny is the relationship between the interpretation of the structure of language to the built environment, it is a functioning language and armed with intrinsic language-games/order-words that allow for the materialisation of our realities.

Pinker, Steven. The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, Viking Adult; 1 edition, 2007
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations, Blackwell Publishing, 1953/2001
Goh, Irving. Promising “Post-Colonialism”: Delouse-Guattari’s “Minor Literature” and the Poetry of Arthur Yap, Genre; vol. 22, California State University, 2001
Authors@Google: Steven Pinker, 2007, Producer, Google; director, Google. s.l: Authors@Google. 1 online video (Flash Format) (75 mins). [Video recording]
Chinchilla, Izaskun, Sociopolis, Public Issue, 2006
Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix, A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. London and New York: Continuum, 1987/2004

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