"Price saw the construction site as a system of spatial and social relationships."

Pointer from: Architectural Intelligence book by MIT Press
Place digested: Bart, Bus, Home...
Time digested: Sept, 2018




Thinking in Systems:
Price saw the construction site as a system of spatial and social relationships. Drawing on detailed surveys conducted on site, he attempted to identify ways in which the organization of work and structural actualities mutually in uenced one another. For Price, the construction site represented a contained experimental eld that allowed him to investigate a system of social interdependencies, which determined operational procedures and workers’ behavior. Price had been introduced to this systemic perspective by the cybernetician Gordon Pask, with whom he had developed the technical control systems for the first Fun Palace project.

In 1969, Pask published an essay entitled "The Architectural Relevance of Cybernetics," in which he described the architect’s work as an intervention in a "reactive system" in which social interaction and the organization of space mutually in uenced one another.20 As was popular in the social sci- ences at the time, this approach applied principles of information theory to social matters.21 The cybernetician interpreted not only language but also social interaction as an exchange of informa- tion via which human beings formed their environ- ment.22 This perspective provided the foundation for a bottom-up approach to architecture that made individuals and their capacity for communication and activity the starting points of architectural design. It had, furthermore, a profound effect on the design approach Cedric Price chose for the McAppy project.

Fun, Delight, and Choice
At the conference "Planning for Diversity and Choice," held at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966, Cedric Price had defined architecture as an intervention in "social communications," 48 and the goal of architectural design as expanding the freedom of choice available to its users.49 Architecture could only be functional, he argued, if users themselves could determine the way they used it. In accordance with his criteria of "choice" and "fun and delight," good architecture should therefore promote its users’ freedom of choice and be developed with its positively con- noted use in mind. Price referred in these terms to the way he conceived of his projects being appro- priated.They should be consistently geared toward the users’ interests and individual preferences. This quality could not be achieved solely through the generation of a certain atmosphere, but required a new functional framework of programs and infrastructure through which to create fundamental preconditions such as accessibility and choice.

A New Concept of Work
To conform with the social and economic changes occurring during the 1960s and 1970s, the approach informing the McAppy project also reflected a new concept of work. In the 1950s, work was still evaluated in the context of industrial production and automation, i.e., primarily in terms of performance and yield. Only well into the 1970s did policymakers come to regard worker satisfaction as an important precondition for quality and cost-effectiveness of projects.59 Beginning in the early 1960s, operations research began to investigate work optimization and soon provided a basis for the social sciences as well to examine such questions as the organization of work. As early as 1951, studies of the coal-mining industry had shown that even within automated processes, the productivity of work could not be completely controlled and optimized if, next to machines, workers remained involved in the production process. It became evident that the behavior of individual workers and the organization of the group had equal influence on productivity as the mechanical, technological side of operations.

An Architecture of Agency
In defining his goals, Price did not distinguish between the spatially and organizationally con ned system of the construction site and the open habitat of the city with its social, economic, and informa- tion-technology networks. He believed that limiting the freedom of action of users or inhabitants would necessarily lead to con ict. From his fundamentally liberal viewpoint his projects offered to open up scope for action and choice.Their functional capac- ity remained premised on the active shaping of his designs by the users, without whom they could develop neither function nor form. This re exive approach to design, which emphasized the link between material resources and the possibility of individual action, i.e., between information, space, and social order, explains the polymorphism of his architectural interventions and problem solving. The fundamentals of his systemic approach, such as his engagement with the concepts of systems theory, were already established in his early works. In this view of architecture as an intervention in the formation of human living space, a book, a clothes peg, a bridge, or a Ferris wheel could all fulfill the same goal.