On April 21, the Texas A&M University School of Architecture hosted a debate between Zaha Hadid Architects principal Patrik Schumacher and Mark Foster Gage, who runs his eponymous firm in New York City and is assistant dean of the Yale School of Architecture. The spirited discussion, moderated by A&M associate professor Gabriel Esquivel, focused on the architects’ diverging views on urban land-use policies, instigated by Schumacher’s controversial keynote to the 2016 World Architecture Festival in Berlin, in which he advocated a privatized, market-based approach to urban development. Gage added his voice to the chorus of opposition in the press and on the internet in the wake of Schumacher’s comments, but he came to the architect’s defense when the responses became diatribes. Before the debate at A&M, Texas Architect editor Aaron Seward had the opportunity to speak with Gage and Schumacher about their views on architecture and contemporary society, a discussion that took its own spirited turn. Following is a transcript of that conversation, edited slightly for clarity and length.
Aaron Seward: Gabriel has framed this debate as a sort of Battle Royale between two contrasting views. I think that you do have contrasting views, but also you both seem to be working toward something very similar, which is regaining some power for the architecture profession. Mark, you have this idea of object-oriented ontology and how that might apply to architecture to regain the building’s legitimacy as an object. And Patrik, you have a system or theory of architecture called Parametricism. So I’d like to start out by asking each of you to describe what you mean by these viewpoints and how they present pathways for the profession.
Mark Foster Gage: The reason architects started looking at object-oriented ontology is because we realized that architecture was starting to be justified because of its narrative, not because of its qualities. I think that’s something that Patrik and I are allied on. You get an architect like Santiago Calatrava, who says that his train station is like a bird, and the train station looks like a bird, and it’s valued for its ability to reflect its birdness. In philosophy that’s a form of correlationism. The architecture gets its value because of its relation to something else — in this case, it’s a metaphor.
Object-oriented ontology is a philosophical idea that emerged about 10 years ago, that was a return in interest in looking at objects for their qualities, not for their relationships. In that sense, it was very much against an idea that says architecture is good because it’s a bird, or it’s good because it’s humanitarian, it’s good because it uses recycled materials — and instead we’re looking at qualities that architecture actually produces.
That also has the spinoff effect of being opposed to Parametricism, which it wasn’t designed to do. It’s just an aftereffect, because object-oriented ontology places less importance on relationships than on the objects themselves.
The interest in empowerment for architecture is part of this discourse of object-oriented ontology. The philosopher who developed it, Graham Harman, bases a significant portion of his philosophy on this Heideggerian idea called the tool analysis. What that states is: I’m holding this bottle of water, and I’m about to drink it, and because it functions so well and the water isn’t leaking, I don’t notice it — it’s not at the foreground of my attention. It’s only when an object breaks, when this water bottle starts leaking, that it comes to the foreground of my attention, and I look: “Oh, my hand’s getting wet; where’s it leaking from?” I take more of an interest in the bottle itself. It comes to the front of my attention and reveals qualities that I didn’t previously realize. That means that objects have qualities that are normally withdrawn from your access or attention. These qualities are sometimes eternally withdrawn or temporarily withdrawn. It’s very interesting to think of architecture, say, even a building, as something that is not static, but has qualities that are withdrawn and are only accessible in certain ways. It makes buildings the sources of curiosity, rather than one-liners, such as “birdness.”
You combine Heidegger’s tool analysis with Louis Sullivan’s statement, from 1896, which is “form follows function.” If form follows function, and all architecture looks like what it’s supposed to do, then, according to Heidegger, we’re making an effort to make architecture seem invisible to its users. If architecture looks like its function and doesn’t have any other ambitions, then there’s no reason for it to come to the foreground of your attention, which means that it doesn’t have any aesthetic power.
We’re interested in looking at object-oriented ontology as a way to bring architecture back to the foreground of your attention — not necessarily making it nonfunctional, but thinking of ways which could reintroduce it to the public, to give it what well-known philosopher Jacques Rancière calls estrangement, or a “returning of innocence to the eye.” And that’s where the philosophy of object-oriented ontology, the renewed interest in aesthetics, and ideas like estrangement all come together to form a foundation for an architecture that isn’t based on relations, isn’t valued for its relations, but is valued for its qualities that come in and out of attention — that parts are withdrawn, even strange: not necessarily strangeness for the purpose of being strange, but maybe strange because it questions your idea of reality, or strange because it calls new attention to architecture and what architecture can do, as opposed to relying on past conventions that we’re all very familiar with.
AS: There’s an architect here in Texas who contributed an article to Texas Architect recently, arguing for architecture returning to one of its original purposes, which was that of a mass-broadcast medium to tell stories and to communicate. I wonder if that at all plays into your ideas.
MFG: I think that’s something that Patrik is more interested in. I’m not inherently against the idea. I think that we do run the risk of — if architecture is intended to communicate a single thing, then that’s an authoritarian position, because it gives the architect the right to demand what other people read into the architecture. So in my own work we use lots of symbolic forms, but we do it at such a high level of complexity that no singular reading is required. There’s the possibility of multiple readings, and none of them are right. So we never say our building looks like a bird or our building is valuable because it’s humanitarian. The narrative becomes secondary to the thing itself, and there’s no authority that tells you what’s intended to be communicated. So I would say that communication is a tertiary interest in my project, while it probably forms more of a primary interest in Patrik’s.
Patrik Schumacher: Architecture’s ambition of withdrawing over-familiar motifs and introducing elements of ambiguity, which maybe stir creative conditions that aren’t fully prescribed — these discussions we had under the flag of Deleuze and Guattari’s reading of virtuality and actualization. A lot of what I see in the architectural discourse surrounding triple-O merely looks to me like a rebranding of quite familiar tropes and insights and methodologies we’ve had and explored with Parametricism.
MFG: Which ones?
PS: Well, for instance, the idea of multiple readings, making strange for the purpose of stirring innovation. For me, it’s not about drawing attention; it’s about the unfamiliar as invitation to break routines for the sake of mutation, something which stirs evolution. That’s what we saw when we reinhabited the old cities, when old factories were reappropriated for other purposes, so you are confronted with a strange juxtaposition, which is often very fertile: for lofts, for new forms of art display, new forms of raving events that needed that shock of the Other. But then, of course, it’s not something which is forever just shock upon shock, but there’s shock, inspiration, utilization, and then re-routinization — for instance, when East Berlin was opened up. In the ’80s, we’ve been doing this. Eisenman was talking about this: the machinic process. It’s kind of an aleatoric interpretation and appropriation process. These ideas are incredibly familiar to me.
I do treasure to some extent that we can have that disruptive otherness — of strange spaces and forms becoming conspicuous, confronting us with wonder and curiosity — but it’s one ingredient, which needs to be applied in measured doses, like a pharmaceutical. There needs to be also that easy, nearly invisible environment, where you don’t want to pay attention. You have purposes and things to do, and you want that to be easy going. Architects need to achieve legibility in the face of complexity. City-dwellers want to achieve more during the day — to have more interactions, more variety of interactions — and need to be able to orient themselves within a complex scene full of offerings. We want to see a rich diversity of lives congregating in the city, and this new societal complexity is what Parametricism caters for. In Parametricism, there are new vocabularies for creating an ordered variety and for building up complex relational situations. You pull things together for the sake of interacting, cooperating, being stimulated — being in a network condition where what we do is calibrated with what everyone else is doing and is continuously updating. This contrasts with modernist, suburban spreading out and separating out of lives where we have been beavering away in isolation, working on something we know and are instructed to do.
I’m thinking about the general societal historical conditions under which new regimes of complexity can become interesting, and also that need for continuous reinvention. For me, this ties in with market processes. In a centrally planned society, that kind of complexity and reinvention will not be tolerated. Of course, the left is very conflicted about the conception of democratic allocation plans, versus the more bottom-up, autonomous, spontaneous, anarchist versions, which I think have more truth and historical pertinence. This anarchism comes through to philosophies like Deleuze and Guattari’s, as well as in the philosophy of the speculative realists. These philosophies are kind of abstract machines, in themselves, that actually don’t have a proper theory of society, or indeed any theory of anything, but they are offering kind of a repertoire of concepts, an algebra of terms, tropes, and analogies drawn out of complexity theory, and drawn out of the new kind of left-wing formations like the autonomia movement that abandoned the ideal of the Leninist Cader Party and celebrated the free flow of struggles, assemblages of agency. These conceptions were abstracted and generalized in Deleuze’s philosophy and can be reinterpreted within architecture: smooth versus striated, assemblage versus organism, rhizome versus the arborescent. There’s a whole series of categories and concepts that had been introduced into architecture by the generation of architects that make up the movement I call Parametricism; namely, the above-mentioned concepts, as well as the concepts of “machinic processes,” and “the diagrammatic,” understood as the open-ended, inexhaustible potential of forms and spaces. Especially these last-mentioned concepts are now being rehashed and rebranded by the architects working under the flag of object-oriented ontology.
MFG: Yeah, except object-oriented ontology is nearly precisely oppositional to all of those discourses you mentioned. Significantly, Deleuze and Guattari are discourses of becoming, are discourses of things never being things, but always on the route to becoming other things. Object-oriented ontology is a realist philosophy that says exactly the opposite — that what this thing is going to become is irrelevant to what it is now. So we’re looking at things for their qualities at this moment in time, rather than their trajectory as part of some larger set of relationships. Graham’s fundamental ideas of overmining and undermining are contra-Deleuze. It’s a very quick way to dismiss object-oriented ontology, to just say that it’s something you already read, but if you’d read object-oriented ontology you’d know that it’s, while not reactionary to, it is significantly against Deleuzian discourses of becoming. To make connections between the two is just ignorance.
PS: You are presenting triple-O as a radical contrast and antithesis to Deleuze and Guattari’s work, and I am saying it is just a kind of nuanced re-emphasis and rebranding.
AS: I’d like to direct this discussion to something that you said in a recent interview, Patrik, which is an objection to the discursive, anything-goes mode that the profession has been in for some time now. You’re advocating a central theory of how architecture should work, something that we should all share.
PS: Exactly. That’s why we have to stop the rebranding and relabeling, because we share a lot of ambitions and criticisms. We should be criticizing the routine architecture of stereotypical conditions.
MFG: But how is Parametricism not the architecture of stereotypical conditions? Every Tuscan suburban house in America is parametrically designed.
PS: We have very similar critiques of, for instance, Modernism, and even more so with more traditional conceptions. We should see those alignments. The things you’ve been saying about offering a plethora of formalisms and potential symbols without fixed meaning — read Brian Massumi on the concept of the virtual and the way it works into architecture; look at the competition of the virtual house in the mid-90s, which was presented through ANY magazine: This is nothing other than what you’ve just been saying.
MFG: If this has all been done before, why is, for instance, Graham listed as one of the hundred most-influential people in the art world? Is it just a reinvention?
PS: It’s a rebranding.
MFG: So the art world and the architecture world have just had the wool pulled over their eyes?
PS: Yeah, it’s a rebranding, a relabeling.
MFG: But Parametricism holds all the answers for the future of innovation.
PS: Well, it’s very, very open and abstract.
MFG: Yeah, and it’s also a meaningless distinction.
PS: No; it’s not meaningless. It excludes Minimalism; it excludes Chipperfield; it excludes Postmodernism and asserts that Postmodernism is atrocious!
MFG: You could absolutely have a parametricist Chipperfield.
PS: No; that’s not what I call Parametricism. Then you haven’t read my books.
MFG: Then what do you mean by Parametricism? Do you mean smooth surfaces?
PS: Well, you should read the work.
MFG: I would, if it was legible.
PS: Read the writing. Read the heuristics. Read the points. It’s a clear distinction: It’s not Postmodernism, it’s certainly not Minimalism, it’s not Deconstructivism.
MFG: You’re using Parametricism to mean something stylistically, not in its technical terminology meaning?
PS: It comes with a methodology, but it is also recognizable in its phenomenology and physiognomy. But it’s also quite diverse and rich.
MFG: But it needs to have no figural outline,
no right angles, no straight lines.
PS: Not necessarily.
MFG: But that’s what you wrote.
PS: No, no. There can be degrees of orthogonality, and field conditions from the orthogonal into the more multi-angled, and into the curvilinear. There can also be layers. It works out of Deconstructivism, in that it has layering and interpretations, but these layers now no longer just conflict with each other; instead, they resonate with each other: One is inferred from the other, so the composition becomes more information-rich, more navigable via inferences, as well as more complex, more subtle. Gradients are a new condition that didn’t exist, but it isn’t the one gradient, the one single surface, anymore, which dominated the early versions of Parametricism. I call it “Foldism,” now, in retrospect. Foldism evolved into “blobism,” and now we are talking about something which is more sophisticated in its integration of multiple systems. I call it “Techtonism.”
MFG: So give me an example of the more sophisticated Parametricism.
PS: For instance, our Dongdaemun building in Seoul, our Baku building [Heydar Aliyev Centre], perhaps.
MFG: But that’s entirely smooth. I thought you said smoothness was a condition of early Parametricism. Baku is the smoothest building ever built in the history of the world.
PS: It has multiple conditions.
MFG: What do you mean by that?
PS: It has a series of layers. Smoothness was a very potent and powerful and radical–
MFG: Deleuzian term.
PS: –radical innovation, which really shocked us into new conditions never given before.
MFG: Never given before? What about [Frederick] Kiesler? If you’re going to accuse me of rehashing old things, then we have to look at smoothness in architecture as not being entirely contingent upon the digital.
PS: It wasn’t realized before. There were maybe intuitive precursors.
MFG: [Kiesler] called it the “Endless House,” because it was smooth and endless.
PS: Maybe it is a precursor.
MFG: Okay, so if Parametricism has precursors, then having a precursor isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and you can’t destroy triple-O for having roots in Deconstruction.
PS: No, I’m not saying that. But you have yet to tell me what’s the critical advantage of triple-O? What’s the innovation? I haven’t seen any advantageous heuristics coming out of triple-O. There is something different, but I think that difference is actually a negative — for instance, the idea that the relation to human purposes is not to be of particular concern. And then you use a label like anthropocentrism, which means something very different, to try to denigrate something which we should be able to take for granted, which is that we invest our labor, efforts, and our resources into buildings so that they serve our human purposes.
AS: The architecture profession in general is having a lot of trouble communicating its value to the public. One of the ways that some people have tried to correct this is through extending the architecture project beyond the building itself, into the landscape, and to invite more disciplines into the architecture practice: landscape architecture, urban planning, et cetera. How does this approach of connecting to the public to try to communicate architecture’s potential fit with your views?
MFG: Well, there’s certainly an ambition now to denigrate the designer and say that designers no longer design things. Design is now “design intelligence.” I see positive aspects and negative aspects of that. My worry is that it’s very fashionable right now for architecture to be about politics, or for architecture to be about the natural use of, or design of materials, or even about nonhumans — dealing with birds and bees and stuff. That’s fine, and maybe that’s interesting for people, but at a certain point someone has to do the built environment for humans. If architects abdicate their responsibility towards that and it becomes unfashionable to deal with buildings and urbanisms, then we’re really screwed.
AS: Is this part of the undermining of architecture that you’ve written about?
MFG: Yes, absolutely.
PS: I agree with that. To consume the whole morphology of a building for a one-liner metaphor — that’s a massive waste. Or to use buildings that should tell us what they are offering to us users, to become a storyteller of another message — that’s absurd. However, when I’m talking about the built environment communicating, it communicates about its own order of things for the sake of informing utilization, because utilization, the workings of buildings and built environments, relies on human agents navigating, orienting, grasping, understanding, and finding and handling the uses on offer. Communication is thus a kind of user facilitation. That’s a useful, even necessary form of communication. That’s why I’m reinvigorating and refounding architectural semiology, which was started under the flag of Postmodernism in the ’60s and ’70s, continued into the ’80s, and was then kind of left behind because there were serious critical problems with the way this was conceived and delivered at the time. It was very clichéd, with historical motifs telling fixed stories, and there was also overreach in telling all sorts of mythologies through buildings. I’m trying to reground and refound the project of architectural semiology, where the building is designed to talk about itself because, as it becomes complex and varied and layered, it’s no longer so easily self-transparent; it’s no longer trivial, what you have in front of you and what’s on offer. That demands some deliberate problematizing, first of all through perceptual grasp and cognitive decomposition, where important features must be made conspicuous, and then it also demands a semiology where users are informed about the differentiated interaction offerings through formal vocabularies. So that’s what I’m working on.
MFG: But you wouldn’t say that architecture’s primary responsibility is communication?
PS: I would say so, nearly. Of course, we are still organizing, laying out, distributing into proximity and distance and opening pathways, and so on. That’s, of course, our task, too. But we can’t just leave it at that, because these organizations might be a dead letter if they remain illegible, if these pathways aren’t discovered, if these adjacencies are overlooked, and the programmatic designation misunderstood. So [communication] nearly becomes something I want to foreground, especially since we particularly haven’t developed that explicit intelligence and capacity to talk about and elaborate and design the built environment as a system of signification, whereas, with respect to the organization part, there has been work under Bill Hillier and Christopher Alexander, and there are techniques of grasping and measuring — for instance, the permeability and networking structures embedded in spatial relations. That’s been achieved and delivered. I’m now wanting to make similar progress on the level of phenomenology, perceptual penetration, cognitive grasping, as well as on the level of semiology and communication. That’s my project. When it comes to program grasp, I’m working on what I call “life forces modeling,” to enhance crowd modeling for the sake of, not only circulatory forms of penetration, but for all types of occupancy patterns in a complex institution of multiple audiences — where they interact, gather, disperse, reassociate — to show that the kind of buildings we envisage have more potency and fertility to enable the social networking that brings us all together in the city in the first place.
MFG: But you’re giving architecture legitimization through its ability to network people–
MFG: –and I would position my school of thought against that and say architecture is valued for other reasons.
PS: Which are?
PS: That’s very, very hard to translate, or to defend. I mean, then it becomes a fetish, because you make [aesthetics] an endpoint.
MFG: You have a very dated idea about aesthetics. You always think about it in terms of Pater and Wilde’s late-19th-century aestheticism, where aesthetics are separate from the marketplace — protected from commerce or acting as an actual, not decorative, part of society.
PS: Then aesthetics is just a means for something else. But what is that, if it’s not the life process?
MFG: Rancière describes aesthetics as the distribution of the sensible. And to be sensed is a political act. The ability to be heard defines your position in a political spectrum. Aesthetics is what defines your ability to be seen and be heard.
PS: So, in the end, it leads to an attempt to facilitate some kind of social interaction, a communication process. So it’s not an endpoint, and you feel compelled — and you must be feeling compelled — to think it through to the point of societal facilitation. That’s what you’re just trying to do.
AS: Let’s talk about politics. Patrik, you recently famously waded into politics.
MFG: Stepped in it is a better term.
[Laughter from all parties.]
AS: And you were treated very unfairly, I must say.
MFG: I came to your defense.
PS: Thank you.
AS: Mark, I wonder if you would see politics as being yet another narrative that undermines the legitimacy of the architectural project?
MFG: I mean, that’s a tough question. The reason Patrik was vilified is because he articulated a very pro-neoliberal position, which is about deregulation, which is about privatizing parks, privatizing sidewalks, moving people out of social housing, having no such thing as social housing. Neoliberalism has been around since the formation of the Mont Pelerin Society at the end of World War II. So this isn’t a new idea. It’s a popular idea — we just elected it into office, this idea of total and complete deregulation. I’m not sure of architecture’s place in it, at the moment. I’m sure it has one, but I haven’t completely sussed it out. Patrik has advocated a position of deregulation and the elimination of social housing. And I think — while it certainly frees up a lot of space for innovation, particularly in places like London, which are overzoned and overcalculated — it also has the danger of creating a homogenized environment, where it’s the same Marriott, the same Gap, the same Starbucks, the same shitty beige brick buildings with similar curtain wall products. I actually see social housing as something valuable, not because it’s humanitarian, necessarily, but because it’s another system, and the two are forced to weave through each other. In the neoliberal agenda, someone gets to live in the center of London because they are, more often than not, lucky: They’ve inherited money; they come from money; or they made a great deal of money. Social housing just offers another form of luck to a different constituency. So if you happen to be in the right place and inherit a social housing estate, that’s no more or less valuable than the person who was born into a rich household who can afford a London townhouse. I think having multiple systems producing architecture according to different constraints and limitations for different populations is valuable.
AS: Your ideas, Patrik, didn’t create such a stir here in Texas. You go just down the road to Houston and you’ll see a deregulated city. It has no zoning whatsoever, and yet not a lot of creative consciousness behind the built environment either. So deregulation itself can’t be the only answer. There also has to be some sort of cultural backing behind design that will disrupt our assumptions of what the built environment can be and do.
PS: For me, the market is a discovery process through entrepreneurs and through market participants’ choices. If we eliminate a lot of this choice because we have a prescribed set of offerings, that’s one thing I’m criticizing.
MFG: I agree with that.
PS: The standards are ridiculously minute [in London]. We have a prescription of what exact quantum of housing needs to be built where, what the unit mixes are, how big these units must be, how big every room must be, what facilities you have to have, how many balconies, how many flats on a core — I mean, it’s absurd. But also, these land-use maps, they’re decades old. Those sites that have been allocated to residential become windfalls for the landowners, because we are not living in a socialist system; we’re living in a strange mix of government intervention and market processes that generates a lot of unfair inequalities.
I trace it back to these interventions where market mechanisms are blocked — where you have all the financial sector bailouts after the crash, and these kinds of irrational land value rifts. On the allocation side, the social housing side, this is not for poor people. These are people with relatively large incomes — up to 90,000 pounds annual income — and it’s rationed for those who are in the know; it’s mostly for public sector employees. We might have a nice idea of being supportive to those who have had it hard and compensating for some of the luck which is at play in market processes, but I think there is far less arbitrary luck in market processes than in government processes, where, for instance, you have to be lucky to land with a rent-controlled apartment. Some of the anecdotes about who is getting brand new “social” apartments allocated — you want to pull your hair out, because you’ve been killing yourself for decades to afford to live in a place like this. So there is this nirvana fallacy, the idea that government would indeed fulfill these good ideas.
A lot of the imperfections attributed to market processes are actually to do with that compromised condition where the state interferes and doesn’t allow the market rationale to come through. The market isn’t perfect, but as it is now, market failures are not actually market failures; they’re government failures.
So that’s my intuition. There’s been a learning curve for me, particularly since 2008, to try out some of these explanations, to run with them, to see where they go, to probe them and read into those libertarian discourses. It’s a very sophisticated discourse. I was brought up on the left. In your normal educated upbringing, you’re sort of eased into leftist ideologies. You take that nearly with your mother’s milk, and you rarely question this. And that’s why you don’t read these [neoliberal] authors: because you’ve been castigated; you’ve heard they’re right wing and there’s no intellectual merit in them.
MFG: Well, I grew up as a Republican from Nebraska, so I’m coming from a different place. He started out left and went right, and I started out right and went left.
PS: So for me, it was a discovery. [Friedrich] Hayek is a super-sophisticated writer. He’s a political economist and philosopher. And there’s this whole world which I discovered and find useful.
When we did Parametric Urbanism, we wanted to have order and variation. It seemed at first as if we needed more government backing — more empowerment of these visions of a more intricate order. And then we had moments on master plan projects where we realized that we don’t get that backing [from the government]. So I started rethinking: Is there a way of creating urban order via a bottom-up process of distributed decisions?
I imagine myself in the position of Lúcio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, with Kubitschek, and I’m getting handed that power to lay out, rationally and beautifully, the egalitarian, ideal city of Brasilia. Why did that process of development run into crisis? Why did this form of running society and laying out the urban landscape stop? Why was it substituted? Why did we have a [Margaret] Thatcher? Because Britain was switching the light off, basically!
I’m fascinated to think that the agility of a bottom-up, responsive elaboration through multiple authors could generate a coherent, nature-like urban texture.
MFG: Are you calling neoliberalism bottom-up?
PS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, neoliberalism is a bit compromised. I’m much more radical than that, more libertarian with an anarcho-capitalist vision of society. Or at least moving toward that direction, changing the system by withdrawing some of the regulatory and redistribution powers, and leading back to bottom-up actors. This could be charities; this could be not-for-profits; this could be free associations, as well as entrepreneurs.
MFG: Well, you want to dial it back in London, but if you look at a place that never had them, like Houston, you wouldn’t advocate for cities all becoming Houston.
PS: I’m not sure.
MFG: You’re flying out of Houston tonight, have you been there before?
PS: No, I have not.
AS: Oh, you have to see Houston.
PS: The London we love wasn’t a creation of a strong government, of a social democratic government. The London we love is a creation, actually, of private planning. It was the Great Estates. It was planning, but it was private planning. It was competitive. It was some kind of market process, and managed market process, let’s say, but privately — there wasn’t a strong state in the 18th century, 19th century in London.
AS: In my view, if it’s going to be a bottom-up process, there is some cultural work that needs to be done in order to develop a consciousness that would want an architecture that would be progressive in some way. I think the ideas of the left in this country are positioned to protect these ideas of progressivism. But I suppose if you have ideal clients, they’ll want to do something new.
PS: What I find interesting, if you look at this milieu around the tech clusters in Palo Alto and around the Bay Area, [is] where are they going, politically? There’s a lot of libertarianism.
MFG: And mostly terrible architecture. That libertarian streak produces 20-year-olds who want a Tuscan house that’s pre-filled with Pottery Barn furniture the day they buy it. Those guys are not investing in urbanism and architecture. The urbanism in Silicon Valley is among the worst.
PS: They are into progress. What you find when you look at places like Google and the startup cultures is very, very flat hierarchies, very open networks — it’s very much self-directed work.
MFG: –often cited as misogynist, anti-urbanist–
PS: No, no, no. Hey, hey, hey. Come on. You look at Google: 20 percent free time; you work 80 percent on an allocated project under some internal management alignment, and 20 percent just gifted, and given to network —
MFG: That’s not free time. That’s 20 percent free time to work for Google — on ideas that ultimately benefit them. They’re very explicit about that.
PS: I think one thing that we all aim for is prosperity — which is material freedom to work less, to have more — and self-directed work. Nobody wants a line manager or boss breathing down their neck. You want to explore. You want to be creative.
MFG: It’s cynical. Putting beanbags and ping-pong tables and beer in your office so people spend more time at the office, and you think that’s free time? That’s cynical.
PS: I’m talking about something else. I’m talking about, if you have 20 percent — that means one day a week; whether you overwork or not, that should be up to you. If you have eagerness, you have passion, you want a career, you want to retire at 45, why not give yourself 16 hours? Who is this idiotic, empty bureaucrat who feels bad, maybe, because he’s only putting in six hours, who wants to prevent somebody else to work 16 hours? That’s an absurdity! It’s unmanageable. It’s not helping anybody. So let’s get it out of the way. The vilification of Google, for me, is an absurdity. Because Google is the biggest prosperity engine of this planet, and we all live all the better for it.
MFG: But I would hardly consider it as utopian as you do. I wouldn’t vilify Google, but I also wouldn’t say it’s–
PS: The research they’re investing in. The excitement of all these projects they’re doing.
MFG: For every one Google, there’s a thousand corporations that are demanding a six percent return every year, which requires all middle management to work 60 hours a week.
PS: But what I’m talking about is a new era and the empowerment of a culture which needs these regulatory straightjackets out of the way. The problem is, with all of these startups, once they hit a certain number of people, new rules kick in, which kill these firms. And who’s that helping? The left is desperate. They want to talk about self-exploitations of the cognitariat, but they’re not going to get demonstrations out in the street, the cognitariat protesting their self-exploitation. Are you kidding? They’re on their last leg. They have nothing to do. Their audience is running away from them, and they’re clinging on, desperately, and they become ever more aggressive. For me, the left are the last Mohicans of a dying, desperate, turning-violent group. And nearly all my old activist comrades and left intellectual friends — I was on the left — are moving with me, and pulled away from socialism. I’m not the only one. There’s a whole new intellectual ferment.
MFG: Like Dick Cheney, Steve Bannon–
PS: No, no. It’s all the ex-Trotskyites who end up becoming libertarians. That should tell you something.
AS: It’s true. You have places like U.C. Berkeley, where you can’t even go speak if you don’t toe the line.
MFG: Yeah, we both feel the same way about that. There are no arguments; there’s no discourse — ironically — in places that are historically defined by it.
PS: There are no arguments. There’s only vilification.