Dr. Matina Kousidi
Similarly to fashion, which has been defined as a “combination of different elements bearing details of the past intermingled with the needs, tastes, technology, experiments in fabric and design of the present,” architecture is a blend of past, present, and well-anticipated phenomena. Comprising a gradual intervention into the human environment, these phenomena express various degrees of proximity to the human body as they influence the diverse casings which surround it: architectural structures, interior space components, sartorial envelopments, and at times the human skin and body itself. Through diverse design practices, technology becomes a component of the body[i], leading – in its extreme – to the mutation of corporeal characteristics and the blur between organic and nonorganic characteristics. Following the belief that man-computer symbiosis “will perform intellectual operations much more effectively than man alone can perform them”[ii] (Licklider 1960), attention is being drawn to the heterogeneous networks among architecture, fashion, and technology in the modern era. In this context, the interdisciplinary design initiatives of the future, together with their origins, are being rethought.
At the dawn of the twentieth century, architecture and fashion practices could not remain intact from the extensive mechanical and technological phenomena of the era that followed the Industrial Revolution. These often innovative phenomena were affecting significantly the creative fields and were nourishing futuristic predictions regarding the design culture to come[iii]. Today, the technological advances proliferate and the design realm changes drastically. The terms “design” and “manufacture,” acquire the “computer-aided-” prefix, whilst designers are given great freedom and precision to achieve “unprecedented visual, material and formal results”[iv]. Indeed, digital tools, such as computational design and additive manufacturing, allow for the realisation of artefacts that could not be drawn by hand or realised by conventional means of construction. Given that these tools are common in various branches of design – ranging from architecture to fashion – artefacts such as dwelling and dress, bear similar characteristics. But how are these artefacts related to futuristic manifestations of the past?
By reversing analogies, unrealised artefacts of the past are now seen in a different light. For instance, if contemporary technologies had been available in the 1960s, the Archigram drawings, which are now perceived as art pieces, “could have realized differences of nuance”[v]. A series of conceptual projects, for example the transformable garment Suitaloon (1966), the Walking (1964) and the Sponge (1974) cities, reveal the fascination of Archigram with technology, but also their futuristic vision of a dynamic synergy between organic and electronic entities. Undoubtedly, their projects drew attention to the interface between human and technological, vegetal and artificial, bodily and mechanical characteristics. With the employment of current technologies, the fictional projects of Archigram could transform from paper architecture to more pragmatic visions. Only in this case, they would conflict with the team’s endeavour towards dematerialisation, towards the definition of a “membrane which is not there”[vi].
An interest in the notion of the “membrane” was expressed by Alison and Peter Smithson in reference to their case study entitled House of the Future (H.O.F), designed for the Jubilee Ideal Home Exhibition organised by the Daily Mail in March 1956. H.O.F was a “skin structure”[vii]: it consisted of interior space along with furnishing, fittings, and homeware designed in detail. “The clothes worn by the man are plain and unembellished,” the architects described, “this in keeping with the times, a kind of Superman trend to fit in with the Space Age”[viii]. Similarly to their futuristic outfits[ix], the technologically-saturated H.O.F expressed an intimate relationship to the body and several of its distinct elements, such as the smooth edges, curvy lines, organic forms, adjustable temperature and warm-air shower cabin, were indicative of this intimacy. Although the main idea about H.O.F was not to do with technology[x], several elements represented the experimentation with what was considered at that time “high-tech,” attempting to recontextualise man to a setting of increasing technological development.
Following these early paradigms of human and technological collaboration, one is reminded of Julien Offray de La Mettrie, who in his treatise “L’Homme Machine” (1748) employed the term “machine” as a metaphor for the constitution of the human body[xi]. The influence of mechanisation on the built environment and design realm has been thoroughly explored ever since. For instance, Frank Lloyd Wright, in his lecture “The Art and Craft of the Machine” (1901), argued that “in the Machine lies the future of arts and crafts,”[xii] whilst hoping that new purposes, enabled by the rise of new design and production technologies, would succeed the old ideals. Admittedly, the digital revolution has severely affected creative practices, and although from the latter half of the nineteenth century the notion of the “machine” has transformed from analog mechanical and electronic media to digital technologies, Wright’s premise is still highly valid. For it traverses a wide spectrum of daily life elements, ranging from the multi-disciplinary practices of the Italian Futurism (1909-1916), which varied from “a building to the fork of the table,”[xiii] to more recent design examples, such as the Instant House (2006), designed by Lawrence Sass, and Marcel Botha, and the Carpal Skin (2010), designed by Neri Oxman. In this context, the boundaries among human body, design artifacts and technology, become ambiguous. Whereas under the ubiquitous influence of information technology, the diverse branches of design converse, interact, and interrelate with each other, whilst outlining the framework for future interdisciplinary research initiatives.
 Eugenia Paulicelli, ‘Fashion under fascism: beyond the black shirt,’ (Oxford: Berg, 2004), 152.
[i] Denis Baron, ‘The mutant flesh: fabrication of a post human,’ (Paris: Dis Voir, 2009), 93.
[ii] Noah Wardrip-Fruin, ‘The new media reader,’ Volume 1, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003), 74.
[iii] Matina Kousidi, ‘Future revisited: architecture and fashion through the prism of a digital era” in the 1st International Conference on Digital Fashion Proceedings (London: University of the Arts London Press, 2013), 254-263, (254).
[iv] Lisa Iwamoto, ‘Digital fabrications: architectural and material techniques,’ (New York: Princeton Architectural, 2009), 006.
[v] Stefano Casciani, ‘The plug-in citizen. Interview with Peter Cook,’ Domus, 942, (2010), 22-29, http://www.domusweb.it/en/architecture/2010/12/11/the-plug-in-citizen-interview-with-peter-cook.html, (01-11-2013).
[vi] Simon Sadler, ‘Archigram: architecture without architecture,’ (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2005), 114.
[vii] Beatriz Colomina, ‘Unbreathed air 1956,’ Grey Room 15, (2004), 28-59, (31).
[viii] Dirk van den Heuvel, Max Risselada, ‘Alison and Peter Smithson: from a house of the future to a house of today,’ (Rotterdam: 010, 2006), 39.
[ix] Clothing was architecture for the Smithsons, one of their multiple media of operation as Peter Cook has pointed out. They always wore the most remarkable clothes: “Certainly by the time that I came to London in the late ’50s, they would stand out in a crowd by skilful wardrobeship in day-glo, loud checks, plastic, rubber, flags. Peter Cook, Regarding the Smithsons, Architectural Review 172, 1025, (1982), 40, cited in Beatriz Colomina, ‘Unbreathed air 1956,’ Grey Room 15, (2004), 28-59, (38).
[x] In fact, the House of the Future ran parallel with the Monsanto House of the Future, which was just a bungalow, a bit of a plastic house in a garden. Peter Smithson, ‘Peter Smithson: conversations with students,’ (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005), 43.
[xi] Le corps humain est une machine qui monte elle-même ses ressorts; vivante image du mouvement perpétuel. Julien Offray de La Mettrie, Jules Assézat, ‘L’homme machine,’ (Paris: Librairie De Frederic Henry, 1865), 37.
[xii] “(…) the Machine is, in fact, the metamorphosis of ancient art and craft; that we are at last face to face with the machine-the modern Sphinx-whose riddle the artist must solve if he would that art live – for his nature holds the key.” Frank Lloyd Wright, ‘The art and craft of the machine,’ (Chicago: National League of Industrial Art, 1902), http://learn.columbia.edu/courses/arch20/pdf/art_hum_reading_50.pdf, (01-11-2013).
[xiii] Nicola Galante, ‘Note d’arte decorativa,’ Noi, I:1 (1917), cited in Carla Cerutti, Raffaella Sgubina, ‘Futurismo, moda, design: la ricostruzione futurista dell’universo quotidiano,’ (Gorizia: Musei Provinciali di Gorizia, 2009), 39.
Dr. Matina Kousidi-
Matina has recently completed her fully funded PhD, entitled ‘Architecture sur Mesure. Habitat – Abito | Habitus,’ at Sapienza University of Rome, after an extensive research stay at University of the Arts London. She is interested in the multifaceted part dress played in modern architecture, as well as in the interrelationship between modern architecture, fashion, and technology. She is the recipient of a DAAD scholarship, which will allow her to develop her individual scholarly work in Humboldt University of Berlin as a visiting researcher. Her international academic portfolio includes research stays also at ENSA Paris – La Villette and FHNW Basel. Matina received her professional and postgraduate diplomas in architecture in Greece, where she is a registered architect engineer.
© Matina Kousidi, 2014. All Rights Reserved.