It actually started with a watch— two. In a school of architecture and architecture company in a European country that I will not call last year I was co-tutering two brilliant master students. They started their project with a highly idealistic, “accelerator” view of technology, believing that technological change would “accelerate” the eventual collapse of capitalism, despite some unlikely policy theories currently underway. But one day, two identical black Casio digital watches appeared for their demonstration, and I knew immediately something had gone awry. We told me we had finished the technique as if hit by light on their route to Damascus. Since then, their research has become a “important” transformation in the early 1970s of several super-study ventures. Some months later, for their final performance, they set up an installation in which everything was wrapped on a carefully designed Superstudio wallpaper–blacksgrid on the white grid–up until some fresh baguettes from the next baker’s door. I found that most of their mates were also using the same Casio watch. Other less savory characters in the recent past have used it for criminal purposes unrelated to it, yet I would not be surprised to find today Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders or Jean-Luc Mélenchon wearing a pure style sign. Since 1989, the F-91W is produced continuously, but it is derived from a previous, clunkier model of 1978, the F-100C, which was then more onerous and less commercially successful. And for one reason: LCD bracelets have been a paragon of wrong technology since the beginning. Their digital display, with numbers showing liquid crystals or LCDs through a mosaic, was a technological development in
You haven’t been lonely. This watch seems popular amongst the radical leftists in the United States, in the UK and elsewhere, the “classical” Casio-F91W— cheap, tiny yet eye-catching. They’re not just gathered avidly (that’s obviously expected), resurrected, imitated, copied, reinterpreted and chosen as a direct source of inspiration for many young designers–they also say that in so many words. But what inspiration does one find in things which were not known to work when they were invented, never worked and never were able to work today? More precisely, why do many of us today feel so close to so many late-mechanical developments from the 1970s–or indeed the 1970s generally? If a graphic artist becomes fascinated by the neon tubes of Dan Flavin, this will not harm anybody–at least not directly; But when an architect now brings a thousand new tubes into a house, this is a challenge, because in Dan Flavin’s time neon tubes may have been a great technology, so today we have much better, more green light sources.
In modern interior decorative designs, the profusion of orange Rudolf(‘ paprikas’) teapot and Judanese steel, aluminum and perspex is definitely harmless and humorous, but today all the moves in a building— including a garage door— are regarded as a reference to the cedric price; every gage— even a waffle-iron — is considered as a reference to the superstudio.
Grids and modularity were the technological keys to the mechanical world: more products were made with less components, as fewer standard parts could then be more efficiently assembled in a mass scale saving way. But that was mechanical engineering’s industrial rationale. This is not operating post-industrial, digitally controlled production, and we know this for a considerable period of time.
It started at a watch, actually two… Courtesy Wikipedia Commons Cedric Price was seduced by Norbert Wieners input and interactivity theory (then referred to as cybernetics), still celebrated today as a inventor of almost everything. Price proposed somewhat quxotically when he tried to apply Wiener’s theory of communication to architecture, that “cybernetic’ buildings would respond by constantly reconfiguring themselves through a game of mechanically shifting components to external stimuli. But buildings do not travel as quickly as the Mexican cats, with Weiner performing his infamous neurological experiment. , completion, stay as they were built, and they are seldom expected to be rebuilt on a daily basis: floors and ceilings going up and down, or walls and roofs moving back and forth, albeit common in stage design, are still a rare and costly exception in building. When an early avatar of Price’s cybernetic visions, the Centre Pompidou, was built in Paris in the early 1970s, its only visibly moving part was a monumental escalator; Wiener’s cybernetic theories, as well as most early theories of artificial intelligence, were quietly dropped by the scientific community as of the mid-1970s, for the simple reason that they did not serve any practical purpose. The list of failed late mechanical and early cybernetic technologies from the 1970s is a long one; the reasons for their failure back then would be an interesting historiographical topic, but the reasons for their resurrection today are a dark and troubling mystery.
Of course, it was not only technology—so promising in the 1960s—that failed catastrophically in the 1970s; it was in a sense the whole universe of Modernist promise and expectations, which the 1960s had nurtured and to some extent fulfilled, that faltered and collapsed beyond repair in the 1970s. Politics in most Western countries was then widely seen as failing—in the sense that the existing political order in most Western democracies could manifestly not cope with the social, ideal, and economic issues that 1968 had brought to the forefront (and the energy crises of the 1970s then compounded). The Soviet Union was then widely seen as winning the Cold War, but not many in Western Europe would have welcomed Leonid Brezhnev as their leader—no more than they would have fancied a sputtering Trabant in their garage. In this generally despondent and at times desperate climate, many avant-garde designers decided that they should stop designing altogether, and do other things instead: cultivate and celebrate their irrelevance, for example, throw bombs, or simply commit suicide, as one of the super studio leaders suggested in 1971
Only in the last ten years of the decade did a truly new response to the misery of the 70s come along, as different varieties of anti-modernistic theories coalesced into a cohesive postmodern worldview: first of all, in architecture thanks to someone but then also in philosophy and science. Postmodern complexity and nonlinearity sciences