Artificial Love: A Story of Machines and Architecture

Overview

According to Paul Shepheard, architecture is the rearranging of the world for human purposes. Sculpture, machines, and landscapes are all architecture-every bit as much as buildings are. In his writings, Shepheard examines old assumptions about architecture and replaces the critical theory of the academic with the active theory of the architect-citizen enamored of the world around him.Artificial Love weaves together three stories about architecture into one. The first, about machines as architecture, leads to ...

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Artificial Love: A Story of Machines and Architecture

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Overview

According to Paul Shepheard, architecture is the rearranging of the world for human purposes. Sculpture, machines, and landscapes are all architecture-every bit as much as buildings are. In his writings, Shepheard examines old assumptions about architecture and replaces the critical theory of the academic with the active theory of the architect-citizen enamored of the world around him.Artificial Love weaves together three stories about architecture into one. The first, about machines as architecture, leads to speculations about technology and the human condition and to the assertion that machines are the sculptures of today. The second story is about the ways that architecture reflects the tribal and personal desires of those who make it. In theWest, ideas of community, multiculturalism, and globalization compete furiously, leaving architecture to exist as it always has, as the past in the present. The third story features individual people experiencing their lives in the context of architecture. Here, Shepheard borrows the rhetorical device of Shakespeare's seven ages of man to propose that each person's life imitates the accumulating history of the human species. Shepheard's version of the history of humans is a technological one, in which machines become sculpture and sculpture becomes architecture. ForShepheard, our machines do not separate us from nature. Rather, our technology is our nature, and we cannot but be in harmony with nature. The change that we have wrought in the world, he says, is a wonderful and powerful thing.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Shepheard is that very rare thing - an architect who can write, beautifully." Tom
Dyckhoff London Times

The MIT Press

"Shepheard seamlessly meshes Shakespeare, Greek mythology, the tale of the origins of
Islam and stories from his own life." Liz Bailey The Architects' Journal

The MIT Press

"Unlike many such books on design, Shepheard's is accessible and entertaining." Will
Yandik Architectural Record

The MIT Press

Publishers Weekly
Aphoristic, caffeinated observations on machines as architecture; personal meditations on the birth of a son and the senescence of a father; and an annotated index that reads almost like an oddball poem make up the three parts of this "club sandwich" of a book by British architect Shepheard (The Cultivated Wilderness). His points here are relatively simple-e.g., "architecture is rearranging material for human purposes," and therefore sculptures, jets, cars and landscapes are also architecture-but his presentation is a wild hodgepodge of theory, memoir and fact. It's human destiny to be technological, Shepheard argues; what we make reflects our desires, and "the change that humans have wrought in the world is a wonderful thing." This may sound a bit optimistic for some, but Shepheard's ideas are compelling, and the playfulness of their presentation may charm. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780262692854
  • Publisher: MIT Press
  • Publication date: 6/8/2003
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 5.37 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Shepheard is an architect living in London.

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Read an Excerpt

ARTIFICIAL LOVE

A Story of Machines and Architecture
By Paul Shepheard

The MIT Press

Copyright © 2003 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0262692856


Introduction

In the middle of the black Texas night, Jaques-the lover of machines-sits fast asleep, his face illuminated by the flicker of a television.

A few hundred yards away Interstate 10 is humming with the sound of a thousand cars and trucks and pickups and buses, a multitude as dense as a stampede, traffic that speeds in and out and round about the city all day and all night long, like the blood running in its veins. Houston. This modern, mobile place is not like those futuristic high-rise dream cities of the 1920s, with their hovering airplanes nudging up to cloud-high balconies and their men and women sunbathing nude together on suspended decks. Houston is not like that at all. When you're driving in along the interstate you can sense the city from forty miles out, the first glimpse of its distant towers turning out to be merely some of the towers that stand on a piece of the periphery. Every day the city grows a little more, adds another roll of fat to its hundred-mile girth, fanning out across the blank Texas ground like an oil slick.

And out here on the edge of it in his factory-made house sits Jaques, curled up in his motorized reclining chair, fast asleep. The scatter of hard study is all around him. His pads and pencils and hi-liters, his folders and files and the transcripts he has torn from the web, and all the gay panoply of his books as well, with their cover designs so interesting and full of significance-all this stuff lies scattered around the place, piled everywhere and every which way. They are the litter of a moraine of stuff pushed there by the glacier Jaques in his slow, waking moments, who is now temporarily retreated into slumber. There is no 'all glass office' here. No clean, keyboard-tapping Microsoftian all glass office, no six-inch shelf of CDs containing all the knowledge of the known world, no trashcan full of cellophane wrappers. This is an artist's garret. Look at Jaques: he is no information age puppy; he is a distracted lover of verse, a Shakespearean, who wanders through forests of dispute looking for an answer to the question, what are machines? So this doublewide paradise he lives in-one-hundred-ninety-nine dollars a month, all ready to go-is his artist's garret. Of course, it has no stairs like garrets used to have in the days of Paris. This is the New World, and life out here is unified by the flat ground and the machinery. Hey, buddy! Goes the refrain, If you want to go up-use the elevator!

The temperature of Jaques's doublewide is set at seventy degrees. In the middle of the roof, just to one side of the seam that joins the two halves of the thing together, is a small air-cooler. When it runs it sounds like the barking of distant dogs. At two A.M. everything is quiet, save the hum of the traffic on the freeway, and the cooler's fan stands idle in the humid Texas night, while Jaques sleeps and the television plays ghosts on his eyelids-but at one second past the hour, the thermostat clicks open and the motor starts up with a woof and a clatter and the faint chill of conditioned air starts to fill the room. Jaques wakes up. He squints at the television screen across his sloping chest and inches his fingers forward and presses volume up on the remote. He hears the soft sounds of the veldt, all the way from Africa. There is the thump of vulture's wings, and the tick-tick of insects, and the shuffling of ten thousand hooves as a herd of wildebeest grazes in the white-hot sunshine. He touches a lever and the chair, big, leather bound, automatic, slowly powers out of recline and he sits forward to give closer attention to the screen.

Everything is brown and ochre under a sheer blue sky. Even the grass is the color of sand. The big brown cattle have shoulders like buffalo and legs like antelopes, bulky and dainty at the same time. They stand and nudge each other in the hot wind and bat at the flies with their ears. In the foreground, you can see the glisten of the drool on their snouts, and in the distant background their shining flanks pick up the reflection of the sky and broadcast a blue haze around their brown bodies, just like the shimmering mirages on the ground itself. The herd is so big that it has become the landscape. It stretches out to the horizon as though it could fill the entire dusty sphere of Africa. Jaques rubs his eyes and eases himself out of the chair onto his hands and knees in front of the television. He turns the sound off again and boosts the color and the contrast and the scene becomes a dense metallic pastoral, like a summer traffic jam on a hot road. He is two feet from the screen. The cattle graze on under Jaques's close attention, baleful and primitive, as unmoved as they should have been had he been there in their real lives.

As he watches a hyena comes trotting back and forth beneath the bellies of the wildebeest. Then another, doing the same thing, then another; and soon a whole little pack, right in among the legs of the herd. They move in a continuous trot, changing direction constantly, their long pink tongues hanging down and their shaggy coats swinging with the rhythm of the pace. Suddenly they single out one of the wildebeest and attack it. Everything accelerates into chaos. The big animal breaks into a shambolic run, kicking out in all directions, but the hyenas are fast and aggressive and they work in concert. Four of them harry the wildebeest's legs, biting and snapping to slow it down while the other two go in at its belly, tearing away bits of it with their teeth, disembowelling it on the move. Jaques watches riveted, appalled, shocked to stillness by the sight. The wildebeest's mouth opens wide in a roar as its belly splits open. The shining grey-pink of its guts spill out into the ochre dust cloud put up by the fight, and it sinks to the ground like a ship going under. The hyenas career over the big animal, making for its throat to finish it off, and starting, in their frenzy, to eat: before the carcass has even finished with its life.

Jaques snapped the switch off and plunged himself into darkness. The horror of it froze his sweat. As soon as the hyenas had chosen their prey and cut it off, the rest of the herd had moved straight back into their steady grazing rhythms, not even lifting their heads to watch the spectacle.

Television! The wonder of it! So emotional-so affective-so global! Switch a television on and you are shown your place in the world. Little children know that-they cluster round televisions instinctively, like wasps at a honey pot. At two years old they stand with their noses pressed to the screen watching the white noise at the end of the channel band, as if it were Christmas Eve and they were watching for Santa Claus in the snow. Meanwhile, at the other end of life, in retirement homes, the televisions are left running all the time, like get-away cars. The visitors try to converse in spite of it; but all the time they are talking, their old folks keep one eye on the screen in the corner, which spills out its mixture of celebrity and massacre as disinterestedly as an oracle telling the future. They look like they are watching out for news of their own final catastrophe.

Jaques is twenty-one. He has just started the middle part of his life. He is in the third age of his manhood-he is the lover. He is not yet encumbered with the company of children or old folks. He lives detached and alone, with his own little family of machines to help him. He has the automatic chair, the television, and the air-cooler. Over there in the corner is the refrigerator, humming its monotonous tune, cavernously nurturing his beer and his bread and butter. On the desk is his computer, the abstract machine, as infuriating and brainy as his best friend. On the floor in the corner is his stereo, with its stack of compact discs oozing romance, and outside on the grass in front of the trailer is his car. There are times when everything is quiet, all motors silent, all pilot lights off, when Jaques feels as though he is the only one awake in a sleeping house. He is the lover: and he loves these machines as if they were his people. He polishes them, he nurtures them. He spends whole days poking at their insides with screwdrivers. If you ask him, he can tell you the exact moment he fell in love with them all. Like the car: he woke up in the wilderness one day on a camping trip in the northwest and looked out of the tent to see it standing there, in among the pine trees, all still and quiet and ready to go. It seemed incandescent with potential. It was covered all over its metallic gray skin with a million identical drops of dew, each one with its own internal rainbow, which gave the car the luster of the dawn itself. Do you remember that peculiar empathy with mechanical toys you feel as a child, when perceiving for the first time their pathetically limited capacity for action? So dopey and faithful that they could be dogs? Falling in love with the car was like that feeling.

How can machines be lovable? We cleave the world into organic and inorganic, alive and dead, the spirited and the blank. It's easy to assume that machines are nothing but assemblages of blank matter, put together with the same clumsy hands with which we do everything else. So how can they be lovable? Would they not have to be alive to be lovable?

Jaques's friend Maria says that machines are indeed alive. "Machines aren't inorganic, they're nonorganic." She tells him. "They are artificial life."

"Artificial life?" repeats Jaques, "Does that mean there's artificial love? Is that what I've been feeling for these creatures? Artificial love?"

Maria is tall enough to look him in the eye, a dark-browed woman with a double demeanor. Stiff as a walnut but forever caving in to softness. And she talks all the time. "It's like having the radio on," says Jaques-"you almost feel like taking notes." The first time he met her she was leaning against a doorframe rattling the ice cubes in her glass and metaphorizing particle physics. She insisted that she could feel the spaces between the atoms of her flesh. She said she could feel the music going right through her and coming out the other side. He thought it was just party talk, something to go with the clash of glass and the roar of voices and the cigarette smoke. "If you knew how to look, you could see right through me," she said. "If you were small enough, you could get right into my bones!" Standing there in her white silk Spanish shirt and her prism-cut hair.

Now here she is sitting at his little plastic kitchen table drinking his whisky and telling him that machines are alive. She says she loves the whole spooky contradiction of the idea-as though machines could have an afterlife! And as though they have a sex life, too-"Which they do," she says, but by using us to reproduce for them. We are midwives to the machines, she says. "Not Frankensteins, but midwives." To think that machines are alive you only have to think of the opposite, as utilitarian medical men do, that living things are machines. That food is fuel, that cells are building blocks, that sleep is maintenance downtime. And dreams are hard drive reconfigurations.

So machines are alive, says Maria. They are not inorganic, they are nonorganic. She pulls Jaques's book of warships to the surface of the pile and thumbs through it until she comes to a picture of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz cruising through the Strait of Hormuz in all its massive complexity. It looks like some thirteenth-century fantasy, a floating city on the move, is Jaques's opinion-you can almost see the big red crusader's cross fluttering on virtual masts a thousand feet high.

No, it looks like a huge living beast, says Maria. The rumble of digestion deep inside the hull as the beast consumes its food lulls its town-size crew asleep. The jets up on the deck gulp down kerosene and fart out heat-and back in California in Boeing's factories, other machines are busy reproducing more of them. She pauses for another pull at the bottle and Jaques makes his notes-Machines don't have sex with each other like we do but they do reproduce / they use us to do it for them.

"So what?" says Maria. "Now that the machines are sharing our world as though they were our cousins? When we make machines we aren't playing God. We are like the bees, pollinating flowers."

Frankenstein haunted by idea that he was playing God / at start of nineteenth century, this was big issue. "Or like warblers," says Jaques. "Hatching out huge cuckoos' eggs of new technologies in our little old-fashioned nests."

She smiles at that, because they're talking about the birds and the bees. "Artificial life," she says again. "People get so scared of it, like all the bombs are going to set themselves off on artificial purpose. I guess it's because they think machines are slaves, and that means that one day they're going to have to rebel." So let's give them their freedom now, she says. Lets call them our equals now.

So-chair, television, air-cooler, refrigerator, computer, stereo, and car. Jaques's family. Nonorganic but lovable. You want the names of Jaques's machines? Laz-y-boy, Toshiba, Lennox, Westinghouse, Dell, Denon, and Chevrolet. You want more specific names? The Chevrolet is a Lumina.

What? Said Maria in a horrified tone, when she first found out, suddenly full of Boston snobbery. You mean, you no-balls, you drive a Lumina?

"That's right. You should see it covered in the sparkle of dawnlight."

The next day Jaques was in the closet hunting for his no. 3 cross-head screwdriver. In shifting boxes he suddenly exposed a small brown spider, which dashed for cover under his shoe and made him jump back in terror. He watched, palpitating, as it scuttled off under the cover moulds. On his first arrival in Texas Jaques had been told about the brown recluse spider, an ordinary looking arachnid the size of a penny whose bite is as deadly as a rattlesnake. If you find one, they said, kill it! Douse the place in bleach and burn all the rugs! You gotta kill the eggs! The bite from this beast leaves an instant gangrene around the wound that rapidly grows until your whole body is consumed by stinking rot. You turn into a ghoul. If you can't kill it first blow, they told him, run like hell! That's what they said to him-and now maybe he had one lurking somewhere in the house!

The brown recluse, Loxosceles reclusa, is not quite the fiend it has been described as.

Continues...


Excerpted from ARTIFICIAL LOVE by Paul Shepheard Copyright © 2003 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Preface
First Introduction: Jaques 1
Second Introduction: Thanksgiving 13
Seminar One: Right-Bam-Now! 29
1 Infant: The Chimpanzee's Fall from Grace 41
2 Schoolboy: 40 Words 57
Seminar Two: What Did They Do with My Future? 71
3 Lover: The Lover 87
4 Soldier: Ex 105
Semiar Three: Quadrigas 123
5 Justice: Enchanted Rocks 137
6 Pantaloon: Pardon? 151
Seminar Four: The Fields of Vision 163
7 Oblivion: Me! Me! Me! 181
Coda: A Field Guide to the Machines 189
Annotated Index 199
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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2003

    Shakespeare's Seven Ages of Man and Machines

    Shakespeare's seven ages of man and machines. The stage was so well set, the potential existed, but unfortunately it never came to be. Shakespeare's seven ages of man were equated to extended family members at Thanksgiving. Equating machines and architecture to Shakespeare's seven ages of man would of been exciting. Too bad that never really materialized. The architectural emphasis was present in the book, and machines mariginally fit into it. In my opinion, the anotated index (roughly 100 pages) was more exciting than the book proper.

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