metaphysical & metaphorical musings : art, architecture, and arithmetic

Friday, February 11, 2011

Mythematics III - Pruitt-Igoe

Pruitt-Igoe expresses the infinite exchangeability of housing as a commodity—little boxes in a row, each interchangeable with the next, all meant for similar residents.  Resident and architecture, as ideally undifferentiated, strike back with speed.  Pruitt-Igoe lasted only 22 years, from first habitation to final destruction.

Modern architecture is seductive because of its mathematical utopianism—the elimination of individual quality in favor of mass homogeneity.  The commodity needs us, but doesn’t care about us.  Pruitt-Igoe, as an object, seduced residents to act as its self-destruction.  The object isn’t capable of self-reference, but the mathematical design of the projects expresses its self-destruction in its effects on the inhabitants.  Or, as two undifferentiated masses, residents and architecture become a single object.

The mathematical principle invaded sociality—the massive population prevented residents from being able to discern intruders.  This stems from literacy’s metaphysical fascination with math and science, permanence and stability.  The metaphysics of electracy—wellbeing, pleasure and pain—are at work in the social workings, but toward the opposite end from what Yamasaki expected.  The anticipated outcome was mass cooperation; mass homogenization instead produced the opposite result, a predisposition to defect from the social good.  It acted as a strange attractor for the organization of mutual defection, rather than cooperation.  More rational than rational, it slips into irrationality and disaster.

The projects would have eventually decayed on its own, especially thanks to shoddy building materials (a defection in the zero-sum game of finance).  Humans intensified its degradation, increased the speed—and this resulted from the same conviction in mathematics, scientific technology, the children of literacy, that powers the apparatuses of electracy.  The object resists knowing through the intervention of the subject.  It foregrounds the obscenity of mathematics, where it overflows its boundaries, in trying to order human life according to aqualitative logic.  If electracy is about entertainment value, math fails because it seeks to eliminate all quality, all possibility of novelty and entertainment.

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