Immunology, Filtration, & Deception

Splenda uses shape to deceive your body. The tongue's surface is a vast landscape of taste buds, each one a bundle of individual receptors programed to respond to one of the five tastes. Incoming molecules bind to these receptors which dissolve them and subsequently allow a neuron to be fired which creates the sensation of taste in the brain. The success of this binding (and thus the power of the flavor) is dictated by the shape and chemical properties of the incoming molecule but an entirely separate criteria are used elsewhere in the body to determine whether this material is metabolized or expelled. Splenda, the popular productized version of sucralose, effectively has the same shape as sucrose but is chemically distinct which results in an almost identical flavor without the caloric intake. Shape (flavor) has been separated from effect, as Somol and Whiting (and Rem!) would remind us.

The power of shape for the Projectivists is its clear identity yet ambiguous potential. Freed from the shackles of explicit reference, shapes may mean multiple things to multiple people leaving the architect as a "gambler" hoping that their bets pay off. The problem with betting is that it's singular. You make one bet and you hope for the best. This is why those who gamble at night manage their diversified portfolios during the day. As an overall strategy shape may be problematic, but on a finer grain level it can yield the same "informal potential" yet still contribute to a synthetic project.

Sloterdijk proposes the immune system as a more mature, if slightly menacing, metaphor for architecture (immunology is foam). An immune system works through defensive filtration and offensive antigenic response. That an immune system as we know it works concurrently on multiple scales with cooperation at different levels is obviously productive in Sloterdijk's adoption of the term, but he fetishizes the will towards isolation that bodies exhibit as an act of defense. In fact, an immune system primarily acts as a filter and it is this question of filtration which deserves more attention. (We're still wondering if this model is more productive than Tschumi's distinction between use and program. TDB.)

Leaving behind physically transgressive acts which allow new communications but do so by altering the material reality of a building (broken locks, demolished walls), we find that the physical components of a building allow an entire spectrum of communications. Furthermore, this variety of communicative intensities is important to the health of urban life where there are as many levels of interpersonal relationships as there are individuals.

The popular television show Home Improvement, for instance, featured a character by the name of Wilson who gave advice over the fence to his neighbor without either ever seeing the other. This heard-but-not-seen interaction was the result of an impulse towards isolation (the suburban dream) crossed with a deeply human need for communication (the main character was always seeking answers from wise Wilson) mediated by the physical reality of the fence. Without the fence these neighbors must confront each other face to face, an overwhelming breech of their isolation that would make it untenable.

On the other end of the spectrum, windows put their occupants on display often without allowing any verbal communication. Definitive aspects of private life are communicated to the outside world as the details of private interiors and private acts are exposed, as any Peeping Tom knows well. One may call this the ostrich effect: a feeling of privacy- of isolation- created when not being able to see/hear others, regardless of their ability to see/hear you. Without windows a room is uninhabitable but a feeling of enclosure may overcome these openings to provide an overall condition of privacy.

In each of these examples individuals are filtering their experience of the world by re-functioning parts of buildings, but the act is not without connotation. Shape and effect are loosely bound, but they're still bound. The representative quality of the fence and the window in these two examples are operative even if their communicative potential has been altered: the Peeping Tom is gratified by looking the wrong way through windows and Wilson's fence makes him wise because he remains unseen. Even if the operative elements of the building are important to their users, they are rarely a source of identity.

If Splenda creates representation without the expected effect, a new synthetic project would seek to create effects while holding open the possibility of a developed representative identity. Rather than deception, this would be an architecture of strategic nuance and pragmatic schizophrenia: each facet of the building allowed to contribute what it is capable of contributing without an obligation to be painfully consistent or the desire to be actively counter-intuitive.