Stanford Anderson, “Architectural Design as a System of Research Programs,” 1984.
Though the title of this essay may seem to predict 21st century programs of Design Research—informational, fabricational, and methodological investigations in design and architectural production—there is no such useful product to be found in these particular pages by Stanford Anderson. Instead, Anderson’s goal is, in a phrase, to remove the arbitrary from architecture’s “worldmaking” power; his approach comes from mid-century philosophy of science, particularly the work of Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos. Lakatos developed a methodology of “research programs” designed to minimize the arbitrary element behind conventions of knowledge. Anderson’s essay—originally published as two different papers—adapts Lakatos’s methodology for architectural use and then applies the process to the work of Corbusier as an historical/interpretive example. Though the essay itself almost makes an effort to remain vague, there is quite a bit to be garnered within the context of the anthology and from Hays’s introduction, so hang in there.
The divide between papers is painfully evident in this adaptation of Anderson’s essay(s). The first half—and the introduction, really—are painfully removed from architectural articulation, and even further removed from any linguistic specificity. Instead, its focus is recounting Imre Lakatos’s methodology, itself a response to Karl Popper. So allow me to quickly break down these problems in the name of efficiency.
Karl Popper, the philosopher of science behind critical rationalism, reasoned that no knowledge was absolutely certain, even scientific knowledge, as it is the product of a search that is precipitated and affected by historical factors. “In every field, our knowledge is imperfect, is not open to ultimate verification, is the product of a particular history. Our knowledge and other cultural forms might have been otherwise, and to that extent we recognize their conventionality—that they are, to a degree, arbitrary.”
In order to escape or eliminate this arbitrary element in the production of knowledge—itself a topic that we have encountered throughout this anthology wherever we find mention of Louis Althusser—Imre Lakatos developed his methodology of scientific research programs to organize the interrogation of knowledge. The problem in terms of applying Lakatos’s methodology to design is the equation of architecture or design and science. To this, Anderson argues science has come to be seen as just “one more cultural system” through the work of Popper, Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn, and Yehuda Elkana. And as a cultural system with its own measure of the arbitrary, its methodologies are readily adapted for architectural inquiry. “The ambition…is not to make a science of architecture or design...rather,…that one attempt a research program concerned with architectural design as a rational enterprise subject to an analysis related to Lakatos’s methodology of research programs.”
Getting to this point is, unfortunately, crowded with a tedium of the vague, where sweeping and nonspecific language is used to recount Lakatos’s philosophical stance. As we approach the architectural section (about seven paragraphs) we find more clarity about the function of the research program, though only through a spatial metaphor of how the program is constructed. Forming a program’s “hard core” are the unacknowledged conventions of knowledge that may or may not even be known. Then there is the periphery of artifactual material—representing the research material, the body of architectural work designated by the program’s research goals (i.e. the work of a specific architect, the work of a period, &c.). Mediating between the core and artifacts are the “auxiliary hypotheses,” presumably representing the process of research itself.
If this seems vague I apologize, it is about as specific as is possible given the text. There is, however, a moment of specificity worthy of mention. The architect creates two realities: the theoretical and the artifactual. The intellectual reality created by the architect, the intention or content of an architectural object, is divorced from the material object itself, which is open to interpretation across time. As for the architectural research program, it is approximated in the second half of the essay in the form of an historical analysis of Le Corbusier’s work—not explicitly, mind you, but roughly and implicitly. Anderson analyzes the evolution of certain programs in Corbusier’s work from the Villa Stein and Maison Dom-ino to the five points and later residential work.
Returning to Hays’s introduction, there are some contextual notes worthy of reference. Firstly, Hays tells us Anderson returns optimism to the interpretation of modernism, intending to “reawaken us to the modernist principles of worldmaking,” of which Corbusier is an example. We see this agenda not just with Anderson’s analysis of Corb’s work, but behind his desire to remove the arbitrary element from architecture in general. If the scientific-architectural research program can remove the arbitrary from architectural production, then the reality created with a new architectural work, the “worldmaking,” becomes more legitimate, the reality held within the artifact becomes less subvertible even through interpretation.
Hays: “Anderson sees in modernism…more of an invitation to dwell differently, to invent new forms of habitation that are psychological, ethical, and political consequences in architectural form.” We could say this doesn’t only affect modernism, but architectural in general, restoring a plurality to architectural meaning—a plurality that would justify Anderson’s vagueness regarding the research project’s application to theoretical or historical or material production—and optimism to architecture in general. Therefore we could imagine placing Anderson in the pro-modernism/pro-postmodernism square of Jameson’s matrix. The role of Heideggerian language (“dwell”) in this is, perhaps, extremely helpful, recovering the language of Cacciari’s history from its metaphysical construct and restoring it to a powerful role in the project to legitimize modernism as a means of legitimizing architecture in general, which has been the agenda of several essays we’ve read from the 80s. (Cacciari, Habermas, Jameson, and now Anderson.)
Most astounding to me is the clarity, made available through Anderson’s Lakatos-inspired model, regarding the popular post-modernist exhaustion with modernism and modernist ‘readings’ of various theorists. Lakatos’s “research program” revisits the 70s problem of the production of ideological or scientific knowledge we encountered behind, for example, Agrest and Gandelsonas. But here it paints a clear picture of the historically dependent relevance of architectural foci. If architecture is seen as means of producing (or “discovering”) knowledge, then each era—for example, the modernists—produce new knowledge through the collective force of material production. That being the case, the architectural elements emphasized in each period become antiquated, an obvious fragment of knowledge that cannot be reinvigorated unless, as might be argued by Eisenman, the original investigation was sidetracked by social or ideological agendas and the full breadth of formal knowledge wasn’t gained. This may seem extraneous, but it is possibly critical to holding in the family of knowledge-concerned arguments we’ve encountered and are sure to encounter in the latter third of this anthology.