A project made in collaboration with Lebeuss Woods and Christoph Kumpusch—begins with the existing system of spatial organization, as embodied in Vienna’s buildings, streets, open spaces, and how they are presently inhabited. It sees them not as organized matter, but rather as organized energy. The visual language through which this understanding is expressed is one comprised of lines—constructed in two, three, and four dimensions–which we will call vectors.
Vectors are mathematical symbols for expressing the direction and magnitude of forces active within or upon a system. In this project, the vector is expanded in meaning and application. It still retains its expressive function, only now including not only magnitude and direction of mechanical forces, but also the intensity and extensity of cognitive and affective forces both active and latent in the city. There is another aspect of the role vectors play in this project and in its projection of the present and future energy patterns of the city. The vectors not only express energy, they embody energy. Like other constructive elements used to build the city, they are elements of a system organizing the mechanical, cognitive and affective energy it took to make them, palpable energy that remains potential in their residual forms. If we can see vectors as forms of potential and kinetic energy, then we can see buildings that way, too, and the city itself. If we can see these things not simply as objects, but as embodied energy, then we can see ourselves and others not as material objects, but as living systems interacting continuously with other systems, both animate and inanimate.
This is a new way of seeing the familiar, at least for architects. Ecologists and theorists from fields as diverse as cybernetics and the life sciences have adopted similar points of view long ago. Architects retain a mechanical, materialist worldview, no doubt in part because of the nature of the people they work for, their clients, who see architecture as a product that relates only incidentally to other products, designed and paid for by others. The boundaries of a product are rigid, fitting into clients’ ideas of property, and consumers’ ideas of buying and owning. Systems, on the other hand, have flexible, often porous or fluid boundaries, depending on their interactions with other systems.
The energy-systems view of the city and its life have strong political implications, in particular, regarding prevailing ideas of identity and, its corollary, property. Individuals, in such a view, are identified not so much by what they ‘own’ or who they ‘are,’ according the social roles they play, but by what they ‘do,’ how they interact with others, including the inanimate systems in their environment. In the same way, buildings, public spaces, and other forms of property can no longer be identified according to building types set by pre-determined economic and functional categories, but by how they perform in a landscape shaped by complex interactions. What architects do with their own initiatives or those of others seriously impacts networks of interacting human and other energy flows, as well as the energies latent in the city. Their ways of thinking and working need to integrate this reality more than they do at present. In doing so, the role of the architect will be transformed into a more expansive and more complex one in the evolution of the urban landscape. The identity of architects—like that for whom they design—will be based on the depth of their mastery of particular skills and knowledge, but at the same time, on their agility in engaging an urban field of continually changing conditions. System Wien explores what the production of such architects might be.