Performance-Critical Architecture

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeChapterScientificpeer-review


    In this chapter, I hypothesize “performance-criticality” as a keystone that conjoins technological advances, environmental sustainability, and culturally conducive aesthetics. I first explore how architecture should exemplify the causalities of performance: the congruity in materiality, construction, efficiency, and purpose. I then explore what performance-criticality means to aesthetic qualifications of architecture. On the flip side, I will also critique “performance-redundancy” in architecture that no longer appears tenable. In the end, I tackle how the concept of performance-criticality should conflate technology and aesthetics in equal measure toward culturally situated purposiveness. Digital modeling and imaging technologies since the 1990s have greatly enhanced the conception, design, and production of architectural work in precision and quality, as well as the performance of buildings. They enable experimental work previously considered impractical and/or technically impossible. As significantly, virtualization enabled by such technologies brings into question the role of architecture as embodiment of idea, expression, and meaning in contrast to the historically privileged position of culture as milieu that shapes subjectivity. Relentless commodification of digital formalism has also come to problematize architectural work by fabricating and valorizing the allure of image-making rather than tangible purpose in actualization. Aestheticized technologies and technologized aesthetics have been explored independently for decades. Architects frequently treat such conjunction in analogical as well as stylizing ways. In the so-called “green” architecture, the discord between technological innovation, conservation and aesthetics appears especially acute. One can hardly ignore the branding headlines pitching green-something – both literally and figuratively – as the hallmark of “sustainability.” However, whether such iconized, image-driven pitches live up to the claim of environmental responsibility and sustainability often proves tenuous. We should clearly identify what “sustainability” actually means: the unity of efficiency, durability, and conservation practiced in a culturally productive way that we can maintain and continue into the foreseeable future, ideally forever. Against such a backdrop, this chapter hypothesizes “performance-criticality” as a key concept in the discourse of material human culture and its sustainability: how to maximize performance with minimal resource load employing efficient technics, and in a culturally constructive way. Technological measures alone cannot mitigate our environmental problems stemming from our worldview and so-called lifestyle. It is a question of aesthetic choice. We may speak of how effectively various bits and pieces of technologies (e.g. photovoltaics, wind-turbines, geothermal, passive house, advanced composites and alloys, etc.) increase the performance of architecture in consideration of dwindling resources. But we must also address cultural and aesthetic appropriations that eventually determine the distribution and scope of use. Ultimately, the battle unfolds at the cultural front that is essentially aesthetic. We may ask: Does form indeed follow emotion as Hartmut Esslinger once declared? Does emotion override utility? Or should utility outweigh emotion? How does technology contribute to aesthetic sublime? Is the aesthetics of a given material culture fundamentally symptomatic of its architecture and the human-centric environment? Has architecture indeed become an operative of the cognitive capitalism and noopolitics?
    This chapter is dedicated to the discourse of architectural and environmental aesthetics in how we employ what kind of materials and technics for what purpose in human-specific ecologies. Performance-critical architecture no longer represents a category separate from aesthetic qualifications. Architecture as a part of human ecology articulates the necessity to maximize materials and techniques in a purposive way. Such architecture provides a compelling aesthetic position that arises from performance-criticality.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Criticality in Art, Architecture and Design
    EditorsChris Brisbin, Myra Thiessen
    Place of PublicationLondon
    PublisherRoutledge - Taylor & Francis Group
    ISBN (Print)9781138189232
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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