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Multiplicity 2022: A Five College Architecture Symposium

Multiplicity: Agency, Constraint, and Freedom in Contemporary Architecture 

A FIVE COLLEGE ARCHITECTURE SYMPOSIUM, SEPTEMBER 30 - OCTOBER 1, 2022

Convened by: Pari Riahi, Laure Katsaros, and Michael T. Davis

What if it were possible for a work to be conceived beyond the self, a work that allowed us to escape the limited perspective of the individual ego, not only to enter other similar selves but to give voice to that which cannot speak.

~Italo Calvino, “Multiplicity,” Six Memos for the Next Millennium

“Multiplicity” investigates the forces that generate uncertainty and change in contemporary architecture. The objective of this symposium is to assess the vectors of agency, constraint, and freedom. Our ongoing theoretical investigation unfolds in three segments: “Exactitude” was held virtually in October 2020, “Multiplicity” is scheduled for October 2022, and “Quickness” is projected for September 2024. By bringing together scholars, theorists, and architects, we seek to invigorate a conversation around the conditions of architecture today and to imagine its future trajectories.  
 
Inspired by Italo Calvino’s Six Memos for the Next Millennium, the three symposia are autonomous yet interrelated.  With “Exactitude,” we examined the ever-increasing demand for precision in architecture at a time when the parameters of the profession are shifting. With “Multiplicity,” we situate architecture within a broader framework, examining how it interacts with complex climatic, economic, and demographic crises at the scale of the city, the territory, and the globe. With “Quickness,” we will address the rates and cycles of architectural production, from early conception to realization, scrutinizing the speed and duration of translating ideas into artifacts through digital and material means. 

In his essay on multiplicity, Calvino suggests that the contemporary novel should take on the role of an “encyclopedia, as a method of knowledge, and above all as a network of connections among events, among people and among the things of the world.” He redefines the novel as a mathematical game of possibilities –a “system of systems” –rather than a unified narrative shaped by a single author. Similarly, contemporary architecture finds itself in a state of fragmentation, which calls into question the autonomy of the architect. Are we witnessing an epochal change in architectural practice, in which the discipline is being challenged by an ever-expanding array of technologies, agents, and voices? If we place even the smallest object “at the center of a network of relations,” which implies gathering and processing enormous amounts of data, using different and evolving technologies, as well as responding to societal needs, how, then, do we decide when, or if, an architectural project is complete? Furthermore, how do we, in our practices and pedagogies, reconcile the “passion for knowledge” and need for “rational exactitude” with the subjectivity stemming from the tensions between the individual artist and the network of possibilities overflowing the boundaries of their projects?  Calvino foresees two paths forward for the novel: either to “become implicated into networks of relations” or to “understand things in their multiplicity of codes and levels” from a distance. In a world that appears increasingly complex, Calvino’s advice to writers resonates with the architect’s dilemma. As multiple issues impact the built environment, how do we orient our discipline to be responsive to them while preserving the autonomy and singularity of the architectural vision? By tapping into a broad range of perspectives and topics, and by exploring the tensions between rules and invention, between passive acceptance and critical interrogation, between absolute knowledge and creative power, “Multiplicity” seeks to give voice to “that which cannot speak.” It is urgent to launch a multi-faceted, open-ended conversation that will engage with and build from all these themes, even if no definite conclusion is reached.

To study this spectrum, we propose to explore the following themes:  

Overlapping Spheres: Environmental Humanities and the Built Environment 

As we witness our global habitat being engulfed in recurrent societal and climatic crises, architecture is situated in a larger network of knowledge and expertise. We reflect on how different disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences influence and enrich architecture. 

Intersecting Visions: The New, the Preserved, and the Adapted Urban(s) 

With our environment’s continuous reconfigurations, we face choices in making, preserving, or adapting our buildings, cities, and infrastructure. These choices have implications extending beyond the realm of architecture that affect our collective lives.  We question how to strike a balance between the local and the global, the individual and collective. 

Novel Methodologies and Processes: Theories for an Expanded Practice  

To be simultaneously aware of our historical roots and engaged with new technologies is no simple task. As architecture aspires to be engaged and innovative, it is critical to maintain a dialogue between these two imperatives. We are interested in processes and methodologies that are instrumental in keeping that fine balance. 

Affirming Forces: Race, Ethnicity, and Power 

Architecture’s constant entanglement in structures of power can channel change in meaningful ways. Taking positions and activating architecture’s power to bring change create new models for practice. With architecture’s potential to imagine better modes of inhabitation, we ask how this enormous potential may contribute to a more equitable, just, and harmonious society.  

Each symposium has its accompanying edited volume, published by UMass Press. Exactitude: On Precision and Play in Contemporary Architecture was published in June 2022. https://www.umasspress.com/9781625346728/exactitude 

 

Symposium at a Glance

Day 1

 

WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION 
Pari Riahi, Laure Katsaros, Michael T. Davis

INTERSECTING VISIONS: THE NEW, THE PRESERVED, AND THE ADAPTED URBAN(S)
Kristi Cheramie, Rahul Mehrotra, Charles Waldheim 

AFFIRMING FORCES: RACE, ETHNICITY, AND POWER 
Esra Akcan, David Theodore, Charles Davis II
 

See complete schedule

Day 2

 

NOVEL METHODOLOGIES AND PROCESSES: THEORIES FOR AN EXPANDED PRACTICE
Ana Miljački, Jesse Reiser, Jenny Sabin 

OVERLAPPING SPHERES: ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES AND THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
Lucia Allais, Aleksandra Jaeschke, Sanford Kwinter, Jennifer Mack  

CONCLUDING REMARKS 
Barbara Krauthamer
 

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Contact

Email: multiplicity@umass.edu