I feel there is a pressure on Architecture to morph ever more into a game. The rhetoric about “open-source architecture”, parametricism and the discourse on “designing tools, not buildings” are obvious examples of that trend. With this, I find, the authorship rights of an architect are shifting towards the authorship rights of a game developer.

In games, the author writes a script, produces a universe that is crude and capable of stunning adaptivity; what forms the game will take, how developed it will get and how much it will cost – depends not on the author, but the player. The author develops a potential – the player brings it to a unique fruition. The pressure of the “progressive” discourse, I feel more and more, is that Architecture ought to become the same. Architects are only to describe rules, but it is the player (the owner, in this case) who defines the actual final product. Therefore, it is more about “describing” the overall aesthetic “genetics”, the algorithm of the future building, rather than designing the actual “thing” – not a new concept, but gaining a whole new perspective, when viewed through the lens of gaming and interactivity. This kind of architecture would be about scalability and adaptability – a bit like the Gothic cathedrals used to be: a cross section of a single nave pillar could define the aesthetic of the whole cathedral (according to Erwin Panofski, at least). Architects nowadays need to develop seeds, not trees themselves. Parametricism par excellence.

Accepting this approach to architecture, we give up our stance as “only-I-can-do-this-right” readers and solvers of an architectural situation, but instead work as game developers/dealers to the clients by developing and selling a tool (a game) to develop a house that would suit perfectly one’s own wishes and desires, and then providing “run-time assistance”. Our fingerprints, as architects,  will remain in the code (a line “Have I stolen any of your code?!” from the movie “Social Network” comes to mind here); by the code you can see who the “designer” was. Semi open-source architecture.

This, in fact, has already been going on for some time. Some architecture offices routinely develop games that are given to clients in the early stage of the design process to think through the program and figure out what and how much goes where. The architect steps in a bit later and fixes in material what the client has come up with. This has been a good way of engaging the client and avoiding certain legal responsibility.

There are a couple of concerns, though.

One thing that bugs me is that if you ask an architect “Do you really want to give up (or “alter”, for a milder word) control and your authorship rights in this way?”, how many of them will actually reply “Yes” and why? What is it about current architecture discourse that we are so eager to give away control and let buildings either be designed by others or design themselves? I understand, modernism has taught us that there is no such thing as a “hero architect”, who “knows best” – too many thought they knew, but failed, so we don’t believe in that any more. On the other side, Gothic architecture and art that have recently underwent a revival, are good examples of anonymous art. The rhizomatic digital age we live in is yet another layer, and I am sure there are many more reasons for this attitude towards design. But still, is this really the way it should be?

The other pitfall is that this approach results, obviously, in cloning of the same aesthetic. But hey, if we leave this “hi-tech” aspect of gaming aside, hasn’t the field been doing this for quite some time already (I am not speaking about geniuses like Herzog/De Meuron, Koolhaas and the other “one-piece” architects, but trying to address a broader reality) – cloning designs, sticking to one “easy” aesthetic, and letting the client define whatever?

But still, the idea of designing “seeds” instead of “trees” is compelling, isn’t it..?