Ugly, Useless, Unstable is presents a series of contemporary takes on New Materialist inflections of spatial practice, deployed through an architectural design perspective and aimed (primarily) at an architectural audience.



Ugly, Useless, Unstable looks into recent strands of the discourses of Post-Structuralism and New Materialism, redeploying them into the context of contemproary modalities of architectural production. On the one hand, it develops a critical tracing of relevant strands of 20th century Post-Structuralism and their gradual evolution towards 21st century Neo-Materialist ontologies. On the other hand, it investigates the potential of these novel ‘ontological regimes’ to challenge the prevalence of classical canonical frameworks for both the description and the production of architecture and the built environment.

The monograph initiates its intellectual argument with a critical reassessment of the aforementioned classical apparatus, exposing it as a contingent value structure that has been inherited from comprehensive conceptualisation efforts carried out throughout the Western Enlightenment. This value structure is then confronted with a non-binary framework of development and evaluation, aimed at destabilising the axiomatic character of the classical by redeploying it as an occasional occurrence within an extended landscape of potential productive processes. This non-binary framework taps into Manuel De Landa’s re-reading of Deleuze and Guattari, with an emphasis on his conceptual modelling of heterogeneous productive processes into phase spaces. In line with this accumulative, process-based approach to the emergence of architectural thinking, the main argument develops recursively throughout the three central chapters of the monograph. Each chapter unpacks a specific subset of the Neo-Materialist theoretical lineage by challenging one of the classical tropes of architectural assessment: Beauty, Utility and Stability. The methodological protocols of these axiomatic categories are firstly unpacked, then reframed as single occurrences within a broader continuum of heterogeneous production –an extended, non-hierarchical phase space of potential spatial practices-.  This is followed by exhaustive explorations of the dimensional components and the boundary conditions of the three resulting phase spaces: trans-beauty, trans-utility and trans-stability, with a view on mobilising them as methodological tools for both the design and the critical assessment of architecture. These three inclusive, extended domains share the capacity to operate beyond the thresholds set by classical criteria of architectural assessment, and in doing so they put forward three distinct projective categories: Topological-emergent systems, Non-linear systems of generic interaction and Intervals of dynamic interaction (or field-event alloys).


Ugly, Useless, Unstable is composed of five chapters: an introductory chapter, three main chapters and a concluding speculative reflection. 


Chapter 1: Introduction

This chapter starts by laying out the motivations of the project, exposing the problematic character of the classical apparatus for the evaluation of architecture. Following this, it sets out to deploy a theoretical framework to critically expand and re-organise the aforementioned apparatus. This framework is based on two main pillars: the Inversion of Platonism (drawing from Nietzsche’s work via Gilles Deleuze) and the Neo-Materialist Theory of Models (drawing from Deleuze’s reading of Henri Poincaré, and developed by Manuel De Landa). The concluding section deals with how the recursive structure of the following chapters is mobilised as a methodological approach to develop both descriptive and projective approaches towards contemporary architectural production.


Chapter 2: The Project of Ugliness

This chapter speculates with a continuous ontological domain in which both the classical notion of Beauty and the disciplinary scenarios that seem to undermine it are embedded. To that extent, it taps into George Bataille’s work, particularly in regards to the notions of the Formless and the Excessive. In order to keep the focus of this research within the boundaries of its disciplinary framework, this chapter also looks into Mark Cousin’s writings in regards to the role of the Ugly in architecture. These insights are mobilised to put forward a three-dimensional space of possibilities for an expanded notion of Beauty. These three dimensions are, respectively, focused on the positional, organizational and boundary conditions of any given architectural entity. Once this possibility space is outlined, chapter one endeavours to examine the regions that steer themselves away from the dimensional combinations that define the classical notion of architectural Beauty. In doing so, this reflection identifies topology as an operational domain that moves away from symmetry and proportion. Following this line of thought, the work on topological forms of Scottish biologist and mathematician D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson is brought to the foreground of the discussion, and discussed alognside contemporary notions of topological systems elaborated by Ben Van Berkel, Peter Eisenman and Bernard Cache –among others-.


Chapter 3: The Limits of the Useful

The second main chapter focuses on critically assessing and expanding the classical Utility, starting with a detailed analysis of its formal, structural and organisational and followed with a thorough exploration of contemporary approaches to architectural design that explicitly manifest themselves as detached from the classical canon of Utility. This endeavour initially taps into Bernard Tschumi’s acknowledgment of the variable relationships established between the organisation of space, the allocation of functions and the passing of time in any given work of architecture. Under this light, chapter two then proceeds to examine Anthony Vidler’s work on the different relationships established historically between function and architectural type, as well as the relationships between function, production and dissipation developed under the umbrella of the notion of Expenditure by Georges Bataille. Insofar they contribute to destabilise the discourse of functionalism within the framework of contemporary design practices, the theoretical positions of both Peter Eisenman and Giorgio Agamben are also incorporated into the lines of argumentation of the second chapter. The next step involves the establishment of a space of possibilities for an expanded notion of Usefulness, which incorporates the aforementioned theoretical positions by inscribing them into its dimensional configuration. The exploration of the structural limits of these dimensional combinations (which are referred to as temporal development, functional alignment and productive economy) brings forward the notion of Process as a suitable characterisation of the limits that are most distant from the conditions of classical Utility. It must be noted that, in the context of this book, the term process will be exclusively refer to the homonymous concept developed by Alfred North Whitehead. As such, it will be aligned with the notion of the non-linear drawn from the work of Manuel De Landa and Sanford Kwinter. This alignment is a vehicle for outlining an architectural definition of process that acts a generative framework explicitly supporting a design methodology. Chapter two will then be completed with a taxonomical analysis of existing process-oriented design frameworks (i.e. rooted in dynamic, generative processes). This analysis directly taps into both the theoretical and the designed outputs of Greg Lynn, Jeff Kipnis, Jesse Reiser with Nanako Umemoto.


Chapter 4: Unstable Organisations, or the Spatiotemporal Processes of Becoming

This chapter deals with the revision and expansion of classical conditions defining Stability. It builds upon Bernard Tschumi’s argument that, once those conditions are examined within the disciplinary framework of architecture, guaranteeing permanence over time emerges as the central question at stake. In response to this, chapter three addresses the roles of difference and transformation as agents of variation from classical stability. This analysis is primarily supported by (and subsequently embedded into) Henri Bergson’s distinction between time and duration, together with its further development by Gilles Deleuze. For the purposes of this book, Bergson’s duration -a transformation that is simultaneously continuous and heterogeneous- will be considered as the basis to discuss architectures and spatial practices that are unstable when considered from the perspective of the operative framework of the classical. Chapter three will consequently put forward a possibility space dealing with stability and duration, characterised by means of three dimensions: structural permanence, hierarchical orientation and relational composition. As in earlier chapters, I will then proceed by exploring the sets of conditions that -whilst being inscribed within this space of possibilities- explicitly distance themselves from the structural limit of classical stability. This exploration attempts to align the notions of Field (as defined by Stan Allen), Event (initially extracted from the writings of Alfred North Whitehead, and subsequently revised by Sanford Kwinter) and Alloy (brought in via the studies in crystallography of physicist and art critic Cyril Stanley Smith). The goal of this conceptual alignment is the articulation of an operative framework in which the idea of a dynamic development is further characterised as simultaneously continuous and heterogeneous. Hence, this chapter will describe the unstable in architecture (or, more precisely, the operations leading to an expanded notion of architectural stability) as a medium of continuous development over time, in which the role of the architect taps into Bernard Cache’s theoretical arguments in order to configure itself as a series of operations of both framing and capture.


Chapter 5: Colophon, or the Spatial Regimes of Architectural Ontologies 

The final chapter provides a brief summary of the three main chapters, attempting to integrate their respective possibility spaces (or phase spaces) into one single, multi-dimensional domain, with a view of articulating an operative model of spatial development. The chapter then proceeds to “zoom out” in order to cast a broader view on the different modalities of spatial production emerging from the different ontological positions outlined so far. In doing so, it advances the notion of ‘ontological regimes’ of architectural production, providing a closing reflection on their gradual evolution, occurring in line with (and in response to) the evolutionary timeline of key philosophical paradigms.

Ambient studies of reflective distortions

This work taps into Brian Eno´s definition of ‘ambient’: a layer of information that is situated within an existing background and can be perceived at different levels of attention. In this sense, and since the functional intent of this project revolves around perception, ambiguity is achieved by displacing various layers of optical signals from the foreground to the background (and vice versa) of the space as immediately perceived. The experiences of the interior and the exterior become blurred and indistinct while, simultaneously, oscillating between the strict definitions and markings of a clear geometric framework, and the dissolution of that framework. Thus, dissolution and geometry are intertwined to constitute a dysfunctional mechanism of radical, perpetual contradiction.

Protogeometrical Drawing Machine

Unstable geographies: The (an)exact Robotic Urban Plan


A research website by Miguel Paredes Maldonado

Unstable geographies: (an)exact enactions of Yu-Xi garden (R.Nishizawa)

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