Across many contributions to this first issue, I’ve been struck by authors’ interests in negotiating the combined pursuits of knowledge generation and the production of spectacle. I believe this signals a shift in the way architects regard research practice today, and hope to open up discussion around this point.
I’d like to start by comparing two corresponding definitions of the site of research production: laboratory as a model of the world, and laboratory as exception to it. In the former, the lab simulates the world to produce some form of conclusive evidence that is replicable and generalizable. This science-based model is a source of power for the researcher, and promises greater relevance by offering value to clients, collaborators and peers. In the latter, the lab tests exceptions to the rule—possibilities that emerge once laws, market dynamics or unaccountable variables are suspended—and wields influence by projecting images previously unthinkable. Coney Island (or at least Rem Koolhaas’ version of it) thus stoked demand for cool milk, a second daytime and electric bathing, creating a “launching pad for the proletariat” by offering relief from loneliness and isolation. Likewise nuclear proving grounds, as Alessandra Ponte has argued, were designed to “display dramatically the capability, and also the safety, of nuclear earth-moving technology,” an “exercise in rhetoric” that uses spectacle as a form of warfare. Ultimately, of course, the lab as model and lab as state of exception have never been very different. As we learn from the history of ‘demonstration,’ protocols of proof have been constructed for the sake of public reception, and are defined within institutions of consensus-building.
Many of the authors in this issue negotiate entangled operations of knowledge generation and spectacle. What are the trappings and potentials within both? How is power and influence defined accordingly? What institutions and techniques translate between models of the lab that have long been separated? Or, would you offer other definitions of the laboratory and, in turn, of research?
A few references: Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan (London: Academy Editions, 1978; republished by Monacelli Press, 1994); Alessandra Ponte, “Desert Testing,” in Architecture and the Sciences: Exchanging Metaphors, ed. Antoine Picone and Alexandra Ponte (New York : Princeton Architectural Press, 2003); Simon Schaffer, “Public Experiments” in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 2005).