Objects Trump Architecture
The definition of the consumer society given by Jean Baudrillard in 19721 evokes a profusion, a pile up, an overabundance of objects. From this point of view, the major legacy of the 20th century is a continual denial of rarity. From a symbolic object we moved to a functional and disposable object. It became the element of a system, composed of signs. It is now a disenchanted, deterritorialized, teleported object without origins. From abundance to overload, the logic of objects has gradually changed to a race with renewed functionality, efficiency, adaptability, sometimes going as far as absurdity and uselessness.
Andrea Branzi pointed this evolution in figures: “We can suppose that at the beginning of the last century, a family of four moderately well-off people was surrounded, in their own house, by a system of objects composed of 150 to 200 elements at most, including dishes and clothes. Today, it has a system of about 2500 to 3000 items, including home appliances and amenity items. Except books, records and other cassettes.”2 The panoplie, the thing, the trick, the gadget, the trinket… The contemporary built space is invaded by objects that we don’t even know how to name. With this preponderance that objects have taken on the architecture, our modes of living have become dependent on a certain number of functionalities, offered by them.
Today, it is a new paradigm that presents itself with the case of the connected object. The thing is becoming a machine. A condensed technicality of new functionalities, coming into interrelation with other connected objects, aiming to create a synthetic and intelligent biotope. Objects that populate our homes, our workplaces, our ordinary surroundings come into contact with our body according to different orders. A cluster of devices, integrated into contemporary constructions as well as in old buildings. It is important to note that what defines our relationship with space today is not so much what we inhabit in, what we live in. But what we live with, and what we inhabit with. It is no longer the place that marks the relationship of a person with his environment, but the relationship with the things that surround him. It is a relationship of control from users on objects.
Formerly associated to possession and inheritance, the object is now in a race to update, to a superior efficiency of a new model. The temporality of objects has changed from life time to usage time. Precisely refined usage, to define an abstract gesture of control‑. The effort is becoming3 increasingly rare in a habitat where automation enters, diffused in each bulb, electrical appliances, thermostat, etc. The processing of information dissolves in spaces and objects of our environment through miniaturization and the increase of computing capacities. With fingertips, we are able to activate, deactivate, vary the functions of our surrounding objects. The transition to connected objects reduces this gesture more and more to a minimum effort. A precise knowledge of our daily life by objects that compose it. This intelligence is a turnaround of the situation: a relationship of control from connected objects on users.
Thus, the contemporary model expresses itself no longer through the immutable form of architecture but through the versatility of the object. In a world drawn by capital production and aiming for an intelligent ecosystem, the object trumps architecture. Its updating capacity being irremediably faster and global.
Thanks to computation, time has found its place in the genesis of design. But once the architecture is built, all its dynamics related to the design process disappears. It remains fixed in one of the algorithmic solutions of a moment T. Yet the time and the environment in which this architecture is born will not be fixed, but will continue to tirelessly evolve. Any update requires a transition from the virtual to the actual that the built architecture can no longer achieve. However, the ecosystem of objects that inhabits it is updated on two levels. An update of the software, which is characterized by downloading an upgraded program. Or an update of the hardware that occurs when technological innovation has changed the material components of the object, and invokes its physical change.
This model of continuous renewed consumption is part of a marketing that aims to build a constantly renewed desire, in accordance with the foundations of the consumer society. The continuous architecture of the city is distorted by objects that inhabit it. It is no longer produced a priori but participates in the heterogeneity of the local space-time relative to each object by connecting them. Each one develops in relation with those surroundings, implying a system of atmospheres. Architectural discipline must question and mingle with objects, which erase and recompose it.
In 1967, Guy Debord wrote in La Société du Spectacle that “the accumulation of mass-produced goods for the abstract space of the market […] must also dissolve the autonomy and the quality of the places.” 4 This dissolution of everyday life spaces in objects forces us to rethink the quality, mood and perception of our environment.
- Baudrillard, Jean. 1972. La Société de Consommation. Editions Denoël.
- Branzi, Andrea. 1988. Nouvelles de la Métropole Froide. Paris : Editions du Centre Pompidou, 1991, p. 26.
- “When grasping objects that interested the whole body, contact (hand or foot) and control (gaze, sometimes hearing) were substituted. In short, only the ’’edges’’ of the body actively participate in the functional environment.” Baudrillard, Jean, 2016 . Le système des objets. Paris : Gallimard, p.69.
- Debord, Guy. 1967. La Société du Spectacle. Paris : Folio, p. 103.