Design is not only a matter
of ideas and of the interplay of form and function. It is also
a matter of technologies of representation, of specific machines
and operations. Nietzsche´s fundamental media-theoretical
thesis that our writing tools influence our thoughts, is especially
pertinent with regard to the representation of space. A good
example is the invention of linear perspective in the Italian
Renaissance: it established a generalized and reproducible method
for the represent ion of space based on a system of geometrical
coordinates. Already here representational operations and digital
processes are interlaced.
My thesis is that until today
the drawing tools of the designer influence his or her design.
Ruler and stencil are, like the standardized thickness of lines,
not only a testimony to the standardization of architectural
representations in general, but also to a pre-formatted language
or form. When the computer became a drawing machine, a new generation
of picture-production emerged: algorithms both produce and limit
the techniques of visualization. With standardized operations
it is now possible to produce drawings on the highest level
of precision, reproducibility, and calculability. The computer-generated
drawing is a composite of standardized commands on the menu-bar.
The technical tools bestow credibility on the picture as representations
or copies of reality. I want to focus in the following on the
status of representation from utopian and ideal city conceptions
to virtual communities of computer games.
"The Sims" is one of
the most famous computer games, soon to be online. www.simsonline.com
is the new address of a virtual city where people from all over
the world will constitute a global community. In artificial
neighborhoods of a manageable city, fictional inhabitants (avatars
or SIMS) live and work together, engage in relationships, and
design their individual environment. What is the attraction
of spending hours in front of the monitor setting up virtual
networks, populating and furnishing virtual spaces? Is it the
seduction to realize the dream of a new and better world in
the limitless space of virtuality?
The entertainment value of these
premises seems to be historically proven. Already Thomas More
advertized his novel of 1516 describing the discovery of the
island Utopia as edifying entertainment. Popular interest in
his spatial and political Utopia was especially nourished by
recent advances in colonialisation, which made it possible to
discover, or better yet, to install an ideal state. The essential
tools for colonization existed since antiquity. Hippodomas of
Milet used the grid to base the Greek colonies on a gridded
ground plan of clear spatial orientation and good ventilation.
The grid also assured easy control and fast mobilization for
the military camps of the Roman Empire.
On More's island Utopia, the
capital city "Amaurotum" is built on an orthogonal
matrix that could easily be multiplied 54 times (as the novel
suggests), or even endlessly. The houses of Utopia, clustered
in rectangular building sites like objects in the grid, are
temporary dwellings for changing users: every ten years a housing
lottery takes place and forces the inhabitants to move. The
dwelling in Utopia becomes a transitory space in no-where. More's
Utopia is an efficient model of a modular and serial city.
In this grid of eternal return
citizens, soldiers, and goods become addressable even in the
nowhere. The address precedes presence: intersections and quadrants
can be determined numerically, local information can be transmitted
and administered. The grid as utopian pattern of unconditional
rationality, perfect bureaucracy, total knowledge, and clear
spatial order guarantees uniformity in difference, and repetition
in variation. It becomes the foundational model of numerous
utopian cities: the gridded plan can also be found in Albrecht
Dürers´ design of the ideal city from 1527, in the
realized master plan of Freudenstadt (plan by Heinrich Schickhard
1599) and in the utopian novel "Christianopolis" of
the theologian Johan Valentien Andrae 1619. Four years earlier
Vincenzo Scamozzi had developed an urban design based on his
"idea of an universal architecture". By means of geometrical
analysis he inscribed the building grid of his ideal city "Palmanova"
into the circular fortification surrounding it.
Scamozzis project recalls another
type of ideal constructions based on the grid: the construction
of the ideal human body. In the renaissance, the human body
as a modularized ideal for the symmetrical proportions in architectural
harmony came into the focus of artists and architects. Leonardo
da Vinci bestowed on Vitruvius' proof of the compatibility of
geometrical symmetry and proportion with the human body an enduring
elegance: through perfect idealization the human body can be
inscribed equally into circle and square1).
Like a piece of land, the human body could be divided and measured
to fit the square grid and thus to serve as scaleable template
for the proportioning of ground plans and facades in the design
of buildings. As a gridded model, the human body is transferred
through the scaling operation of the divider (Filarete), or
by the exact projection of the drawing - machine (Dürer).
The ideal of an "individual" man in the renaissance
becomes the ideal of a measured and "standardized"
With his gridded man, Vitruvius
searched for an ideal measure for proportions in architectural
design and used the male foot as modular unit. In the 20th Century
the architect Ernst Neufert brought Vitruvius´ search
to its rightful culmination by positing the foot as the standard
measure for the industrial brick size. In reference to Vitruv
and anthropometrics Neufert developed a system of building measurements
(Baumaß-System), which combine decimal and duodecimal
system and uses a basic measuring unit of 1,25 meter. With this
so called "Oktametersystem".
Neufert was able to relate
architectural measures such as room heights and brick sizes
(25cm x 12,5cm) with the average man (175 cm) in an efficient
system of convertibility. In 1942, this "Baumaß-System"
was standardized 1942 as as a universal industrial norm, the
"Industriebaumaß" (IBA) and was fixed as DIN
4171. Its resulting basic grid of 2,50 m is the basis for planning
and constructing industrial buildings until today. Neufert's
"Bauentwurfslehre" prescribed measure with which exponents
of modernism sought to, master space: "....measure becomes
master, chaos is forced to become form: logical, unequivocal,
wrote Ludwig Hilbersheimer in his "Großstadtarchitektur"
of 1927 and found confirmation in Neufert's project and in the
establishment of the DIN-standards only few years later.3)
Since Neufert's "Bauentwurfslehre",
published in 1936, architectural design starts with the "schematic
drawing of rooms as simple rectangles with the required surface
area on a uniform scale..."4)
With the efficient gridding of the ground plan not only measured
space and building elements but every object in space could
be standardized and arithmetized in a combinatory system of
identical units: everything located in the built environment,
from brick to the human body, from the cradle to the airport
- whether standing, going, rolling or flying - every object
could be measured and put into a unified spatial grid, into
an orthogonal scheme that allows proportions to be visualized.
Walter Gropius played quite
an important role in the career of Ernst Neufert: he was his
teacher at the Bauhaus in Weimar and later his employer. And
he supported together with the German "Normungsausschuß"
the publication of Neufert's "Bauentwurfslehre". Already
in 1910 Gropius wrote about the design of "industrial mass-production":
"Of objects there exists a choice of designs in different
execution and pricing level, but in identical size. All parts
fit without exception since they have been produced according
to one and the same normed size, and thus can be be exchanged
at will. The builder now can compose a house after his own personal
taste from this wealth of material and diverse forms."5)
With his "Program for the foundation of a universal building
company on an artistic uniform basis" - Gropius developed
a concept, that allowed for the substitution of the architect
by a program. The presupposition of this program was, however,
that the best proportions for all building elements was ascertained
and established, which then could figure as "standard sizes"
for temporary and future designs.
Neufert etsbalished the measured
grid as the computing basis for the most efficient proportions
through which henceforth architecture--ideal, universal, and
utopian could be made real local, and particular through the
axial measures of built realities. Neufert visualized this program
with a library of spaces and spatial objects, which contains
our whole living world. The objects of this library had to be
put into and snapped to the grid. Remarkably, this can be done
by architects, as well as by building owners, players and computers.
Space-units, building-elements, furniture, even the human body
become in modernity and in the object-libraries of Ernst Neufert,
objects of CAD-software and strategy-games for the representation
of "optimal size proportions" resp. of "standard
1936, when the "Bauentwurfslehre" was published, Konrad
Zuse constructed in Berlin the first computer, and Alan Turing
developed the mathematical model of a universal and discrete
machine; both contributed to the computability of the life-world.
Turing's machine could solve every decidable problem in finite
time (and without human help) with a certain number of elements
and a certain number of clearly defined rules for the combination
of those elements. One could say that the elements and rules
gain with Ernst Neufert definition sharpness, and that Konrad
Zuse's concrete (and not only mathematical) machine could compute
with those elements every solvable architectural problem in
finite time. With the development of the computer as a universal
medium, the graphic interface becomes a bridge (already visible
in Neufert's project) between abstract numbers (coordinates
and measures) and spatial-pictorial description. The visualization
of numeric data generates for Neufert, and still in today's
specific software, the objects that constitute idealized, standarized
and virtual worlds.
Konrad Zuse, the ingenious engineer, created with the computer
that vehicle that allows since the beginning of utopian fiction
the entrance to the idealized and virtual worlds: in the literature
of the 16th century this was simply a ship, at the beginning
of science fiction in the 19th century it was e.g. a time-machine
or another highly developed technical instrument, that mostly
ingenious engineers knew how to construct. Since the nineties
of the 20th century, the computer allows us entrance to the
promised worlds, to the ideal cities and global villages: "We
look forward to starting this journey with you. Welcome!"
Luc Barthelet (Senior VP, Maxis) invites us confidential to
the promising sphere of action of The Sims: ".....The Sims
Online is an online world where the Sims are real. You get to
be yourself or whoever you want to be. In this world you have
your own piece of land to do with as you please. So, you can
create a house ....or whatever else you can imagine.... The
Sims Online is a massive online world that you can access at
any time. ... Everything that you buy, build or create will
be there when you return." The city of "Sims-online"
is, similar to the houses of utopia, a transitional place with
temporary inhabitants who do not change house every ten years
but change daily their presence in the virtual community (leave
daily or maybe forever).7)
Will Wright "the creator of SimCity™ and The Sims™"
developed with this software the generator of a virtual world
that in its constructive protocols has conspicuous similarities
with the first concepts of utopian, ideal and modern cities.
"Sims-Lane" emerges as utopian and virtual city-model
from the orthogonal matrix in nowhere, where More, Andrae, Dürer,
etc. founded their ideal states and urban concepts.
"The Sims" is based,
like most strategy games and CAD - software, on object - libraries
that offer the material to settle down and furnish new homes
in a cozy manner. The promise "to build your dream house"
or "whatever you can imagine" suggests the possibility
of free decision, which in reality is circumscribed by the limits
of the object library and the fixed constructive grid. What
does it therefore mean: "to be yourself or whoever you
want to be"? What is the basis of this promising new identity,
of the architectural design of our dream house or the personal
construction of our avatar named SIM?
Grid and standard (norm) provide
the basis on which every player may construct his or her identity
out of a range of prefabricated elements. Not only does the
limited assortment of objects produce formal borders - the programming
of the game imposes strict rules. Just to give you an example:
after I finished furnishing my new virtual home by using the
Bauhaus-furniture on offer, I, as design-oriented player, found
myself confronted with the sudden deep depressions of my SIMS
- had to realize that one could stop those depressions only
by taking the modern furniture away and replace it with flowered
and ornamented items. Obviously, the psychology inherent in
the program favors kitschy puppet-architecture. The individual
design of the virtual home in the brave new Sims community becomes
the kitsch - dictate of a programmer, who direct the design
of the life-world as rigorously as Walt Disney inc. regulates
the color of the curtains in their gated communities.
Idealized space and idealized body are since antiquity rationally
dissected and then reconstructed as calculable medium. Anthropometrics
reduces space and body to a common denominator: Through idealization
and (beginning with the 19th century) standardization modularization
of cities and bodies becomes constructive. Body, space, city,
and gridded plan form a computable structure in which every
element is calculable, addressable and, consequently, exchangeable.
There´s one matrix on which colonies, utopian and ideal
cities, and virtual communities easily settle: the grid. It
is not only the spatial foundation for the no-where (ou-topos)
or the good-place (eu-topos) of Utopia, but at the same time
the structure or routine for idealization, measurement, fragmentation,
modularisation, standardization, repetition and, last but not
least, the routine for the interface of the drawing machines
of the 15th century as well as of computer software today. Copy
and paste are the operations that allow the creation of virtual
places no matter where and no matter for whom. This abstract
method has to proceed from more or less neutral objects and
elements, which share modularized standards and are flexible
The combination of grid an object library in architectural planning
originates in Neufert's "Bauentwurfslehre" and becomes
the program that Walter Gropius had propagated: with a unequivocally
defined finite number of elements a machine can combine these
elements with finite possibilities. This combination, which
represents today in the planning software (and the game of the
SIMS e.g.) the "handiwork" of artists, architects,
building owners and is strictly speaking an achievement of computing
that groups measured objects in measured spaces in optimized
distances. This way of spatial planning became possible with
the grid, with the standardization and with Ernst Neufert.
With the breakthrough of object-oriented
software, which unburdens players as well as architects from
the labor of programming, a tool is given that forces the user
to operate in specific modi and seduces him or her to minimize
- for simplicity's sake - the own formal vocabulary in respect
to the menu-bar. Form and content are no longer spontaneous
artistic expressions in virtual space, but depend on technical
knowledge, that gives access to artistic liberty in the first
place. Discourses about architectural design and individuality
are consequently based on media-technical conditions. The possibilities
and prohibitions of discourse have to be discussed on two levels,
the aesthetic and the technical. If not, precision, calculability,
order and reproducibility may generate a "plan as dictator"
as Le Corbusier in his "plan voisin" once euphorically
© A.Zinsmeister Berlin 2003
1) Fragmentation of man (as measure of all things) in anthropometrical modules (later: Francesco die Giorgio Martini, Dürer) Frings, Marcus: Mensch und Maß. Antropomorphe Elemente in der Architekturtheorie des Quattrocento, Weimar 1998, Naredi-Rainer, Paul von: Architektur und Harmonie, Köln 1982
2) "The measure becomes the master, the chaos is forced to become form; logically, definitem mathematics, law." Ludwig Hilbersheimer: Großstadtarchitektur, Stuttgart (1927) p.103
3) Fortunately Neufert's attempt failed to include an obligatory measure through with the edition of the "Bauordnungslehre" 1942. Anyhow: from the beginning of the economization of planning it is obvious that an universal measure of uniformity deals with the absolute reduction of possibilities.
4) Neufert, Ernst: Bauentwurfslehre in: Prigge, Walter: Ernst Neufert. Normierte Baukultur, Frankfurt/Main 1999 p.10
5) Gropius, Walter: "Programm zur Gründung einer allgemeinen Hausbaugesellschaft auf künstlerisch einheitlicher Grundlage m.b.H." 1910 in: Probst, Schädlich (Hg) Walter Gropius. Bd. 3 Berlin 1987
6) "Programm zur Gründung einer allgemeinen Hausbaugesellschaft auf künstlerisch einheitlicher Grundlage m.b.H."
7) The behaviour of the future in habitants of the SIM online community couldn´t be evaluated statistically yet, consequently it is still an interesting question, what will happen with abandoned virtual houses of players who will stop the game, because they are just bored....I don´t think, that the programmers already calculated the "value of ruins" of these virtual buildings.