Melissa Farling Contributes to THE PLAN Journal (TPJ)

Melissa Farling, Michael A. Arbib, Meredith Banasiak, Bob Condia, Colin Ellard, Jonathan Enns, Robert Lamb, Hart Richard Hassell, Eduardo Macagno, Harry Mallgrave, Fred Marks, Juhani Pallasmaa, & Sarah Robinson September 12, 2022

Baukultur in a Cybernetic Age: A Conversation

Principal Melissa Farling FAIA, LEED AP, recently participated in a conversation with several theorists, scholars, and practitioners. You can read an excerpt of the discussion here, but we encourage those further interested in visiting the link at the end of the passage.

THE PLAN Journal received and published this conversation among distinguished theorists and scholars on an important topic, also aligned with the cross-disciplinary mission of our journal. To read more, tap the link at the end of this excerpt.

ABSTRACT – The article offers a multi-author conversation charting the future of architecture in light of the apparent tension between Baukultur, which combines the culture of building and the building of this culture, and the rapid changes brought about by digital technology, embracing cybernetics and artificial intelligence. The article builds on a discussion of Baukultur to debate in what sense buildings are “machines for living in,” then examines neuromorphic architecture wherein cybernetic mechanisms help buildings sense the needs of their occupants. It closes with an example of a building complex, Kampung Admiralty, that combines cybernetic opportunities with a pioneering approach to building “community and biophilia” into our cities. This article interleaves an abridged version of Michael Arbib’s (2019) article “Baukultur in a Cybernetic Age,” 1 with extensive comments by the co-authors.

Image 1: People move and converse within and with the interactive space Ada. Image ©THE PLAN Journal.

Baukulture ‑ A Global Challenge


One of my base beliefs about Baukultur is that the traditional building practices had high-quality Baukultur built into them, and that a big part of the problem with modern design has been the freedom afforded by modern materials to depart from these practices.


One problem with the desire to build in a traditional timeless way is that, actually, there has been no such thing. The accelerating change in the size of settlements over millennia required using the latest technology. Going vertical, fire safety, infrastructure, waste are problems stones and timber cannot solve.


We can add a political dimension (factory owners packing their workers into the cheapest possible housing nearby) and cultural ones (e.g., treatment of men versus women). Another issue is the transition from traditional symbolism – a church looks like a church – to modern constructions that avoid such symbolism.


Richard Buday states, “For thousands of years, architects were the world’s storytellers, making architecture a great book of humanity, shaping societies in ways today’s buildings do not. Humans are meaning-seeking animals … Until the Late Middle Ages, architecture was a dominant storytelling medium, which gave architects the persuasive power to change what people thought and what they did.” 3

“World Building,” as developed in designing settings for movies like Minority Report, may offer new clues for architecture by engaging multiple stakeholders to prototype a vision of ways that realize the technological, environmental, and economic aspirations of a project. By providing a “voice” to the stories, culture can be embedded in design.


We are living in a culture of extremely rapid and fundamental changes. The new technologies tend to distance us from the material, mental and social realities and eventually turn our life-world into entertainment and games. In my view, the mental task of architecture is to strengthen our reality sense and, at the same time, to defend the autonomy and authenticity of the human experience. From its very beginning, architecture has mediated between us humans and the world, but this essential mediating task has been all but lost. The architectural profession is turning into a service profession like engineering and lawyering, satisfying the desires of investors or the need of cultural institutions for memorable architectural images to serve purposes of visibility and identity. Architecture must mediate true experiences of the world, ourselves, and human existence.

Figure 1: The Davos Declaration reminds us that building is culture and creates space for, and forms the basis of, the Baukultur movement. The Davos Baukultur Quality System contributes to the ongoing Davos Process. It proposes a multidimensional approach to defining the concept of high-quality Baukultur and assesses the Baukultur quality of places.
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