The practices that we are involved in within our faculty are conventionally conceived as a means to solve problems. What we do when we offer our solutions to the world is resembling those fixed premises that we consider to be right. When Louis Sullivan in his article The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered famously states “whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing nun, form ever follows function, and this is the law”, we follow Sullivan and henceforth offer design solutions that exclude superfluous ornaments. When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their Sixth Assessment Report provides us yet again with a statement that continued greenhouse gas emissions will heat our planet up with 1,5 oC in the best scenario, we cannot do anything else but offer design solutions that predominantly focus on sustainability.
When a student reads the syllabus for a design studio and finds the assessment criteria all the way in the back, the student will not hesitate about spending endless hours until long after the sun has set, gazing at the screens of our laptops, struggling with the canonical drawings that we are all familiar with, filling our empty bodies with coffee, while knowing that all this does not bring us any further. Not any further, at least, than what we are fixated on; this pile of papers that tell us exactly what we should do and how things work.
All these premises — announcements of our idols, the iconic buildings that we keep praising, the laws that prevail us, or the assessment criteria that students should incorporate as much as possible in their assignments — seem to me to be fixed, fixed in space. It is the space on a sheet of paper or the space in a certain building that you find yourself in that captures certain ideals, rules, profitability and values. It is these things that we want to resemble and represent in our solutions, because we consider these things to be right. Producing something different can, sequentially, be considered wrong. And to the ones who act different enough, we say:
Are you out of your mind?
Are you insane?
Are you mad?
We appoint the one that acts different enough as a madman, as a ‘victim of insanity’, but it might actually be the one that merely offers solutions that should be ‘victimized’. Because, in fact, raw reality consists of a chaos that is becoming even more chaotic. Entropy is reality’s property to dissipate. To diffuse all beings until it has reached equilibrium. For us to understand reality, we tend to order the chaotic reality in fixed explanations, concepts and beings. In this fixation, this solidification, we act against the tendencies of the world and only capture a part of its reality.
Solutions attempt to solidify a world that is constantly in change. After solutions have been produced we stop thinking, since there seems nothing more to be solved. To remain productive, and true to the nature of reality, our practices should involve problems instead of solutions. Problematizing is not about questioning what things are, but about what things do. Constantly problematizing reality in this way is in line with what reality actually is, as it constantly questions the things that we take to be what they seem to be while the everchanging reality does not work this way. The world is not what it seems to be. In time, the world constantly becomes; it constantly changes its being. Reality is not necessarily in accordance with specific ideals, rules, profitabilities and values. Over time, they change. What could be considered to be right today, might be considered wrong tomorrow. And the same reasoning applies the other way around; a thing that seems wrong, could change into something right. Right and wrong are no binary oppositions, they differ in degree.
Problems, and our act of problematizing, allow for things to change. And encountering reality as an ever changing entity will lead to the most productive way of living. Merely offering a solution is not enough. Think about all the potentials that things have. Offer new problems in order to address these potentials. Account for difference, that is the way to go. And if someone ever calls you insane, or ever calls you mad, know that you are on the right track. And reply with the following:
The only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad.