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Monday, February 09, 2009

Book Review: Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition by David Leven and Stella Betts
Princeton Architectural Press, 2008




The title of New York-based Leven Betts Studio Architects' first monograph recalls the 2003 William Gibson novel of the same name, though the firm's partners, David Leven and Stella Betts, explain that the phrase reveals "underlying operative methodologies in our practice." Rooted in artificial and natural intelligence, the design methodologies they employ are syntactic (structural interrelationships among elements), statistical (data analysis towards grouping similarities), and neural (adaptive, network-based data modeling). Or in other words, context, program, and circulation/infrastructure. Added to this mix is their idea of the "informal formal," where the search for form is an oscillation between a building and its diagram, between its realization and its inspiration or concept. Just as these terms initially sound like convoluted ways of describing the influences and process all architects deal with, Michael Sorkin's introductory letter warns of theory as a retrofit, ameliorating this danger with the assertion that pattern recognition does not equal pattern imposition. Leven Betts recognize and articulate consistencies in their design process, not to establish a singular method to be imposed, like a signature stamp, but to move forward into the next phase of their practice.

Between Sorkin's introduction and the presentation of the buildings and projects is a Methodology Chart, something that looks straight out of a lab or a computer-generated data analysis. The chart weighs the syntactic, statistical, and neural input in each project, illustrating how one becomes the primary consideration, depending on the particular project. Like any architectural monograph, one need not read the projects with this in mind, though in the case of two projects the differences become apparent. The CC01 House is purely syntactical, its linear form recalling the long grooves of agricultural machinery, the windows following this linear logic and framing views, and even the cladding reinforcing this contextual inspiration. The Filter Park is a mix of all three methodologies, primarily statistical, in that the circulation of cars, bikes, and people drive the design more than the context and program, though the last two are clearly present in the decision to bridge the expressway and the choice of the parking mechanism and other functions.

These two examples show how these three general considerations influence the firm's design process to generate varied solutions, based on their reflection on the project and the determination of a suitable hierarchy. Missing are the client and the experiential aspect, one a variable factor that is always part of a project and the other a consequence of the firm's prevailing methodology. With projects ranging from interiors to urban plans, the first ranges from specific to vague or unknown, making it difficult to include it in their pattern recognition, perhaps. The second is surely a consideration, particularly at the level of circulation, but not a prevailing one. If these and other considerations will vie with context, program, and infrastructure remains to be seen. We'll be watching.


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