The Ramesseum, Mortuary Temple of king Ramesses II (about 1279-1213 BCE)
(Icon) Pyramids of Geezeh. Coloured lithograph by Louis Haghe after David Roberts, 1846
Architecture, Behaviour, and Magic:
Notes On the Architect's Design of Forms of Life
(Chapter in Delft Future Cities)
Inquiring into the frequent contemporary use of the term ‘magic’ by the 'architects' of social media platforms, the article seeks to establish a deeper reading of the behavioural-management mechanics that sit behind contemporary high-tech, 'big data' architecture. The entanglement of architecture, magic, authority and the cultivation of specific forms of habits, culture and life is nothing new. In fact, the term magic might help us to investigate what has been fundamentally at stake for the figure of the architect proper since we emerged at the beginning of Empire and as the right hand of Imperial patrons struggling for the conquest of territory. One of the first known architects in ancient Egypt, Imhotep, was also known as a healer, magician, priest, governor, and builder. What remains core to any project of territorial conquest are the tasks of legitimizing authority, cultivating subjectivity and the social organisation of labour, which must always be deeply reflective and strategic about balancing or imbuing imposed, deterministic order with senses of meaning, protection and autonomy. But ideology and belief are merely vulnerable counterparts to the infrastructure as a real separation, distancing and designed reordering of bodies, technologies, tasks, and materials for a specific end like a pyramid, or 'end-without-end' like the pursuit of profit and market domination via a social media platform. It is the very material form or order of production in the design, construction, use, and maintenance of architecture, technology, and infrastructure, that produces and maintains specific forms of subjectivity and life. Because the imposition of an abstract, planned order is always alienating and conflictual, a cloak must weave these often contradictory aspects and must conceal an artificiality. Thus it is construed as rational, inherent, natural and therefore invisible and incontestable. This article is an early effort that seeks to draw a clearer picture of these metaphysical-material strategies of management and authority through a close reading of several paradigmatic examples of 'Imperial' architecture from ancient Egypt and today.
...as we have seen through this comparison of ancient Egyptian colonial architecture, and the colonial 'architecture' of Big Tech and Data today, magic can be understood as that set of practices wrapped up in the weaving of material, meaning, orientation and reality, as a specific form and order of relationships, existence (that something is) and essence (what something is).* In this sense 'magic' consists of the very metaphysical, cultural and material construction of order from a field and backdrop that always tends towards chaos. The existence of chaos is precisely a result of the fact that humans have been liberated from any fixed role, task, or destiny since at least the invention of language and hence, our entry into culture and history. Chaos should therefore be acknowledged as that very lack which makes the construction of other orders possible. The nexus of Empire's power is its ‘magical’ authority. It's foremost (collective) figure is that of the demiurge – the ‘architect’ – responsible for giving form to, and maintaining the meaningful order of society, and therefore, the physical universe. In this way, authority is indisputably legitimate authority, because it has demonstrated a significant aptitude to weave substantial, enrapturing realities into being. But I would argue that it is in fact the subordination, or the increasing distancing from or separation of that reality’s inhabitants from an understanding of, and participation in the magical weaving of that order, which has led us to the precipice.
How then might architecture compete ‘on the playing fields of magic’ with contemporary high-tech bio-politics and Empire? How might architects begin to reverse a loss of autonomy; to carve out space for diverse, situated, and unexpected worlds to take form? We can start by opening knowledge, conceptions, and practices of magic to those beings who will inhabit their world. A magician is the one who, after initiation and through a defined practice* takes uncertainty and an inessentiality of being to the limits. Only then might we begin to break those imperceptible spells of separation, distance, and fragmentation; begin to de-mystify and de-naturalise the forms of refuge constructed by Empire and finally, develop simple axioms as the platform upon which we might weave entirely other architectures and worlds.