Wednesday, June 18, 2014


It has to be one of the most interesting uses of the word ‘architecture’ seen for some time. The word ‘architecture’ is usually adorning texts that speak of the ‘architecture of’, say Medicare, or some other matter where it seems to refer to some broad organizational sense, supposedly as a metaphor, but generally it is merely a decorative placement that seeks to impress. In this ABC TV Australian Story played on 3 March 2014, the word was used in different manner, with a more, well, ‘architectural’ sense. The question was: “How to build the architecture of cells in your body.” The researcher, Ben, has been working on this for some 15 years. “We asked very basic questions about the architecture of cancer cells,” he said. What does this mean?

Ben goes on to talk about the research work: “We found an essential structure, a key building block.” Using the Jenga game as a model to explain the concept, Ben, who has developed this approach at the University of New South Wales, spoke about removing “the key block and the pile - in his case the cell - collapses, just as the Jenga pile does.” It seems that TR100 causes cells to kill themselves 100% of the time. “We have found a loophole,” he said. Ben explained that the proof of this research will be in 10 years time “when we have a drug treatment.” It was Wittgenstein who noted how scientists calmly say that they will have a solution to any problem in five or ten years time, “as if this was necessarily so.” Indeed, one hears this statement time and time again, in much the same manner that the word ‘architecture’ is bandied about.

While this researcher has perpetuated this cliché, the interesting matter with language here is that ‘architecture’ is used in such a relevant manner, having to do with real structures and failures, even if these are referring to a game that stacks blocks to establish the challenge to remove as many as possible prior to catastrophic collapse. The one that causes the tower to topple is the loser. The usage appears to have relevance here beyond the sound of the word and its apparent added prestige, as seen in phrases like the ‘architect of . . . ‘ - see:
It is indeed an unusual context.

But this does not mean that things might be improving. More recently, on ABC TV News 5:00pm, 12 June 2014, the word ‘architecture’ was used in yet another surprising context:
“the welfare system needs simpler architecture.” Perhaps we all need a simpler architecture? Can we learn from Jenga?

Blue Point Tower, Sydney   Harry Seidler Architect

Mmmmm: Maybe we have already learned from Jenga?

There is an interesting matter to ponder here: does architecture always move from order into chaos, changing over time from the rational rectangular prism of Blue Point into twisting, tumbling towers; from Meis to Gehry? Does architecture conform to the laws of thermodynamics with its ever-increasing entropy, evolving from the early purity and simplicity of classicism into the rich florid curves of baroque? And then what? Does it stride off into a new beginning, a new order after chaos destroys itself in the same manner as the Jenga model that requires restacking to restart the challenge, only to fall yet again, and again? Maybe the Jenga game can explain something more profound than we ever thought possible? What might the new order be, become? What might the ‘restacking’ be?

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