A[nother] Theory of Action We produce and consume space. Space produces and consumes us. Like music, architecture is a phenomenal mnemonic device in terms of [re]presentation and [re]production of identity. Literally. One need only walk across the National Mall, visit the Empire State Plaza, or tour any one of New York City's 345 Housing Authority developments, to begin to sense the psychological and physiological implications of our constructed environments. Philosopher Henri Lefebvre explained this phenomena as a dialectic between representational space or theories of action—imagination, ideals, desires and representations of space or theories in action—plans, maps, advertisements, architectures; and practice or becoming that unfolds over time. Likewise, our government capitols, schools, and our living rooms are dynamic dialectics—assemblages of "philosophical fragments and cultural myths, images and symbols, ideas and beliefs, rituals, institutions and practices" designed and performed in flux.
In this context, the reification of the Ivory Tower—a theory of action, in action—provides an opportunity to reflect on the prevailing discourse and practices of design, development, and sustainability° (as political, economic, social, and environmental practices). As outlined in Parsons' Art, Media, and Technology Fall 2013 course catalog, the operational and pedagogical logic of The New School University Center Collab mirrors that of Fredrick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915).
Claiming the factory as his design studio, Taylor set out on a rigorous environmental analysis of productivity. Employing a diversity of empirical methods, Taylor attempted to reconcile manual labor and capital. The result? The Principles of Scientific Management. A seminal text that outlines the mechanics of systematic management as a scientific endeavour toward Efficiency.° (The
ability to yield maximum output—capital—with a minimal investment of resources—capital. Taylor envisioned his management theories manifesting as “laws, rules, and principles” that would apply to “all social activities…from our simplest individual acts to the work of our great corporations…to the management of our homes…our farms…our churches, our philanthropic institutions, our universities, and our governmental departments.” Taylor endeavored to cultivate a 'better, more competent man:' “It is only when we fully realize that our duty, as well as our opportunity, lies in the systematic cooperating to train and to make this competent man…that we shall be on the road to national efficiency°.”*
Similarly, The New School University Center employs a diversity of strategies—top, down; bottom, up; and inside, out—to cultivate more competent individuals. Or, according to William H. Whyte, organization men. Or for Foucault, docile bodies. Or... My point? As Marx observed in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, “the forming of the five senses is a labor of the entire history of the world down to the present.” Whilst the revolution of our landscape, psyche, and soma might have begun during the Industrial era—with machines replacing nature as the conductor of circadian rhythms—we continue to employ a multiplicity of strategies that seek to automate the beats, tempos, and frequencies of our everyday toward a seamless soundtrack of Efficiency.°
The New School 2011 Climate Action Plan defines sustainability as “meeting the needs° of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs°.” In 1998 the U.S. Green° Building Council elevated a considerable burden in the assessment of need° for architectural and engineering communities with the advent of LEED, or the Leadership In Energy and Environmental Design initiative. This “voluntary, consensus-based,° market-driven program” provides a systematic framework for the design, fabrication, operations, and maintenance of "sustainable° solutions for new construction." As a point-based offset program, LEED offers a variety of incentives to build green,° all of which are predicated on three pillars—people, planet, and profit—otherwise known as The Triple Bottom Line.
The Theories of Action, In Action Conundrum [Un]fortunately there is a well known, but little spoken of secret within the LEED community—"the ratio of actual-to-predicted energy use and consequent savings varies widely across architectural projects. In 2008, the U.S. Green° Building Council's Energy Performance of LEED for New Construction Buildings Final Report revealed the median energy use (EUI) for over half of LEED projects deviates more than 25% from the original design projections—30% perform significantly 'better', 25% significantly 'worse'.
The reconciliation of theory of action, in action (in this case, design intention and performance) has intrigued philosophers for centuries. Behavioral theorist and Professor Emeritus at Harvard Business School, Chris Argyris, and his colleague Professor of Urban Studies and Education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Donald Schön are no exception. Together they devoted decades to understanding the theories of action, in action conundrum. According to Argyris and Schön, theories of action are just that, theories—neither "accepted, good, nor true; only a set of interconnected propositions that have the same referent—the subject of the theory." On the other hand, theories in action are tacit structures—assumptions of time, space, and being—which govern actual behavior.
The New School University Center Collab studio seeks to 'employ' the creativity of New School students⁄'subsidized' labor to design a diversity of strategies that seek to modulate the everyday behaviors—theories in action—of the University [Center] according to the operational and ideological dictates—theories of action—of the design team, stewards of the U.S. Green° Building Council. In short, to close the system. Or, enrich the ecosystem.
In 2010, Tom Sachs distilled Taylor's principles into 10 Bullets: