Cybernetics and Spatial Experience

Activity: External talk or presentationOral presentation


Within architectural discourse, cybernetics is closely associated with interactive and digital technologies. Notable examples include Gordon Pask’s collaboration with architect Cedric Price and theatre director Joan Littlewood on the influential Fun Palace project during the 1960s, which can be understood as the embedding of design processes into the life and organisation of a building. It is important, however, not to conflate cybernetics with technology. In Pask’s most prominent text on architecture, it is Gaudi’s Parc Guell that is picked out as “one of the most cybernetic structures in existence”. Here the cybernetic quality is within the dynamism of spatial experience, while the architecture itself remains passive.

In this paper, I develop an account of spatial experience in cybernetic terms via Ranulph Glanville’s understanding of design as a foundational human activity. One of the most important contributions that cybernetics has made to design is Glanville’s account of scientific research as a form of design activity. He later generalised this argument, drawing on Jean Piaget’s notion of equilibration to understand design as an essential part of thinking. Glanville’s principle intention is to articulate what is so special about design activity, and, in so doing, to support its disciplinary status and ability to inform other fields. It is possible to develop his argument in spatial terms, through his references to Piaget: the process of equilibration is applicable to spatial experience and has had some influence in architectural theory through the work of Christian Norberg-Schulz. A consequence of Glanville’s argument is that spatial experience can be understood as a design activity on behalf of the experiencer, as well as something with which professional designers are concerned. When architects design spaces, they can thus be understood as designing frameworks for others to design with, with projects such as the Fun Palace being particularly radical versions of this.
PeriodJun 2019
Event titleActing Cybernetically: 2019 Annual Conference of the American Society for Cybernetics
Event typeConference
LocationVancouver, Canada, British ColumbiaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational