The air-pump Studio or the fact-to-come

“Les faits sont faits -facts are fabricatedGaston Bachelard cited in: Bruno Latour, We have never been modern (Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1993), 18.

This work aims to draw a parallel between Robert Boyle's air-pump invention and the conventional pedagogical methodologies developed in the architectural Design Studios.

As Shapin and Schaffer stated about Boyle´s experimental procedures, “…that the experimental production […] involved an immense amount of labor, that it rested upon the acceptance of certain social and discursive conventions, and that it depended upon the production and protection of a special form of social organization,”Simon Schaffer and Steven Shapin, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1985), 22.Design Studios within academia deploy, conceptually, the same mechanisms:

1- The design process itself involves an immense amount of labor–both intellectual and executive–developed through theoretical and empirical experience.

Boyle's laboratory is the Design Studio–in both senses, as physical and social space–, and it has two main objectives: to be constituted as a productive space where students engage with experimental inquiry, and to provide the space for "collective witnessing.”Schaffer and Shapin, 336.

In the Studio, each student progressively develops an attempt to (re)present a fact-to-come. The design process itself is the fact-producing tool, and in the semester-long Studio, the instructor(s) require the students to “refine” their projects, to improve their experiments, just as Boyle forced himself to “refine” his air-pump while pushing his advocates to do so as well. The more air-pumps, the better; the more students thinking about the same design problem, the better.

2- The design process rests upon the guidance and acceptance of, firstly the instructor(s), and secondly the peers–advocates–as they are contributing to the collection of the air pump-like projects.

The design process is guided by the instructor(s)–within academia–who establishes a set of statements, problems to be investigated or rules to be followed, during the design process.

However, these rules, no matter how precise and defined they may be, still have a degree of generality that prevents the production of an unequivocal and reproducible result; on the contrary, it allows students to arrive at different projects even under the same "rules".

“Focusing on the relation between Boyle´s philosophical statements and experiments, Chalmers convincingly demonstrated that the former was far too general and imprecise to direct the latter.”Michael Bem-Chaim, “The value of facts in Boyle´s experimental philosophy,” in History of Science, vol. 38 (2000), 57. This can be translated into architecture, in the sense that with the same set of rules–statements, tasks, instructions, tasks, objectives, assignments...–it is possible to produce different projects–air-pumps-like results–. In other words, even if the rules are exhaustively adjusted and defined, there will always be a degree of generality that will allow for individual interpretation–creativity–.

It is in the Studio, as a social space, where each project–experiment–is validated–or not–first by the instructor(s), and then by the peers.

3- The validation, or rejection, of the invention depends on its presentation in a wider sphere of qualified reviewers–jury system–in which the studentinventorhas to master the language game–set of rules and conventions–installed to gain the legitimacy, or not, of the critics–playing the role of the Royal Society–,of course in the context of academic "civility".

The designs are brought into existence through their (re)presentation–drawing, models, animations–which are “tested” in the review. In this sense, the status of representation in an architectural experiment and in a review is comparable to the Boylean experiment presented to the public. Both the students' collective production and the public reviews are for the Design Studios the mechanism through which the transaction of knowledge is possible but also validated. In this point, the reviews can be considered a kind of Hobbes-Boyle discussion in the sense that Bruno Latour points out about them:

“…their opinions diverge as to what can be expected from experimentation [design], from scientific reasoning [conceptual framework], from political argument [disciplinary discourse] – and above all from the air pump [the fact-to-come], the real hero of the story. The disagreements between the two, who agree on everything else, make them the ideal laboratory material.”Latour, 17.

The reviews are, in this sense, the public arena where the experiments are staged and “the public transactions of new knowledge”Bem-Chaim, 58. can be set. It is a persuasion game, where consensus but also discrepancies take place. When consensus is held, then its validation generates a second layer of authorship: the collective one, based on the agreements.

The construction of the fact-to-come

While the Boylean air pump was designed to make a fact–of nature–observable, architectural projects are designed to make present a fact-to-come–born of culture–. In this sense, the difference is that while the air pump reproduces an existing fact, the project reveals a fact-to-come: that is why it is projective, in its temporal and speculative sense.

It is for this reason that the tools in both cases have different purposes. In scientific experimentation, the use of the microscope for example, is used to correct and discipline the sense of sight through an instrument that improves visual quality, and therefore increases the degree of certainty we have of nature. For architecture, on the other hand, the project is the instrument that the discipline has to bring to the present, to the concrete world, the architectural fact-to-come: it reveals what is not yet there.

Ultimately, following Bachelard's initial quote, “facts are fabricated”, what design establishes is the current (re)presentation of potentiality, of a fact that is not yet in the concrete world, but which is imminent.

For this reason, design is not about non-existence; on the contrary, it is about the inevitable fact-to-come. The key is in temporality. In this sense, the objectivity of the fact-to-come itself appears blurred–but exists.