Lecture review // Weapons of Choice: the architect and the brain scientist

Weapons of Choice: Part 1 – The Architect and the Brain Scientist: An AA Media Event chaired by Kate Davies

Yesterday’s conversation between architect Perry Kulper and cognitive scientist Vincent Walsh at the AA, as promised, assured the juxtaposition of representational techniques as a generative technology, and an understanding of the human brain, how it behaves as we design and how we could manipulate it to enhance our creativity.

For the ‘warming-up’, each academic presented their work to an overwhelming architectural related crowd:

Perry Kulper transported the audience across and beyond his unique visual language. Seducing our minds with his most celebrated past and present work. His technique and fastidious methods, spanning from automatism, gesture interpretation, indexing, metaphoric mapping, narrative, notation, parametrical modelling, plagiarism, to name a few, reflect the complexity of his journey to visualize and materialize his thoughts.

On screen // David’s Island Strategic Plot Drawing made: 1996-97 Drawing size: 24” x 36” Materials: Mylar, graphite, ink, tape, found imagery, x-rays, foil, photographs, transfer letters + transfer film, cut paper. © Perry Kulper
On screen // David’s Island Strategic Plot Drawing made: 1996-97 Drawing size: 24” x 36” Materials: Mylar, graphite, ink, tape, found imagery, x-rays, foil, photographs, transfer letters + transfer film, cut paper. © Perry Kulper

On his turn,

Vincent Walsh captivated the audience with a matter-of-fact account of what it takes to be creative. To study creativity, he says, we must be reductionist and break it apart into its components, not to minimize it but to understand it. Creativity is split into four component stages, he adds.

Preparation: the grind – the time you put into deep thought, the obsession, the preparatory process
Incubation: the down time – when you are not thinking about the problem
Illumination: the ‘ah-ah’ moment
Verification: the cold light of day…  – the testing period

Furthermore, he tapped on the two different ways of solving a problem: logically or by insight. What happened in your brain before presented with a problem determines if you will solve a problem by logic or by insight. In other words, how you are going to solve a problem next depends what your brain is doing slightly before that problem solving not during that problem solving.

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Following their presentations, the dialogue ensued.

The debate topic largely centred on action and language. Kulper expanded on how language is detrimental in his work, either as a creative tool or research process.  Walsh focused primarily on physical creativity, offering interesting examples of physical ingenuity but, and in my view, leaving out more relevant artistic instances.

My top three points to take home:
  • “13 ways of looking at a black bird”, the concept of verbalizing an idea, articulating by talking before any other action.
  • Do we have to explain everything?
  • Simplicity in learning. Exploring instead of memorising.
To conclude,

if I could think of a word to describe the overall talk, it would be: argot. I elect this term, not because the language used was obscure or elitist, but rather it was conspicuous the contrast in the selections of vocabulary by each scholar. We architects, and particularly academics, are comfortable talking design jargon, often, if not deliberate, forgetting the audience to each we address ourselves, which leaves me wondering if before drawing, research or design, ‘archispeak’ is the architects’ first choice of weapon.


About the panel

Perry Kulper is an architect and associate professor of architecture at the University of Michigan. Prior to his arrival at the University of Michigan he was a SCI-Arc faculty member for 16 years as well as in visiting positions at the University of Pennsylvania and Arizona State University. Subsequent to his studies at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo (BS Arch) and Columbia University (M Arch) he worked in the offices of Eisenman/ Robertson, Robert A.M. Stern and Venturi, Rauch and Scott Brown before moving to Los Angeles. His interests include the roles of representation and methodologies in the production of architecture and in broadening the conceptual range by which architecture contributes to our cultural imagination.

Vincent Walsh holds a BSc in Psychology from the University of Sheffield and a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Manchester. As Professor of Human Brain Research at UCL, Vincent Walsh specialises in human brain stimulation and plasticity, supervising over 30 PhD students across a variety of diverse fields such as memory, dyslexia, time perception and decision making and stress in sport. With over 20 years experience in Human Brain Research Vincent has, and continues to, serve on committees including the European Commission, The Royal Society, The Medical Research Council and the Bioscience for Society Strategy Panel (BBSRC). He currently holds a Royal Society Industry Fellowship allowing him to spend 50% of his time supporting ‘real world’ research.

by BG-Martin