A Deadline for Zeno
The Moment Before
What is the architect’s position along with the paradigms of time? A traditional conception of time in architectural production relies on the links between past and present events towards one future project. 1 Beyond this notion, building and author relate differently to time and between themselves, meeting in moments of leverage and, on a later date, separation. A conscious selection of knowledge and design calibrations need to settle in-between time constraints.
The separation of the project from the architect happens after an abstract segmentation of the traditional notion of time. As in a contemporary enactment of Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, time becomes subject to infinite subdivisions, virtually creating more and more time remaining between the present moment and the future deadline, ad infinitum. Through the intentional use of this flawed logic, architects find a way to incorporate more of their passion and knowledge into the craft of an artifact.
The trade of logic for the gain of faux time is forced by introducing a deadline, a conceptual limit to create conditions of discomfort. The deadline instrumentalizes anxiety as fuel for both learning and practice within the time constraints of the architectural project. It is not an analogy of a stop sign nor the call for a pause, but the ceasing of the opportunity to develop mastery, build a position, tend to cultural demands, challenge or reinforce canons, and experience the paradigm of the nurturing pain in the profession.
With few exceptions2 , the hours and minutes to which the architect’s presence is reduced at completion are inverse to the incremental presence of the building over the years. Within the realm of traditional time and deadlines, the building’s absence is the author’s opportunity for presence in the discipline. There the architect holds two ends together. On the one hand, acknowledging an architecture delimited by time implies a look and eventual regard for the historical past. The architect may opt to secure their design processes and methods through historical knowledge in the shape of tools, precedents, or guidelines, later calibrating lessons for a present project within its own assigned time. On the other, the authority of the future deadline forces the abstract exercise of subdividing remaining time to allow design speculations and technical refinements on behalf of anticipation, encompassing an obsessive attitude towards mastery and leading to the spike of authorship traits or novel findings.
But does the abstract manipulation of time ensure mastery? Punctual deliveries are great, but polemics of large-scale buildings such as Herzog & De Meuron’s Elbphilharmonie or Eisenman’s The City of Culture, seven to ten years late (and 10 and 4 times over the budget respectively), question the rigidity of deadlines and the density of the experience. Did it represent any anxiety-relief for the architect? Did they meet new discoveries for the field? Is it always worthy, then, to grant a deadline extension?
The alleviation of workloads by computational tools allows, for moments, a different reaction to the deadline. The regard for the historical past is supplanted by the task of introducing information for calculations and iterations that are not intimidated by the idea of a liminal experience. This means the detachment of perfecting patterns and the reproduction of work in fast and repeatable phases that value iterations over knowledge baggage. This approach, through iterations, independently of the tools and against a qualitative quest, focuses on the chances offered by quantity and intuition to detect potential and built upon.
If the previous take doesn’t relax the experience at large, it at least provides a brief escape while still moving forward: a transition that waives the irony of creating time. It becomes necessary at times since the original metaphor is tacit about resources. The more subdivisions of shorter spans each, the more intensity and consumption of work and knowledge are needed after every subdivision, at a faster pace. The gain of time is mutual to the exhaustion it will retrieve.
Contemporary readings of Zeno’s paradox rely on physics to solve it. The paradox was depicted in terms of time only, but solutions are found in terms of speed, rates, and forces. The problem relates metaphorically to an experiential phenomenon of the profession before delivery, and its solution foreshadows manners to escape an anxious experience by relying on a wider network of information. Far gracious than a race, it could be understood as a productive state rated across actors, along time, avoiding reference to an imposed death.
If so, maybe the social hallucination of a project limit can be mastered: make passion crawl into time but also among actors, subdivide one possibility into many instead of for time, share the tectonic challenge.