Transformative Approaches Project
Envisioning conferencing: Insights from architecture
Transformative Approaches Project |
This note continues the exercise of envisioning the cognitive
contributions of the arts to conferencing in the Year 2490.
1. Beyond "top-down" conference communication
Vast sums are invested these days in the design and construction of
prestigious conference centres, as one of the principal environments in
which policy is articulated and approved. Although much is made of the
advanced "communications technology" installed there, no attention
is paid to the fact that none of it is designed to facilitate unmeditated
communication between participants. Such centres are fundamentally totalitarian
in concept. All is controlled and articulated from the top and feedback
from the floor is severely controlled or impossible.
In many cases this extends to the pattern of seating -- unmovably bolted
to the floor for maximum exposure to messages from the podium. Not only
does this mirror our social organization, it is also reflects the way in
which meaning is communicated in such policy environments. It reinforces
the patterns by which we tend to organize knowledge and insight -- and
how we subsequently impose them on others.
2. Conference architecture
In the time to come, the principles of architecture were basic to the
organization of policy insights and their implementation. The point here
is not the way in which such principles were used in the physical design
of conference environments, rather it is the way they informed the conceptual
organization -- however that might reflect on the physical layout and communications
One of their insights was that in conceptual terms gatherings had to
be "constructed". A meaningful policy conference was one which
provided appropriate conceptual spaces for different purposes -- and ensured
communication between them. In part the task of the conference was to build
anew, on each occasion, such a pattern of spaces. To some degree this already
happens in our time through the design of the programme.
They made "conference architecture" into an art form at the
conceptual level. But the conference had to be designed and built by the
participants -- the viability of the resulting "building" was
a measure of their success in policy design.
3. Designing conceptual spaces for factions
This is not the place to discuss their approach to the "foundations"
or to many other features of the conceptual construct. Most striking perhaps
was their use of space. Each faction found it reasonably easy to design
a space for itself and its own "wares" -- somewhat as do major
exhibitors in designing their stands at an exhibition associated with a
The first real challenge was to be able to design with others a conceptual
context in which participants with similar priorities and values could
successfully explore their relationships. In this phase, corresponding
to the meeting of sub-plenary groups, the design views of participants
were constrained and inspired by their immediate peers.
Then followed the challenge of relating that space to those of other
groups with other priorities, so that participants could move from space
to space. At this design stage, each group had to take into account requirements
of other groups -- compromises had to be made.
4. Construction of collective conceptual spaces
The most challenging phase was the construction of the collective conceptual
space in which all viewpoints were interrelated, providing integrity to
the whole, namely the equivalent of a plenary conference room. A central
architectural insight lay in the means of constructing an arch -- or a
series of arches which could be roofed over to protect the space.
In effect, even for the smaller spaces, participants were often obliged
to retrace the history of architectural principles and techniques. The
challenge was to use opposing conceptualelements as columns and to use
various ways of bridging between them to create the desired space -- whatever
scaffolding was temporarily acquired to install keystones or their equivalent.
For the smaller spaces this tended to call upon principles from the very
early history of architecture.
To create a space for all views -- the conference in plenary form --required
a much more sophisticated understanding because of the wide expanse that
had to be covered with minimum intervening supports.
5. Transcending duality
Their achievement was to use opposition between policy perspectives
as "compression elements" and to use mutually supportive perspectives
as "tension elements". Their skill, inspired by physical buildings,
lay in finding ways of using the dynamic interplay between two types of
element to create structures which would be impossible with either of them
They effectively used the elements of a duality so that the 2-dimensional
stresses between them -- which normally render any conceptual construction
impossible -- could only be resolved by engendering a space in 3-dimensions.
In some cases this resulted in "gothic" structures -- "cathedrals
of the mind" -- in others it resulted in what we might understand
through Buckminster Fuller's tensegrity structures (basic to his geodesic
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential