Where Do You Stop? A Critical Inquiry into Style, Geometry, and Parametricism in History (2018)
An agonistic question recurs in every digital design studio: Where do you stop? How do you select the best form from infinite variations of forms? The question marks a condition of crisis as it both demands a judgement and reveals the lack of criteria for it. The question is often asked under the illusion that it applies only today, in the case of digital or parametric design, as if before we knew where to stop, as if the crisis is only now, in and of the present. This question, the attempts to answer it and the illusion of their contemporaneity constitute the quintessential modern problem: how to find a Style that is not a style. The former term “Style” stands for the style of an age or a general principle of constancy, while “a style” stands for individual style(s) or stylistic singularities, which, to quote Le Corbusier, “are no more than an accidental surface modality.”
Historically, geometry has served as a universally synchronic medium in providing principles or criteria to answer such question. However, geometry is also a diachronic medium, and the way it is used is historically and technologically contingent. To answer “Where do you stop?” means to critique it, which in turn means to reveal its historicity. Not only the answer to the question, but also how such question is asked in history has varied. To write about the Style that is not a style is to reveal the conditions of its impossibility.
This study investigates the weird topology of the Style that is not a style by focusing on discourses and theories on style, proportion, geometry and parametricism in history. Stopping is not (the application of) a set of epistemological criteria but first and foremost a technique that binds Style and style(s) together without synthesizing them. Le Corbusier’s work and the Modulor in particular serve as case studies of stopping techniques. The study draws a connection between Modulor and parametricism, particularly Bernard Cache’s digital practice. It then investigates how the digital as an historical and technological condition bears on the Style that is not a style and on asking and answering the question “Where do you stop?”