Cyborg buildings

November 12, 2013



My first reaction when reading the Donna Haraway manifesto of cyborgs was suspicion towards hailing the cyborg simply because of its hybrid composition, independent of its use or actual consequences. How is it possible to tell if a cyborg is to prefer to an organic being, if you don’t know who benefits in the end?

But I guess that what DH claims is that there is no such thing as the pure organic of “natural” today – that we all are couplings, cyborgs, hybrids. The cyborg in her text is a metaphor for the late capitalist postmodern society and is perhaps used as a perspective, a way to interpret the world which leads us away from dualistic, dichotomous thinking. The cyborg in itself is neither good or bad, but can be used for both.

Haraway brings up examples from a variety of fields, but I wanted to reflect upon what her theory could mean in an architectural context. “Natural architecture” is often synonymous with sustainability, local materials, traditional building techniques, chemical-free materials, or cottages in the woods. Maybe a sense of rusticity, conservatism and sentimentality can also be scent.

At the same time the computerized sector of architecture grows, and within this sector too you can see a clear inspiration from nature: digitally made organic shapes and structures, integration of organic sub-systems into the building façade, the idea of performative architecture where the building itself is viewed as a kind of actor (a performing system as opposed to a passive construction). Biology, chemistry, physics and digital technology is co-working in the production of architecture, in a very high-tech way, yet still occupying the territory of nature/biology. Is this the cyborg of architecture?

When the architect in the old “natural” context is a clear actor, a moral thinker, a creative individual, the role of the architect in performative design is more of a viewer, a co-ordinator of systems. If the first speaks of “going back to nature” (wholeness, origin, unity) the latter speaks of system complexity and future programming possibilities. For the first one nature is still sacred, for the second it isn’t because you can no longer tell what is natural and what is not.

But I’m still not convinced of the superiority of the high-tech cyborg architecture to the low-tech nature loving one in the woods. I think we need an equal scepticism toward the products of technology as toward old inadequate concepts of naturalness. And finally I believe we have to remember that how ever big part different kind of technologies take in our lives, bodies and creative processes, we still has the possibility and duty to think and act as moral individuals. Cyborgs, not robots.

/Gerd Holgersson

Donna Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature, London: Free Association Books, 1991


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