Perugini and the idea of a Cybernetic Architecture

Influenced by ideas of a cybernetic systems organising architectural space, Perugini experimented with a theoretical system in his competition entry for the Ospedale Cibernetico—the Cybernetic Hospital in 1967. Using a computer, the hospital reorganises the spaces around the patients’ needs creating a dynamic flexible architecture. (Sketches from the Perugini family archive)

 The University of Sapienza in Rome was in the early 1960/1970 a centre of early cybernetic research. Working alongside the statistician and mathematician Bruno de Finetti Bruno de Finetti (1906–1985) was an Italian probabilist statistician and actuary, noted for the “operational subjective” conception of probability. His research has been seen to lay the foundations of modern computing. Link, Vittorio Somenzi Vittorio Somenzi (1918-2003) was an Italian philosopher. His work directed his theoretical studies on cybernetics and was among the first in Italy to be interested in artificial intelligence and to study the mind-brain and mind-machine relationships. and Roberto Cordeschi Roberto Cordeshi (1946-2014) was an Italian philosopher teaching at Sapienza in Rome. Working with Somenzi he immediately became passionate about the history of cybernetics. explored cybernetics at the faculty of philosophy. Together they published The Philosophy of Automata La Filisofia degli Automi, V. Somenzi, R. Cordeshi, Bollati Boringhieri, 1965 . Their research linked Alan Turing (UK) Alan Turing (1912-1954) was a British mathematician and logician, who made major contributions to mathematics, cryptanalysis, logic, philosophy and also to the new areas later named computer science, artificial intelligence, and artificial life. and his work with early computing, Norbert Wiener (US) Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) was an American mathematician and philosopher. He was a professor of mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT.and his ideas of Cybernetics—which he defined in 1948 as ‘the scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine’, and Claude Shannon (US)—a mathematician and cryptographer credited as ‘the father of Information Technology (IT)’.

Cordeschi was appointed at Sapienza in 1965 and from 1966 an influx of research into Cybernetics reached the library of Sapienza. The work of Norbert Wiener, Victor Glushkov and other pioneers in the field became known at Sapienza.

For the Cybernetic hospital the plans are no longer static and based on a compositional arrangement of the spaces. Each patient’s clinical treatment needs result in a reconfiguration of the entire system. There are similarities in which Amazon is nowadays using a kinetic warehouse where the shelves reconfigure themselves around the packing station to optimise the storage space for accessibility whilst minimising the space used for packing individual parcels.  (Sketches from the Perugini family archive)

With these developments as context Perugini took an interest in the Kiev circle of development in cybernetic research, referring to computers like the Mir-2, a newly developed system that suggested the idea of a centralised system that can solve different problems for distant companies and institutions. Research in these approaches in technology was led concurrently by Russian research institutions, and in the field of Information Technology Victor Glushkov, a mathematician and figure highlighted by Perugini, became widely known as one of the founding fathers of Soviet cybernetics. Glushkov’s research became known in the West through the English translation of the Introduction to Cybernetics Introduction into Cybernetics, V. Gluskkov, Academic Press, 1966first published in 1966 and since then included in the Sapienza library.

Perugini continued his cybernetic research through a competition entry for a convention centre in Vienna. Here all spatial organisations are solely organised as dependent spatial arrangements—responding with an architecture that is adapting to different needs. (Sketches from the Perugini family archive)

Although he did not go into detail, even at this point in the emergence of Information Technology, Perugini was already imagining a future where computing would be employed to solve ever more complex problems in economics at a national level, by networking smaller systems (electronic calculators). However, at the same time, Perugini was aware of intentions from others to apply this ‘new science’ within architecture ‘as a substitute for the “mental process” or as an aid to the quantitative verification of the mechanics of forms.’ Progetti E Ricerca, G. Perugini, Nuova Dimenzione. p.134

He was critical of an education system he perceived as focussed on training architects to do no more than deliver for the industry. Whilst aware of these issues affecting confidences in architectural education of the time and discourse on aims to develop new structures—within an increasingly free society, these possibilities, mis-intentions, and questions formed the core of Perugini’s attraction to the field of cybernetics.

In this regard, he saw the idea of the ‘model’—a form of a virtual construct with the potential to serve as an analogy for any other system—itself being a form of transcendent creative product, ‘The creative act, specifically human, in all fields, whether it be the work of art, scientific discovery or the revolutionary initiative, is the construction of models. Progetti E Ricerca, G. Perugini, Nuova Dimenzione. p.136

Noting that Perugini’s work on this subject is one of the earliest applications of computing in architecture as a design assistive model, it is worth considering that even then he was conscious of seeing the role of computing (systems based on logic and rational processes) as ‘overcoming the rationalism of function through a design that uses the computer to manage the relationship between things, in their movement, in their change, in their life, in their mutual action.’ Progetti E Ricerca, G. Perugini, Nuova Dimenzione. p.136

From this, we can see in the ‘atomisation’ of the Casa Sperimentale into constituent interchangeable elements, after grouping these elements into families the expanded potential of spatial situations through the expanded possibilities of elemental relationships. Here, in managing this new field of potentially infinite formations, as ‘ordinateur’, lies one of Perugini’s notional applications of cybernetics in Architecture through permutations and variations of the Casa Sperimentale.

July 2, 2020