The ancients distinguished contemplation (theory) as learning about that which never changes and which no human knowledge can influence, from the acquisition of skills (practice) as a kind of learning about that which constantly changes, and which human knowledge can influence. Practice was hence minorized as dealing only with the probable, while it was reserved for theory alone to address questions of truth. Against this legacy, much of modernity’s spirit of progressivism is driven by refuting the ancient minorization of practice in the light of theory, indeed by inverting it in strict favour of how knowledge can be made useful through systematic implementation: No mathematician shall pursue one of the classical mathematical problems (squaring the circle, or double-ing a cube), the French Academy famously proclaimed after the French Revolution.

The more recent emergence of two fields, both equally real as virtual, are suggesting that we take a fresh look at this legacy: (1) ecology and the environment as a way to frame how we refer to „nature“, and (2) computability as a way to operate intellectually on the templates of how we do frame „nature“ (implicitly or explicitly). Both, ecological thinking and the literacy of computability force us to think about systems in a way that can make no reference to a “natural state” for these systems – at least not without making metaphysical or ideological imports.

Thereby, there seems to be a wide common sense today that practice stands on the side of materialism, granting an undogmatic discourse because it centralizes quantitative aspects (magnitudes, and how they are calculated by computing multitudes) as opposed to formal ones (territories, and how they are governed by measuring). Theory, on the other hand, seems to stand on the side of idealism, prioritizing aspects of form. As we well know, either one of these intellectual “polar poles” claims to be prime in how we ought to speak about reality.

Hence the interest of this two day seminar: What is at stake with this competition between form and quantity, territory and magnitude? And how does the one notion so central to computing, namely that of information, fit within this context? Or in more general terms: How does the new literacy of computability fit within the old scheme that distinguishes theory from practice? Does this scheme at all remain to be relevant and informative in any kind of way in our contemporary cultural landscape? In which variant does it remain to be relevant (or where did it dissolve into if declared irrelevant?).

The two-day Seminar is organized by the Chair for Computer Aided Architectural Design at ETH Zürich, by Dr. phil. Vera Bühlmann and Jorge Orozco. The event is tailored for the Chair’s PhD candidates as well as MAS students, and the format is chosen such that there will be plenty of room for discussion (45 minutes paper, 75 minutes discussion per session). There will be a reader provided by the PhD candidates with a selection of texts they would like to be discussed in relation to the papers given.

ETH Zurich / Faculty of Architecture / Institute of Technology in Architecture / Computer Aided Architectural Design CAAD