Machinistic Power | Dallegret, Weitzman, François Roche and the poetry of envisioning the future.

Hand-written note by Frederick Kiesler, praising Dallegret’s drawings, 1965

“Multiple choice of change is everyone’s generator of life”
François Dallegret, Arthropods [1971]

We have witnessed a deep and long talk about representation as means of communication in the past months. The symposium Is drawing dead?, the issue 956 of Domus dedicated to representation and the way that new technologies are transforming the way we share and expand our ideas are just a few examples of the interest of architects on this subject. But sometimes, in the fast world we live in, it is worth to stop for a while and dedicate some time to reflect and remind some of the works, writings and studies that had influenced the constant desire of architects to be heard and communicate their ideas and thoughts through drawing.

In fact, some of the most powerful influences for architects doesn’t come from the architectural practice itself. It is well known the relationship between architecture and other disciplines such as art, philosophy, or engineering among others. This last one maybe the catalyst of the fascination that some architects have for machine power, industrial references and, in the current times, robotic structures and drones. One of this famous relationship was between Reyner Banham and Fraçois Dallegret when they wrote/illustrated “A Home is not a House” in 1965. Dallegret was trained as an architect at the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris, but he has been attracted from the very beginning, in 1964, to operational design, inspired both by the plastic and technological arts. That’s why he dedicated much of his time to create machines for almost everything: the Littératuromatic, an electronic machine for the re-invention of literature; the Cuisinomatique or the Relationpublicomatique électronique; all of them deeply influenced on its design on the evolution of locomotive machines.

Preparatory sketches for ‘A Home Is Not a House’ [1965]. Source

Littératuromatic. François Dallegret [1963]. Source

Sarah K. Rich wrote on François Dallegret’s Astrological Automobiles: Occult Commodities for France in the 1960s “[…] in Dallegret’s prototypes, the mechanical mishaps and slapstick features often trumped any earnest design mission.” And she adds:

In the future, according to Dallegret, the artist would steer beams of aesthetic energy directly to his patron. To facilitate this relationship, the artist’s body would acquire cybernetic prostheses allowing him to control such energy: the head would expand into an ‘encephalic cap’ and be supplemented with a ‘head cage’ of gears and pulleys that seems to leave the artist openmouthed in shock and/or pain.

Reading Dallegret’s ideas and looking at his designs, it is impossible not to stop briefly outside the architectural practice and think on David Weitzman. He studied at the Art Institute of Chicago [1947-52] and around 1980 he began to specialize in historically-accurate juvenile fiction about American industrial archeology, as we can read on codex99. His books varies from airplanes, ships, and metal workers to always return to the subject of steam power. In books like Superpower: The Making of a Steam Locomotive or Locomotive: Building an Eight-Wheeler he beautifully illustrates the machines referred on the books.

Superpower. David Weitzman. Source

Even if steam power is far from new, it was in the 1800s when the best improvements was developed and the final major evolution of the steam engine was the switch from pistons to turbines starting in the early part of the 20th century. This fact makes us aware of the ambivalent boundary between the meaning of Modern and Old and why is understandable that, from time to time, the attention of architects goes back and focus again on this type of machinery.

But going further, the natural evolution of technologies makes us wonder which are the machinistic influences that we can find in the current moment? Maybe the sophisticated machines designed by François Roche from R&Sie(n) are the ultimate example in this context?

In an brief mail conversation we had with François Roche, he pointed that machines simultaneously produce artifacts, assemblages, multiplicity and desires and infiltrate the raison d’être of our own body and mind in the relationship to our own biotopes. He pointed:

In this sense machines seem to be vectors of narratives, generators of rumors, and at the same time directly operational, with an accurate productive efficiency.

Beyond the importance of technology itself in architecture, it is interesting to see in which ways this big-technological-moments and its narratives had influenced the architects mind, making us aware of the poetic of these drawings. Some of the most fascinating drawings we can find nowadays has something to do with the magic of machinery… as François Roche told us, “Their skyzoid agendas are both products and vectors of paranoia, as a strategy of psycho emmergences, a potential of desalienation… in our absurd post mass media age…”

Broomwitch. R&Sie(n) [2008]

Broomwitch. R&Sie(n) [2008]

We can go endlessly through some good examples about this issue, such as Jimenez Lai’s White Elephant, a project “somewhere between super-furniture and a small house.” This artifact couldn’t have been conceived without a detailed work of drawing and representation deeply related to industrial design. But we can also go back to our start-point and end our reflections with another interesting project by Dallegret: The CliclaCrocoTartoMatic. Described by Sarah K. Rich with these words:

It promised new technology, and its accompanying description in text assured the reader about its eventual function once constructed. At the same time, however, the Clic relied upon mechanical operations that were legibly retrograde in the sixties.

It is a project which combined ther major elements: Le Mental, Le Phsyque and Le Social. But how could our mind and thoughts be represented by a machine? It made us think on the philosophy behind some characters in Karel Čapek’s Artificial People, the Mechanical Hound of Fahrenheit 451 or some other personages in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. One of the common links between them is that they tried to represent the future of human beings as machines, as some kind of robots.

But what we find fascinating behind all these works, is that the drawings created by Dallegret, Weitzman, François Roche and others, used representation of their machinistic fantasies to create the hyperreal. All of them has the inherent poetry of envisioning the future.

CliclaCrocoTartoMatic. François Dallegret [1963]. Source

“Through reproduction from one medium into another the real becomes volatile, it becomes the allegory of death, but it also draws strength from its own destruction, becoming the real for its own sake, a fetichism of the lost object which is no longer the object of representation, but the ecstasy of the degeneration and its own ritual extermination: the hyperreal.”
– Jean Baudrillard, Symbolic Exchange and Death


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