israel rosenfield


There is a sense of impermanence and constant transformation in the

world of Berdaguer & Péjus. And while the inspiration for much of their work is biology and neurology, it is fascinating to note that implicit in their works is a biology that is radically new and that is transforming our idea about the origins and development of life – and will no doubt have deep consequences for

our understanding of cerebral function as well.

I think, therefore, it is worth summarizing these developments as they give an added perspective to the work of Berdaguer & Péjus. They concern our understanding of how form develops from an egg to an adult, and a parallel and related understanding of how the enormous variety of morphologies of plants and animals have evolved over time.

The new discoveries are not unrelated to Berdaguer & Péjus’ view of architecture as living matter. Architectural forms change almost without limit. There are ‘rules’ governing these architectural changes; we might say there are

‘constraints’ or limits on what can be done. But it is the very constraints that offer a much greater variety and complexity of architectural forms, none of which are predetermined, then if we introduced only random changes in the architecture.

This reminds me of the recent discoveries of a set of genes that

control the morphological development of an embryo, genes that are virtually identical from worms to humans. These genes turn ‘on’ and ‘off’ other genes and it is the ways in which these ‘on’ and ‘off’ patterns vary that plays an important role in the evolution of species. Wings and arms have a tantalizing

similarity, even if they serve very different functions. In fact, wings and arms are variations on a theme. The differing interactions among related (similar) genes (and biological signals) will give rise to wings on the chicken, forelimbs on the mouse and the arms of humans and chimps. In other words, the evolution of species, all forms of higher life, is constrained by genes that determine a ‘body plan’ – an ‘architecture’ – and those genes have been preserved throughout evolution.

A general architecture, or body plan (for example, virtually all organisms are bilateral – they have a left and a right) permits evolution to experiment with new forms without running the risk of creating too many kinds of organism that will not survive. In Berdaguer & Péjus we find the construction of La Ville hormonale, Psycho-architecture, Murder Home, virtual home, olafactory home and so on. There are constraints on the use of space and materials and it is these constraints that permit a greater freedom in the development of new and unpredictable architectural forms. For example, the

state of the walls in a house, in Maisons qui meurent, may be determined by the bodily conditions of the inhabitants of the house. So too, in different species, basic physiological processes can be put to different usages and combined in

different ways – giving us worms or mice or men. And just as the ways in

which certain basic elements, or fundamental processes, are combined gives us different architectures or different organisms, certain forms of behavior can

interrelate the processes, giving them a precision in biology or architecture – again with the emergence of unexpected forms. BERDAGUER & PÉJUS, for example,

describe their project Cortex, a ‘bâtiment-corps’ with a central ‘noyau

domotique’ that regulates heat, light, appetites, moods and desires: “Il évolue

en fonction des différentes données souhaitées pas ses habitants.” And they add:

“Ce ‘bâtiment-corps ne se limite pas seulement à obéir logiquement aux diverses sollicitations, il possède une automonie partielle que le rend imprevisible: introduction d’une gamme de réponse aléatoires dans le systeme.”

One might ask how such a construction can ever be coherent, how it can function as a whole. Again, Berdaguer & Péjus’

construction suggests an important biological and evolutionary process that we might call ‘exploratory behavior’ exemplified by the foraging behavior of ants searching for food. Ants leave their nest and take random paths. As they move

about they secrete a chemical substance called a pheromone that leaves a scent along the path they are following. If an ant fails to find food it will eventually return to the nest, using the pheromones it has deposited to guide it

back the nest. However, an ant that finds food, will deposit more pheromones as

it returns to the nest. This will reinforce the scent of the trail that led to

food and other ants will now follow the reinforced trail. Nonetheless, not all

the ants will follow the successful trail. Some ants will set out on random

paths in search of other sources of food and if successful they, too, will

establish paths for subsequent ants. Eventually, the ants will have established

a detailed map of paths to food sources. An innocent observer might be fooled

into thinking that the ants are using a map. However, what appears to be a

carefully laid out mapping of pathways to food supplies is really just a

consequence of a series of random searches.

There are different kinds of

exploratory processes that are important for the embryonic development of the

vascular and nervous systems. While the details of the individual processes vary

considerably, the guiding principles are similar to those of ant foraging: just

as the ants randomly explore the terrain around their nest, capillary vessels

sprout off the larger blood vessels and randomly explore the surrounding tissues

for the signals coming from oxygen-deprived cells. And just as contact with food

makes the ant reinforce the path that led to the food, the sprouting capillary

vessels establish permanent contacts whenever they encounter tissue with

oxygen-deprived cells. Similarly, fine nerve endings grow randomly, establishing

stable nerve-muscle connections whenever they receive electrical and chemical

signals coming from muscle. Hence the evolution of organs such as the eye or the

hand, with apparently well-designed and integrated nervous and vascular systems,

does not require a global architectural plan with predetermined paths and


And so too, we can imagine an ‘exploratory process’ that might link up

the various inhabitants of Berdaguer & Péjus’ Cortex, allowing random changes

among the inhabitants.

The richness of Berdaguer and Péjus’ work derives in

part from the way it ‘resonates’ with certain ideas in biology and the

neurosciences. But I do not want to suggest there is, or should be, any direct

connection between the arts and the sciences. Exposure to the sciences can

stimulate the artist and vice versa. What is common to both is that neither the

arts nor the sciences develop along predetermined pathways. What came before is

important to both, but there is no inevitability in what scientists and artists

do with what they learn from their teachers and the past. Imagination is as

important in the sciences as in the arts; new discoveries, new breakthroughs in

the sciences, even in retrospect, do not follow any logical path; they raise new

questions, open up the possibility of new avenues to be explored, as do new

creations in the arts. Like evolution – and the processes I have described, the

constraints of the past, of the materials, of what we can see and do – do not

limit the possibilities, so much as increase the probability of producing mea

ningful imaginative works.

Israël Rosenfield

(Traduction H-A Baatsch)