Instead, the book relies on an image of the heroic architect who orchestrates a building project from afar through concept sketches, a facile characterization that conceals a gambit of architects, both current and past, who have operated quite provocatively otherwise (Henri Labrouste, Carlo Scarpa, and Renzo Piano come to mind, not to mention the surge in practices incorporating digital fabrication and design in new ways). In the end, Hughes’s assumption that architects desire, indeed fetishize, a kind of hermetic representational space between mind and material greatly undermines the potential of this book.
Hughes states her intention in the introduction to offer a critique of error without theory, choosing to focus on a notion of error perhaps more familiar to architects, one where impure materials undermine pure form. This creates a sharply focused critique, but the choice to exclude notable sources in the broader theory of error weakens some of the her claims. Looking at contrasting theories of error between René Descartes and Giambattista Vico, for example, would have shown that the correlation of error to the senses, so central to Hughes’s assumptions, relies on a view that excludes myth and imagination as legitimate categories of knowledge. At the same time, French theorist Paul Virilio has convincingly reasoned for the positive guidance of accident or error, arguing that in a modern society, the artist must use such accidents to guard against the hegemony of technology, a position that would be of key importance to bolstering the author’s argument.
Hughes’s book appears during a surge of interest in the topic of error in architecture, underscoring its importance for educators, particularly those interested in computational design and digital fabrication. With robotics enabling a host of new research into indeterminacy, the question of precision and mistakes is more relevant than ever for architects. Particularly valuable is that Hughes directs her critique toward some of the more common questions that preoccupy architecture students, as in her revealing analysis of Ivan Sutherland’s precursor to CAD software, Sketchpad (Figure 3). Extensively researched and poignant in its approach, the book raises important questions for the next generation of architects and educators contemplating the role of materials and precision in fabrication, conception, and design thinking.
How to Cite this Article: Foote, Jonathan. Review of Architecture of Error: Matter, Measure, and the Misadventures of Precision, by Francesca Hughes. JAE Online. February 27, 2016. http://www.jaeonline.org/articles/book-reviews/architecture-error#/.