One of the principal purposes of such tools is to facilitate non-professional understanding of, say, the impacts of a development. [Break] I think there's a danger with each [CAD and Photomontages] of seductive images obfuscating content. [Break] For either photomontages or 3D mock-ups to have any worth in the planning system, they should be carried out by a third party not attached to the developer. [Break] I fear people would be seduced by them without thinking of the real-world context in which developments actually take place. [Break] The point I was making was that the involvement of a third party would hopefully add a measure of objectivity to the process, rather than the devil citing scripture for his own purpose, so to speak. [Break] ....removing the task from the developer's advocates (architects or planning consultants), in the interest of objectivity. [Break] The developer pays, but doesn't get to choose. And doesn't get to manipulate the results. Or the state pays- this would be a way of increasing the chances of objectivity, and would be justifiable as large scale projects will always have an impact on the public at large.
These quotes represent a very consistent argument, from one member of the planning community. I feel it is important to deal with the implications of this. I want to explain something called 'Instrumentalism', and how it has coloured the planning communities perception of how to use digital technology. I took some time to interact with members of the planning community. I felt it was important to try to see it from a different perspective. I wanted to be absolutely sure I understood where the planning community are coming from. Whether they view the rise of computer aided visual design, as an asset to our understanding, or a liability. I thought my own perspective about the subject of design, visualisation and computer aided design was coloured by my own experience, background and the folks I interact with in general. I try to stay positive as much as I can about the digital future. To look forward to how new technology will enable us to amplify our intelligence.
The Planning profession's adoption of an 'instrumentalist' point of view betrays their lack of 'hands on' working experience with visual media, the generation of prototypes and modelling of ideas. I have included an explanation about the instrumentalist philosophy, given by David Deutsch in a book he wrote, 'The Fabric of Reality'. I will observe with some interest, in the coming years, how the planning community attempt to develop this particular line of thinking on 'how to use' digital tools. I know that architects are striving to come up with explanations. The search for explanation is a life long quest for the architect, and a productive way to spend ones time in my opinion. But the planning community are not interested in the 'search for explanation'. The planning community have become involved in a quest to gain the ultimate 'predictive' insight, that money, time and technological resources can buy. This point of view, becoming ever more popular, as government funding for all sorts of public projects is available. Theoretical Physicist, David Deutsch points out, even if you do reach this Nirvana of predictive capability, you are still no closer to solving the most basic design problems.
Yet some philosophers - and even some scientists - disparage the role of explanation is science. To them, the basic purpose of a scientific theory is not to explain anything, but to predict the outcomes of experiments: its entire content lies in it predictive formulae. They consider that any consistent explanation that a theory may give for its predictions is as good as any other - or as good as no explanation at all - so long as the predictions are true. This view is called instrumentalism (because it says that a theory is no more than an 'instrument' for making predictions). To instumentalists, the idea that science can enable us to understand the underlying reality that accounts for our observations is a fallacy and a conceit. They do not see how anything a scientific theory may say beyond predicting the outcomes of experiments can be more than empty words. Explanations, in particular, they regard as mere psychological props: a sort of fiction which we incorporate in theories to make them more easily remembered and entertaining. The Nobel prize-winning physicist Steven Weinberg was in instrumentalist mood when he made the following extraordinary comment about Einstein's explanation of gravity:
The important thing is to be able to make predictions about images on the astronomers' photographic plates, frequencies of spectral lines, and so on, and it simply doesn't matter whether we ascribe these predictions to the physical effects of gravitational fields on the motion of planets and photons [as in pre-Einsteinian physics] or to a curvature of space and time. (Gravitation and Cosmology, p.147)
Imagine that an extraterrestrial scientist has visited the Earth and given us an ultra-high-technology 'oracle' which can predict the outcome of any possible experiment, but provides no explanations. According to instrumentalists, once we had that oracle we should have no further use for scientific theories, except as a means of entertaining ourselves. But is that true? How would the oracle be used in practice? In some sense it would contain the knowledge necessary to build, say, an interstellar spaceship. But how exactly would that help us to build one, or to build another oracle of the same kind - or even a better mousetrap? The oracle only predicts the outcomes of experiments. Therefore in order to use it all we must first know what experiments to ask it about. It we gave it the design of a spaceship, and the details of a proposed test flight, it could tell us how the spaceship would perform on such a flight. But it could not design the spaceship for us in the first place. And even if it predicted that the spaceship we had designed would explode on take-off, it could not tell us how to prevent such an explosion. That would still be for us to work out. And before we could work it out, before we could even begin to improve design in any way, we should have to understand, among other things, how the spaceship was supposed to work. Only then would we have any chance of discovering what might cause an explosion on take-off. Prediction - even perfect, universal prediction - is simply no substitute for explanation.
Similarly, in scientific research the oracle would not provide us with any new theory. Not until we already had a theory, and had thought of an experiment that would test it, could we possibly ask the oracle what would happen if the theory were subjected to that test. Thus, the oracle would not be replacing theories at all: it would be replacing experiments. It would spare us the expense of running laboratories and particle accelerators. Instead of building prototype spaceships, and risking the lives of test pilots, we could do all the testing on the ground with pilots sitting in flight simulators whose behaviour was controlled by the predictions of the oracle.
Chapter One, The Theory of Everything.
The Fabric of Reality.
By David Deutsch.
I will also tack on part of an essay, published at the Urban Design Group Website. http://www.udg.org.uk. It was suggested to me on the other discussion thread, that I have some ajenda here. To prove, that I am not the only one concerned with the fragmentation of the professions, traditions and disiplines, read through the following. I think that Archiseek discussion forum can end up living in its own little fish bowel. Where it cannot interact properly with discussions happening, in parallel around the world. That is a pity and a limitation with the Archiseek Discussion forum concept I am sure.
Brian O' Hanlon
Cities are victims of specialisms. Good urbanism needs urbanists with cities in their blood. Too many young people have their instinctive understanding of what makes cities tick drained out of them in the process of training in built environment specialisms. The processes, institutions and agencies of urban professionals must be reviewed and fundamentally restructured. Put an architect, a planner, an engineer, a surveyor and an landscape architect around a table. Do they now provide a rounded view? No, usually they provide five specialist views. Each specialism is sustained by its own language, its value system and its institute.
Architects learn the increasingly specialised business of designing buildings. Highway engineers learn how to make the traffic flow. Planners may profess to be the generalists in the team, uniquely skilled in forging collaborations, but too often they are merely specialists in operating the planning system. Landscape architects resent being limited by their specialised role, but they rarely get the chance to think more widely. Surveyors engage in whatever specialism suits their particular niche. Despite the fact that all of these people are shaping our towns and cities, few will receive any training in how complex urban places work.
Urban design, with few exceptions, is a postgraduate course for the committed few. The starting point of urban design training is flawed. Professionals trained in a particular narrow viewpoint, some over a period of six years, are expected fundamentally to change their view of the world. Urban design training tries to retrofit architects and planners, drilled in antiurban traditions, as good urbanists. The hard disk has been corrupted even before the programme can be loaded. Post-graduate urban design courses operate as little more than extensions to planning or architecture courses. Where both professions are being taught in one institution, the various departments squabble about whether urban design is a planning issue or an architectural one. The boundaries of the built environment professions have their origins in history. They were always at least to some extent accidental and arbitrary. It is difficult to move those boundaries once they have been set, however much changes in professional practice and social, economic and technical conditions may seem to demand it. So the professions compete with each other for territory: for any areas of work that more than one profession sees as part of its own specialism.