Mechanological Dynamics in Jacques Lafitte and Gilbert Simondon

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Marratt, Marisabel
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When Jacques Lafitte, a civil engineer, published his pamphlet Reflexions sur la Science de Machines (1932, 1972), he was writing across disciplines, developing a methodology that integrated structural theory, kinematics, and mechanical and civil engineering, with works of art and architecture. Contrary to many writings of the period, his work seeks to define and position the machine as a primary force of integration, rather than as a technological object hell-bent on social alienation. Most importantly, he develops a whole new science of machines, mechanology, which proposes a system of classification that expands on the notion of what constitutes a machine, and is organized according to an energetic and functional evolution; within this system, he situates works of architecture. While Lafitte’s words have little purchase in the scientific and cultural milieu of the world between the wars, they acquire new resonance in the postwar period, increasingly dominated by cybernetic theory. They will engage French philosopher of technology Gilbert Simondon, who furthers this exploration of mechanology in his own writings; they will serve to focus his thinking concerning technicity as a “mode of existence” in his secondary thesis entitled On The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (1958). In this recently translated work, Simondon outlines a mode of existence particular to technical objects, by presenting the technical object as a field of operation, thus setting in motion an understanding of the movement of technicity as “ontological force.” (Hoel, Van der Tuin 2013, 188). This paper proposes a “chiastic” reading of Lafitte and Simondon, to highlight aspects of their little-known work, and to suggest elements in their thinking that may be relevant to contemporary architectural discourse. This machine that both authors seek to define, albeit differently, is explored as both mechanism and organism, an understanding of which may contribute to the current discourse on emergence, as well as offer a new framework for research in architectural history. This paper encapsulates a portion of the preparatory research for the thesis project: “Gilbert Simondon: Technicity and Technophany in the Chaine Operatoire.”
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