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Technology and Culture 41.4 (2000) 854-856

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Book Review

The Architecture of Science

The Architecture of Science. Edited by Peter Galison and Emily Thompson. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999. Pp. xviii+573; illustrations, figures, notes/references, bibliography, index. $65.

The contributors to this oddly titled collection of twenty-three articles span a wide range of disciplines and professions--architecture, history of architecture, history and philosophy of science, history of art, urban history, anthropology, history of medicine, the sciences, and sociology of science--and the articles reflect the range of the authors. A few focus on the social relations of science and architecture, others confine themselves to discussions of the design of scientific spaces like laboratories and research centers, while still others delve into architectural theory. Readers interested in any of these areas will be rewarded, at least by some of these wide-ranging essays.

But the perils of breadth are multiplicity of viewpoints and the diffusion of theme. The variety among the articles raises a question: what binds them together? If an anthology is a collection of writings that suggest a theme, this collection is not strenuously anthological. And the problem is compounded by that cryptic title, "the architecture of science." The expression apparently carries a twofold implication: science is constructed, and architecture, both actually and metaphorically, provides some of the structure. The editors evidently hope that the collected essays will make statements about these implications. In their introduction they place the contributions in the context of the "sociology of scientific knowledge" (p. 19), an approach that has been agitating the field of the history of science and provoking skirmishes between scientists and historians. But without the [End Page 854] prompting in the introductory essay readers might easily conclude that the collection either suggests no theme or that, at most, it confirms the general idea that architecture, society, technology, and science have overlapped in a variety of interesting ways.

It may be appropriate to review the anthology on the grounds that the editors have defined it. Over the past fifteen years the sociology of scientific knowledge has placed its emphasis on the process of "knowledge-making" and has attempted to bring into clearer focus connections between science, as a social and intellectual activity, and other cultural enterprises. In its more moderate expressions this approach has enriched the study of science and technology and staked out some open frontiers in historical research. In an exceptionally well-illustrated article, M. Norton Wise concludes modestly that nineteenth-century industrial landscapes "helped to shape the expectations and accomplishments of a new technological and scientific elite in Prussia" (p. 135). But in straining for broad meaning the new sociology sometimes slips its leash and dashes off into what can easily be mistaken for spoof. In an article titled "Architecture as Science: Analogy or Disjunction?" Alberto Pérez-Gómez abandons control of his rhetoric to vapid theory mongering and post-modern jargon, to wit:

Before elaborating on the differences between scientific theory and phenomenological hermeneutics, I would like to touch on a related question that has fascinated architects and critics in recent years. The potentially fascinating consequences of chaos theory for architecture are indeed a popular topic these days. In its expectation to find complex behavior as a result of simple systems, and in its understanding that complex systems give rise to simple behavior, in holding that the laws of complexity hold universally, caring not at all for the details of a system's constituent parts, chaos is indeed different from classical physics. Chaos theory demonstrates self-similarity, retrieving Leibniz's notion that "the world is in a drop of water" to understand, finally, that everything is connected (p. 343).

How, in fact, is scientific knowledge shaped by the architectural spaces in which it is produced? On the question whether the physical space in which science is practiced "changed the science we might have done elsewhere," the biologist Arnold Levine can offer only the conjecture: "I suspect the answer is yes, for subtle reasons" (p. 422). Even the editors cannot do better. They concede that "there is no...


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