Paul Seletsky, the Digital Design Director for the global firm SOM based in New York, spoke yesterday more or less about the digitization of design process, and using the datasphere to keep tabs on and manage all aspects of the design in a single coherent data tracking system. I am not going to relay his presentation, really, (a video should be online soon enough) but something he pointed out in his introduction I found particularly, well, subtopian, I guess I will say.
He began by making an analogy to the use of the old bloodletting and purging techniques from the second millennium, as a way of exorcising ailment, pinpointing the arteries of disease, acting upon an assumed geo-anatomy of bodily sickness, which often times -- to the lack of their knowledge -- caused bodily damage in other unknown places, if not exacerbated whatever problem the practitioners thought they were addressing. Seletsky stressed the cause and effect interconnectedness of the body, and specifically referenced an ancient device known as the ‘scarificator’, calling it an early type of architecture. Built with multiple blades it was used to exact precise cuts into the body in a way that was actually much more merciful than previous tactics and tools.
[Image: A schematic drawing of the "scarificator", a primitive multiple -bladed device used in exacting precise forms of bloodletting.]
This was all, he seemed to imply, suggestive of the kind of dissective nature of architectural development, where treating one aspect of the building may have considerable repercussions on the rest of the building. An odd metaphor, I thought, and was quite surprised he began with this. Also, being the large corporate firm that SOM is, starting his talk about the ancient technique of bloodletting was a little eerie. But it made sense when he went on to discuss the notion of using a dataspheric approach to designing buildings more surveillance-consciously and respective of their entirety, rather than not using the power of data and digitization to track the effects of the architect's tweaking and design manipulation and how that might have an undesired or unknown consequence on the rest of the design.
However, what is interesting to me is how this ancient practice has made its permanent mark on some level of architecture today. Back then, the duty of bloodletting was assigned mostly to the barbers. And when I looked this up on wikipedia what Seletsky had to say seemd also verbatim, so let me just quote from this short history lesson here:
Even after the humoral system fell into disuse, the practice was continued by surgeons and barber-surgeons. Though the bloodletting was often recommended by physicians, it was carried out by barbers. This division of labour led to the distinction between physicians and surgeons. The barbershop's red-and-white-striped pole, still in use today, is derived from this practice: the red represents the blood being drawn, the white represents the tourniquet used, and the pole itself represents the stick squeezed in the patient's hand to dilate the veins.
Needless to say, I had no idea where the red and white striped pole came from, which is really pretty creepy actually, if you think about it. The idea that we have over time cast this primitive medical treatment (bloodletting) which in some cases was associated with torture, as a classic symbol on the streets for barber shops today. At some point the blue stripe was added and I am not sure why exactly. Perhaps to round out the other two colors with a show of patriotism, I don't know. Either way, now that I know, the barber shop seems like the last place I want to go for a good old fashioned shave.