Reading List

List Author

Iman Ansari

The Ohio State University

Animal Machines: The Architecture of the Body

To speak of “the body” today is not to describe an organic substrate, a psychological being, a historical object, or simply a living animal. It is instead to speak of the processes and conditions through which consciousness, vitalism, or “life” assimilates into its cultural and technical milieu and takes a material form: it is to speak of embodiment.

The rise of biology as a scientific discipline in the nineteenth century and the demise of mechanical models of explanation dissolved the distinctions between vitalism and mechanism into a new multifaceted concept of organism. Through this process, organization — the pattern of relations binding organs into a coordinated whole — emerged as a vital force that enabled the very possibility for life. From the eighteenth-century defecating duck to the nineteenth-century mechanical watch, the vitality of organisms came to be viewed as not merely analogous to but synonymous with the mechanical processes of machines powered by water, steam, or electricity — recall Mary Shelley’s novel in which Victor Frankenstein gives life to his creature (made up of an assemblage of human body parts) using electricity.

This new awareness of the integration of parts within a whole eventually extended to the relations of an organism to its milieu. The scientific, socio-cultural, economic, and ergonomic processes that emerged from the disciplinary systems of the early nineteenth century gradually subsumed both organic and mechanical organisms (man and machine) into the rationalizing imperatives of the industrial apparatus, the capitalist whole. From the organization and management of labor, power, knowledge, health, and human nature, to that of fire, water, sewage, energy, or air, “life” was embodied in factories, prisons, schools, hospitals, and even households, seamlessly alternating between organic and mechanical bodies. What has followed since is the continuation of the same drive, same desire, to integrate man and machine, organism and mechanism, within their shared milieu as an organizational whole. It is then unthinkable to speak of “the body” — be it that of the human subject or the nonhuman objects amongst us — in terms of a static, stable, or somatic condition without considering the dynamic, transient, and extra-somatic systems that surround us and constitute the basic ingredients of our culture and technology.

The list of books and essays gathered here begin to map the uncharted territory of the body outside the organic, biological, or corporeal conditions of the pre-modern era. They examine the chain of events, situations, and circumstances that disentangled life, so to speak, from its organic host and embodied it within its increasingly artificial environment. A special interest has been paid to the role of architecture and modes of interaction, or symbiosis, between bodies and buildings in the process of mechanization. From technologies of moving, sensing, and regulating to those of observing, measuring, and documenting, biological and technical principles governing organisms and machines in the nineteenth century began to converge within a set of standardized mechanisms, materials, and devices in cities and buildings: wires, tubes, pipes, shafts, ducts, conduits, and corridors. These objects, devices, or machinery began to mediate the relations between organic materials, substances, and bodies and their mechanical surrounding through movements, perceptions, and gestures. As these texts reveal, the transformations that have followed in the past century or so, far from a cultural or intellectual paradigm shift, are in the lineage of the processes that established and defined modernity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. What has changed instead is a shift in direction: the mechanization of life giving way to the vitalization of the machine.

[Image by Étienne-Jules Marey (public domain).]

  • The Birth of the Clinic: An Archeology of Medical Perception


    The Birth of the Clinic, similar to some of Foucault’s better known works, deals with the formation of the modern subject in relation to systems of power and knowledge. What is unique here is Foucualt’s historiographic approach in considering the role of the language in medical science. He describes how the articulation of medical language in the eighteenth century transformed the body into something that could be mapped, classified, and objectively described through the strange sensorial elements of touch, glance, or gesture, allowing doctors to discern and describe phenomena that had remained below the threshold of perception or description.

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    The Principles of Scientific Management


    Taylor’s theory of scientific management offered techniques to improve economic efficiency and labor productivity. As a primary resource, the book is significant not just in applying the rigor of scientific observation, analysis, and management to simple labor (bricklaying, shoveling, handling pig-iron, etc.), but also in establishing an understanding of the body as a (mindless) machine within the systems of production, which needs to be specifically instructed “not only what is to be done but how it is to be done and the exact time allowed for doing it.”

  • The Human Motor: Energy, Fatigue, and the Origins of Modernity

    University of California Press

    A fascinating history of the modern body and the shifting attitudes towards labor in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, this book investigates how the developments in physics, biology, medicine, psychology, politics, and photography devised new mechanisms to define the working body as a “human motor.” From nineteenth century theories of thermodynamics and political economy to twentieth century principles of scientific management, Rabinbach positions those ideological tendencies as a response to the anxiety and obsession around problems of energy, fatigue, and idleness in the human body.

  • The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man

    Duckworth Overlook

    The Mechanical Bride is a critical and ethnographic study of American popular culture through a visual and textual analysis of newspaper articles, comics, and advertisements. “No longer is it possible for modern man, individu­ally or collectively, to live in any exclusive segment of human experience or achieved social pattern,” McLuhan proclaims. The aim of the book, therefore, is to draw attention to the use of the mass media and communication techniques of the time as means of manipulation, exploitation, and control, as well as what they might imply about the modern society and the “industrial man” they are aimed at.

  • The Decorative Art of Today

    MIT Press

    Published in 1925 as a companion volume to Towards a New Architecture and The City of Tomorrow, The Decorative Art of Today was written in response to the traditional tendencies that Le Corbusier saw in the Decorative Arts Exhibition of 1925. He advocates a functionalist approach to design that corresponds to and embraces the industrial zeitgeist of the machine age and calls for an “orthopedic” relationship between objects or furniture and the human body. “Our concern is with the mechanical system that surrounds us,” he wrote, “which is no more than an extension of our limbs, its elements, in fact, artificial limbs.”

  • Are Clothes Modern?: An Essay on Contemporary Apparel


    Based on a little-known MoMA exhibition of the same title in 1944, Are Clothes Modern? explores the individual and collective relationship with modern clothing of the time. The book is filled with photographs, advertisement clips, drawings, and diagrams that juxtapose the modern western fashioning of the body against the traditional or non-western customs and practices. From head, neck, and foot deformities, to body armors, corselets, pockets, buttons, cuffs, and collars, the book challenges and displaces the very norms and standards not just of clothing but of the body, the way it is configured, conditioned, or clothed.

  • Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History

    University of Minnesota Press

    In this ambitious attempt at mustering the anonymous history of mechanization “from a human standpoint,” Giedion illustrates the impact of industrial manufacturing techniques, materials, and processes on nearly every aspect of modern life. The book aims to understand the effects of mechanization on the body and the extent to which it corresponds to and contradicts “the unalterable laws of human nature.” A fascinating history that weaves the mechanization of movement, craft, and agriculture to that of human surrounding, comfort, cooking, cleaning, and even bathing, Mechanization Takes Command laid out the foundation for an alternative historiographical approach to ubiquitous and often mundane or “humble” mechanical artifacts — a history which, as Giedion wrote, “will serve perhaps more to reveal existing gaps than to fill them.”

  • The Bathroom


    The book applies a scientific and analytical approach to the study of the bathroom, its functions, and its fixtures. The Bathroom embodies the most fundamental zone of interaction, on the most intimate level, between architecture and its subject, seen and examined as single a bio-technical unit. Inventing a new technique of toilet analysis, Kira carefully surveyed and inspected the perineal region of the body with a series of Muybridge-like photographs that expose the ergonomic mismatch between the anatomic form of the body and that of the fixtures. Far from a sanitary system, a piece of furniture, or an architectural device, the toilet is portrayed as an anatomic object, a mechanical extension of the body, and an extra-somatic prosthesis.

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    Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment


    Architecture of the Well-Tempered Environment provides a critical approach to modern architectural history and criticism that is much in line with what Giedion had started two decades earlier. But if Giedion was drawn to the mechanical objects that constitute man’s artificial environment, Banham instead focused on portraying architecture itself as matter of energy and environmental management. For Banham, beyond the design of forms and structures, or the assemblage of materials and resources, architecture is also about the provision of environmental conditions and processes that would provide the ease and leisure necessary for human progress.

  • Fire and Memory: On Architecture and Energy

    MIT Press

    Fernández-Galiano’s Fire and Memory begins with a similar premise to that of Banham's book above, but ends with quite a different conclusion. Drawing on physics, economics, biology, and ecology, he too sees architecture as a matter of energy but from the point of view of thermodynamics. For Fernández-Galiano, the emphasis is no longer on the “complementarity” and “simultaneity” of the material and energetic strategies alone — as in pre-modern era — but also on the “commutability” and “interchangeability” of the two. “Construction and fire, matter, and energy” Fernández-Galiano writes, “are complementary and interchangeable.” Architecture, therefore, is a matter of energy, encompassing both matter and energy.

  • Body and Building: Essays on the Changing Relation of Body and Architecture

    MIT Press

    A collection of essays by a group of architects, architectural historians, and theorists — such as George Baird, Neil Leach, and Kenneth Frampton, to name a few — on the changing relation of body and architecture. From Greek temples and Renaissance fortresses to the modern houses by Wright and Schindler and the landscapes of Scarpa, the book looks at different ways in which the buildings and the build-environment have addressed the physical, psychological, and spiritual needs and desires of the body.

  • Incorporations

    Zone Books

    This volume of Zone, edited by Jonathan Crary and Sanford Kwinter, gathers essays, projects, photographic dossiers, and philosophical and scientific articles around the new interpretations of the body within twentieth-century modernity. It provides a rich analysis, drawing on the work of scientists, historians, philosophers, filmmakers, architects, and artists, including Gilles Deleuze, François Dagognet, Donna Haraway, Peter Eisenman, Elizabeth Diller, and Ricardo Scofidio, among many others. These reflections reveal how new models of life, based on biological and technological developments in the past hundred years, can still be traced back to the processes that defined modernity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

  • Architecture, Animal, Human: The Asymmetrical Condition


    This book discusses “the question of life in architecture” through examining the complex instances, from the Renaissance and the Enlightenment to our modern history, when ideas around architecture and biology converged to a point that they suggested a material interchangeability. For Ingraham, while architecture is a discipline for which “life” is a necessary precondition, life, on the other hand, “privileges itself above all else, and seeks continuously to expand its field of expression.” This is what she describes as “the asymmetrical condition,” and in her view, while architecture relies on forces of life for its existence, it “must always be, at some level, indifferent to the life within it.”

  • Gesture and Speech

    MIT Press

    In this groundbreaking book, Leroi-Gourhan discusses his theory of human behavior and cultural development by examining prehistoric technology in relation to the development of cognitive and linguistic faculties. For Leroi-Gourhan, in the manual creation of a material culture, gesture, as a kind of “material action,” is coupled with speech as a form of expression of cognition and language. This is what he describes as chaînes opératoires, or “operational sequence.” In his view, the behavior of many animals is characterized by deeply embedded operational sequences. With humans, however, these operational sequences take material form and become more or less permanent constituents of the human environment or milieu, eventually constituting the foundations of technology and culture.

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    Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts

    Shaping Technology/Building Society: Studies in Sociotechnical Change

    MIT Press

    In this essay, Latour explores the role of machines, or nonhumans, in replacing human actions and constraining or shaping social relations through delegation — which he also describes as displacement, translation, or shifting. His essay provides an alternative view of sociology that considers the often silent, hidden, or missing actors within our social relations. Reaffirming the premises of his Actor Network Theory, Latour argues that what appears in the place of the two ghosts — society and technology — is not simply a hybrid object, but a collective thing, a sui generis object. For him, “the missing masses” are in the traditional social theories, that still define our interactions between human and nonhuman actors, and not in humans or in nonhumans alone. In his view, it is those social theories that have to be rethought.

  • The Cylinder: Kinematics of the Nineteenth Century

    University of California Press

    The Cylinder examines the proliferation of cylindrical objects in the nineteenth century through the lens of kinematics. Investigating a range of objects, from steam engines, phonographs, and panoramas to rotary printing presses, silos, and safety locks, Müller-Sievers offers a new approach to the history and culture of the Industrial Revolution through the physics and metaphysics of motion. But if Leroi-Gourhan was interested in the role of human behavior and gesture in the creation of material culture, Müller-Sievers explores the same chaînes opératoires in the material action and the specific rhythm or motion of the nineteenth century machinery. In a similar way, Müller-Sievers argues for a cultural history that takes the gesture and motion of its nonhuman machines into consideration.

  • Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine

    MIT Press

    A highly influential book that laid the theoretical foundation for servomechanisms, automatic navigation, analog computing, and artificial intelligence. Cybernetics considers systems in a closed self-regulating signaling loop, where information is adjusted in the system through a feedback mechanism. What is implicit in Wiener’s title is the notion of “control,” regulating the behavior of both organisms (the animal) and the new information processing devices (the machine) by means of “communication.” As he describes, “if the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries are the age of clocks, and the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries constitute the age of steam engines, the present time is the age of communication and control.” Whether intended by Weiner or not, Cybernetics challenged the conventional boundaries of the body and reconfigured it instead as merely a system or container for information.

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    Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature


    A collection of ten essays written between 1978 and 1989 that analyze accounts and narratives of the invention of nature, living organisms, and cyborgs — a cybernetic organism, or a man-machine hybrid. For Haraway, the cyborg disrupts and dissolves traditional categories and distinctions between natural and artificial, man and machine, and animate and inanimate. In mediating the socio-cultural and technological forces that presuppose subjectivity, the cyborg also challenges the conventional body configurations that have determined class, gender, culture or power identities. Critiquing the “body politic” as an object and commodity-oriented approach, she argues for multiplicity and heterogeneity of approaches to understanding the world around us, and advocates a “cyborg perspective” that focuses on the interaction between organisms in their environment.

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    How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics

    University of Chicago Press

    Hayles’ book may be as much an account of disembodiment in the virtual age as it is about exploring the possibilities of embodiment in our contemporary culture. Hayles discusses the disembodiment of the “subject” in liberal humanist view as well as the popular understanding of the body as a mere container of information in the cybernetic discourse. She sees the conceptual alignment between the two in the social and cultural processes that considered information as a distinct and more essential entity from the material body that contains it. Her book is an attempt to challenge the dichotomy between information and materiality and, as she writes, “put back into the picture the flesh that continues to be erased in contemporary discussions about cybernetic subjects.”

  • Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo

    MIT Press

    This book is a wonderful story behind the twenty-one-layer spacesuit in twenty-one chapters that weave narratives in biology, technology, politics, fashion, media, and of course architecture. From eighteenth-century androids, Atlas missiles, and cybernetics or cyborgs, to latex, media, and advertisement, NASA’s Mission Control, and even the applications of Apollo-style engineering to city planning, the book is emblematic of the multi-layered nature of the suit itself. In its intimate approach to the technologies of the body, de Monchaux portrays the spacesuit as a densely packed and interwoven body of biological, cultural, and technological invention: a miniature habitat, a wearable ecosystem, a prosthetic environment.

  • The Architecture of the Mouse

    Architectural Digest

    Wigley’s “The Architecture of the Mouse” can be read as a sequel to his seminal essay “Prosthetic Theory: The Disciplining of Architecture.” In that essay, Wigley described how modernism displaced the classical relationship between structure and ornament onto a new relationship between body and building: architecture went from being a supplement to the body of building to “a kind of a prosthetic ornament worn by its occupant.” In “The Architecture of the Mouse,” Wigley takes his “prosthetic theory” further by portraying the computer mouse as “a potent prosthetic.” He highlights the power of this discrete device in providing a seamless interface between the body and the brain, as well as between the human physical and digital environment. “That,” he writes, “is still only to be dreamt of in architecture.”

  • Nature Versus Denture: An Ontology of Dental Prosthesis

    Architectural Theory Review

    Between 1922 and 1950, a growing interest in mechanical principles led to the emergence of a range of non-anatomic dentures that aimed to eliminate the disadvantages of their anatomic counterparts in favor of better mastication efficiency, stability, comfort, and durability. This paper investigates why the development of these non-anatomic prostheses came to a halt. In doing so, it analyses a range of cultural and anthropological factors concerned with dental morphology, and concludes that the concept of who we are and what makes us human — our identity, personality, language, culture, or technology — no longer rests within the bounds of our material body, but in the non-material world we have created. And that the social, cultural, and technological systems within our environment — architecture included — have as much influence over our physiological attributes as we did in shaping them.

  • Are We Human? Notes on an Archaeology of Design

    Lars Muller Publishers

    Published around the same time as the 3rd Istanbul Design Biennial of the same title — also curated by Colomina and Wigley — the book offers a rich and multi-layered exploration of the intimate relationship between design and what it means to be human. Through an archaeological study of a range of objects and artifacts, from the primitive tools and technologies of the pre-historical era to those of the digital age, the authors illustrate how design has not only presented itself as serving the human, but has also redesigned it along the way. Design, as they argue, is what makes us human, allows us to ask questions, and continually re-design ourselves. “The history of design,” as Colomina and Wigley write, “is therefore a history of evolving conceptions of the human. To talk about design is to talk about the state of our species.”

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