What's Wrong with Plastic Trees?: Artifice and Authenticity in Design

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Praeger, 2000 - Architecture - 157 pages

Krieger revisits the ideas of his now infamous article of some thirty years ago in Science magazine. His aim is to give an account of design, one that experienced designers will say,'Yes, That's just what it is like!' At the same time, Krieger offers an analysis of the tensions that design operates within; between perfection and contingency, between wholes and parts, between the talk we make about the world and the world itself.

Krieger takes design—in architecture, landscape, interiors, engineering, and in systems and computer science—to be modeled by traditional theological and artistic problems. And here, he claims, design has traditionally been a redesign of nature. For nature is, as Durkheim would describe it, a totem. Our collective ritual devotion to it allows us to enliven or animate it, and so it may animate us as well. Curiously, much of design and discourse about it now takes place in the computer software engineering world, especially among those concerned with patterns and object- oriented programming. In developing a notion of plastic trees, Krieger probes just what could be wrong with such artifices. As he illustrates, what we call nature is almost always a product of deliberate design. It is as if people make discoveries in exploration, discoveries of places already occupied aboriginally. In essence, he asserts what we actually have is a virtual authenticity, more real than any original could possibly be—since the original was never meant to be sacralized or featured in our lives. A provocative analysis that scholars and students of architecture and planning, environmental studies, engineering and computer science will find stimulating.

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Arguments from Design
Composition and Repetition as Explanation
Exploration and Discipline as Ways of Designing

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About the author (2000)

MARTIN H. KRIEGER is Professor of Planning at the School of Policy, Planning, and Development of the University of Southern California. He has taught at University of California, Berkeley, University of Minnesota, Twin-Cities, MIT, and University of Michigan, Ann-Arbor, and he has been a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Science and at the National Humanities Center. His earlier books include The Constitutions of Matter: Mathematically Modeling the Most Everyday of Physical Phenomena and Doing Physics: How Physicists Take Hold of the World.

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