Occlusions of the Operational Sequence

This is the latest abstract to a journal article I’m working on at the moment. It is a detailed examination and comparison of two examples of concretised, disciplined (that is, wrought within and subject to specific disciplinary pressures) though otherwise unconnected practices.

In the early to mid-1960s with western narratives of technical progress at their height, Scottish architect Robert Matthew, then president of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and French anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan independently developed, or presided over the development respectively, of totalising, systematic, technical models of human progress. Each model was a reflection of the aims and methods of their respective discipline: for the anthropologist this was to be found in the inevitable evolution of Homo sapiens into Homo faber and the dissolving of human/technological boundaries and, for the architect, the necessary drive for “collective welfare-socialism” and the systematisation of its built manifestations.

Each of these categories may be characterised, I argue, by a simple yet profoundly influential diagram: for anthropology (and archaeology) Leroi-Gourhan’s chaîne opératoire and for architecture the RIBA’s Plan of Work. Through these diagrams and their embodied objects (lithic artefacts and buildings) and processes (human and technological) this paper sees the ‘chaîne’ and the ‘Plan’ engaging in a kind of abbreviated, reciprocating, exchange. Occluded and misplaced, this diagrammed conversation – seeded at the beginning of what Buckminster Fuller called the “design science decade” – reveals for each discipline processes suppressed or overlooked in the other.

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