What Are Buildings For?


James Kalb has recently interviewed mathematician and architectural theorist Nikos Salingaros.  As someone who has always been irritated when people mistakenly think it the job of “science” to invent more and shinier consumer crap, I particularly appreciate the following remarks of Professor Salingaros: 

Our educated world remains ignorant about the distinction between science and technology, unfortunately.  Science helps us understand the universe and ourselves.  Technology applies scientific results to master processes that we can manipulate so as to better our lives.  It is also applied to kill people directly, destroy nature, and threaten our own survival.  Or to save us from our stupidity.  Tools can be used for either good or evil.

Modernism in my view was a massive but unscientific application of technology to shape the world into an industrial dream image.  It was unscientific because no thought was ever given to discovering how human beings interact with their environment, or whether we need certain specific geometrical features just like we need nourishment and air, or to understanding how human beings interact with each other to create a city.  Modernist architects just drew forms on paper that looked like machines and those in power built them.

The entire interview is available via The Philadelphia Society.


  1. Thank you for this link – I’ve been reading Salingaros for my research, and it will be interesting to read him in a less quantitative context.

  2. Thanks for highlighting the interview. But I think both you and Salingaros amplify the differences between science and technology. There’s a fair amount of overlap between the two, and it’s often not straightforward to see where one begins and the other ends.

    To give just a few examples, much of basic materials science was driven by technological developments in the field of mettalurgy. Without the initial driving technology, the basic science wouldn’t have developed. My own field (space physics) was advanced because engineers wanted to improve the technologies of telephone and radio communication. The interplay between science and technology in thermodynamics is legendary. In this case, some of the most fundamental scientific laws were discovered because of the the steam engine. To this day, college sophomores learn the basic thermo laws in the context of engines.

    Technology itself is often created to help us “understand the universe and ourselves” while science qua science is sometimes responsible for the bad stuff.

    If you’re interested, I can send along chapter 7 of Rosenberg’s “Inside the Black Box.” It’s quite readable, and explains why the science-technology boundary isn’t always so obvious.

    That said, I agree that it’s not necessarily the job of science to invent shinier consumer crap.

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