Orderly by Nature
Bringing things into order, finding patterns generic to things, and making templates into which things can be ‘ordered’ are the unique feats of the human brain, driving our strongest emotional compulsions. It helps us to understand and give meaning to complex phenomena and events. Human curiosity seeks the structure of things and their innate patterns.
Animals react to immediate stimuli and instinctively behave in ways that ‘make sense’ in assuring survival. Their curiosity is catalyzed by events happening right in front of them, while humans can create unseen scenarios. Humans are unique in their ability to ask questions about the past and future appyling ‘fitness criteria’ and evaluations to generate new, alternative patterns. We are uniquely able to respond in a manner that brings complexities into our own desired scenarios, be it a battle plan, the making of a city or building a house. Imagination and imagery involve manipulating sets of orders that create new patterns and situations. The Greeks, in their search for balance and harmony, analyzed order in its explicit geometrical sense as well as its cosmic, political and social reality. Tongue in cheek, Plato advised young students of order to,
“Take in all the scattered particles of an idea, so that every one understands what is being considered, and then separate all of the little particles of the idea into ‘like parts,’ dividing them at their joints as nature directs, not breaking any limb into broken pieces as a bad butcher does.”
Ordering is not something we do individually. It is something humanity does collectively, with an unconscious desire to find the inherent fabric of things, to label them, and to control the relations between them. Social systems have emerged around the communal processes of managing common resources, creating public assets and forging new ‘stories’ for our lives to follow. Societies have evolved institutions that order collective decision-making, public policy, ‘the social contract’ and group action. These institutions transform norms into standards, codes and laws, with incentives for conforming to them and penalties for deviating from them.
The mores and norms of social behavior, right up to the post-industrial age in which we live, have all functioned within something I would like to call the ‘ordering project’. All knowledge systems are founded on some code of order, some system of labeling and placing each thing or idea, in a designated relationship with all other things. The concept of time was amongst the first epic ideas of ordering, enabling conceptualization of the cycle of life, imagining death as terminal, or just a transition, creating the afterworld and reincarnation. Sundials, clocks, seasons, festivals and calendars ordered the narratives of life into measures of time.
Early concerns with time and the earth’s dimensions and dynamics demanded an understanding of ‘measure’ leading to concepts of incremental lengths and heights, distances, scale, proportion and later harmony. Measuring turned sound into music, gossip into poetry, and graffiti into painting. Building became architecture. All of these measured systems sponsored ever more abstract meanings.
Animistic knowledge systems assigned meanings to mountains, rivers and lakes and wove these attributed spiritual qualities into folklore, investing these inanimate objects with divinity, emotions, magical powers and auras.
The Order of Meaning
As these animistic patterns developed they took on semiotic meanings through devices such as hieroglyphics and pictography, evolving into written scripts, or oral traditions in which aphorisms were memorized and passed down from teacher to student; from generation to generation. The great Tibetan civilization devised sophisticated mnemonics to store and explain complexities, establishing a highly evolved emblematic knowledge system, embedded on thangkas, within mandalas and through complex forms of iconography. These images were embodiments of ideas, not idealizations of events or of people.
Temples, or lhakhangs, were ordered as ‘body supports’ for meditation, while stupas were classified as ‘mental supports’. By the fifteenth century there were texts on iconometry and manuals offering iconometric lineaments, including definitions of iconographic parts and proportions. Standardized motifs, acting as descriptive invocations, heralded various deities and historical figures as precise definers. This graphic ordering system is easily shared within homogeneous cultural groups and is comprehended by each individual up to their level of knowledge.
The Vedic oral tradition sets out another ordering system of rote learning, employing aphorisms with embedded lessons or truths. The entire grammar of Classical Sanskrit was codified in the Ashtadhyayi by Panini (an approximate contemporary of Plato) in an unwritten set of several thousand aphorisms, incanted, memorized and passed on from generation to generation of Brahmin scholars. This esoteric and elite oral tradition offers yet another meaning system, and demands unique mental gymnastics. It assumes specialized scholars and priests who will hold, interpret and pass on an arcane knowledge system, making it accessible to the common man only through the medium of explicit stories or in the form of visible idols.
In the twentieth century traditional folkways and patterns of behavior soon became mechanical and monotonous. ‘Bird’, the counterculture hero in Kenzaburo Oe’s narrative, A Personal Matter, saw life as a trap. He found escape in travels that were never realized, visiting gay bars never picking up other men, and imagining a fantasy adventure in Africa.
Architecture and art, operating within these great syntactic traditions, involve their own unwritten systems of ordering and manipulating spatial ideas in graphic languages. There are patterns, prototypes, thematic concepts and design processes giving structure to the development of order in design problems and solutions. Design emerges as yet another means of seeking order, employing its own performance standards as a criterion for evaluating appropriateness.
The Order of Science
The European empirical system of knowledge is centered on the ‘proof of truth’ through controlled experiments. A good experiment has a clear hypothesis to be tested and a replicable method of testing. The steps involved in arriving at an ‘empirical truth’ involve labeling the elements of ‘matter’, determining their dimensions and weights, measuring their interactions and defining their causality as a proof of their existence. Rather than depending on images or memories with embedded meaning systems, science is based on an ordering system of ‘empirical hypothesis’ that confirms truth through testing. Science poses to be objective and measurable, devoid of subjective meaning. These observed orders are ultimately transformed into mathematical formulae that simulate real phenomena. They can be digitally stored and uploaded into virtual reality in the form of sounds, images or even simulated nuclear explosions. Emblematic, oral and empirical ordering systems can be proposed as posited benchmarks around which further varieties of ordering systems could theoretically operate. Thus, the ‘ordering project’ has claimed humanity’s imagination since the dawn of time itself.
Diversity within Order
There are as many knowledge and meaning systems as there are tribes, and each of us has roots in some aboriginal system of meaning for which each sign and symbol have an etiology of evolution up to the present moment. Some agarbatti is circled over the image of Goddess Laxmi for good luck in a business deal, while tikkas are adorned as one passes through a day’s ordered phases. Urbanization and globalization are making us all cultural mongrels; marriages of choice, media influences and work cultures overlie our tribal influences. Hybrid cultures characterize the most educated and specialized households at the top of the earning pyramid, while homogeneous, traditional societies compose the mass at the bottom. Economic and social systems have divided and nucleated us over the past two centuries wherein every micro-region hosts a dual society interacting through ordering systems in much the same way as imperialism acted across the globe on indigenous societies. The sociometry of an urban hutment is analogous to that of a metropolitan region, or of a nation.
Ordering as Closure
With such diverse conceptual mechanisms and skills, almost all societies ironically came back to a common set of concerns in an interesting ‘closure of the human condition’, often expressed through rites of passage, or ordering samskara of specific types. Birth, naming, attaining puberty, marriage, and death are all part of a pre-ordered life cycle in all societies. There are analogous ordered ‘markers’ in the form of rituals and celebrations that persist through all cultures. Signifiers, be they birthday cakes, sacred threads or circumcisions, mark out time and life into some meaningful order of phases in a predictive narrative of events. Order posits one’s life into a prescriptive story, which is inescapable, with the transcendental euphoria of art being the only possible escape. Otherwise, life is a trap!
Evolved societies used their ordering systems to philosophize about the ‘meaning of life’ and ask the question: ‘Why are we here?’ All societies have pondered over the meaning of death and the nature of the soul. All texts, symbols, benchmarks, signs and numbers accordingly take on both implicit and explicit meanings, developing into ‘narratives’ in which we become unwilling actors, with pre-assigned roles. Everything therefore has a name, material reality and immaterial ’significance’ carried along with it, allowing for intertextuality and nuances of meaning, adding richness to life and essence to art and architecture.
Artist as Anarchist
Over the past century sculptors and painters used collages, combines and assemblages, often in absurdist contrast, to manipulate intertextual meanings and even to challenge the common wisdom considered an essential underpinning to governance, law, stable societies and order. Unlike the Romantic and Impressionistic artists of the nineteenth century, Modernist painters were looking ‘behind the order’ to expose realities, just as Marx called for objective reality to rule over popular, yet camouflaging, artistic romanticism. A wave of counter-culture art forms were catalyzed by the pioneering experiments in collage by Georges Braque, with Pablo Picasso, further exploiting these concepts as revolutionary new orders. 
Collage, and later assemblage, essentially take fragments of things and stick them over other materials or images to discover new opaque and esoteric orders. In the process, signifiers get cluttered within the textual patterns. Small cuts of newsprint could actually be photos of inhuman acts by ‘civilized’ governments, exposing their inhumanity, and thus covertly questioning the ethics of the state. Robert Rauschenberg used mixed media of painting, collage, film negatives, pieces of this and that, pulling them together into complex combines mirroring contemporary life, while creating his own space in the trap of life. 
The Eagles’ epic song, Hotel California, has been accused of harboring subliminal messages in praise of Satan embedded within its text as a kind of counter-cultural collage in music. Jim Morrison challenged societal order through his lyrics and stage antics, attracting an arrest warrant in Miami for exposing his genitals, just weeks before dying of a drug overdose in Paris at age twenty-seven. His counter-culture myth, signified by his songs and antisocial behavior, emerged as a spiritual cult, making his grave in Paris a pilgrimage destination to this day.
Music as revolt against order attracts thousands of youth to mass concerts where cult followers, dressed in the ‘uniforms of the nonconformist’, dutifully stand with arms stretched toward heaven, fingers pointed upward, swaying rhythmically in mindless mob unison, reminiscent of the mesmerizing mass Nazi rallies of the 1930s. If I’d blink my eyes I could imagine Nazi Brown Shirts, arms raised skyward, chanting Heil Hitler! As a species we love order, even mindless order.
The Image of the City
This intertextuality emerges through urban evolution as each historic era has deposited a layer of artifacts that overlie those of previous times, creating a collage of meaning systems. Where diverse cultural groups construct their identities side by side along lanes and gullies, employing diverse signifiers within motifs of their various communities, the montage becomes more complex. All of these meanings are filtered over time up to the surface of contextual reality, expressed at any particular moment, like cultural flotsam rising to the surface of an ancient lake. Nuances of different urban policies, styles and personal pretensions coalesce into a contemporary urbanity. Kevin Lynch conceived a new pattern language to understand this complexity by defining relevant signifiers of order, much in contrast to earlier ideas of urban order based in architectonic vistas, boulevards, grand gardens and palace complexes.
By the mid-twentieth century a privileged Western ordering system had overshadowed other knowledge systems and popular indigenous cultures, fomenting an urge for a reversal of these dominant values and cultural institutions. The ordering project was being questioned.[17a/b] A counterblast of theory and propositions emerged, recognizing the diversity of ordering systems and the oppression of minority cultures. These new starts found their sources in French avant-garde philosophical and literary criticism reflecting discontent with modern postwar institutions that were elitist and stifled. Even the boring, grey new town grid plans were symbolic of this stagnation and the oppressive public mechanisms that applied numbing formulae to solve myriad problems.
In urbanism and architecture the allusions to sources are generally too putative in their blatant meanings to be eclipsed by the highly theoretical analysis of mosaics found in the analysis of literature and in philosophy. In painting and poetry one can argue, as Barthes does, that the meaning of an artistic work lies within the minds of the viewers and not in the textuality of the work itself. In the late 1960s and early 1970s postmodernism saw everything as potentially ‘text’, which is privileged and hierarchically organized, including the formalism of modernism. These elite ‘texts’ excluded the artifacts of the repressed and marginalized communities of the world.
Effete, formal works were to be attacked and subverted. Derrida and Foucault assumed all thinking and ordering to be based in verbal and written language, leaving out our non-linguistic ordering and designing. They saw signs and signifiers in everything, interpreting each gesture as a calculated act of manipulation and control. Opportunistic academics saw an easy road to fame by feebly appropriating the postmodernist label into architecture, as if their intellectual gymnastics were some sort of branding experience exercise. This shaky theoretical acrobatics seems suspect as an alternative ordering system, or even as a deconstructive analytical framework that could temper the direction of architecture, or the way one goes about ordering space through arranging materiality. But it was a successful power play in grabbing the center stage of architecture and denigrating it into an esoteric, academic debate. By making theory more central than the process and reasons for creating, the entire modernist agenda was derailed into a cheerleading club for postmodernist stunts and amusements. ‘Talking architecture’ replaced ‘making architecture’. The art historians and critics dedicated a generation of postulating to applauding the magicians of tricks and stunts.
Christopher Butler finds a self-contradicting irony in postmodernist analysis:
“Everything [in postmodernism] from furniture to clothes, to buildings, had to be seen as part of a ‘language’ whose social structure could be investigated and then shown to be susceptible to some kind of disruption or reversal, away from the suspect hierarchical ordering it had received in a ‘bourgeois’ society. And if everything was part of a language, and if language just disseminates, and if the discourses of art, like the discourses of medicine, law, penology, and so on, actually transcend the individual, then even the notions of authorship, creativity, originality were suspect and could not be ‘privileged’.”
Formal art and architecture, like formal systems of governance and ruling, find this all a bit messy. Vernacular architecture, or ‘architecture without architects’ gains an enticing order organically from a paucity of materials and limited structural possibilities, but takes on the ambience of collage from factors of climate, contours, unusual plot shapes and indigenous functions. Robert Venturi appreciated this as the ‘richness of meaning, rather than the clarity of meaning’, preferring the ‘both-and’ to the ‘either-or’. Venturi exclaimed, ‘Architecture involves many levels of meaning and combinations of focus [with] space and with its focus being readable in several ways at once.’ He proposed more articulate, considered and well-tempered designs, rather than a grandstand theory regarding the fate of civilization.
Orders of Discovery and Orders of Control
A major factor in the pursuit of civilization has been a hunger to create order out of nature’s chaos. Early scientists were concerned about the shape of the earth, the nature of water and fire, and the reality of the universe. Socrates paid with his life for his questions and Galileo barely kept his head on his shoulders after his heretical proposal that the earth revolves about the sun, rather than the other way around, which had been the prevailing belief.
The ordering project could be seen as one huge scientific work nurtured by an empire of ‘rulers’ to cement their position of advantage on the world, much as the Manhattan Project set out to create a nuclear bomb on a specified timeline. Such a proposition may be as surrealistic as the genius in Fellini’s 81/2, struggling against all odds to confabulate his epic project. The ordering project proceeded from one of ‘discovery’ to one of organization and control, shadowing the geometric growth of the New Imperialism that emerged in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.[23a/b] This was the time when the Old Imperialism of European ocean empires, driven by trade and supported by guns and sails, was overshadowed by a quest for vast land empires. Science and technology proved decisive in the consequent conflicts and victories. This new era was driven by the industrial revolution and the spread of its agro-based industries creating a necessity to control vast land empires.
The Social Sciences
The seeds of anthropology, sociology and other social sciences saw their beginnings as a support system to European colonial administrators who needed to know the order and structure of the vanquished peoples over whom they would rule. Ruling over water and fish, coming into conflict only with fellow European competitors, was much more simplistic than ruling over diverse peoples, ancient cultures and complex civilizations. Ruling over things was quite different than ruling over meanings and manipulating them to one’s own advantage.
In the eighteenth century Carl Linnaeus classified all living things into their genus and species, introducing the concept of binomial nomenclature in taxonomy. In the nineteenth century order seeking became hyperactive and intense, with myriad inventions driving the industrial revolution, demanding raw materials to feed expanding industries. Both were generating new knowledge that had to ‘fit in’. Knowledge of a ‘summative’ nature was pouring in chaotically, while formative knowledge was required to make things develop and grow in the planned direction. Knowing and ordering everything became a compulsive, summative preoccupation driving the invention of ‘ordering devices’ such as the encyclopedia, dictionaries, the Dewey Decimal System and the Periodic Table of Elements, attempting to bring all knowledge onto the same page.
In the early nineteenth century mechanical musical instruments (known by a variety of names such as street organ, fairground organ and several others) stored music scores in the form of paper rolls or folded cards with programmed holes punched in them (precursors to software). These, when pulled through a portable organ or harpsichord, played prerecorded music, as if from the memory of a person. The Maratha army invented a code based on the flickering light reflected from mirror to mirror between the six hundred forts along the west coast of India, informing the rulers at Satara or Pune within minutes of the Portuguese naval movements in and out of Goa. The telegraph digitized language into the Morse Code, allowing ‘instruments’ to transfer coded data, decoding it at remote destinations. Artificial Intelligence could now use orders in new and amazing ways.
The concept of the ‘university’ was crucial to the ordering project, as these institutions would collect varieties of ‘order’ and research their patterns. Universities could discover new information, ideas, concepts and design systems, storing the catalogued ‘parts of order’ and teaching a geometrically growing class of technocrats to understand and apply the ordering systems.
University campuses were, and are, laid out in the pattern of colonial cantonments with race, gender, class, position (and other ordering factors) generating the circulation patterns, land use plans, the sizes of living and working spaces allotted to various players and restrictions on movement. Universities subdivided knowledge and ordered it into ‘faculties’ that hosted ‘schools’, which in turn hosted ‘departments’, each hosting research cells and ‘laboratories’.
Finding Orders of Control
The New Imperialism was nourished by discoveries of empirical order in the fields of medicine, ordnance, marine architecture, material sciences, new and more efficient industrial processes, steam power, mass pedagogy, engineering, and much more! The employment of rifled guns and malaria prophylactics were adequate innovations for a small imperial army to vanquish the vast army of the Maratha Confederacy, gifting virtual control of the entire subcontinent to alien rulers. Exploiting vast lands and ruling over huge populations proved more complex thanbeing traders in garrisoned, port cities with walls around them. That was based on the Hellenistic and Roman ‘garrison city’ prototypes and was perfected by the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spaniards and the English through their global archipelago of ports and forts.
The Templates of Globalization
Nineteenth century Imperial Britain created many of the prototypes, or ordering templates, that persist with us today in the form of uniforms, language, education, locomotion, communication networks, medical systems, commercial cropping systems, land revenue hierarchies, trade, finance and the manipulation of knowledge and meaning systems for political manipulation.
Constructs: Order through Meaning
Creating social orders, like the ‘heterosexual construct’, molded the emerging urban, middle class householder into a new and binding lifestyle supported and implemented by law, police, media, entertainment, medicine, education and religion. Deviant behaviors were declared both as ‘abnormal illnesses’ and criminal acts. The ‘heterosexual construct’ prescribed monogamous ‘Christian marriage’ between a man and a woman as the only legitimate emotional relationship, and determined the purpose of all relationships to be the procreation of more dutiful subjects for the empire, placing women in a subordinate ‘domesticated’ position. Men were actors and women were at best beautiful objects. History was ‘his’ story, not hers. This Victorian ordering system created a horizontal layer of order within a vertical, hierarchical order of classes and positions inhabiting the order of the city.
The cantonments of India, emerging immediately upon the capture of new client states, were prime examples of the new ordering system, which has unfolded until today in the form of ‘garden cities’, tram suburbs, university campuses, dormitory communities, gated communities, satellite cities and the ‘new urbanism’. India’s traditional neighborhoods and caste-based wadis continue to be replaced by ubiquitous ‘flat schemes’ devoid of meanings and personal signifiers, alluding to the brave new world that the Generation X imagines as the new utopia.
This ‘plan’ and other designs are not artifacts of accident, but rather arrangements of contrivance. Division, dividing and subdivision order and manage social and physical space simultaneously. Even the rulers trap themselves within a hierarchical, compartmental system of restrictions; a microcosm that mirrors the larger world they dream of creating. Empires, both corporate and governmental, have treated the people engaged in cities – their way of life and culture – as a matter of insignificance. What is important to planners are the inanimate aspects of cities: land use zones, vehicular circulation networks and infrastructure webs. Organization and control have become the overriding goals of the new prototype that morphed from cantonment, to garden city, to university campus. The Raj city plan, like the homogeneous dress code, ‘put people in their places’. The plan was a system of exclusive cells, between which only a few could move freely. The ordering project morphed from a summative to a formative endeavor; from describing to controlling.
Uniforms and Pluraforms
The strategy was to replace ‘vernacular culture’ with institutional culture, right from the plan of the city to the architecture of the buildings. Uniforms replaced pluraforms that gifted people the diversity of their personal cultural richness and identity. 
Formal architecture, the kind taught in schools of architecture, relies on ‘orders’ and formal patterns of construction to gain clarity. As signifiers these styles become analogues of political orders, or ruling systems. They are metaphors for social constructs for controlling large, potentially anarchic populations. Discovering and applying these orders is what empire building and ‘civilization making’ are all about.
Bernard Rudofsky proposed that architectural history, as written and taught in the Western World, has never been concerned with more than a few select cultures, emphasizing that this history covers only a tiny sliver of time and a minuscule geographic area. Besides architecture, he notes,
“History as we know it is equally biased on the social plane. It is little more than a who’s who of architects who commemorated power and wealth, an anthology of buildings of, by and for the privileged, the houses of true and false gods, of merchant princes and princes of the blood, with never a word of the houses of the lesser people.” 
Defining factors in vernacular orders emerge from within diverse societal components, expressing themselves to society as a collage; in institutionalized cultures the uniforms are imposed from the outside inward, suppressing down from the top in to the parts. Vernacular dress and built forms are ‘expressions’ while the institutional uniform is ‘suppression’. This system of articulated stratification lives on with us today. It tempers the way we think, how we deal with ‘others’, and our self-images.
The Campus as Ordering Prototype
This concept of space allocation and restriction pervades contemporary global, corporate thinking in how we organize people in space. Modern university, factory and information technology campuses are variations of the ‘cantonment model’ where the military area created a unique social space, defined by occupation, gender, race and rank. This was a precursor to ‘globalization’ in urban planning, where gated communities and malls have replaced lively, informal public domains. The loss of social space is a metaphor of the loss of community and indigenous identity.
Collage as Escape
In the end analysis we are all servants of ‘the empire’ that is now an integrated poly-nucleated global web of interrelated corporations and governments. We are a part of the ordering project and we reinforce the fabricated constructs that make life a trap. Artists and architects wear the black uniforms of the ‘creative’, concealing the reality that they have no new ideas. The empire commissions their work and pays their fees; in the same way they buy governments to bend public policy. The empire buys what is drawn and written, builds and publishes it, and give awards if they like it. All of us – architects, poets, artists, doctors, accountants and sales girls – play our roles in the big scheme of things. If we don’t like it we can read a novel or embark on an imaginary adventure into the heart of Africa  or maybe create a collage! But in doing so we shall only be following another preordained pattern of escape. Life is a trap!
But for the true artist there is the secret of transcendence, that moment of inspiration where the profound lives unhampered by the day-to-day trivia of reality. Within that momentary sliver of self-realization lies ones eternal truth and being. Only true artists exist in a liberated state, free from human bondage.
Note: The word ‘empire’ is used in this paper as a general reference to the formal, top down organizing world and not necessarily to the Raj, though it is specifically referred to.
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