ARCTEX Relational Database Project

The 16th Century city of Palma Nuova in Italy is based upon a ninefold architectural plan.

The 16th Century city of Palma Nuova in Italy is based upon a ninefold architectural plan.

Project Outline

We propose to design and implement a computer-stored RELATIONAL DATA BASE (RDB) capable of responding to complex queries in the area of architecture (including architectural theory, practice, history and scholarly criticism).

RDB: By RELATIONAL DATA BASE, we mean an organization, such as a designed program of data elements, such that relationships between elements can be represented by both tree and net structures. In this way infor­mation can be accessed , cross-referenced, compared or illustrated with accuracy and efficiency, over­coming many of the process limitations of information stored in books, or in filing cabinets.

Contents of the RDB are data elements relating in particular to architecture, in order to provide a limited, worked example for the design of such sys­tems generally. The nature of the contents suggested the name ARCTEX for the project. A primary set of data elements, for example, is comprised of bibliographical items, an index of architects names and monuments, a lexicon of technical terms and processes, a time scale, materials, geographical coordinates, etc.

Related work in progress forms part of the course content for four classes. Two of these classes are being offered in the current semester: Art 119 a Directed Research group, and Art 204, a. graduate seminar in Contemporary Directions in the study of architecture and architectural history. Two classes to be offered in Spring 1979 are Art 196H, Wholistic Architecture, and Art 1961 Art and Technology. It is anticipated that this teaching activity will generate a rich body of information to be entered into ARCTEX.

The ARCTEX project is intended to test the feasibility of such an RDB for composition of a text on architecture, including illustrative material and traditional scholarly apparatus, in a form opti­mum for pre-publication editing. As ARCTEX becomes more richly populated with information elements of variety and complexity, we expect it to serve limited but useful function as a general research facility, for example, as an adjunct to departmental and uni­versity slide collections. ARCTEX may also serve as a resource model for curriculum design and course preparation.

Among the attractive features of ARCTEX in the form of an RDB are that it enables us to see many things in relation to many other things in clear patterns of relationship, and that it may be easily updated. The unique characteristic of the ARCTEX project is an emphasis upon generic architectural concepts as a way of mapping architecture to other models of whole systems. Deriving and defining these generic concepts and their interlinking relationships is a principal goal of the work in process.

The fascinating idea of designing a data base for architecture springs from research conducted during my sabbatical leave (1975-76) on mathematical models and the fine arts. The study of symmetries and symmetry sets, as an aspect of group theory, has exerted a profound influence upon the design of RDBs for fields such as the computer sciences, the neuro­sciences, astrophysics and cosmology, and perhaps also ecology as it becomes deeper and more speculative.

A central and recurrent idea in the history of art and architecture is that the work as a material manifestation may be read as a map or model of a whole system. This whole system may be macrocosmic, as in the orientation of certain temples to specific stars (and their helical rising at the site, at a given time). Or it may be microcosmic, as in the well-known examples of the universe in a mustard seed, and the prototypical human body as a form recapitulated in the plan of a Gothic cathedral. Our premise is that the work of art or architecture is such an il­lustration of the principle of Unity, and that as such it is mappable to other wholistic structures or organizational patterns. Further, we expect that higher orders of complexity, especially in the or­ganization of generic architectural information ele­ments, to exhibit meaningful congruities with other symmetry sets.

A planned example to be worked in detail is based upon the symmetry set based on the number nine: the universe (or work of architecture) viewed in its ninefoldness. Historical analogs are provided by Dante and Dionysus the Areopagite, examples of Carnatic music, and by the game of baseball. A body of carefully organized and edited material has been published by the Arica Institute, New York, including texts on "The Nine Hypergnostic Systems," "The Nine Ways of Zhikr," and other exercises and meditations prepared under the guidance of Arica's founder, Oscar Ichazo. The ARCTEX RDB is designed to correlate such patterns of information with the more conventional denotational lexicon and reference nets.

Kurt von Meier
Circa 1976