The Robotic Face of Architecture

By François Blanciak

A photographic survey of the robotic face of Tokyo buildings and an argument that robot aesthetics plays a central role in architectural history.





A photographic survey of the robotic face of Tokyo buildings and an argument that robot aesthetics plays a central role in architectural history.

In Tokyoids, architect François Blanciak surveys the robotic faces omnipresent in Tokyo buildings, offering an architectural taxonomy based not on the usual variables—size, material, historical style—but on the observable expressions of buildings. Are the eyes (windows) twinkling, the mouth (door) laughing? Is that balcony a howl of distress? Investigating robot aesthetics through his photographs of fifty buildings, Blanciak argues that the robot face originated in architecture—before the birth of robotics—and has played a central role in architectural history.

Blanciak first puts the robot face into historical perspective, examining the importance of the face in architectural theory and demonstrating that the construction of architecture's emblematic portraits triggered the emergence of a robot aesthetics. He then explores the emotions conveyed by the photographed buildings' robot faces, in chapters titled “Awe,” “Wrath,” “Mirth,” “Pain,” “Angst,” and “Hunger.” As he does so he considers, among other things, the architectural relevance of Tokyo's ordinary buildings; the repression of the figural in contemporary architecture; an aesthetic of dismemberment, linked to the structure of the Japanese language and local building design; and the influence of automation technology upon human interaction.

Part photographic survey, part theoretical inquiry, Tokyoids upends the usual approach to robotics in architecture by considering not the automation of architectural output but the aesthetic properties of the robot.

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$24.95 T ISBN: 9780262544238 216 pp. | 5.25 in x 8 in 70 b&w illus.


  • "This book is more than a treatise on robotic aesthetics. It is a psycho-historical critique—and simultaneously a visual celebration—of the techno-biological world in which we live. It brings to the fore the overlapping intellectual and visual dimensions of our modern culture.”

    Mark Jarzombek

    Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture at MIT

  • “From architecture parlante to Gundam towers, this fascinating book offers a panorama of the many faces that define the messy skyline of late-modern Tokyo, situating the aesthetics of cacophony and narcissism in the complex confrontations between autonomy and automation, tradition and modernity, Japan and the world.”

    Seng Kuan

    Project Associate Professor, University of Tokyo; Lecturer in Architecture at Harvard University

  • "Once you see François Blanciak's disarmingly grayscale photos of the facades of everyday buildings in Tokyo, you can't unsee them. Grimacing, grinning, groaning, yawning, fawning, these visages will haunt your future drifts through the late-modern city. But this book is more than a whimsical excursus into the affectivity of serendipitously anthropomorphic architecture. It's a provocative psychosemantic analysis of the techno-aesthetics of modernist abstraction and evidence of architecture's irrepressible affinity for figuration."

    Joan Ockman

    Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History, Yale School of Architecture

  • "Astroboy, Robocon, Asimo, Aibo—Japan has a long lineage of 'gentle robots.' Here the robot is not a stranger, nor a mysterious, inorganic object, but only ever a friend who mediates between the world of people and that of the external environment. This book similarly mediates between people and places, and in its own robotization offers a new kind of architectural theory.”

    Hitoshi Abe

    Terasaki Chair for Contemporary Japanese Studies, UCLA

  • "Modernist buildings often looked like machines; classical and post-modernist architects often copied the forms and proportions of the human body. But today's robots are machines that look like bodies. As François Blanciak argues in this rich, personal, and scholarly book, architecture's traditional imitation game is left in disarray, and now having to navigate uncharted waters."

    Mario Carpo

    Reyner Banham Professor of Architectural History and Theory, The Bartlett UCL, London; Professor of Architectural Theory, Die Angewandte, Vienna