Lissack, M. (2015), "Obituary", Kybernetes, Vol. 44 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/K-02-2015-306
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Obituary From: Kybernetes, Volume 44, Issue 2.
It is with profound sadness that the American Society for Cybernetics announces the untimely passing of our president, Ranulph Glanville six months prior to his 70th birthday on 13 June 2015.
Ranulph Glanville was Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Cybernetics at University College London, also Research Senior Tutor and Professor in Innovation Design Engineering at Royal College of Art in London. In addition, he was Professor of Architecture at the University of Newcastle in Australia and Senior Professor of Research Design at KU Leuven – LUCA in Belgium. He published in excess of 350 academic publications. He was an architect, composer and artist as well as a cybernetician. He rebuilt the ASC from a struggling organisation with fewer than 40 members to a thriving intellectual conversation involving upwards of 300.
Ranulph Glanville gained a Diploma in Architecture from the Architectural Association School, London (working in the area of experimental electro-acoustic music). This was followed by a PhD in Cybernetics with a thesis entitled “A Cybernetic Development of Epistemology and Observation, Applied to objects in Space and time (as seen in Architecture)” which tackled the question of what structure might sustain the belief that we all see differently, yet believe we see the same thing. He called this his theory of objects. His supervisor was Gordon Pask and his examiner was Heinz von Foerster. His second PhD was in human learning and dealt with how we understand architectural space. In 2006, he was awarded a DSc in Cybernetics and Design by Brunel University.
Professor Glanville for many years worked as a freelance, itinerant professor, mainly commuting between the UK, Belgium, Hong Kong and Australia. In the UK he most recently was the research professor in Innovation Design Engineering at the Royal College of Art, Imperial College of Science and Technology. In Australia, he had a major part in the Invitational Masters through Practice and the Doctorate through Practice at RMIT University. He was emeritus professor of architecture and cybernetics at the Bartlett, University College London. He has written on Design Research for over quarter of a century, early on introducing concepts such as research as design and the importance of finding appropriate theory for design within design, rather than unquestioningly importing theories from other subjects.
To this end it is only right that we quote from Ranulph himself:
If you slow things down then you see nuances that you wouldn’t normally see. That is revealing — slowness has a particular quality of its own. It is difficult to slow things down and to simultaneously keep alert. Being caught in between, being a bit lost, is good for a human being. Things have their own time, and we should learn to enjoy this, rather than imposing our own, usually rushed time. A little slowness, living in the now, and a reduction of the significance of the nation state might really help us.
A lot of my cybernetics is philosophical in nature, a lot of it goes against conventional cybernetics, which is in general focused on purposeful systems — systems with goals. I’m just as interested in systems that don’t have goals. So I am better at keeping my eyes open for opportunities than in taking them. If I leave myself open to see possibilities and if I leave space for people to offer “gifts” to me, then I often get some extraordinary opportunities which I could never have hoped for. That’s the opposite of the cybernetic goal-oriented system. In cybernetics, I’m interested in the transcendental questions or frameworks within which cybernetics happens, which we tend to assume in order to be able to act. I’m interested in what those assumptions are: what they imply. In that sense I’m someone who looks at the foundations and questions them — someone interested in the relationship between “freedom” and the “machine”. The most remarkable characteristic of human beings is that we create patterns. Without the ability to create patterns we wouldn’t be able to think. That’s what I do: generally at a rather abstract level.
I’m interested in a society that minimises the impact of society and maximises the space for the individual. I will argue against control. Not all control, but against our assumption of the universal possibility and desirability of control. We are aware that our attempts to control are often inadequate. We usually excuse this as due to exceptional circumstances, or an inadequate description (one without enough variety). But I would like to suggest an alternative to always making excuses. We can ask ourselves what happens if, when there’s a serious variety imbalance, we give up trying to control? If we don’t try to force the system we had thought to control into having as little variety as we have? Then we are left with a vastness of variety (and hence possibilities) that goes way beyond our limits. We can be flooded, not by water inundating us, but by possibilities we had never dreamt of.
He leaves his wife the Dutch physiotherapist, Aartje Hulstein, and his son Severi. We miss him already.