Under Black Carpets, Ilona Gaynor's new project, works with police reconstructions, cinematic culture and with 'Forensic Aesthetics' to design the perfect bank robbery. And i don't know how she did it but she managed to get the FBI New York Dept of Justice and the LAPD Archival Department on board as advisors to her study.
Some legal, political and cultural fields have recently seen a shift from human testimony to material forensics. DNA samples, 3D scans, nano-technology, electro-magnetic microscopes, satellite surveillance and other scientific methods or instruments have started to play a key role in police investigations, political decisions and court room deliberations. Retinal scans, biological remains, landscape topographies and other forensic materials communicate to the judicial system. Just like human witnesses, they come with their own rhetoric of persuasion. Eyal Weizman called it Forensic Aesthetics.
Under Black Carpets is at this stage an early study that will be part of a larger project currently under development. Under Black Carpets presents a meticulous deconstruction of several bank heists simultaneously occurring in downtown Los Angeles, focusing specifically on 5 different banks that centre One Wilshire. The work presents itself as site-specific forensic study. A spatial tool accompanied by a kit of parts, presented as a dense numerical index. Each artifact is individually numbered, assuming the role of the protagonist within the collection and pin-points its own whereabouts on a grid of vertical and horizontal geographical coordinates. The viewer is invited to examine and cross-reference this collection, allowing ones own constructed interpretation of the event as it unfolds from muiltiple, distorted perspectives.
At this point, i needed to pause in my lecture of the description of the project and asked her to tell us more about Under Black Carpets:
Your project is developed in collaboration with the FBI New York Dept of Justice and the LAPD Archival Department. How easy is it to work with them? Who are you working with, i'm not asking for names necessarily, but i'd like to get an idea of the type of person these Department would delegate to work with an artist. Are they scientists working in forensics? Members of their press team?
Firstly, I normally approach my research from a great distance to the subject, but I felt with this particular project, it wasn't going to be quite as effective without actually engaging with the scenarios I wanted to explore.
I wanted to get into the mind-set of what it takes to become a Police officer or 'Cop', so I spent a lot of time at the LAPD Police Academy, watching Police engage in intense training: learning how to drive cars in chase simulations, fire guns and partake in classes reciting American Law and its policies. But furthermore, I spent a lot of time in the Police canteen listening to everyday conversations, which led to me buying a copy of So you want to be a cop: what it takes to serve by Scott Butler and Police bible Pocket Partner by Evers, Miller, Glover and Glover - which is global emergency management manual, carried by United States police officers of all ranks and members of the US government. These books describe in detail precise procedures and policies, coupled with a philosophical mindset of what it takes to serve. I mention this, because it's the dialogue I had within the academy which led to working relationship with the justice department.
I spent sometime with detectives and ex Special Agents in the Bureau's Bank Robbery/Kidnapping/Extortion Dept in New York City, which was actually more of a connection made with my previous work. I attended various meetings and demonstrations with scientists, but not really with biochemists like you would expect in archetypal representations of forensic science, but more with spatial experts and computational homicide scientists. People who examine areas like post-impact ballistics, vessel trajectories and object reassembly.
To put their interest in the project into context If you read any book on heists or homicide published in last 10 years like Where the Money Is: True Tales from the Bank Robbery Capital of the World by Gordon Dillo and William J. Rehder, you will find that every book you come across will have been written by retired FBI agents or an ex-detectives who had worked on the cases cited in the book. The texts are framed (accidentally or not) as a form of nostalgia, not necessarily for documentation or research purposes, but for pleasure. Whilst reading you could even imagine them holding a cup of black filter coffee with a gun lying next to them on their bedside table, they are so personal.
Interestingly enough, they are mostly anecdotal. There are very little facts or figures cited, but more focused on memories and one-liners. As such they are delightful people and splendidly macabre.
I'm curious about the title of the project: why "Under Black Carpets"? It makes me think of something sinister that has to be hidden...
The title is sinister. It refers to the act and image of stealing. In old cartoons such as Tom and Jerry, Tom the cat would enter the room and slip underneath the carpets, as to sneak upon the mouse (Jerry) in doing this, displaying a huge moving bulge (often cat shaped) that would continually hit furniture and objects in the room because he couldn't see where he was going - alerting Jerry the mouse as to his whereabouts, rendering the espionage futile, but hilarious. Law enforcement bodies are often portrayed in crime cinema as clumsy, often with plans turning sour, foiled by seemingly petty rules and orders given by superiors by act of protocol. The protagonist hero is often a rogue cop who dismisses the rules and catches the criminal. The black carpet; refers to the archetypal colours found in banks, federal buildings and financer's offices. It's also meant to indicate a spatial aspect to the project.
Your project deals with the aesthetic dimension of forensics, a science said to have taken over 'the era of the witness' in legal systems. How much faith do you have in forensics now that you've studied it from up close (well, at least closer than most of us)? Is this science as indefectible as tv series would like us to believe?
Forensic science has blurred a previously held distinction: between evidence, when the law speaks of objects, and that of the witness, referring to subjects, forensics has become something in-between. TV dramas such as CSI in the US and Silent Witness in the UK, really are as accurately based on reality as entertainment would permit- they exist in a world of simulations, computer based conjecture and biologically stained rags in test tubes. Forensics however isn't strictly lab based nor does it always deal with bio-chemistry as I've mentioned previously, that's very much not the case, that plays a significantly small role. And it also very much depends on the nature of the crime and where the crime happened. US crime tends to be more exaggerated and extreme, due to the very nature or culture in which people live, especially in Los Angeles. The crime cases publicized, tend to be lot more spectacular then crimes committed in Britain, of course that's stating the obvious, however I honestly believe that it's related to the cinematic culture, of which we just simply don't have the ability, or want to record and transmit news cinematically. Of course why would we?
Michael Mann's film Heat (1995) was a film shot in downtown LA, with the most notably 'realistic' loud gunplay scene in cinematic history to date. It's cold, blunt and incredibly violent. But what's interesting about that scene is that it became the basis and inspiration for a very real event that happened in LA a few years later, an event dubbed The North Hollywood Shootout I watched repeatedly the news footage from the North Hollywood Shootout and Heat and found that in comparison after repeatedly viewing it intensely, I decided that actually Mann's Heat was far more realistic.
I don't believe anything is infallible, people by nature are cunning and will always find a way to subvert and distort the truth. Even scientific evidence takes form, as rhetoric by the very nature in which is it presented, monopolized or industrialized. I'm not saying that forensic science is inaccurate but it's the way in which we construct or curate the evidence is what makes it key. There have been many miscarriages of justice, with many serious crimes going unsolved. A juridical verdict is a legal argument. The end is not normally the 'truth' of 'what happened', but one of convincing conjecture, which makes it's dimension beautifully fascinating and deadly.
With such a shift on the emphasis of forensics referring back to taking over the 'the era of the witness', I think has left the Police putting too much faith in forensic science, particularly in that of biology, so much so that they have begun to ignore human instinct and intuition, because the definition of truth and reality has never been so unclear.
But then again maybe I'm simply too much of a purist fan of film noir and crime literature.
Could you also explain the part played by 'forensic aesthetics' in your project?
'Forensic Aesthetics' a term coined by Dr Eyal Weizman at the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths University. It was an idea that was originally used in an architectural context and was called Forensic Architecture. The idea of using objects to form an argument, as a narration in the absence of actuary evidence is now being openly discussed at various law schools in the US as a mode of future legal practice, which is very exciting! The term is very much at the heart of this project or at least in the research. My project comes into play whereby, I would like to use this theory and expand on the research as a platform to initiate 'it' as a mode of design, by giving it form and materiality. Weizman talks about it the broad context of human rights, of course those are important, but my angle is for pleasure, aesthetic speculation and fantasy. Imagine an architectural model - a designed space accompanied by designed artifacts being wheeled into a courtroom and brought up for questioning almost to fulfill the role of the 'witness' as evidence. Design can become something to examine, question and decipher through legal channels.
It's very interesting to me to relentlessly construct narratives from traces that were left over from a traumatic or chaotic event, even if you are stitching together empty spaces that seem impossible and too abstract. The documentation of everyday detail in the construction of archives of clues and cases creates a great pool for crafting hybrid fictions and competing perceptions - a world of secret lives, lies and stories.
Under Black Carpets presents a meticulous deconstruction of several bank heists simultaneously occurring in downtown Los Angeles, focusing specifically on 5 different banks that centre One Wilshire. What are these banks?
The banks are: Bank of America, Mellon Bank, City National Bank, US Bank and Wells Fargo. These were chosen because of their geographic proximity to One Wilshire and precise distance from the LAPD headquarters in downtown LA. The narrative proceeds, a false plane collision with the 30th floor of One Wilshire, as a ruse. One Wilshire is an infamous centralized carrier hotel. It provides half of the worlds connection to the internet; currently it connects: China, Korea, the USA, east Russia and parts of Europe, directing anything toward One Wilshire would attract much attention. The surrounding street block formation would centralize Police, harboring them in one place due to the precise vertical heights of the buildings and the dense geography of those particular blocks. The visual transparency from the ground is also extremely limited. The architecture is positioned in such a way, that staging particular events or moments could be hidden from view behind protruding floors, light refractions from the mirrored glass and thick palm tree heads. Some of the streets are also impossible for helicopters to circulate and enter, however every flat rooftop has its own helipad by state law in that area.
What will be the purpose of the deconstruction? To design the perfect bank robbery?
Yes. Exactly that. My intention is design the perfect heist. A counter measure to anticipated police reactions based on this research. But not presented as projection like a pre-planned, straight-up plot, but one told through hindsight. Using aesthetics and material form to frame the narrative as an investigation, an archive of evidence for the purpose of constructing, a legal argument.
Finally, what shape does the project take: the project page has models but do you also plan to add 3D renderings? video? essays?
This project is simply a study - a deconstruction for the purpose of seeing something from a birds-eye view (not literally) but a plot device to experiment with. This first part was completed whilst I was the summer research resident at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The final project will take the form of artifacts, large scale engineered mechanical devices, architectural physical studies, speculative tools and materials. There will be films - my aim is to shoot Police reconstructions of what they assumed to have happened. There's a lot to do!
A book or research will also accompany the project, a series of essays and collated documents curated and co-written by Geoff Manaugh (BLDGBLOG) and myself.
The final work will go into an exhibition on display next year at the Lisbon Architecture Triennale, it will be showing in an unused bank vault comprising of 6 rooms in September 2013.
If you think that the ongoing edition of the Manifesta biennale is not enough to lure you to the Limburg region of Belgium, how about an exhibition about the work of 30 artists who are looking for gaps in the ruling systems and structures?
Mind the System, Find the Gap is this year's Summer exhibition at Z33 and the concept of the show has been applied literally to the Z33 space. The artworks occupy every space available: they are in the usual exhibition spaces of course but also in the garden, in the reception area, and inside the little Beguinage houses.
Our society is governed by all sorts of systems and structures. No system, however, whether political, judicial, economical, socio-cultural or spatial, can comprise life in its entirety. Every system has loopholes, leaks and ambiguities.
The exhibition is uplifting and timely. In these moments of social inequality, austerity, cuts in culture budgets, low social mobility, loss of privacy, recession, it is reassuring to discover that the systems that govern our existences have flaws and spaces that we can infiltrate. Even if this form of resistance is often more symbolic than truly power-challenging.
Some of the participating artists merely reveal and document these gaps while others go further and demonstrate how to take advantage of them. The artworks are organized according to themes: political systems, spatial systems and socio-cultural systems with of course much overlap since many of the artworks confront several systems at the same time.
The clearest and probably most amusing introduction to the show has to be Matthieu Laurette's project. For 8 years, the artist ate, shaved, dressed and showered for free thanks to Moneyback Products, a method of shopping that pushed to the extreme the marketing system of the major food corporations which offer their product with a "Satisfied or your money back" or "Money back on first purchase" label. Similarly, Laurette's home was always equipped with brand new electrical goods which he sent back before the end of the guarantee - to replace them with brand new ones.
The strategy requires to be extremely well organised. Because most manufacturers ask you to send back a separate till receipts before they will refund items, you need to pay separately for each product.
Moneyback Products was an art project but also a life style that leaked beyond the walls of art galleries. Laurette became indeed a celebrity in the French media, he was invited to popular talk shows and his project appeared on the cover of mainstream magazines.
In Identity4You, Heath Bunting creates off-the-shelf new legal identities built up from a portfolio of unique legal relationships. The work - a continuation of Identity Bureau and the Status Project - draws on the fact that as a human being one can have several legal identities. These identities are constructed through a network of registrations: loyalty cards, bank accounts, phone cards, bills, government correspondence and other person related data. The vaster the network, the stronger the legal identity. Identity4You demonstrates that an identity depends mainly upon administrative systems, rather than personality or even a physical body.
The animation film What Shall We Do Next is presented as an "archive of gestures to come". The gestures refer to the patents for the invention of new devices taken out from the USPTO (United States Patent and Trademark Office) from 2006 to 2011. The functioning of upcoming tablets, smartphones, laptops, game consoles, medical instruments and other devices involves gestures that are defined and copyrighted even though the interface does not yet exist. In the video, the artist appropriates the gestures and separates them from their utilitarian function, letting them float in the air and follow a choreographic abstraction.
The work not only explores how technology shapes our behaviour but also questions the privatization of something as basic as a human gesture.
For her performance Bag Lady, Pilvi Takala spent one week in a shopping mall in Berlin, carrying a lot of cash in a transparent plastic bag. As soon as they spotted the content of her bag, sales personnel, security staff, shop owners as well as fellow customers, looked uncomfortable and unsure how to react. Although she behaved like a normal customer, Takala was both a security threat and a subject of protection. This slight intervention sheds controversial light on the fragility of the social order, where private property in the form of money or product is such a holy cow, that it is under constant intuitive public control.
We're getting used to read about architectural works that engages with the cracks in urban space. But we tend to forget that they come from a long tradition of 'gap exploration.'
In 1973 and 1974, Gordon Matta-Clark purchased, at New York City auctions, fifteen leftover and unwanted properties. Because these properties were too small or too oddly shaped, they were unusable or inaccessible for development. He got each of them for a few dollars.
Matta-Clark documented these urban voids with an archive of deeds, maps, photographs of every inch of his lands, tax receipts, videotapes and other documents. Unfortunately, Matta-Clark died before he could fully realise his plans, and ownership of the properties reverted to the city (the taxes to pay were too expensive.)
Dutch architect Anne Holtrop based the design of the Trail House not on gaps but on unofficial use of land. The building structure follows Elephant Paths, the shortcuts that people adopt and trace when they go through meadows, parks or city squares. Over time, the tracing of the Elephant Paths appears on the ground which reinforced the informal route. The architect simply shaped a house to further recognize its existence. Z33 shows the model and Bas Princen's always impeccable photos.
Tadashi Kawamata's Tokyo Project - New Housing Plan explores the possibility to squeeze the home of city dwellers into the overlooked spaces of the Japanese capital: between the fences of construction sites, behind vending machines or even billboards.
Kawamata actually build the houses, each of which was occupied on rotation over a one-week period by the artist and his associates. The inside of the guerrilla houses was surprisingly comfortable with wall-to-wall carpeting, heaters and CD players powered by electricity lifted from external sources such as the vending machines.
I probably don't understand fully what makes KALENDER a work that looks for 'gaps in the system' but i'm glad i discovered it at Z33.
Between 3 January 2009 and 2 January 2010, Benjamin Verdonck performed more than 150 actions in Antwerp. These actions related to traditional public holidays, the cycle of the seasons, geopolitical shifts and life as it is.
I particularly like the procession of oversized toilet sanitizer, lighter, mobile phone and soda can.
Also in the show:
In 'Based on a Grid', Esther Stocker creates a spatial system from a series of black painted wooden blocks in the entrance hall of the Z33 exhibition building. The visitor is drawn into the installation, as it were, and is challenged by the system, the grid that is there but not immediately visible. For Stocker, the system is implied as much by its gaps as it is by its contours. But do we want to look for the system or are we happy to loose ourselves in the chaos of scattered elements drifting apart?
Founded in 1998, Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation) is a political and art organization that attempts to level social inequalities by injecting guerrilla art operations into capitalist structures. Mejor Vida Corp. provides free products and services such as international student ID cards, subway tickets for the Mexico City network, recommendation letters, fake barcode stickers to reduce the prices on goods sold by supermarket chains, etc.
Z33 has youtubed a series of introductions to the show as well as some interviews with artists participating to it. I'd recommend the one with Benjamin Verdonck because his accent is so lovely.
Previously: Mind the System, Find the Sukima (gap).
An exhibition as smartly titled as Mind the System, Find the Gap deserved a short trip on the Eurostar.
That's why on Tuesday, i was once again at Z33 House for Contemporary Art in Hasselt to see the work of artists who are 'seeking out the gaps in the system.' I'll come back to it with a detailed review of the exhibition in the next few days. But let's kick of the show with Sebastian Stumpf's photo documentation of his performances in the 'gaps' (in japanese sukima) of Tokyo architecture. The artist is literally filling in the hiatus in the dense architectural structure of the city, squeezing his body in the overlooked spaces between the buildings. The action makes us suddenly aware of this 'urbanism interrupted', and calls our attention to what is in-between, behind, or beyond.
A very Pasta & Vinegar work....
Mind the System, Find the Gap remains open until 30 September 2012 at Z33 in Hasselt, Belgium.
As i mentioned a few days ago, the Barltett's student show is one of my favourite events of the Summer in London. It is however so overwhelming and turbulent that you need dedication and pure chance to spot the works that might interest you the most.
I'm glad my Bartlett expedition led me to The Theatre of Synthetic Realities.
The project, authored by architectural designer Madhav Kidao, is miles away from what you'd expect from an architecture work. No model, no plan. In fact, it rather looks like an essay made of photos, short videos and texts. Together, they reflect on immoral architecture, unsympathetic machines, reality filtered by artificiality and more generally, our symbiotic relationship to technology. In fact, Kidao likens his project to "an exaggerated caricature of our present and near future relationships to technology as is stands."
What made the project remarkable is its focus on how new technologies prompt new behaviour and new ethical questions and decisions. I realize i might be accused of heresy and crucified in front of the populace for writing this but ethics and social concerns are usually not the nerve centers of architectural exhibitions.
Allow me to do a bit of copy/pasting and let's see each other right after that for an interview with Madhav Kidao.
The Theatre, as illustrated in the film Making Friends and Other Functions, is a vehicle in which to explore the relationship that exists between the designer/creator and his or her repertoire of increasingly intelligent collaborative tools, be these tools to create or tools to think. The machines, under the selective guidance of the designer, construct their own reality based upon the information they extract from their environment and its unwilling occupants. This is ultimately a task with no beginning or end, and fundamentally questionable ethical integrity. As result we are left to question the role of the Architect, both in regard to creative authorship and ethical responsibility.
Hi Madhav! What are the 'Unsecure Webcams' that are mentioned in ACT I - The Observer? What makes them unsecured?
As I'm sure you are aware most live feed web and surveillance cameras can be accessed remotely through the internet. It is possibly one of the Internet's worst kept secrets that by simply googling specific codes for particular camera models, for example "intitle:liveapplet inurl:LvAppl" a list of all the live webcams of that particular make and model is given. Often, however, the owners of the cameras, usually domestic or small businesses, fail to password protect them, this is what makes them unsecured. Therefore in theory anybody is able to view the camera's live stream and with many cameras actually control the pan and tilt of the camera. As long as you have not cracked any passwords, this is entirely legal.
Whilst the feeds are usually pretty innocent, and frankly often mundane, every now and then you come across something that you no doubt shouldn't have done, an insight into a private world completely unconnected to our own other than through technology. It's quite a peculiar relationship that exists between the remote observer and the realities of an unknown space that is unfolding before them. Time is of particular importance as you are viewing in real time a world in which you have no knowledge of its past beyond the moment you logged in, yet our extended embodiment into the animate camera somehow immediately embeds us into this unfamiliar space.
This is not too dissimilar to the tele-assistance relationship between a drone pilot and the drone. Initially we are completely ignorant of where and what it is we are looking at other than what can been interpreted from the point of view of the camera. It's in our nature to be inquisitive, to people watch, and there is some perverse pleasure in trying to comprehend the events unfolding before us. However due to the lack of context more often than not this is simply educated speculation. The more I explored this strange paradigm the more I found myself just making up wholly fictitious scenarios in my head based upon the slightest clues garnered purely from body language, perceived interactions and the environment. The epistemologically variety of this action means that truth soon begins to seem irrelevant compared to the desire to fabricate an alternative reality.
The name of the project, The Theatre of Synthetic Realities, places your work in the realm of fiction. Yet, it was inspired by elements of reality. Could you tell us about the trends, behaviors and technologies that have inspired the project?
It was from this point that the concept of a Theatre of Synthetic Realities emerged, a kind of reinterpretation of Hitchcock's Rear Window for the 21st Century, in which the binoculars are replaced by the the vast interconnected complexity of our computing networks; with each input - be it a camera, a sensor or even another person - acting as a portal into a parallel environment. In much the same way as the binoculars are a prosthesis to extend our vision, the global technological systems that we symbiotically rely upon extend our powers of perception and influence around the world. In Rear Window the architecture of community and society defines the story. I was keen to explore how technology facilitates new forms of social interaction and redefined concepts of neighbourhood and community, and how this in turn redefines our concepts of architecture.
The impact technology has had upon our social systems, access to knowledge and global influence is nothing particularly new, Marshall McLuhan famously introduced the concept of a Global Village and Global Theatre almost 50 years ago. For me what is more interesting is how this has evolved into the relatively more recent concept of the Internet of Things. The trend I believe that we we will see with the Internet of Things is that it is not just objects that can be tagged and categorised but also the spaces they inhabit and the actions and events that they are associated with. In this way spaces, buildings and environments are becoming encompassed in the Internet of Things. This is not limited to architecture though, the social activities, and routines that are contained within that architecture add to the data history of a place, a form of artificial psychogeography. What this means is that in much the same way as we exist in a duality between physical and digital social circles, the spaces that we occupy do too. What we begin to see is a physical environment and the live updating digital representation of that environment. This is facilitated by new advances in sensory and scanning technologies, computer vision and biometric analysis.
I, like many others, was investigating the potential of the XBox Kinect as means of capturing complex real time data. Its capabilities have been widely publicised but in simple the idea that a machine can see in three dimensions and then also recognise human gesture is incredible. It allows any machine created using such technology to become actually embodied in a physical world. It begins to transcend the border between the physical and the digital which is a very powerful concept when thinking about intelligent environments. And as we increase our dependence upon the internet as our primary source of knowledge and interaction, our interpretation of truth becomes more reliant upon the technology that we assign to gather and interpret the real world. So fundamentally we start to view the physical world through the filter and perception of machines, in effect, a synthetic reality.
Could you describe the Vision Machine, the way humans would 'interact' with it and its ultimate purpose?
The idea of the Vision Machine originated from Paul Virilio's book The Vision Machine. In it he discusses the concept of the "automation of perception", predicting a machine that sees for itself not for the benefit of man. This concept coupled with an interest in how artificial intelligence feeds into responsive/adaptive environments intrigued me. The capabilities that a computer has to extract a significant amount of information from a physical location combined with its ability to comparatively analyse that data with the vast amounts of data stored online through a neural network is almost enough to simulate perception. The resources that a computer has immediate accesses to - such as The Internet of Things - and its methods of analysis are completely alien to our own, therefore it could be predicted that its interpretations of the physical world would be alien too. Building upon the idea of how a human would perceive a space as viewed remotely through a webcam, I wanted to create a sensationalised demonstration of how the camera itself could possibly perceive the space it inhabits in relation to its learned perceptual world.
In regard to the Theatre of Synthetic Realities, the Vision Machine is in essence a robotic actor, cameraman and director in one. Whereas in the initial webcam scenario I was in complete control of the camera and was free to make my own conclusions of what I saw, with the Vision Machine at the other end I am relegated to a more collaborative role in which the machine dictates what it is I view however provides information that I would never have ordinarily been able to extract. Working from this principal we could then predict that the collaborative relationship between myself and the semi-autonomous machine could lead to an emergent performance unique to the relationship. The next stage in the Vision Machine was to then suggest that, much like I had done, it too begins to fabricate elements of reality and as such distort the reinterpretation of the digital model of that environment as well as what the viewer believes to be true.
The project has never really been a serious proposition for a machine to be developed. In fact it was supposed to be an exaggerated caricature of our present and near future relationships to technology as is stands. The machine is portrayed as more of a mild irritation that we just coexist with rather than any kind of interactive companion. Its ultimate purpose is as an analogical device to critique and explore our concept of what digital fabrication is or could be. In this project we are fabricating reality and the representation of reality as part of the Internet of Things. It is very much an attempt to question the relationship we have to tools and technology in a world in which we continue to transfer not just physical but increasingly cognitive faculties over to those tools. The is not seen to be necessarily a negative thing but rather an interrogation of the possibilities this presents, especially in regard to new forms of collaboration.
I found 'ACT IV - Making Friends and Other Functions' a bit daunting: here is a machine that observes human beings constantly and then assesses them and assigns them a character. Do you see current technology going in that direction? And what would be the benefit of having such machines around?
One of my aims for the project was to see how technologically advanced I could make it for the least amount of money; so begging, borrowing and hacking spaces, hardware, open source software and code. Then was an attempt to demonstrate how the role of the designer is changing, particularly in the world of open source projects. Practically any designer can now create they're own tools and machines for any job-specific purpose with a relatively low budget, the RepRap being the archetype. As complex and powerful technologies become cheaper and easier to hack, like the Kinect, the designer is gifted with power and responsibility that is free from supervision.
That sense of malaise you have from the idea of camera watching and judging you is in large part due to your loss of control and empathy due to the unpredictable nature of a non-human agent. I think this is an issue that as designers, and particularly architects, we will have to address. As architecture reacts to shifts in social habits I think we will see a lot of unforeseen challenges in regard to what technologies we use and the manner in which we do so.
Fundamentally my project is an immoral one and I think the concept of an immoral architecture is something that will become increasingly prevalent in the future.
The text of your project says that "The Theatre (...) is a vehicle in which to explore the relationship that exists between the designer/creator and his or her repertoire of increasingly intelligent collaborative tools, be these tools to create or tools to think. The machines, under the selective guidance of the designer, construct their own reality based upon the information they extract from their environment and its unwilling occupants. This is ultimately a task with no beginning or end, and fundamentally questionable ethical integrity. As result we are left to question the role of the Architect, both in regard to creative authorship and ethical responsibility." Is ethical responsibility already an issue architects and designers encounter nowadays when working with new technological tools?
Ethical responsibility has always had some part to play in the design process but I think that is slowly coming to the forefront. The explosion of open source has really brought ethics into the design process as it not only transfers power from the institution to the individual but it also provides new forms and channels to disseminate information, this recent article actually being a perfect example.
For me, consciousness and intent are just as important as categorical right and wrong. For exploring emergent technology is just that, emergent, it is unknown. While a particular technology may have positive society changing impact it may well have dire consequences too. I'm not one for speculations upon utopian ideals and believe that we will have to tread and adjust the boundary of what is acceptable to progress civilisation, however whilst the unquestioning embrace and exploration of new technology is exciting we often fail to question its merit beyond novelty. As Joseph Weizenbaum suggested, just because we can do something doesn't mean we ought to. I think we have to take a utilitarian stance and ask ourselves is doing something in a new way beneficial to design and society? And if so is it not to the detriment of others?
Admittedly I think architecture is a bit slow off the mark when it comes to these kinds of issues. This is understandable when you consider the timescale architecture operates on compared to other design fields. However Architects have always been eager to incorporate new design methodologies and the ethics of the technology used will undoubtedly become an issue.
In terms of the Bartlett show, I'm guessing there is a particular reason you have asked this question so I would ask the same of you. The show is always a dazzling array of phenomenal work and the mastery of a variety of mediums used is breathtaking. I do feel the density and complexity of the show does however sometimes make it overwhelming and distracting from the work. Of course as with any degree show the work on display can only ever be a vast reduction of the full scope of the project and as such the viewer is never going to get a comprehensive understanding of that project.
All images Madhav Kidao.
If there's one student show that never disappoints, it's the Bartlett Summer Show. There are models over drawings over installations over plans over rendering. Over the floor, the walls and the ceilings. Year after year, that show is consistently eye-pleasing and inspiring. The exhibition is now closed but i caught up with one of the new graduates, Theodore Games Petrohilos to talk about Air Futures. The speculative project investigates the trade of Air Rights (TDRs - Transferable development Rights) which, in real estate, refer to the empty space above a property. Generally speaking, owning or renting land or a building gives one the right to use and develop the air rights.
What would happen if the regulation of air rights was given free rein, if air became a commodity that could be bought and sold? How would the trade physically manifest itself? Can we imagine that one day an Air Bank will open in the heart of Manhattan?
The Air Futures project speculates on the apparition and spread of a system that would manipulate, buy and sell air. The work explores both the legality and physicality of the air above New York.
Here's the result of the Q&A session with the architect:
Hi Theo! Air Futures is a speculative project but it is anchored in elements of reality as well.
Yes, the fact that this project emerged from existing realities is what made it so exciting to work on. Air Futures is the speculative evolution of the air rights trade in New York, where volumes of 'air' are bought and sold to facilitate complex development manoeuvres over the city's grid. The trade in TDR's (Transferable Development Rights) works on the basis that the owners of a plot in the city should be able to fully exploit that plot, as an extruded volume up until the full height of the city's zoning limits. So if the existing building on that New York plot doesn't reach the full height of this invisible zoning limit, then the owner of the plot can sell the leftovers! This is what my project deals in - the leftover developable volumes of space above the city's urban landscape, and the further ramifications, and processes that arise from giving this air value.
How and why would the trading of air appear?
At the moment, the air rights trade allows the transfer of these developable volumes under strict rules. For example, you sell the space above your building, and the new owner can build his new building over your plot or bend over it. This happened in 1962 with the Pan Am (now Metlife) Building, the first foray into air rights, where the largest office building at the time was constructed over the historic Grand Central Terminal. The air rights volume can also be transferred to another area, across the road or over strict movements in the grid, to develop elsewhere, and to allow development beyond the set zoning limit. This action of maximising a plot's value without destroying the existing structure has proven to be a valuable tool for the ever-densified city: selling air rights to gain the full 'value' of a plot without physically touching the existing building itself.
The value of these air volumes have the potential to be enormous, for example, in 2005 Christ Church on Park Ave and 60th sold its air rights to developers building on the same block for $30 million. The value of that air volume was based on a speculative idea of what could be developed with it. What fascinated me, was that people where, and are paying millions of dollars for 'air', that is 'air' as a legal entity - a potential future developable volume that could reap even more gains if moved elsewhere, and perhaps joined with other volumes of air. Whole skyscrapers can be built from air rights accumulated from the same block, but now there is real talk of the expansion of the system - air is going public.
Government officials and speculators alike are looking into the creation of an 'air bank', where air rights can be accumulated and divided just like shares. Air rights will also be able to be transferred from one district to another, so the playing field will be larger, as will the potential profits. Brokers and traders will be brought in to facilitate these movements for new investors, who are betting on the potential of these air stocks to perform for them. The New York air rights trade is currently to do with relatively micro- transactions, with values closely associated with both the donor and receiving sites - as a development tool it appears to be manageable. As an investment tool, air becomes subject to the same systems that got us into our current financial mess, it becomes totally detached from reality and fully enters the maniacal world of speculation. We now see air as a commodity and this is where the Air Futures Company comes in.
What 'air' are we talking about? It's not simply oxygen, right?
Well the term 'air' defines a legal volume with invisible boundaries, it's a completely intangible commodity, its values are based on speculative futures. As the air trade becomes more detached from the actualities of the development of a city and sways more to the fluctuations of a financial market - for the system to pertain to be sustainable it must try and find a solidity of value. In my thesis for this project; 'The Architecture of Mania' I explored how constructions around other intangible commodities create this tangible notion of value - these, like the Air Futures trade, I define as 'manias' that are subject to the crazed emotions of crowds and instinctual reactions to environments. In my research, I saw how important it is to give architectural physicality to these 'commodities' in order to excite a value in the mania as a whole.
Starting from Marx's assertions about commodity fetishism (that eventually led to revolutions!) arising from a detachment from physical production, I needed to define the physicality of this air being traded - give it a more solid value and gain the trust of investors already sick of intangible sub prime mortgages etc.
This is the same need as the Air Futures system, they need to separate their commodity from the everyday air of New York to be shown to asserting some sort of control over it. As the air above New York becomes bought, and traded through the Air Futures Company they erect red boxes to define their ownership of those volumes and presence in the city. These frames act as signifiers to excite potential investors in the city and define the intangible air. The Air Futures headquarters on Wall Street confronts investors with controlled flows/gusts that create certain boundaries and thresholds in the building. These ritual paths and thresholds come from my research into the grand museums of art like the Altes Museum, and Louvre etc - places that have to create value in ART: another commodity with intangible values.
How does the project reflect current commercial practices?
The use of manipulated oxygen levels around the building are used to excite traders and investors alike into euphoric states. I used these to highlight the addictive and unstable nature of high-risk investing and aggressive speculation we see today. I tried to reflect that in the crazed eyes of the fat cats that inhabit my spaces and illustrations for the project.
With the Air Futures system I aimed to create a scenario that evolved what I see as the mania of speculation. The project is very much based on existing practices, albeit with a critical eye. I tried to reflect little reasonable ventures that accumulated to make a quite unsettling proposition. Its like the traders of todays financial markets saying "its okay to take this little risk", without thinking of the ultimate impact on the rest of the world, and everything, all the livelihoods staked against their little actions.
Could you walk us through how the trading would take place? Who buys the air? How is it distributed?
The whole Air Futures building is arranged into hierarchies that reflect the attitudes of the system. The Air Futures Building raises itself above the street on a new city datum, which serves to separate the traded and valued air, from the everyday air of the city. The concrete ritual paths into the building, serve to create a feeling of entering another realm, where this valued air resides, and is controlled by the commercial system. Investors are then led up through the regulator spaces of the system, who check both the legality of trades and monitor the purity of claimed air - the system has to be seen to be under control after all. There are then the Air Club sections of the building, where people come to literally get high on air - the commodity - and then trade on the city set out below them. Then there is the Trading Floor, where crowds of euphoric Air Futures traders shout and hustle to inflate stock values, in a sort of gladiatorial performance. They watch trading fluctuations on ionised air barometers on the ceiling that glow with each change in the market. The systems played out in the building are intentionally dense, to echo the alchemic nature of their speculations. The traders are after all turning air into gold.
Could this kind of trade spread to London and other European cities?
Of course! With cities around the world getting more intense, with populations growing in space hungry metropolises, people are always looking upward. I treated air in this project as the last commodity to go public, and it has the ability to reap infinite revenues. In London for instance, cash strapped local governments or historic buildings would be able to sell of their air rights to sell to designated 'high zones' in the city or other cities in the EU for that matter, pretty much like a carbon credit system, but for development. Its all ridiculous of course but possible. I've tried to play the devil's advocate with this project and say "what if it goes this far?"
How would 'normal' people be affected by this trade?
On the physical side of things, if all the air in a city becomes privately owned and that ownership is asserted, it's possible that new types of responsibilities could arise. These could be to do with possible threats to that air above the city and its purity. These subjects were tackled for instance in New York's Times Square after September 11th, where studies were undertaken to assess the possibility of building owners fortifying the public realm from possible terrorist attacks on the air breathed.
The city would see development take place above the standard city datum. This traded air, with highly inflated values would end up inaccessible to the general public, they would end up priced out of the market, and a new 'oppulent datum' would arise.
The Air Futures story is pretty dystopic, but of course it's speculation.
All images courtesy Theo Games Petrohilos.
Related story: Airspace Activism.
The Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture, edited by Robert Klanten, Sven Ehmann and Sofia Borges.
Publisher Gestalten writes: Thanks to innovations in building materials, design technologies, and construction tools, a new generation of architects can finally realize structures that would have previously remained mere dreams. This emergence of a new vernacular of radically sculpted buildings, rooms, and installations melds rigorous usability with a playful and cutting edge aesthetic, facilitating highly functional yet undeniably exhilarating spaces.
The Sky's the Limit serves as a compelling exploration of these seemingly impossible, yet surprisingly practical structures and spaces. Unleashing the creative potential offered by the latest developments in design and construction, this book presents spectacularly formed buildings, façades, and interiors as well as inspiring temporary projects and urban interventions by both young and established talents. The projects featured here have all been built, are actively in use, and transport us to the outer limits of our spatial imagination.
The Sky's the Limit - Applying Radical Architecture shows architecture that defies inhibition and doctrines but its 'radical' element shouldn't be confused with the critical investigations of Archigram or Superstudio. Many of the buildings presented in the book have been commissioned by major cultural, political and religious institutions and by business organizations. They act as striking symbols of their power. Given the high number of ambitious buildings erected in Spain, one can also suspect that they were commissioned and financed long before the crisis that is bringing Europe to its knees.
One thing is sure though, every single building in the book is arresting, unique and worthy of more newspaper columns than The Shard and other candidates in the race for tallest skyscraper.
The chapters in the book divide radical architecture into:
The Sky's the Limit is a collection of cutting-edge buildings. And it is a remarkably well-curated collection. But don't expect detailed descriptions of the technology used, of the challenges encountered or the impact the building had on the people who work inside it or live around it. This is a coffee table book, theory is scarce.
Another thing! This is probably not the place for such comment: but why is architecture literature suddenly so fond of the preposition 'atop'?
Still, i loved that book, its content is magnificent. Quick selection:
Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world's first commercial space terminal.
Invisible from a distance, the Moses Bridge is a wooden passageway that parts a river in two.
The terminal, control tower and storage spaces of the Aeroport Lleida-Alguaire are drawn in a continuous line, forming a single construction.
A playground structure turned into a joyous pavilion covered in funhouse mirrors and wood panels.
Twelve buildings shaped like archetypal houses and stacked upon one another.
The 4-story building has plants in lieu of a façade, as well as floor-to-ceiling windows and curtains to make up for the absence of interior walls.
On the coastal border between Turkey and Georgia:
A concerte building for the employees of the Paris transportation system. Shaped like a ship with round windows.
Ordos Museum is covered in metal tiles that can stand violent sandstorms.
Little Hilltop with Wind View, a 8 meter-tall viewing tower commissioned by a Japanese wind power company, allows people to admire the landscape as well as the company's wind turbines. The light and flexible building is also responsive to the wind, swaying slightly on its platform when the wind blows. Like a tree in the breeze.
Views inside the book: