Monday, November 28, 2005

Archigram and technological utopia in the 1960’s

As part of ARCHITECTURE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, AN INTRODUCTION, course by Antoine Picon, Harvard University.

Between the 50’s and the 60’s it is a climax of modernism architecture and it is the period during which modernism is questioned.
The Archigram movement fostered a new type of relation to technology, a relation more linked to mass consumption. The idea is : could pleasure transform itself into nightmare because of what technology entails? It is also the beginning of digital culture. Kem Koolhass or Bernard Tschumi are both radical architects and their work raise issues that are still relevant today. For instance Archigram raises the following question: Does architecture form still matter? And also super studio questions the status of economy.

Technology and the critique of the Modern Movement in the 1950s-1960s
The modern movement had not really grasped the essence of technology; in the 20’s technology is a collection of fascinating devices, and in the 50’s technology is a seamless web of artifacts and is a connection between artifacts, the connection becomes more important than what it connects, e.g. connectors, plugs. It is also the time of the atomic bomb where a man can destroy the planet. There is this notion of globalization and a global vision, view that will inspire artists at the time. There comes the feeling that the time is closing, giving it an extra degree of finitude. There is the bio layer, the tech layer which is a third layer above it all, as a surface condition. This is very different from the continuous notion of technology from the 20’s. Then when one starts to think that earth is finished then all follows.
In the 20’s technology is seen as linked to a productivist vision but not to consumerism and in the 50’s it is linked to the idea of consumption and to the US, for instance the work of Richard Hamilton in 1966: his collages on mass consumption. The idea is that technology might be about pleasure and that technology can provide pleasure and that you can loose your soul in this world. The modern movement had not understood the full extent of technology. Technology as a system of links ends as a techno sphere with the critic of the fetishism of the object. The moderns had not understood technology as an environment.

Before understanding Archigram, one has to understand the megastructure, e.g. Gunter Domenig (dwelling unit for Graz), Nicolas Schoffer (Cybernetic city), and Yona Friedman (Paris Spatial). The super structure becomes invisible on top of the city so that human can finally breeze like birds.
A mega structure is about:
- A way of life: a new way to live
- About connection: the mode is important and how things are linked to one another. A system of connection
- An environment: control.
Architects produce structures bordering utopia due to this technological context but the mega structure idea is contradictory: what is then architecture about? Is it object (because mega structure looks like a giant object, an entire city shaped as objects). It is linked to hyper-concentration about dispersion.
The main contradiction about the mega structure is that its DNA is itself destructive; if the mega structure proliferates, the you don’t see earth anymore, then it is not a structure but it becomes a surface. And it disappears as a structure.

The English context
In the 50’s England has just won the war but is poorer than what planned. In the mid 50’s this gets better and there is hope. The independent group in the UK looks at the new nature of technology and consumerism as a new relationship to technology. What later becomes pop culture is questioned then. In their CIAM grille, they criticize this relationship and fetishism and propose a more architectural vision of society.

The CIAM grille

In the golden lane project, the city becomes a system of connections in 1952. The idea: let’s redistribute architecture in a system of connection. It is a system of dwelling units. This gives birth to the mega structure where you plug-in units and you can program the 3D grid of the mega structure (as in Friedman’s work).
Cedric Price is a pioneer in computerized architecture with the Fun Palace. It is a mega structure purely devoted to cultural activity. It is a very detailed project, much more advanced than what Archigram proposes.

Archigram, the group, the review, the projects

The members of Archigram are Warren Chalk, Peter Cook, Dennis Crompton, David Green, Ron Herron, Mike Webb. They all come from the province and from middle class. Cook is the P.R. of the group and Herron is a prodigy craftsman. There are parallel movements that proliferate the same ideas than Archigram and convey their unsatisfactions through journals.
Archigram starts as a journal.

Archigram1 is the journal where they publish their thesis with pop culture scene.
Archigram2 is where they publish their post thesis design, e.g. the fiberglass project and bloobish forms. Nottingham shopping Viaduct is an auto constructive structure, a life that expands itself.
Archigram3 is more organized thematically. They borrow Fuller idea. Architecture is expandable like any structure as deployable units. The message becomes clearer with the new relation to technology. The genius of Archigram is to pursuit what is in the air. The idea that the city is about connections and what happens, urbanism is about creating events, an ambiance. In 1961, Archigram is recognized as avant-garde movement and in 1963 they organize the ‘living city’ exhibition as a set of interactions.

The living city

Hence the montage of collage, neons… In this montage, the gloops are thematic units to have people think about the city, e.g. situation, movement. The idea of the continuous web or l’hypothese des plaques (that Guy Debord loves). Another example: The Montreal Tower is a mega structure with the idea of provisory units.
Archigram4 They use comics to convey messages. It is more about using pop culture. And it is a step beyond the independent group.

Cover of archigram 4

The most emblematic city is the plug-in-city, city into a set of connections, at every level, environment level.

The plug-in city

They introduce the new use of colors and the overcraft to travel from one city to another. One critic about this work is that it is usually at the stage of sketches rather than detailed projects. Then the computor city from 1964 to 1965 is the idea of the controlled environment, they put a mega structure in movement, e.g. the walking city.

The walking city

The living pod (1966) is a kind of tent that can move independently from the mega structure.

The living pod

The idea of the space suit and that you can carry a huge environment on your back and can transform into a house, e.g. Cushicle.

The cushicle

One of the latest project by Archigram is the seaside bubble, and then it goes to the idea of mobile unit, that a city is about creating interactions for the environment and more about an atmosphere. Then the idea of instant city (that instantly transforms itself) with a ‘dirigeable’ that projects events which is more linked to their earlier idea and to the one of situationists.

The instant city

One question is : is it an installation? Is it architecture?
The mega structure is disappearing but carry itself with architecture. Archigram have never theorized and never asked ‘where is architecture’ while they were making their collages. They also raised the idea of pleasure or intolerable suffering within technology.
At the time of the Monte Carlo project, the mega structure has disappeared and becomes a surface. If architecture is an environment, what is the status of form? This question is implicit in the mega structure movement to overcome the modern movement.

The Monte-Carlo project

Archigram is about colors and strange picturesque: technology picturesque, there is something about the Victorian bathroom in Archigram. In the UK there is humor while in France and Italy it is Marxist and talk more about the drama of capitalism even though this is the basis of architecture. An architect builds something in revolt. The radicals produce architecture based on the impossibility to produce architecture in capitalism and explore the limits of the architecture practice.

The Italian radicals and their posterity
Archizoom is composed of Andre Branzi, Paola Deganello, Massimo Morozzi and Gilberto Corretti. Branzi is the head of the movement. They use computer chips to show connections for instance. The future of the mega structure is the distribution of electricity and all with the incertitude of the form. That echoes with the digital culture today. Is it a paradise? Is it a nightmare? The idea of over consumption, by Benjamin, begins at the time.
Superstudio is a little bit less negative than archizoom and reflect a lot on the status of form.
The type of questions raised: Is architecture absurdity? What is the meaning of boundaries we try to create? Strangely globalization has recreated a meaning for architecture because of competition. When there is total homogeneity, there is no justification for architecture… What type of humanity populates those structures? What comes next in post-modernism?

In architecture theory
Notes taken during the Architecture Science and Technology class taught by Antoine Picon the 28th Nov 2005

Friday, November 25, 2005

architecture and digital media

A powerful example of the relationship between the space and the place of the digital object, e.g. ad.

I took this picture at South Station in Boston; the beauty of this relationship makes the object of the ad luxurious...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Andy Goldsworthy

I have just watched the River and Tides documentary on Andy Goldsworthy. I feel so regenerated but with a hurge to go back to nature. Such perception in sculpture is fascinating.

By Cati in personal

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Touching memories

Touch is at the heart of intimate relationship. It is also a powerful trigger of past emotions. Touching memories is a system that detects and records a touch by a loved one. Be it a stroke, a pat, a hug, or a rub, the system will store the touch and play it back to you whenever you need it

This project is in its conceptual phase.

By Cati in affective design

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Open Studio by MIT Media Lab

Open Studio is a new experimental online art exchange system developed at the MIT Media Lab. I find it very promising, so check it out!
So yesterday night, I have started to look at it, and made a few drawings with their system, it looks as if I was painting with my feet, but the constraint in design is what makes it very interesting to me.

La Petite Tuture Rose that I have sold in 2 minutes to Burak Arikan :D

Le feu s'etiole that has been bought by Brent Fitzgerald today!

And ... Les mots doux, sold to Francis in 5 minutes last night !!!

There are cool ideas on this Studio and such a great tool to experiment with. By trying it out, and exchanging art work, I have found that it raises questions about the value of virtual art, especially the recognition in a virtual community.

Finally, 'douceur' my last drawing with the system ...

By Cati in digital drawing

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Strive to Capture the Elusive

Terzidis K. The Strive to Capture the Elusive in Terzidis K. Algorithmic Architecture London: Architectural Press, 2006

From this chapter, I selected parts that found the most important for my research. It is not a summary.

Design as a term can be confused with planning. Design is about conceptualisation when planning is about realization. Design is about the stage of capturing, conceiving, and outlining the main features of a plan, as such, it always preceds the planning stage.
In Latin, the word design is about the derivation of something that suggests the presence or existence of a fact, condition, or quality. In greek, it is about incompleteness, indefiniteness, or imperfection. « Design signifies not only the vague, intangible or ambiguous but also the trive to capture the elusive »

For the Greeks, design is linked indirectly to a loss of possession and a search into an oblivious state of memory. This is antithetic with the western notion of design that is stepping in the future and frequently associated with innovation.
Innovation is associated with originality but originiality is about a point of departure. Within the modernist tradition of novelty, the search for innovation may have become a misguiding rather than a guiding factor in deisgn.
« While the shock of the new may have provided in the early twentith-century an escape from the traditions of the past, its constant us ein the world of fashion today and the everlasting struggle to introduce something new for, or as if for, the first time defies its original purpose. »

A different appearence does not necessarily justify novelty, and an original concept involves newness in a productive, seminal and influential ways. Since novelty involves the negation of existence (something that did not exist before), novelty is impossible. It is only a sensory illusion.
Then the notion of an origin as a starting point is key in the process of design. First to determines the similar producst and second that it connects to the reminiscence of something that was lost but whose consequences are still present.

By Cati in kinetic architecture

Kinetic form

Terzidis K., Expressive Form: A Conceptual Approach to Computational Design, London: Spon Press, 2003, Chapter 3: Kinetic Form pp.33-45

From this chapter, I selected parts that found the most important. It is not a summary.

Kinetic form
'Kinetic is a term used to describe a situation related to or produced by motion' ; motion is the act or process of changing position or place over time. While the goal of motion may be immovability, the goal of kinetic form is to express perpetual motion through its immovable structure.

Observations : The perception of motion is relative ;

Superimposition is the act of laying or placing something on or over something else and can express motion.

Sequential justaposition : a serie of changes to a form are laid out in a sequential fashion, suggest motion by evolution, continuity.

Friction is a force that resist the relative motion perceived as motion when associated with matter and force.

Deformation can be associated with friction

Adhesion, stickiness, resistance and sluggishness suggest resistance to motion

Abscence as the state of being away and subtraction as the act of taking something away imply change since something was detached or dissappeared.

Aftereffect is an effect following its cause after some delay

Motion can be suggested to the viewer and not be literal, e.g. through metaphor or analogy like in the showing of a waterfalls without water.

Imagine a design where all is in motion. A variety of elements (geometrical form or symbolic form signifying a memory from the past) can be selected by a designer who directs the event. All the in between stages are transparent and become part of the compositional experience. The result is a moving image the behavior of which becomes the responsability of the designer.

« Kandinsky dreamed of a 'great city built according to all the rules of architecture and then suddenly shaken by a force that defies all calculation'. This dream sums up the double challenge of architecture and architectural theory today and the double challenge of computational design.(…) The architect of the past is seen as the virtuoso performer. The future architect may become the composer of symphonies in form, space, and color ».

By Cati in kinetic architecture

Space and motion

Jormakka K., Flying Dutchmen: Motion in Architecture, Basel: Birkhauser, 2002, 75-87

Space and motion
Nietzsche : « we want to have ourselves translated into stone and plant, we want to go for a walk in ourselves when we wander in these halls and gardens ». By means of empathetic projection, Nietzsche connected architecture to events in the body.

Schmarsow : the beholder’s body is essential to our experience of space (close to the idea of Nietzsche and Henri Poincare : the body being an instrument of measurement). But Schmarsow adds the notion of movement of the body in space as an essential element of architecture.

Husserl : all spatiality is constituted through movement. The speed of the observer affects the experience of space and like for Kant, the body is the source of our notion of space. For Kant there is the Nullpunkt : « thanks to the body, I am the center of things », Husserl adds a distinction between a lived body and a physical body « In walking my organism constitutes itself (…) the kinaesthetic activities and the spatial movements stay in union by means of association » For Husserl the body is the center of space.

Merleau-Ponty : our body is not primarily in space. What we understand as the axis of up and down does not change when we lie in a bed instead of standing up. In the abstract up and down has no meaning, it only is possible through other experience e.g. gravity

Deleuze : the idea of smooth space that can only be explored by the body (resemble Husserl’s notion of Nahspharen)

Deleuze and Gattari : A nomad is distended in the region. The absolute has become local because place is not delimited. The absolute is not at a particular place but become a non-limited locality.

Post-constructivist designs based on this idea of smoothness : they spa-tialize time (related to musical notation + rhythm of flow of things as in Bergson)
Lars Spuybroek says that space must be conceived from the perspective of the moving body « Bodies try to transgress themsleves in time… connected to other bodies, other rhythms, other actions. In this sense, you can really only talk about space as a result of an experimental body timing its actions. Space is never a given ».

Motion also implies disclocation relative to a frame of reference or an outside and motion is not contained within an object in movement but in a continuous differentiating co-constitution of the frame and the mobile, e.g. the sky annalogy of Deleuze where the flash of lightening is distinguished from the balc sky but must carry the sky with it. Things with different properties must be different things, so that a hand as a detached member is not the same thing as a hand connected to the body. Then for Hegel, parts of an organic whole are inconceivable except as parts of that whole which is self contradcitory according to Moore as it assumes that the part is logically distinguishable from the whole.

Derrida radical organicism, where in the actual workd everything is bound to and conditioned by everythign else (resemble Nietzsche). Boundaries of art for instance are marked by somthing that exists beyond the work. The outside constitutes the inside, e.g. a frame in a painting. Hence the very concept of an organic unity is self-contradictory.

Jormakka, author of the paper « Instead of desinging objects with a spectacular inside but no connection to exterior systems, one needs to consider the ways the building taps into other fields of forces that are all in motion and have no clear spatial boundaries. (…) A decentered and polyvalent architectural practice will concentrate not on aesthetic totalities but on infrastructural interventions, organizational re arrangments, and a discontinuous dispersion of strategic architectural moves in the existing fabric in cooperation with other professions and interest groups »

By Cati in kinetic architecture

Monday, November 07, 2005

Urban Planning and Design, structure of London, Los Angeles, Shanghai and Tokyo

The structure of each city, panels designed for the December exhibition currated by Joan Busquet and Felipe Correa, faculty at the Graduate School of Design.

By Cati in 'on the side' work

Urban Planning and Design

Designing the December exhibition currated by Joan Busquet and Felipe Correa, faculty at the Graduate School of Design, I found interesting that the density of Tokyo is pretty similar to the density of London. Felipe also mentionned how, as usual, average statistics can trick us in showing a Los Angeles with an average low density ... More info will come in the structure of each city.

By Cati in 'on the side' work

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Encouraging sustainability at home!

Our, Lauren my roomate and I, bottles of sparkling water made by people around here: pure sustainability :D

By Cati in 'home design'

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On design

On design by Cati Vaucelle

While the 16th of October 2005 the New York Times discusses prophecies made on the recent devastating situations, my response as a designer is to define a role of the designer in conceiving products that could support the after-shock of such catastrophes. While preventing earthquakes or hurricanes is still scientifically difficult, integrating political and social awareness into the conception of products for emergency support during and after an event could prevent the usual consequences of the natural disasters.

Journalists report on an event and represent the truth of an event, however the power of photography is immense; we watch documentaries, read newspapers by just ‘eye gaze scrolling, looking mainly at the pictures and thinking we are informed. Today, visual media is the favorite instrument of the development of information. The quantity of information cannot decrease. If the production of events is independent of the journalist, the everyday media consumption of the audience is constant. Journalists look for shocking visuals on a reality that does not deserve it and this reality then takes an abnormal importance. According to the cultural theorist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard, the Gulf War disinformation made not the events but the information become the scandal. We now look for the credibility of the truth and because of the lack of credibility in modern visuals, journalists use emotions to make spectators believe in the truth of the scene. As soon as it deserves the population’s attention, such as the series of natural disasters that have happened recently, the event cannot just be rationally described, the scale of dramatization having changed, reality has to be linked to some para normal phenomena, and thus journalists propagate, even if by questioning, the theories about prophecies and mystification of the events. Always stepping away from what is actually happening, and even though prophecies might be in actions, the only idea of not focusing of what is needed in such an emergency situation is renouncing to our responsibility as citizen.

Within this context, the designer conceives solutions to prevent -if possible- discomfort coming from threatening disasters, and engage in a discussion about what can be done to support a population before, during and after a catastrophe. Usually journalists discuss what is demanded through fascination for the 'spectacle'. They succeed most of the time in mobilizing the attention of citizens and raise funding to contribute to the global 'first days' help. However, after a few weeks attention is driven somewhere else. Even though resilience phenomena is taking place in the touched population, a considerable proportion of its actors may die of the disaster consequences few weeks later.

The responsibility as a designer today facing the major international problems borrows the philosophy of the Ulm School of Design of the post war in 1949 as it integrates political, social and scientific approach to design. A designer could want to change the dynamics in the world immediately and design solutions depending on the inter relationships between the agents in control. This is for instance one of the missions of Veja, a firm that uses material for fair trade, selecting ecological products, and producing objects in dignity. A designer could also want to enable a better democracy positioned politically and raising social questions. As much as the Ulm school of design introduced, as an example for their students, courageous persons who have risked their lives in resistance to a way of life they knew was fundamentally incompatible with their own values, designers today have the privilege to potentially combine political and social solutions to the design of effective products and or media.

Recently, we can then read a lot about comparative scale of death tolls, and indeed, at 7.6 magnitude, the earthquake was said to be the strongest to hit South Asia in a century and as killed around 55, 000 people with a death toll still raising. What is even of most importance for a designer is to prevent more death and more disease. The earthquake has thus left millions of persons homeless and evacuation plans have been prepared, expecting a threatening cold winter and accumulating rainy days that will certainly worsen the situation, and the population is then vulnerable to disease threats from the devastated public sanitation systems. Relief supplies are in place, but it is necessary to empower the population by relocating them in a new home. Could it be then a priority to create an emergency structure involving the design of mobile homes, health centers and toys structure to provide immediate psychological relief? What if all the survivors could have access to such immediate structure encouraged by the government? What if products were carefully designed integrating local knowledge with comfort and necessary means of existence. Could it bring them away a little from the drama? What if these components were mobile and easily transportable to allow them to be at the desired location in a minute? An instant support.

The mission of design today is to offer concrete solutions to such gigantic social and economic disasters as the attempt of Peter Brewin and William Crawford at the Royal College of Art in designing inflatable concrete and flexible long-term shelters for supporting the population after devastating events:
All the materials to create a robust and durable concrete shelter for disaster relief are combined within a plastic sack. The sacks can be easily transported to the necessary location. Water is added to the sack on site and the plastic inner can then be inflated to create a shelter. The concrete mix covering the inner sets in 4 hours leaving a structure that has a 15 year life-span, keeping cool during the day and retaining heat through the night

The role of the designer is to rethink the linkage between propagated information and the actual flux of events into concrete design solutions considering the dynamics in actions between political debates and social implications. Involving the population as soon as possible in the design process is also a way to have active participation and awareness of the current events, empowering it to participate and by this diminishing its feeling of powerless that contributes to its uncomfortable and useless disaster mystification and fear of prophecies.

By Cati in product design