Category Archives: Urban Spectacle Blog

Democratic Boulevards 2

After having lived in London for a year and a half, I have slightly revised vision of what a democratic boulevard should be. This vision is not based on the fact that London has many democratic boulevards; it is instead based on my experience of riding a bike every day. It is also based on cycling through France and Belgium, where there are some great examples of designed streestcape that seem to be pleasure for everyone – pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicle drivers. It appears that this idea will always evolve based on new experiences.

oborishte-krustovishte2

Current Corner Condition

The digital age

What is the digital age, beyond symbols and sculpture? What is the difference beyond architecture and sculpture? How can current issues – of social responsibly, of more equal distribution of wealth and resources, of treating each project as having exhausted as specific, limited of amount or resources – be addressed better through the advent use of digital technology. A recent essay I read by Mario Carpo “Nonstandard Morality: Digital technology and Its Discontents”, the author suggests that through the process of sending files (drawings) from the architect directly to the factory, the mechanical (and wasteful) age is coming to an end. As a result, architecture, through the inherited control adopted within the digital revolution, becomes closer to what it was prior to the Renaissance – a craft without a devision line between design and the art of making. Architects, then become builders of the modern environment.

However, there is one important variable that is different from what it was over 500 years ago – electricity and the energy input that is needed to produce a digital project. CNC milling machines and factories that can produce assemblies sent via a digital version of a file are not widely available in developing countries. Stable electricity is also a difficult source to have. One option is for a factory to have its own electric generators, but since the generators are powered by petroleum products, which produce harmful gases and are expensive, this option is not viable. The question is then, does the world need the digital revolution of altered architectural and construction processes. The answer is, absolutely yes! There is more building of inferior quality being constructed throughout the world. What if the processes of construction takes place largely in factories, whereas only assembly will need to occur on site? As the quality of craftsmanship and the quality of the materials is higher, the chances of producing better quality constructions is also higher. These structures would require less maintenance and would likely have a longer life span, thus reducing the environmental impact of demolishing a poorly build structure, only to be replaced by another poorly built one. Furthermore, what if the process of recycling and reuse was imbedded from the initial conception within a project? Assemblies can become easily serviceable, defective panels replaced, and many labor costs saved.

Through the perspective of a finite availability of energies and resources, the rising prices of materials and labor costs can be viewed as a pure positive, causing companies, individuals, and government to rethink their building strategies. Higher costs means that one can either cut corners and dilute a material or can become a part of the digital revolution. The only possibilty for the digital revolution to become the defacto world processing standard is for the technology to become cheaper than any other alternative. This would require strong investment of ideas of protagonist individuals, companies and government agencies.

There are many problems that can be created as a result of this revolution catching on throughout the world. What will many of the displaced construction workers do? For the remaining ones, how can work remain interesting and diverse as opposed to working on an assembly line, screwing bolts with a torque gun all day?

There can be another simultaneous revolution – an agricultural one. That is one sector that needs to stay out of mass mechanization in digitation and return to the control of the people. As food craftsmen, many villagers through the world are taking theirs and their ancestor’s centuries-old food-growing traditions with them to their graves. Their natural products are replaced by chemical infusions in labs, and our food is becoming lower and lower quality. If more people with food knowledge became part of the food and agriculture business, then some version approaching an equilibrium will inevitably start to occur.

Pushing the public envelope through technology

Technology comfortably lies within the existing notion of the current fast paced culture, in which the only way to sustain a user’s attention is through gadgetry, that aims to be innovative and actively engrossing, while it usually does the opposite – it creates passive engagement of users based on limited choices in which the users can indulge in. While anything can be framed as a type of technology (which presupposes that it has evolved to the current state through advancements in societal thought in respect with the sciences), my aim is to focus on how examples of technology is currently affecting social interaction and how it could potentially alter it.

The advancement of societal thought has constantly led to formal re-organzation of public space for gathering. This process has exponentially increased since the Industrial Revolution, where the alteration of the production and consumption process has been affecting public spatial organization. When technology itself is the highlight of potential new types of social social interaction, it is usually with the purpose of displaying something that has never been done before. Whereas in other fields, ingenuity is vital to remain successful (e.g. reduce drag coefficient of automobiles and of airplanes through digital wind-tunnel testing), in architecture (specifically in urban design and planning for public spaces) technological innovation take much longer to become accepted. People are much less prone to accepting and idea that may be seen as unnecessary change (as opposed to an object-product in which a technological improvement can be seen in the way it has been improved), and as a result, it is harder to test ideas in terms of technology and public space. This argument also becomes its own anti-argument: the belief that people may not adapt to new ways of public space occupation in which technological advance may affect the public realm may cause designers to not even consider potential ways of altering something that may be seen work well as it is, without the introduction of new process of alteration. Without real-world testing of potential ideas, it is hard to determine how technological advancements can alter social interactions in the public sphere.

The modern museum is one type of typology that allows for architectural experimentation to occur (on par with technological advancements in the field), as its aim is to present new ideas of theory and practice. However, a exhibition of project environment as part of a museum exhibition does not guarantee that project will work within the existing public environment. The PS1 competition, however, does offer installations that can potentially be infused with applications of new technologies to modify social interaction within the public realm. As part of a summer exhibition series, PS1 serves as an event space, and thus the fact that there is an event that occurs creates expectations from users that within this event space could be a potential new way of inhabiting the space based on the event (as opposed to more permanent modification of the environment). If there were a similar competition to PS1 that takes place in the middle of an intersection in Manhattan with Broadway, then the altered environment would not be associated with an event, and would be understood as a technology inserted into the existing environment. In other words, in order for an idea be tested on a wider range, it must be applied outside of a pre-defined event space, in which a user expects to experience an altered environment.

Projects

White Noise White Light, Höweler + Yoon. This installation during the 2004 Olympics in Athens created an environment of fiber optical tubes equipped with sensors that detect human movement which triggers lights and soundscapes.  It was built on a platform that was separated from populated streets. Similarly to PS1 installations, this project becomes its own destination. The interaction that is generated stimulates two types of responses: human response in terms of the installation and human response in terms of other human responses. The interaction that occurs during the first type is an input from movements of the user collected through sensors and output through light and sound. The interaction that occurs of the second type produces a field of outputs that generates a temporary trace, which remains visible to others. This field could potentially be applied to intelligent systems for lighting only desired areas on street, as opposed to having permanent street light systems.

LoRez/Hi Fi, Höweler + Yoon. This permanent installation consists of three low resolution screens placed as thresholds between the public street and the lobby entrance of a commercial building in Washington DC. Hi Fi consists of an installation located on the sidewalk adjacent to the LoRez screen. Sensors are attached to different vertical segments of steel tubes, which, when triggered create frequencies with a potential of creating a rich soundscape through the input of multiple users. LoRez does not provide human interaction, it only outputs imagery collected from the human, whereas Hi Fi can only be triggered through active human input. The project serves two purposes: to act as as an advertisement to the office building and to engage users on the street.

Aegis Hyposurface, dECOi. As a project that can physically alter the environment, this interactive surface offers new possibilities for creating responsive environments. The possible applications which have been showcased represent hyposurface as a potential alternative surface serving as a billboard that physically that creates physical alterations to the immediate adjacent environment. It is also equipped with sensors that can respond to human input, such as a wave triggered touch. This project is not site or installation relevant and has been displayed only as object at expos. The website associated with it (hyposurface.org) desrcibes how the creator see that it can be used:

It can be used in trade shows to enhance a company’s image and message; it can be used at events as a magical crowd-pleaser; it can be used as pure entertainment, or as an interactive stage set; it’s for dancers and singers and DJs and VJs; it can be used as an outdoor billboard, pulsing with the city; it can be an interactive game – a total HypoSPACE; it can be HypoCeiling, it can be HypoFloor, it can be limitless, or small; it’s a Braille reader, or a dynamic mould; it tunes an auditorium, makes waves at a ballgame, sets children screaming with delight; its whatever you imagine it to be – and more….

Blur, Diller Scofidio + Renfro. This project does not create an interactive environment driven through user input. Instead, stimulates an environment that allows for new forms of interactions to occur, formed through the lack of visibility which create discussions about whether there is a hard boundary, a person, or group in the vicinity. It is technology because it promotes different types of social interaction driven trough experimentation reaction of the existing state of overstimulated visual world. Similarly to White Noise White Light, it is a building where one consciously chooses to go, as it exists outside the everyday environment. As a result, it becomes a destination in which a user knows that he should expect experiential qualities that can only be experienced in a place not belonging to the daily pubic urban environment.

Destination/Environment

As built, LoRez/Hi Fi is the only project which is created within the existing environment. It is not a destination but one can passively encounter it by walking on the street. As such, it provides the opportunity for testing how users interact with it. A quick search on youtube for the project shows results of how users have recorded their interactions with the system and also their criticisms of it. Hi Fi lacks a climax that a destination would potentially have, as it is intended to serve as an environment that does not act as a destination. The ingenuity of the system is that the more people that interact with it, the more interesting, louder, and more varied the soundscape becomes. However, if there is a single user that is engaged with it, he may not immediately understand the purpose of it. The lack of an immediate climax (a sell point) may leave users accustomed to instant gratification disappointed, and only through experiencing Hi Fi with other users, does its purpose become more clear. Yet, there is a predefined number of responses (one per each sensor), restating that the necessary interaction with multiple users creates an environment that alters social interaction (as opposed to a single person playing with a variety of responses from an individual sensor).  As a social experiment, the meaningful output that Hi Fi provides minimal beyond the immediate “play” with other users in the aim of creating a soundscape.

If White Noise White Light were located on a street similarly to Hi Fi, it would not be as successful because it does not offer the amount of active engagement that Hi Fi does in terms of user input. What this project does offer is a condition of stealth, where during the day, it could be seen as a part of an environment without significant alterations, which transform the environment at night through the engaging LED lights located at the ends of the fiber optic tubes. Another important difference to note is the fact that a user does not need to physically touch each surface, yet the closer that the user comes to a sensor, the output becomes lighter and louder. The trace that is left after a user has passed through also lasts longer than the audible trace of Hi Fi. The emphasis on the user input as a self engaging activity (where the user is individually intrigued and satisfied  enough with the response of the system) creates a destination, as opposed to an environment in which multiple users are required to participate in order to apprehend the encompassed potential. Also, compared to Hi Fi, it creates a more passive user approach due to the lack of physical need to touch the tube where a sensor is located.

The potential of a transformed environment an object such as Hyposurface could create a destination. Hyposurface, seen as a possible mechanism for the creation of an environment would either need to be increased or decreased significantly in scale. When considered in a decreased scale along with the sensors input and output of Hi Fi and White Noise White Light, the idea of an environment that not only changes in experiential qualities but also in physical qualities as well. Once again, the sole application a physical shifts creates the potential for a destination, undermining the idea of a project that may fit within the existing in order to alter social interaction.

The experiential condition of the focused visual sensory exclusion through the use of mist in the Blur Building to create potential conditions for new social interactions provides a framework which suggests that the precise response to specific senses is more significant than a less articulated response that tries to react to more senses. Would such a level of specificity become problematic when in attempts to create an environment within an existing one? Potentially yes, yet without testing this type of articulation in real world conditions in order to analyze the user response patterns, the potentials would never be known.

Synthesis: Environment for social interaction

Sensors. The next logical step would be to combine the stealth aspect and the sensory input through distance of White Noise White Light with the fixed field and the more active input of Hi Fi. However, the result could create a blasé environment resembling an overly complex field of electronics with an appropriated outcome. The application of such a system has to be precise enough to not create an overwhelming (forcing) presence onto the existing environment that may lead the project to be considered solely its own destination (which becomes insignificant to frequent users, and thus do not offer alternative potentials to social interaction). Nevertheless, in order to respond to a varied group of users, it needs to encompass some elements that can be considered to create a destination.

Sensors + Physical Manipulation. The manifestation of a system generated by user input that creates an output which can alter the physical qualities of space provides a method of complete absorption within an existing environment. The scale of the devices used can create system that varies greatly in scale and in system outcome. A field that produces a physical space based on the users’ input in real-time can create a street, that could become pedestrian boulevard with surface shifts that can be used by children to play and can create seating and eating surfaces.

Sensors + Physical Manipulation + Sensory appropriaton. This is not an additive process of technologies and systems but a selective one that carefully considers potential possibilities with different levels of ambiguity and hierarchy between the most utilized and the least utilized defices. The testing of this type of environment may be difficult because it could become too internalized, without enough narrative between the existing environment. However, as stated previously, without experimentation of possible applicatons of systems that alter the current environment, the potentials would never be knowns, as social interaction is not as simple as prodicting a series of formulas.


Commodities

The present state of capitalism wants to commodify and profit from everything: a solution to time management, restaurants that offer food that helps save time for more important things such as doing more work or watching more television programs, during which, there are advertisements on even more ways to save money, time, and improve one’s life. What is the significance and outcome of all of this commodification? It seeks to reduce the human experience to anything through which one can make a profit. Thus, it is not important of what the results from buying a certain commodity are if they don’t relate to the aspect of indulging further, and buying a bigger, better, and improved version. The human experience is also individualized to the extent that it becomes necessary for each person to be have his own individual commodities (cars, computers, tools, ipods, cameras, pictures). When everything is reduced to a commodity, the only creativity required is how to create more profit (e.g. no ethics), while the citizens are reduced to consumers that do not have the power to be creative: consumers simply choose presupposed commodities. 

Architecture can aid in altering consumerism through introducing spatial conditions that promote individual creativity. These spatial conditions shift to combined forms of collective creativity.  When one creates his own solutions as opposed to fall bag and pre-made and pre-packaged choices, then one is creative. Space needs to be designed not as a neutral realm that exists within a commodified worlds, but instead as a bold statement that either agrees with the existing the forces of consumerism or provides an alternative situations.

Shifting Realities

At present, it is thought that the world is held together through tested and tried conventions. Particularly, in the conventions of what a tourist is and what a tourist should do is something that I find troubling, as a tourist is a visitor that goes to explore important landmarks that have historical significance. Yet, how much does one know about visiting a historical place that society deems as important? Furthermore, why don’t tourists occupy the same city as residents of the place that they are visiting? Why are their realities so different that they barely clash (except in the case of servicing the tourist through shoppes and other consumerist outlets), although they exist in the same physical boundaries? How can one force a more meaningful interaction between the tourist and the resident, where both learn something new through the exchange of knowledge? In this respect, the tourist is transformed to a citizen that does not consume images, but instead absorbs knowledge. Visiting historical landmarks that are marked on a tourist’s map are just mere images of consumption, in the same way that a billboard is. So, to deny it as part of consumerist society is to re-invent the interaction that one has with it. Instead of piercing and puncturing historical landmarks (acts that society sees as unacceptable), then a landmark can be placed inside a box, covered in such a way that one has the same access to it as to a billboard ad. This new restriction will open up physical means in which the tourist can clash with the local resident as he will be forced to occupy new grounds that are uncharted by the tourist map.