Jun '06 - Jan '08
This was a successful studio. Some people might say that all studios are successful because they are all learning experiences. Those people are either lying to themselves or are not paying tuition.
Everyone’s skills and drive to work progressed throughout the semester and I think all of us were, in the end, happy with the work we did. Still, wherever the work stood at the final review, the collective sentiment was that we wished to have another semester to continue with it. Nobody wanted to walk away from what we were doing.
I learned new ways of working; methods of thinking, generative and decision-making techniques. I can’t say specifically what I learned, it’s too hard to step back and really understand that yet. But I sense that I learned, or picked up, things this semester that I’ll be able to draw on significantly in the future.
We had a great professor. Good teachers leave a certain part of their ego at the door. They listen to students and are heavily invested in their students’ work without trying to own it. The patience and humility and thoughtfulness that are required to teach well are not always favored or exalted within architecture or schools of architecture but really good teachers are allowed to ply their craft.
The Prime Directives
Our studio’s operators were ‘Chrono- Hybrids’ which were meant to “challenge the dominance of static, ‘forever’ architecture and the default implementation of typologies (programmatic and formal) as educational and disciplinary positions.” We were encouraged to use analogous means to develop, “hybrid spatial formations that are dexterous, dynamic and temporally adept”. We had a very large pre-determined site along with the idea of using a second invisible, or “distant, absent or mythical” site.
The brief was a bit overwhelming and seemed unwieldy at first, but all the different methods, assertions, and ideas outlined ended up meshing well. Importantly, we started out with an understanding that our work might fail, or seem to fail, but that it was better in this studio to push an idea to find where it broke than to allow anything to become sacred. In my own project, or series of projects, I found myself at that point so many times, realizing that I had to junk one component that had seemed essential in order to advance the project. Sometimes jettisoned ideas were reclaimed and reworked and integrated back in, sometimes not.
I’m a bit hesitant to post work from studio this semester simply because it was challenging enough to explain or describe verbally, in person, with people who could ask questions. Please post any clarifying questions you have, it’s hard to anticipate what’s readable and what’s not.
The first move of this project is an attempt at understanding how large scale infrastructure affects the environment it works through- how it transforms space that it is not immediately adjacent to by changing our perception of space; its availability, fluidity, access, exposure and immediacy. The first drawing represents the physical makeup of the site in 1900 (red), when docks and rail dominated and today (blue) after the imposition of highway infrastructure. This drawing serves as a springboard and a reference for the rest of the work.
One Understanding of Infrastructure Over Time
This Chrono-Hybrid is implemented commensally with other forms of infrastructure and then over time supplants them. I developed a narrative to liberate the design process and to help foment unanticipated results:
As part cold war era military opulence, the federal government developed an infrastructure of devices, installed surreptitiously under the cover of other infrastructure projects, which could lay dormant underground, but emerge in response to a nuclear war. They would scan their immediate surroundings for people, radiation, infrastructure, water, et cetera, and then compile their scans through a mesh network which would also carry telephone traffic.
As the cold war ended and certain military programs faded, the sentinels were not maintained and were forgotten.
In the present and near-future, oxidizing circuitry, and cell-phone signals begin to unintentionally trigger the sentinels. They emerge individually- scanning the environment and establishing their network. This is not a good thing.
This new network interferes with existing one, re-routing calls and scrambling data. People alternatively learn of valuable things that they shouldn’t, and lose security over the information they do have. The communications infrastructure and the commerce and culture it supports are no-longer stable or trustworthy. In this dissolute state, one authoritative, reliable network emerges: that of the sentinels. People come to rely on the sentinels for their long-distance communication capabilities, and they can rely on them because their transmissions are reliable.
This dependence results in trust of the machines and a growing acceptance of the machines’ second habit- their environmental scans. The scans are considered authoritative cartographies of all things people should be concerned with, but they aren’t; they are wrong. Because they weren’t designed to be as robust, and weren’t maintained as well as the telecommunication components of the sentinels, the scanning mechanisms don’t function properly when they become operational. Instead of reliably scanning the environment for important variables and conditions, the scanners erroneously scan for superfluous ones.
But people latch on to these miscomprehensions. Informed that all of the asphalt in one area is actually sirloin, steak-lovers converge on the area and begin constructing a mammoth broiler oven. Told, by the sentinel network, that all of bricks in every building of a neighborhood are actually mounds of dust, neat-freaks from across the region assemble to dust, wash and wax the filth away- leaving glossed piles of de-bricked rubble.
The Schematics of a Correct Scan
The Reality of Inaccurate Authoritative Information
Where concerned parents imagine radiation spills, jocks envision sporting equipment and lay-out a field.
The sentinels inform clean-freaks of mounds of dust, requiring immediate scrubbing and waxing, while politicians invade, hoping to win the votes of nonexistent constituents.
In The End
These schemes permit an understanding of the ways in which people adopt, either materially or visually, the environment they inhabit. The fiction of the sentinels affords an exploration of the role of authority or authoritative information in individuals' understandings of their environment, and thus the power of information in influencing the space it interrogates. The overlap of data, and the interest groups who take ownership of data within the cartography produced, simulates the complexity and challenges, and thus, the potentials in contested scapes.
These narratives use the lever of fanciful absurdity to exhibit real-world mechanisms of ownership, catalysis, environmental identity and assessment and it is here that this inquiry bears fruit. In this analogy, the sentinels are the different media, political figures, memes, spiritual beliefs, and texts from which we develop individual authoritative comprehensions. The constituencies within this narrative are clearly very congruent to some of the real-world ones they simulate- congregations, civic-clubs, corporations and developers, but not as clearly to others; drivers, litterers, lawyers, and people with special accessibility needs. Finally, the environmental outcomes of this conjecture have so many analogs in the space immediately around us; awkward street intersections, over-built structures, disquiet neighborhoods, and uncomfortable patio furniture.
In reality these overlapping interests sometimes produce amazingly vibrant situations, they usually don’t. The goal of this work is to reveal the potentials in, and mechanisms of conflict, of holding information and of being wrong and through doing so, make me more aware of them in my work in the future.
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