SOILED is back, dirtier than ever. Our first-ever Screen/Print featured SOILED's Windowscrapers, and for its next issue, the Chicago-based publication devoted to making “a mess of the built environment and the politics of space” set it sights a bit higher up. After scraping the windows, it gazes to Cloudscrapers, centering its architectural storytelling into the upper reaches of our atmosphere.
Blue skies are frontiers – and clouds make up their ‘scapes. Cloudscrapers digs into the precipitations, inspirations, diffusions and aerial acrobatics of the skyscape, to “explore the relationship between the built and the diffuse”. SOILED’s approach to architectural storytelling is to make unexpected pairings of architects and writers, and for this Screen/Print feature, SOILED put Jack Wates (architect) together with Arthur Maxwell (writer). Together, they made "The Hackney Bathhouse," a sci-fi chase scene through time and bathing.
The Hackney Bathhouse
by Jack Wates & Arthur Maxwell
“Dammit! Never give them Rocky Road!” León snarled as he wiped ice cream from the visual inputs of his Chrononaut helmet. Through the streaked chocolate, marshmallows, and almonds he could just make out a figure in sandals and toga disappear into the Hackney Bathhouse. He stomped his way over slowly, letting the anger build up in him like the roiling clouds that never seemed to leave the surrounding city. He checked the battery level in his stun-ray gloves, shoved hard at the front door, and entered the building.
Dammit! Never give them Rocky Road!”When the noise-blocking door closed on the muggy, chaotic sidewalk, the effect was palpable. The lobby was like a mountain pool: clean, quiet, and deep. León held on to his anger out of spite and handed his credentials over to the front desk attendant. His helmet, MimicCloth™ clothing, and stunner gloves were a dead giveaway about his profession, but the attendant thought quite a lot of himself. León drummed his fingers on the counter impatiently.
Damn it all, León thought, you’d think that the eggheads would be able to get the tranquilizer dosage right half the time. Or make one that doesn’t make them paranoid. I swear they screw it up for an experiment. Ah well, job security for me and another historical brain-scan for the archives.
“And you’re here at the Hackney why, exactly?” the scrawny attendant asked.
“Catching a dangerous time-traveling criminal,” León lied, “They ran in here to try to escape into the crowd. You need to seal the exits and let me in.” In reality, he had felt sorry for the young Roman woman in the toga he had been assigned to transport, and he’d let his guard down so far that he’d bought her an ice cream from a street vendor.
“Let me call my manager,” the attendant said.
“I don’t have time for this,” León snapped as he adjusted his wristwatch. The attendant stopped in place, and so did everything else.
How unfortunate, León thought as he retrieved his badge, I caught him mid-sneeze. Wanker. He walked past the frozen attendant and into the Hackney Bathhouse proper before adjusting the watch again to restart time. Where the lobby was cool, the first level was downright chilly. León’s eye ports immediately misted over with cool condensate.
Ah well, job security for me and another historical brain-scan for the archives.I probably only lost a couple of minutes of my lifespan that way. The watch giveth, and the watch taketh away. He wiped at the eye ports without effect. He tried infrared, but that was worse than visual. Gamma was worthless unless he was in the time stream. He clenched his teeth and switched to echolocation. He hated using it. Not that it was imprecise or faulty—it just made him queasy “seeing” what he was hearing and having to guess at half-formed shapes created by the algorithms in the helmet’s program.
There were figures in the heady mist, but he could not see them too well, and only the most exaggerated of sexual dimorphisms allowed him to even guess at gender. However, he could tell that his quarry was not in the room and proceeded on. He forged ahead into the hotter parts of the tower, past conversations as tepid as their rooms. Upward he went, zone by zone, an annoyed wraith in the warm fog.
I caught him mid-sneeze. Wanker.In the end, he didn’t need his echolocation program to find her. Once he heard the faint sound of crying on the floor above him, he knew where she was. He trudged up the steps to the door where he would find the Roman woman, his anger draining out of him to be replaced by a slump-shouldered resolve. León paused at the correct landing before stepping into the light-dappled grotto. She was in a hot pool up to her shoulders, fully clothed and quite soaked. She stopped crying as he walked in and glowered at him. He thumbed the switch near his jaw to activate the translation algorithms. Though it was a universal translator, it could only convey the most rudimentary meanings.
Technology jumps ahead of us while lagging behind, León thought bitterly. And you don’t have to look much further than my job to know that.
“I’m trying to take you home,” León said. No response.
“Why did you run?” he continued. Still, she said nothing, only stared at him. León sighed and wished his headache would go away. He sat down on a concrete bench and crossed his arms. Time for a different tactic.
Upward he went, zone by zone, an annoyed wraith in the warm fog.“I’ll bet you don’t have anything like this in your time,” he said confidently.
Her face reddened. “We do!” she blurted, “Not as tall, no, but I like ours better!” Then, realizing that she had spoken, she made a vexed noise and slapped the water in fury. Leon laughed.
“Ah-hah! So you do speak! When you’re angry, anyway. So. Don’t you want to go home?” León asked. She flared up again.
“Of course I do, you ox! But…” she sighed and frowned at her reflection in the water, “I was scared. I didn’t know what you were going to do me. I still don’t, you kidnapper. When I smelled the bathhouse I thought that it was my salvation; a door back to home, sent by the gods. But the more I looked around, the more I realized that it wasn’t. This is a place of terrible wonders.”
“Remove your helmet,” she commanded, “I would like to see your eyes.”
“We will not be able to talk.”
“I’ll remove my helmet if you promise to come with me quietly. Don’t you want to go home?”
“Of course. But . . . I need some time. To think. I don’t know,” she admitted, her eyes focusing on a point a few feet in front of her.
When I smelled the bathhouse I thought that it was my salvation; a door back to home, sent by the gods.León sighed. She reminded him of someone. Lots of someones. All the people who just needed a second of time, an oasis of peace in the otherwise hectic weave of time and space.
Gotta admit, he thought, this is a good place to take a moment.
He took off his boots and gloves, eased himself onto the pool’s ledge, and slowly put his aching feet in the scalding water. She glanced at him curiously as he removed his helmet, set it to one side, and scrubbed his hands through his graying hair. He smiled at her. She still watched him suspiciously, but her fear was gone. That was a start. His hand brushed his wristwatch. León felt the world outside the grotto slow, and then stop. He hoped that the front desk attendant was mid-sneeze again.
“Take all the time you need,” León thought.
Also featured in Cloudscrapers, courtesy of SOILED:
Screen/Print is an experiment in translation across media, featuring a close-up digital look at printed architectural writing. Divorcing content from the physical page, the series lends a new perspective to nuanced architectural thought.
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Former Managing Editor and Podcast Co-Producer for Archinect. I write, go to the movies, walk around and listen to the radio. My interests revolve around cognitive urban theory, psycholinguistics and food.Currently freelancing. Be in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org