Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ghost in the Shell and the Evolution of Inhabitability

The 2004 animated film Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, as well as its predecessor in 1995 provokes us to reconsider the dialectic between mind and body, as well as the Deleuzian dialectic of the virtual and the actual.  In the film, physical reality is no longer distinguishable from the digital.  The mind is no longer housed within the physical body, consciousness can be uploaded, including memories, for example when Batou says: “There is no way to distinguish reminiscence from true memory. Whatever they are, they can only be analyzed after the fact. The passage of time itself can't be stored, so it's tough, and inevitable, now that our e-brains share external memories.”1  This has a variety of implications for architecture in terms of the continually evolving concept of inhabitation.

            The environment in Ghost in the Shell is a realm that results from the intersection of millions of vectors composed in a dense matrix, representing the tensions between the interest of human and artificial intelligence.  As a result, the creation of these material-semiotic networks remove Homo sapiens as a species from its previously privileged position in terms of cognition, meaning, and information.  Ghost in the Shell is not the first film to address issues of trans/posthumanism, information, and embodiment.  From Kubrick’s 2001 to The Matrix, science fiction has been predicting the end of human existence as we know it for years due to the exponential growth of technology.  Foucault’s refers to it as the ‘death of man,’2 Bruno Latour the ‘birth of non-humanity.’  Paul Virilio calls it the “automation of perception,” supported by a statement made by Paul Klee in his Notebooks – “Now objects perceive me.”3  While this is so, I would argue that this does not represent an end of an era, but rather a new point on the evolutionary continuum.  This is expressed clearly in the film when Togusa explains to Batou:
In this age, the twin technologies of robotics and electronic neurology resurrected the 18th century theory of man as machine.  And now that computers have enabled externalized memory, humans have pursued self-mechanization aggressively, to expand the limits of their own functions.  Determined to leave behind Darwinian natural selection, this human determination to beat evolutionary odds also reveals the desire to transcend the very quest for perfection that gave it birth.4
The relation between individual, object, and space relates to the boundary or interface.  Though the cyborg features as a key character in Ghost in the Shell, there are several other ways in which the interface may appear.  There is the second skin or the wearable; usually an object worn on the body that doubles in function as clothing, glasses, jewelry, etc.  Then there is the embedded addition to the body, for example Stelarc, or RFIDs inserted into the hand communicating with the nervous system.  There is autonomous space, such as flight simulators which act as a bubble of reality but the user is released once he steps outside the boundaries.  Lastly there is recombinant space, drawing from Ben Bratton’s Recombinant Architecture5 - no longer distinct entities, man and system become one and the same - a symbiotic embodiment where a transformation in the individual will result in a mutation of the space, and visa-versa.  The implications of this mode of inhabitation call into question the role of the human and the individual, evoking an ethical dilemma of consciousness belonging to a non-organic being.  This is a major theme in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, with the Nexus-6 androids.  In terms of the organic/non-organic, Ghost in the Shell also shares false-animals, drawing from Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep

            Through the vehicles of the "spime" and the "biot," Bruce Sterling suggests that we are entering a synchronic society, interacting not with objects but with instantiations, moving along a trajectory from nonexistence to postexistence in a continual feedback loop.6  Here Sterling emphasizes that our society is becoming one of a more temporalistic sensibility as opposed to a material one, but it is imperative to note that matter and material are still of key importance in a temporal fashion.  Nanotechnology allows us to explore the possibilities of embedding an intelligence in matter itself, creating smart materials that are in instances self-monitoring or healing, fused with sensors and actuators.  For instance, we can envision a future where materials change phase depending on necessity.  To some extent this is already happening, for example with Diller+Scofidio’s Blur Building of 2002, essentially an inhabitable cloud, becoming an instantiated atmospheric condition. 

            Related to this is the relation between biomimetics and building material posed by Manuel DeLanda.7  Can building material perform in the same way as does bone and cartilage - transforming one into another when the conditions arise for its necessity?  Or does it take on a musculature in that it may pull and contract in size, effectively exerting and bearing its own load?  Several advancements have already been made with programmable matter and metamaterials, from polymers and viscoelastic compounds to claytronics and self-reconfiguring robotics.  In the context of intelligent materiality, we have the potential for a scenario of active erosion, of conscious disassembly and reassembly.  This is a type of technology that, as Sterling describes, "can keep track of all its moving parts and, when its time inevitably comes, it would have the grace and power to turn itself in at the gates of the junkyard and suffer itself to be mindfully pulled apart."8  This includes but is not limited to materials and processes that are biodegradeable, an auto-recycling technology.  This is expressed at the scale of the individual in the film, with the dolls that self-destruct after completion of a certain task.

            As architects, we can never guarantee an outcome nor should we try to be apocalyptic.  What we can do is propose and suggest certain future scenarios - all of which have the possibility of being actualized.  Optimism must be coupled with a dose of caution, for dystopic predictions such as those in Ghost in the Shell have all the capacity to come true.  Such concern is politically oriented, for example with the Drone War - military leaders with the capability to fight entire wars from the relative security of their own fortified chambers.  This is why science fiction is so powerful a device, which is what Katherine Hayles explains when she writes that it “remains essential to nanotechnology precisely because it is not yet clear when and how the technology will become actualized.  For the same reasons, nanotechnology continues to attract science fiction writers, who find in its nascent possibilities the potential for good storytelling, marvelous inventions that transform the world, and scary scenarios that fascinate even as they repel."9  Though some camps in the profession may argue that it is unrealistic to situate architecture as a discipline in the distant future, I would argue that for the above reasons this is precisely why we must continue to project beyond what is known into what could be, predicated on the evolution of inhabitability.


1. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence (2004) dir. Mamoru Oshii
2. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Alan Sheridan, trans. New York: Vintage, 1979
3. Paul Virilio, The Vision Machine. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994. p. 59
4. Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence
5. Benjamin Bratton, “The Premise of Recombinant Architecture: One.”  Architettura e cultura digitale, 2003.
6. Bruce Sterling, Shaping Things.  (MIT Press - Media Works Pamphlets, 2005)
7. Manuel DeLanda, “Matters Matters”, Domus Magazine
8. Sterling, p. 144
9. N. Katherine Hayles, “Preface” in Nanoculture (Intellect Ltd, 2004), p. 14

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

3/4 Review

With the exponential growth of technology, man’s relationship to space, matter, and material is continually evolving, giving rise to the mobility of the collective mind as an extension of the physical body.  However, in this translocal extension, architecture has not yet taken a fully active role.  We have effectively created a new typology of public space - the nonlocal -  which is currently limited to the virtual electronic realm.  This proposal is an attempt to instantiate the nonlocal public space with a clear physicality, with emphatic importance placed on matter and material.  With the development of intelligent shape-changing materials we have the capability to distribute space across the globe, effectively transmitting architecture in its physicality.  Interaction between user and environment moves beyond typical interactivity, eradicating the oppositional dialectics of mind-body and virtual-actual, so that the individual physically becomes part of the space, the space part of the individual.  Fundamental research draws from nonlocality and entanglement in quantum physics, genetics and synthetic biology, cybernetics and robotics, as well as chemistry and nanotechnology, coupled with a strong link to anthropology.

As Marcos Novak posits, “Urbanism as we know it will be altered; our cities will become our interfaces […] so that we will be able to reach out and touch someone across the planet as far as our transmissions allow.”  This proposal seeks to formulate an architecture where an individual may be physically present in multiple locations simultaneously, using the Olympic games as a vehicle for the telematic event. Through productive linkages between the source and projection connected by the peripheral, a wider cultural exchange is projected as a result from the complex texturing of systems and inhabitation.  This calls for the fundamental restructuring of perception and sensation through edges of communication.

Due to the global nature of the project, site selection will encompass a specific section of what has the potential to become a vast and wide-spread network of transmissible architecture.  This can be accomplished by analyzing the inherent spatiality and modes of participation for Olympic sports, and by determining which cities have the infrastructural capacity to support such needs.  In one potential scenario there is the national scale, with specific cities in the Netherlands linked at a distance.  In another scenario, focus zooms to the city scale with Istanbul, Turkey, a city historically predicated on global connectivity through its position on the Silk Road, as well as its location as a bridge between Europe and Asia.  With the recent construction of two new sports venues located in areas of projected urban growth, these are prime sites for meaningful local physical instantiations of nonlocal urbanism.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Thesis Abstract [In-Progress]

Both the Olympic village and stadium can be viewed as megastructures that create a condition of microurbanity, a city-within-a-city.  Their dominant role is in collective assembly: bringing people together from different nationalities focused on a common goal.  After the games vacate the city, however, this imperative is lost.  With people such as Michael Sorkin, Richard Sennett, and Don Mitchell predicting the death of urban public space, the question arises as to how Olympic infrastructure can be projectively designed to account for the new role of telematics in collective assembly, restructuring perception and sensation through edges of communication - a local identity with global span.

Collective Assembly and Insurgent Public Space

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Spectral Space

Spectral Space, Skeleton Shadows
(Fort Warren photo, sketch overlay)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

2001: A Space Odyssey and the Science Fiction Renaissance

Stanley Kubrick's films consistently provide social commentary of the spirit of the times, relevant to spatial, organizational, and technological advances.  In 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke operate during the era of the space race, with the film released in 1968 just one year prior to the first manned landing on the moon with Apollo 11.  While this is so, Kubrick is as much making a commentary about the evolving roles of media and information, forcing the viewer to take a subconscious odyssey of the mind.

This pioneering film is just as relevant today, if not more so than it was at its release, making several predictions that hold true – the primary being man’s interaction with external devices.  This includes the use of the videophone, reminiscent of Skype or facetime with iPhone, as well as the television tablet that looks strikingly like an iPad.  Additionally, the film does not only foretell of machines possessing human traits such as empathy, but also predicts humans embodying machinic traits.  The space-suit becomes merged with man: our protagonists cannot survive without it.  This alludes to the cybernetic extension of man - giving rise to the mobility of the collective mind as an extension of the physical body that we now experience through teletechnologies, sensors, social and wireless networks combining to form a spatial ubiquity.  This Orwellian “Big Brother” notion is seen in the contrast between the red computerized eye of HAL and the enlarged human eye of Bowman.  The eye is a powerful symbol used in several of Kubrick's films, including A Clockwork Orange.  In 2001, it symbolizes the power of the visual, especially since film (and by a large extent architecture) is primarily appropriated through visual means – enforcing not only the importance of seeing what is right there, but also what is beyond. 

On the surface, 2001 does seem to portray several warnings about technology as a threat to humanity, a predecessor to films such as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and The Matrix.  With killer space-pods and the seemingly omniscient presence of HAL, Kubrick suggests the obvious: the control of machines with consciousness over modern man is a relevant concern.  However, the warning that Kubrick offers seems to be directed against mega-corporations and corrupt organizations: power put in the wrong hands.  The film is not dystopic as several other SF films of the genre are, but is instead rather optimistic, suggesting a certain enlightenment.  This optimistic enlightenment of our technological future is something that Reyner Banham, a post-war contemporary of Kubrick, capitalizes upon in his work during the ‘60s.  For one of the first times in history, Banham works in the realm of what could be, predicated not on what was but what is to come – establishing a type of preemptive historicism.  In many respects, 2001 corresponds to what Jonathan Farnham describes as the extrapolative SF by which Banham is inspired.  This includes Jules Verne’s method of “plotting the curve” of the future through ideal-becoming-real futures.1  In this respect as with 2001, science-fiction to a degree drives science itself.

This optimistic enlightenment is shown specifically in the last scenes of the film which portray the coming of the Space Age Renaissance, a rebirth of man's relationship to technology.  Several scenes are composed in striking symmetry and balance.  Consciously or not, Kubrick parallels the classical proportions and harmony of Alberti to the new technological revolution, suggesting that they are not two completely different eras, but ones which exist complementary to each other.  This is furthered with the classical renaissance decoration in the interior of the room where Bowman ages in synchronic stages.  The naturalistic paintings and sculptural quality of the walls are juxtaposed against the sterile white and glowing glass tile underfoot, symbolizing a merging of the natural and artificial, of the virtual and the actual.  These dichotomies are merged when the natural landscape of the moon and planets are visualized as synthetic, in false color.  Bowman begins his journey to enlightenment when he becomes aware that HAL is controlling him, and decides to shut him down.  The enlightenment continues in later scenes when he sees himself in third person, coming to a recurring realization and evolution.  With this, Kubrick suggests that we are evolving to a new era that is comprised as much of the future as it is our historic past.  The culmination of the film eliminates the tripartite division of past-present-future, giving way to the omnipresent instant.  As a species, we are simultaneously the apeish primates of our past and the reborn Jupiter-baby of our future. 

2001 does provoke us to consider who we are becoming as a species, but more specifically it challenges us to reconsider the notion of what it means to dwell, a question in architecture that has persisted as long as the dawn of man.  For a majority of the film we are in continual motion, in transit between one destination to the next.  This habitable circulation of the space ship is predicated on the primary function to get humans where they need to go for the purpose of science – the issue of habitation is secondary but no less important.  The crew lives on the ship, no doubt, sleeping there and taking all of their meals out of rectangular slotted paper dishes.  The modern nomad lives his life in flux, neither here nor there but always in-between.  This obsession with mobility and fluctuation is the basis of much of Archigram’s work, at the individual scale with the Living Pod to the urban scale with the Walking City.  It is analogous to Cedric Prince’s Potteries Thinkbelt and the Fun Palace.  More specifically, throughout the film, our conventional understanding of spatial orientation is eradicated.  In the film, man is no longer constrained to the horizontal plane, or even the vertical plane.  With elaborate shots of rotating floors becoming walls becoming ceilings, man is now free to appropriate all dimensions simultaneously.  In some scenes the translucent glass tiles act as ceiling (in the beginning of the film as Floyd enters the spacecraft), and later the tiles appear as floor (in the boudoir scene).  This continual disorientation serves to pluck the viewer from his comfort zone, making him an active participant of the technological revolution who may then begin to embark on his own SF renaissance through which he may even extrapolate and forecast the beyond.

1.  Jonathan Farnham, “Pure Pop for Now People: Reyner Banham, Science Fiction, and History,” Lotus 104 (2000): 111-131

Evolutionary Product Design Timeline

Architecture, art, and product design have always been closely linked to the spirit of the times and the era's most advanced technology available to the public.  Classic examples include the Werkbund and the Industrial Revolution, as well as the Bauhaus and de Stijl.  However, if we take a look at the trends with the computer and telephone, we can see that size is decreasing and portability is increasing: a portable revolution, or what Paul Virilio refers to as "révolution de l'emport."

Monday, September 26, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Urban migratory movement during Games

_Home Stayers: residents who opt to stay in the city instead of vacation elsewhere
_Runaways: residents who leave the city and take a holiday elsewhere
_Changers: residents who leave the city and take their holidays at the time of the Games rather than at some other time of the year
_Casuals: tourists from outside the city who would have visited the city regardless of the Games
_Avoiders: tourists who stay away but would have come without the Games
_Extensioners: tourists who would have come regardless but stay longer due to the Games
_Olympians: athletes, trainers, coaches, support staff, journalists, fans

Friday, September 23, 2011

Thesis Abstract [In-Progress]

Due to the increasing presence of teletechnologies and sensors, our world has become a realm of hyperconnectivity, instantaneity, and delocalization, giving rise to the mobility of the collective mind as an extension of the physical body, and giving birth to the modern nomad.  Such instantaneity and ubiquity eliminate the tripartite separation of past-present-future, contracting to form the omnipresent instant.  With real-time transmission and reception, we are forced to reconsider the typical conceptions of spatial experience, sensation, and perception of stimuli.  Specifically, the collective and dispersive role of the mega-event occurs in the case of the Olympic host city where there is a migration of movement both into and out of the city.  The mega-event lends itself to a unique condition of ebb and flow, providing the opportunity to appropriate an environment that is continually in flux, even long after the event has vacated the city.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Post-Event Conditions: Olympic Villages

To begin general research, I am focusing on host post-event situations from an economic, cultural, political, ecological, and social perspective.  Using a variety of examples, I will also take a look at infrastructural impact, transportation, etc. over a large span of time in different parts of the world (from the original Olympic games in Ancient Greece/Rome to obviously more contemporary events).  I may even explore some conditions of hauntology, or how the essence of what a place used to be embeds itself in the physicality of the present environment.  This will be less factual research and more speculative. This works well within my area of interest in housing, as well as the manufactured/unintentional/accidental environment, or 'ruin' not as a romanticized static object, but a continually becoming environment.  


The following Olympic Villages were built with the single intention to house athletes, officials, trainers, and staff through the duration of the Olympic games, without firm plans future use.  Their post-event fates were determined based on the needs unique to the city.

Example 1: Berlin 1936 Summer
In preparation for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, 145 one- and two- level apartment buildings were constructed in a village organization, as well as a refectory, theater, hospital, indoor arena, and swimming pool.  The village is located in Wustermark, roughly six miles outside of Berlin.  For fifty years after the games ended the residences were used as barracks.  Currently, the village is abandoned and left to decay.  No restoration plans are in the works, though Jesse Owens’s old house has been restored.

Example 2: Munich 1972 Summer
1972 was a pivotal year in Olympic history due to the “Munich Massacre,” which occured in the Olympic Village after a security breach when a group of Palestinian guerrilas known as Black September held hostage and murdered eleven Israeli athletes and affiliates.  This incident lead to substantially increased security in all following Olympic years.  The Village itself was comprised of multiple buildings ranging from 12 to 25 stories high.  After the athletes moved out, part of the village was used as student housing, but was marred by several incidents of vandalism and destruction, most notably during a student riot in 2007.  Currently the student housing area is approved for demolition.

These Olympic Villages were usually built through the funding of a secondary party with a specific intended program after the Olympic event.  The challenge of this type is to be able to accomodate diverse programs that will never interact simultaneously but must function seemlessly during their respective times of use.

Example 1: Lake Placid 1980 Winter
Seven miles west of Lake Placid, the 1980 Olympic Village was built with the funds of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, with the intention of establishing a future minimum security prison for first time offenders.  Ironically, the security precautions of keeping potential escapees inside a prison are similar to keeping potential terrorists out of the Olympic Village.  This particular Village sparked much controversy and displeasure from several guest countries, who considered the small rooms and low levels of natural light to be uncomfortable and ill-suited to their athletes.  Several chose instead to stay at local clubs in Lake Placid.  Today the Village is known as the Ray Brook Correctional Institution, and functions as a medium security prison for males.  This is a unique situation among Olympic Villages, where the prospect of the future haunts the present more than the past haunts the present.

In response to Montreal’s economic deficit after the Olympic games, many cities were wary to even bid for the games in fear of reaching similar fate.  However, the use of existing buildings, primarily college residence halls, eliminated the need for an entirely new Olympic Village to be constructed, thus lowering initial construction costs and increasing the potential for an economic surefit after the games.

Example 1: Los Angeles 1984 Summer
In an attempt to greatly reduce initial expenditure brought by the construction of new buildings, the city of Los Angeles decided to reuse existing structures.  The Olympic Village was actually located in the residence halls of Univeristy of California at Los Angeles, as well as the University of Southern California, and the University of Californa at Santa Barbara.  This was able to occur during the summer, as it was easier to vacate students when not during the academic year.


In certain cities, the issue of temporary athlete housing was dealt with by constructing a satellite Olympic Village away from the main venue, usually a suburban condition.  In some situations the planning phases of these suburbs were in the works prior to the event, however, the event itself encouraged these plans to be put into action.
Example 1: Athens 2004 Summer
While the creation of a new suburb worked well for Sydney four years prior, Athens did not fare as well after their Olympics in 2004.  A new Olympic Village was created as a suburb in Parnitha.  The suburb was composed of several apartments in a block typology, ranging from four to five levels, and was located near Maroussi, the suburb where the main Olympic complex was located.  After the games moved out of the city, the suburb was intended for residential living.  However, the Village along with the main Olympic complex has fallen into disrepair.  The village has a capacity for 10,000 people, yet it currently remains vacant.