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.