META exists at the crossroads of art and science and of culture and nature. Tracing the uncommon threads between common topics, META presents its readers with views into the abyss of visual information and with experiments in associative reading. META invites you to browse according to taste.
You may ask, â€œwhat?â€ An archive, a Wunderkammer, a magazine guided by methods of research, collection, preservation, reprint and the linking of topics at their META level.
You may then ask, â€œwhy?â€ To play with information in all its astatic glory. META refrains from attempts at categorization, taking a gamble on dynamic navigation! META eschews the linear in favor of surprise. Each visit starts with a random welcome and ends with an even more random exit.
TIMOTHY J. ATTANUCCI (1979) was born in Boston, Massachusetts and studies German literature at Princeton and the Humboldt University, Berlin. For META, he contributes his musings on the irony mark in No Irony.
DAVID BETH (1974) is a writer and esoteric explorer, and the sovereign Grand Master of the Ordo Templi Orientis Antiqua. Learn more about his Gnostic involvement in XI. ARS DE REXâ€”Sexual Magic, the Art of the King, where he is interviewed by Ailen Roc.
SUMMER BRENNER is an accomplished writer of poetry and fiction, based in Berkeley, California. Her writing has extended beyond the borders of print into performative and musical realms, and she is also involved with literacy and community projects targeted at youths. For META, she reads from her critically acclaimed novel and discusses her motivation for the project in Driving I-5.
OLAF BREUNING (1970) is a Swiss artist, living in New York and working in photography, video, sculpture, installation and drawing. For METAâ€™s mini interview series, he shares some of his favorite things in accompaniment to a selection of photographic works. See Mini Breuning.
Illustrations by William Buchina
WILLIAM BUCHINA (1978) is an illustrator with a penchant for portraits of political tyrants. In addition, he is a graphic designer and creator of illustrated guides to English grammar. Some of his work is viewable here. He currently lives and works in New York. See his work in The Body of the Event.
DAVE BUNNELL (1952) lives in the small gold-rush era town of Angels Camp, California. This professional spelunker and photographer worked on an Imax film about caves, somewhere beneath Mexico. META interviewed him for Far Beyond Stalactites and Stalagmites.
PETRA CORONATO is probably the only author in the world who didnâ€™t only read Alexanderplatz, but also swept it. She is the owner of tongue tongue Hong Kong, a company founded in 1993 with dependences in Berlin, Vienna and Zurich, which recycles fiction profitably and unpunished to this day. In 2006, she commenced the ongoing photography project The Poetry of Document.
Writer Jeffrey Croteau is the Manager of the Library and Archives at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library in Massachusetts. Read another of his articles on American Masonic groups, ''Brotherly Deception'' published in Cabinet Magazine here. For META he co-authors a discussion on ritual and fraternity for the article Daughters of Job.
MICHELE DANTINIâ€™s (1966) work is characterized by its handling of trans-cultural practices and their socio-environmental implications. A widely translated essayist and performative lecturer, he holds a position as Professor of Contemporary Art History at the UniversitÃ del Piemonte Orientale, Italy. See Chronicles of Deaths Foretold.
PAULINE DOUTRELUINGNE (1982) lived in Beijing for four years, where she co-organized the 2006 Borderline Moving Images Festival. She lives in Berlin and curates projects that bridge European and Asian art. For META, she interviewed Chen Wei in Archeology of the Future.
GEN DOY is Lecturer at De Montfort University. She is the author of Picturing The Self, Drapery and Black Visual Culture. For META, Doy discusses the sensual politics of photography in the works of Claude Cahun.
Ferrante Denise Palma
DENISE PALMA FERRANTE (1975) is a multi-disciplined artist living and working in Berlin. She is also a self-declared anti-religionist. See Timkat 2009.
ADAM FOXWELL is an American audio engineer who has worked internationally, consulting on acoustical room design, sound isolation and mechanical noise control. For META, he presents a study on noise exposure in On the Hunt for Silence in Dubai.
JACQUE FRESCO (1916) is an industrial designer and social engineer, author, lecturer, inventor and Futurist. Based in Venus, Florida, he is developing the practice of Socio-Cyber-Neering. Read the META interview Back to the Futureâ€”The Venus Project.
Dr. BRUNO GLASER is Assistant Professor at the Institute of Soil Science and Soil Geography at the University of Bayreuth. For over several years he has been conducting Amazonian dark earth research from a soil science perspective including soil fertility, sustainability, and archaeology aspects. See Terra Preta .
MARA GOLDWYN (1976) calls herself an artist but does not show anywhere and would never actually introduce herself as such. She has an existential allergy to genres, categories and identity constructs. See Showing the Opposite Side of the Death Machine.
LINDA MAI GREEN (1987) is a photographer and curator based in Berlin. She also co-runs curatorial collectiveÂ Una Tittel.Â For META article A Bridge and Not a Goal, she interviewed artist Serena Porrati.
Artist CAI GUO-QIANG (1957) was born in Chinaâ€™s Fujian Province. While living in Japan between 1986 and 1995 he began to experiment with gunpowder as a medium, gaining international attention. He has gone on to exhibit world wide and to produce large scale pyrotechnic art works. See On Explosions.
Sculptor PATRICK HILL (1972) has exhibited widely in the US and internationally as an important representative of the contemporary Los Angeles art scene. David Kordansky Gallery provided META with images of Hillâ€™s work for Patrick Hillâ€”Sculpture, Associated.
ASDF Makes founder DAVID HORVITZ (1983) is a man of many ideas. One could say this American artistâ€™s medium is the Internet, though it may be more accurate to say that he works in interactive projects. See ASDFâ€”Read On.
RUA MINX is Donna Huanca (1980), an artist who deals with clothing as shelter, transportable homes for nomads and cultural and genetic traces. Her various projects have received a range of support, from the Dallas Museum of Art to StÃ¤delschule, Frankfurt; from the Incehon Womenâ€™s Biennale Korea to British Vogue. She launched METAâ€™s downloadable artist piece series with Mask Maker.
Artist PIETER HUGO (1976) has spent his whole life in Cape Town, South Africa, though travelled extensively pursuing his characteristic brand of documentary photography. A 2002-3 residency at the Beneton Group Communication Research Center, Fabrica, also led to work with Colors magazine. In 2006 he was awarded first prize in the World Press Photo competitionâ€™s Portraits section. Welcome to Nollywood explores a recent project carried out with the Nigerian film industry.
Idnert B. Zlatan
ZLATAN B. IDNERT is an audio engineer who has worked in the fields of modelling for outdoor noise propagation, building acoustics and ground borne vibrations. He has widely consulted on acoustical engineering projects. See On the Hunt for Silence in Dubai.
JAN KEMPENAERS (1968) is an artist and documentary photographer based in Antwerp. He creates mute images of semi urban-places. Regardless of geographical context, his photographs speak powerfully to the post industrial condition and of the technologized human subject. See Spomenik, the Monuments of Former Yugoslavia.
TAO LIN (1983) is an American poet, novelist and short story writer. He is the author of Shoplifting from American Apparel, Eeeee Eee Eeee, and Bed, as well as two poetry collections, you are a little bit happier than I am, and cognitive-behavioral therapy. Linâ€™s second novel, Richard Yates, was published in September 2010.
See Tao Linâ€™s Crossword Puzzle.
TAMMY LU is a Canadian artist who makes drawings and artistsâ€™ books. She is the cover artist for the New Metaphysics philosophy series published by Open Humanities Press. See more of her work here. For META she did the drawings for METAphorism.
DAVID MAISELâ€™s (1961) photographs chronicle the complex relationships between natural systems and human intervention. His work is included in many permanent collections, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maisel lives and works in the area of San Francisco. See Blooming Souls.
Alison Malone is a photographer and educator who uses both audio and visual documentation to explore subcultures that are overlooked and often misunderstood in American society. View additional work here. For META her photographic series of the same name inspired the article Daughters of Job.
SERGEY MAXIMISHIN (1964) photographed for the Soviet Military Force Group on Cuba from 1985 to 1987. A learned physicist, he worked in the scientific and technical expertise laboratory in the Hermitage Museum and has gone on to become an award winning press photographer.
See The Dostoevsky of Photography.
CONNIE MENDOZA (1971) is a media artist, working between Berlin and Barcelona. Fata Morgana and Other Optical Phenomena discusses her film, in which Mendoza travels back to her birthplace to trace the complex relationships of her childhood to Chilean history and space travel, thereby producing images that mediate the perception of time as a highly subjective matter.
Apostolos Mitsios (1979) is a Greek psychologist, working as a systemic psychotherapist by day and as a freelance writer, preferably, by night. A former contributing editor at online design magazine yatzer.com, he is currently collaborating with the Projective Fairy Tale Test Society in Greece as well as various magazines all over the world. For META article, Death of a Performance, he interviewed artist Esther Ferrer about her intervention at the Cemetery of Art of Morille, Spain.
RACHAEL MORRISON (1981) is an artist, curator, and a librarian at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She is the creator of an art work and a documentary film about the blind telephone hacker Joybubbles, as she describes in 718-362-9578.
TIMOTHY MORTON (1968) is a philosopher and ecologist, and a teaching professor at Rice University. He also is one of the leading figures in the philosophical movement of Speculative Realism. For META he penned some pithy aphorism on the paradigm shift in metaphysics. See METAphorism.
Architect WILLEM JAN NEUTELINGS (1959) has taught at the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam and Harvard University. His firm, Neutelings Riedijk Architects, is located in Rotterdam. He wrote Spomenik, the Monuments of Former Yugoslavia on Jan Kempenaerâ€™s photo-documentation.
Nikolaj Nielsen is a Brussels-based journalist. For META, Nielsen considers the provocative film "Enjoy Poverty Please" by Dutch artist Renzo Martens in regards to the The Lucrative Business of Chaos and Aid. For more of Nielsen's writing, visit his website.
Andreas Ã–nnerfors (1971) is Associate Professor in the History of Sciences and Ideas based in Lund, Sweden. He has written extensively on organized fraternal sociability in Europe in the context of civil society, cryptology and conspiracy theories. In 2007 he re-enacted a female masonic ritual, contributed to the deciphering project of the copiale-manuscript and commented on the Oslo terrorist Breivik's imaginary world of knighthood in counter-jihadism. Watch a 2012 lecture on "Perceptions of Freemasonry from the 18th century to the Internet" here. For META he co-authors a discussion on ritual and fraternity for the article Daughters of Job.
Yoshua OkÃ³n was born in Mexico City in 1970 where he currently lives. In his often absurd and provocative art, OkÃ³n stages partially scripted scenes using non-actors whose own identities and histories make up the true, underlying story. See Octopus. OkÃ³n founded the artist-run space La PanaderÃa in 1994 and the artist-run space and school SOMA in 2009, both in Mexico City.
LISE PATT is the founder of the Institute of Cultural Inquiry, a peripatetic visual think tank currently headquartered in Los Angeles, CA. Over the years she has treated â€˜collaborationâ€™ as an artist medium, in the development of a non-profit organization that embraces â€˜collective camouflageâ€™ in their ongoing projects. See Inquiry into the Institute of Cultural Inquiry.
KONRAD PETROVSZKY (1977) is a historian specializing in the intellectual history of Southeastern Europe. He wrote a PhD thesis on early modern historiography in Ottoman Europe at the Free University, Berlin. He talks Romania and reenactment in The Body of the Event.
Italian artist SERENA PORRATI (1981) is now currently enrolled in the inaugural year of the MA in Art and Science Program at Central St. Martins in London. She lets META in on her Nietzsche in Turin archive for Linda Greenâ€™s article, A Bridge and Not a Goal.
SUSANNE QUEHENBERGER is a Cultural Studies student at the Humboldt University in Berlin. Her focus is climate change, specifically its potential to bring about societal restructuring and the role of art in this scenario. Since 2007, she has worked as an urban gardening activist. For META, she shares her thoughts on geoengineering in Artificial Skies.
Haitian-born, DC-raised MAX RAMEAU is a pan-African theorist, organizer and founder of the group, Take Back the Land. He has worked on issues ranging from economic development to ex-felons. He discusses the US housing crisis in Desperate Times, Desperate Measures.
MILO RAU (1977) is a journalist, essayist, historian, playwright, translator, teacher, film-maker, blogger, reenactor and director of IIPM (International Institute of Political Murder, or Institute for Theoretic and Artistic Reenactments). See The Body of the Event.
AILEN ROC studied various esoteric fields such as ceremonial Magick, Sexual Magick, Tantra, Astrology, Tarot, the Quaballah and different astral-levels along with Psychology. She is currently working on her own tarot deck and a book combining certain occult fields with elements of psychology. See XI. ARS DE REXâ€”Sexual Magic, the Art of the King.
ALAN SHAPIRO (1956) is a key contributor to the fields of idea philosophy, software engineering and social choreography. At 15, he began studying at MIT and has more recently published a book on Star Trek and given talks at the Transmediale and Ars Electronica festivals. In an interview with META, he explains why â€œBeing against work as it is constituted today is fundamental.â€ See A New Computer Science is Underway.
SITU STUDIO was founded in 2005 while its partners were studying architecture at The Cooper Union. Operating at the intersection of architecture and a variety of other disciplines, Situ Studioâ€™s work has been enriched by close collaborations with geologists, writers, engineers, biologists, activists and artists. See Out of Control.
GARY SMALL, M.D., is the Director of the UCLA Memory and Aging Research Center at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. He is the author of iBrain Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind. See This is Your Brain on Technology.
COSETTE THOMPSON is a French-American human rights consultant and freelance writer based in Arizona, USA, where she directed Amnesty International for many years. Her current interests focus on the contribution of artistic expression to the field of human rights and on the protection of threatened languages. See Sentenced to Read.
van Haarlem Dr. Michiel P.
DR. MICHIEL VAN HAARLEM (1964) is the Managing Director of the LOFAR Foundation in the Netherlands, a part of the ASTRON Institute. The astronomer discusses the next generation of telescopes in METAâ€™s Harmony of the Spheres.
Vanden Eynde Maarten
Belgian-born MAARTEN VANDEN EYNDE (1977) lives and works between Rotterdam, Brussels and Saint Mihiel. His projects span all art media, focussing on topics of ecology, archeology, biology and zoology. In 2006 he founded Enough Room for Space for â€œthe creation of physical, virtual and mental space for cultural initiatives by initiating and coordinating events and residence/research projects worldwide.â€ He enlightens META on plastic in Plastic Reef.
Swedish photographer ULRIKA WALMARK (1970) traveled across North America, Israel, Palestine, Iran, India and South Africa from 2003 to 2007, collecting portraits for her project The person behind the person. She now lives in Berlin.
Artist CHEN WEI (1980) works in Beijing and Hangzhou, incorporating influential objects and happenings from his past into the realities of modern China. He is represented by the Platform China Contemporary Art Institute in Beijing. See Archeology of the Future.
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|This is Your Brain on Technology|
|Daughters of Job|
|Death of a Performance|
|Out of Control: Experiments in Participation|
|Terra Pretaâ€”Amazonian Earth|
|A New Computer Science is Underway|
|Claude Cahunâ€”A Sensual Politics of Photography|
|The Clothing of Nature|
|On the Hunt for Silence in Dubai|
|Far Beyond Stalactites and Stalagmites|
|The Body of the Event|
|Sentenced to Read|
|Spomenik, the Monuments of Former Yugoslavia|
|XI. ARS DE REXâ€”Sexual Magic, the Art of the King|
|Tao Linâ€™s Crossword Puzzle|
|The Art of Showing Art|
|Photography and the Invisible|
|Patrick Hillâ€”Sculpture, Associated|
|Showing the Opposite Side of the Death Machine|
|Desperate Times, Desperate Measures|
|A Bridge and Not a Goal|
|This is Your Brain on Technology|
|The Poetry of Document|
|Stories of Life and Love in Todayâ€™s Actual Arctic|
|Fata Morgana and Other Optical Phenomena|
|The Nine Lives of Kaufhaus Jonass|
|The Harmony of the Spheres|
|Back to the Futureâ€”The Venus Project|
|Inquiry into the Institute of Cultural Inquiry|
|The Lucrative Business of Chaos and Aid|
|Welcome to Nollywood|
|Chronicle of Deaths Foretold|
|The Dostoevsky of Photography|
|Archeology of the Future|
From the earliest stages of the design our goal has been to develop a local assembly system with a simple set of rules that would provide a high level of freedom for the configuration and reconfiguration of the Pavilion. Proceeding from this set of locally defined construction rules meant that we do not, and in fact cannot, produce images or drawings to coordinate the final outcome.
The photographs and plans shown here are an attempt to document and communicate the work after the fact and, in a similar mode of reflection, this article itself is an attempt to articulate afterwards what has happened; to situate it within a genealogy of projects with similar ambitions and to think about the relationships between the use of images and the potentials offered by emerging fabrication technologies. We have taken the occasion of this essay to look back at a series of projects which have similarly attempted to open up the design process; away from a top-down paradigm of form-giving towards processes that are more automatic or, at least, less deterministic. But in looking at these works from an historical distance we can see that although they share a similar desire to escape the totalizing ideologies of high modernism, they have often engaged a contradiction themselves through the conceits induced by their own use of images.
Authoring the Unauthored
Many architect visionaries of the 50s and 60s were either seeking or celebrating indeterminacy in their work as a means of distancing themselves from the tendencies of much of the modern movement. Alison and Peter Smithson, Aldo Van Eyck, Bernard Rudofsky, Reyner Banham, Cedric Price, Archigram, Yona Freidman and Constant Nieuwenhuis all searched for ways of deriving form from exterior inspiration. They drew from divergent sources in the development of science and especially from biology, cybernetics, computation and linguistics, but also from cultural trends in pop culture and a resurgent interest in the vernacular or the â€œprimitive.â€
Whether it was the complexity of activity on the street, the biological motif of clusters and organic patterns, the infinite arrangement of activities in flexible structural networks, the inflatable, deployable, throw-away or plug-in, or the â€œnon-pedigreeâ€ communal organizations of primitive settlements, what these tendencies shared was that they were a means of generating architecture that was seen to be automated and distanced from individual authorship. The conceit that lay embedded within these intentions was that the dynamic changes these figures hypothesized had to be represented if they were to be communicated, and in this way were bound to be frozen in renderings of their projective futures. The images they produced fixed the constantly changing potential that they were proposing and channeled otherwise unpredictable outcomes into heavily composed pathways. New Babylon, for example, was a hypothetical urban game of continuous and active environmental participation, here all the walls were movable at the flip of a switch. But in all of the images and models of the project that Constant produced he had been forced to select an array of forms and shapes from the reserves of his own imagination which would be representative of the complex world that would emerge from the interaction of its imagined nomadic population. He was forced to be the sole author of an image which sought to communicate a principle of non-authorship. This problematic was evident in the tensions that existed between Constant and Guy Debord surrounding the paradox of what a Situationist Architecture might look like. The same could be said of Peter Cookâ€™s Plug-In City, Cedric Priceâ€™s Fun Palace and Yona Friedmanâ€™s Spatial City. Although they were perhaps more utopian, aspirational or rhetorical in character, at some level, either by themselves or by others, the more specific characteristics of form foretold by their images would be literalized in later built works.
What belies the utopian role of these ad-hoc aesthetics is their direct translation into the forms of other projects. Alison and Peter Smithsonâ€™s Sheffield University project, for example, was indicative of a Brutalist ideology which often sought to render the dynamic potential of the building in terms of an articulated distinction between over-emphasized structure and secondary and changeable units for inhabitation. Similarly, Kisho Kurokawaâ€™s Nakagin Capsule Tower was directly inspired by Archigram images. Although the capsule units were pre-fabricated and craned into place and even connected to the structural shaft by four high-tensioned bolts that could allow them to be moved, this gesture was never actualized and the project never evolved or changed as promised. The variety of orientations and expressive articulation of each individual cell against the structural core, with its biological motifs of stem and branch structures, now appears to be primarily a frozen gesture of its own aspirations towards indeterminacy.
We can recognize the same conceit continuing throughout neo-avant-garde architectures to the present. The qualities of processes and transformation, in 1970s architecture inspired by the trace and the index ended up as an image of such transformative processes. Despite attempts to describe final forms with a dynamic vocabulary, such as â€œpunctured,â€ â€œcompressed,â€ â€œscattered,â€ â€œinterpenetrating,â€ or â€œagitated,â€ their dynamism was never a quality of the final object, but rather one of conceptual exercises that often took place in drawings and then overlaid upon the object as a metaphor. The fluid architectures of the past decade have been similarly motivated, appropriating Deleuzian notions of smooth space and striated space. Despite the sociopolitical origins of this idea, it was more often represented as an image through variations on curvilinear shapes. In comparison to the original concept, the generation of such work gained traction through newly available modeling software and developed a pedagogical role in the academy.
Another trend in recent design strategies, which builds upon a lineage of statistical and graphic representation going back at least as far as Hannes Meyerâ€™s Bauhaus, is the visualization and analysis of quantitative information. Earlier interests in program analysis using graph theory that once helped architects arrange rooms according to circulation calculations has, more recently, been extended to the mapping of broader phenomena such as geopolitical contexts and changing demographics. In architecture, the adoption of these strategies can occupy a curious relationship to the making of imagesâ€”the traces of motifs, compositions and colors and their formalization in comparison to the graphs that one usually finds in a peer reviewed scientific paper often suggest an aesthetic sensibility at work in the layout if not also the compilation of data. An analog of this conflation might be found looking as far back as Marcel Duchampâ€™s Coffee Millâ€”a piece which, while driven by an ambition to overcome the retinal through the neutrality of the draftsmanâ€™s tools and the banality of its subject matter, is nonetheless as seductive an image as any other. The graphs, statistics, charts of the more recent past tread a similar lineâ€”where ambiguities in the status of the images allow them to oscillate between the dispassionate and the highly composed. The most recent incarnation of this conceit is in the adoption of advanced computation techniques from the biological and physical sciences, such as generative growth simulations, scripting and parametric modeling, to create non-standardized architectures which can potentially allow for local responses rather than universal impositions. The images produced by programs such as Maya are often purported to be natural, or at least to simulate natural processes of form creation. A typical generative process may involve creating a virtual cellular automata and then, within its digital environment, allowing it to grow according to programmed rules.
The simulated moment of natural selection occurs intermittently throughout its growth according to a host of design criteria and then finally frozen at a specific moment within this ongoing cycle in which the design has evolved to be suitable for its task and ready for manufacture. Ultimately, the relevance of these processes to the final object often remains metaphorical and/or visual, while the strategies that govern their realization are of an entirely different logic. The images produced by these projects highlight an affinity between the architectâ€™s intent and a general anxiety present in design culture regarding freedom and control. They figure this affinity towards greater freedom as an appeal towards a mode of creation that is sufficiently removed from subjective determination.
It is as Colin Rowe said of â€œescapist mythsâ€ which he saw as â€œstill active in endeavoring to relieve the architect of responsibility for his choices and which all alike combine to persuade him that his decisions are not so much his own as they are, somehow, immanent in scientific, or historical, or social process.â€ The difficulty seems to be in pursuing these ambitions without resorting to images that only serve intentions that could arguably be taking place at the level of spatial organization, constructional logic and production systems.
Local Control, Global Uncertainty
Our recent experiments have been at a small scale and have only had to engage the limited logistical criteria of a temporary deployable structure, but by virtue of this modest scope of production the Solar Pavilions (both 1 and 2) have presented an opportunity to test hypotheses about local rules of assembly at an architectural scale. We aim to experiment with the output potentials of local digital fabrication (all the components of the pavilion were fabricated in our studio) and to create an open construction system that encourages participation and prohibits a repeatable configuration. The goal is to defer the aspect of indeterminacy to the actual on-site construction process, rather than to any point within the design process. The Solar Pavilion 2 is the second of a series of structures that we originally designed and fabricated for the CitySol festival in New York and later installed at two other events. The pavilions are a kind of constructional game in which any number of players can participate in making local design decisions under our overall direction. The forms that result are partly a product of the internal logic of the components, partly a product of our stewardship, and also partly a product of the unique human dynamic of each group of volunteers, and the particular circumstances of each site and program. In our studio, using our CNC router, we cut 200 plywood sheets into thousands of component strips.
The pattern cut by the router is generated by a simple script that propagates a connection profile along a series of curves and so provides each strip of plywood with a continuous interlocking edge. The basic elements of the pavilion are these arcing pieces of plywood that can connect to any other piece at any point of contact through the use of flexible tie straps. The pieces are grouped into five types, differing in curvatures, thicknesses and depths, that correspond to different structural conditions that may be present within the overall system. Minor variations within each group resulted in 30 unique pieces in total. The universal connection along their edge combined with the variety of curvatures and profiles provided a sufficient degree of freedom to force indeterminacy and variability in each assembly event.
In developing the design we focused on the local logic of the component piecesâ€”the characteristics of each joint shape, the efficiency of a tie-strapâ€”and were less concerned with how they would synthesize into a whole. Our initial decisions were based on factors including structural ability, efficiency of material, and ease of assembly. The overall structural behavior relied on redundancy, in which the weaving and interconnecting of pieces stabilizes the whole in a complex network of forces. Many hours were spent developing and testing the various properties of these components, always at full scale in our studio, in order to create a system that would adjust to a range of conditions. Computation was used in this process only to aid in the tasks that were either monotonous or difficult. The role of 1:1 testing was critical at this stage.
We played out scenarios of construction almost to the extent of mocking up the entire structure at full scale. The script that we developed allowed us to automatically produce zero-waste cut sheets beginning from a single joint shape. We experimented with the variations of their interlocking positions and stressed these to their breaking point in learning what possibilities were inherent within the pieces and what the critical environmental and material factors would affect them. For example, during this process we discovered that deeper notches on the profiles would be better suited to the task of securing the elements that would act horizontally; ensuring that they would maintain beam depth and not twist into a flat position. We also discovered that the forces in the structure would often take a few days to reconfigure themselves under slight changes in temperature and humidity. It was only through such full-scale testing that we could gain an awareness of how the macro characteristics of the whole depended upon the sequencing of construction and the time-scale of its various micro adjustments.
Solar Pavilion 2
Solar Pavilion 2 has been constructed three times and each time the event has taken place on a different site, with different participants and different sets of programmatic requirements. The first deployment took place on the east side of Manhattan at Stuyvesant Cove Park in the summer of 2007. It accommodated a bar, a food counter and places to rest in the shade. The second event took place at the DUMBO Art Under the Bridge Festival in October of 2007, where the pavilion adjusted itself along a narrow site into a linear arcade that sat between the remains of two mid-19th century warehouses. The third construction took place at the SCOPE Art Fair in Miami, where the pavilion was reconfigured again to function as a filter to channel the flows of entry, egress, and VIP access into the larger tent structure behind it.
The construction of the pavilion begins with the arrival of a 20" shipping container on site that contains all of the pieces of the 2500 sq. ft. structure stacked flat. The assembly starts with the deployment of a number of self-supporting column clusters, type 1, around the site. These are made of a number of thicker plywood pieces that have been pre-assembled in a way that allows them to collapse into a flat bundle when a single tie-strap is removed, while all the others remains intact. A coding system that uses different colors of tie straps allows these bundles to quickly unfold on site and lock into rigidity. The construction expands and interconnects around these primary elements with the team attaching types 2-5 according to their respective structural roles.
As different people select new pieces to add to the system, it begins to move, tilt and lean, often passing through points of instability before connecting to neighboring clusters. The process is akin to crystallization, as overall stability increases through the accumulation of pieces, one by one. At the early stages the structure is prone to slipping from apparent stability to instability and back again before settling into newer configurations. As the structure begins to weave together and become interdependent, initial pieces might be moved, or their connection points might be adjusted up or down one or two notches along their edge to tighten or release tensions that have been developing and moving around through the structural cage as it grows.
This process relies heavily on human intuition as to the best selection of new pieces or the awareness of where forces are developing and so anticipating where a certain looseness of connection should be built in. Over the life of the pavilion, notations were made on the plywood parts to indicate certain configurations that worked especially well. In subsequent construction events, these notes, or traces, became suggestions to how one might go about placing a part in a similarly successful way. Each set of volunteers that as helped to install this pavilion has brought a different sensibility to its assembly and had a significant impact on its formation. After the plywood structure is complete a skin of overlapping flexible tiles of biodegradable corn-based plastic are hung from the underside to provide shade and cover for the events. Like the plywood parts, the skin was fabricated with a zero-waste mandate, in which two curved cuts in a square sheet produced four tiles with nothing left over.
This simple, flexible shingle system could be raised in different sequences and tied to the structure at different lengths allowing the skin to adjust to the spatial outcome of any particular iteration of the structureâ€™s organization. It is the simplicity of the pavilionâ€™s rules and the fact that small quantities of customized components can be both economically manufactured and assembled that offers a hypothesis for new systems of decentralization in the construction of local environments. The aspect of participation is extended beyond the design stage into, more significantly, the fabrication and construction stages. The basic question is whether decision-making power can be distributed to the builder and the user among other parties, as a means to allow a design to evolve. Is it possible for the construction process itself to be redesigned, allowing certain freedoms to be manifested in places beyond the architectâ€™s studio? The decentralizing possibilities of digital fabrication linked with such simplicity of use could potentially introduce these ideas where form emerges gradually out of a multitude of autonomous processes; processes that are not digital algorithms, but rather human ones. Granted, the limited structural and programmatic requirements of a temporary pavilion readily allow for these experiments to occur, but their success implies a potential for implementation in more diverse situations.
There remains an opposite tendency for the use of digital fabrication and advanced computation that involves the privileged position of images in the process of design and manufacture. As one of the leading proponents of non-standard architecture, Bernard Cache has warned, â€œif, indeed, a non-standard architecture consists of generating more or less soft surfaces which will then be called a building by transferring them onto a battery of production software in order to create very expensive kinds of sculpture which no longer have any relationship with the historical and social sedimentation that makes up a city, then we are only perpetuating the Romantic myth of the artist-architect.â€ As the necessary translation from file to factory is often sold as a smooth process with little relationship to a contingent material world the Solar Pavilion 2 was, for us, an opportunity to explore these contingencies in the context of a set of tools that have fundamentally changed the relationship between form and representation.
SITU STUDIO is a reserach, design and fabrication firm based in Brooklyn. Their space-altering, site-specific architectural installation reOrder augurated the Great Hall project in the Brooklyn Museum. For reOrder and other projects, see Situâ€™s website.
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