Documentation

System Interpretation == (1);

Manuel Castells’ book ‘Rise of the Network Society’ addresses the ‘complexities of the interaction between technology, society and space.’

The properties (or ‘layers’) he defines of the ‘Space of Flows’ as having are applicable to the voidloop system:

1. A circuit of electronic exchanges

2. The space of flows occurs at nodes and hubs

3. Spatial organisation of the dominant, managerial elites.’

He explains that flows are ‘purposeful, repetitive, programmable sequences of exchange and interaction’. The interconnected technological, social and economic systems have a wide ranging effect on the society at large: ‘Space is not a reflection of society, it is its expression.’

Although he writes about the space of flows in a global context of cities and civilisations, the principles can be scaled down to explain the socio-political ramifications of the ‘voidloop’ system when operated in a room:

1.       The electrical exchange between the user the actuator and sensors.

2.       The location of the actuators and sensors that determine their effect on the stability of social systems operating within the room.

3.       The balance of power and control over the system and how the space is organised accordingly by those in a position in authority.

These principles can be expressed though the analysis of The Blind.

Actuator: The Blind:

The Blind is a common household item that has been ‘hacked’ to open and close using a mini-helicopter servo.

The Blind is a spatial and social boundary. It is associated with privacy and defines ownership of space. In the context of the ‘voidloop’ system the blind becomes the spatial divide between a projected image and an external electrical input – the reading of a sensor controlling the blind.

For its initial location within the Common Room the blind is hanging in front of the projector. Its location is equivalent to the rebellious child at the back of the class. At any time the device could interrupt a lecture. It threatens to disrupt proceedings. There is a non-verbal confrontation directed towards the tutor, the person of authority within the room.

Until it disrupts the lecture, it is difficult to predict what effect it will have on the space and the social implications it places upon the people in room. It asks the occupants questions of power and politics:

Who controls the system? It is free to use by anyone in the room although an authoritative individual could condition the room to their own requirements.

Do the other occupants accept the reaction, or judge silently? Who has the responsibility to balance the struggle of power between the users and the system? The blind is movable – but it requires some effort. Will the overarching dominance of the system overpower the will of the occupants?

The blind becomes a mechanical iris.  A metaphor for the degree of control the user has upon the System and the room.

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System interpretation; == (2);

The convergence of the so-called material and immaterial is a critical point of enquiry for contemporary architectural practice, and gives rise to aesthetic, technical and moral issues that have previously been ignored but must now be addressed.

As architecture students developing a computational system, the US Subprime Mortgage Crisis and the ‘dot-com-bubble’ are important starting points for our project. These two precursors to the Global Financial Crisis both show some consistency in that market movements did not appear to accommodate the realities of their environment.

The ‘dot-com-bubble’ climaxed with ‘prefix investments’ whereby the attraction of virtual property reached the point that existing companies could achieve a stock increase simply by adding “.com” and other web terminology to their name. Such faith in this virtual market was aided partially by a loose understanding of Moore’s Law which quantified the exponential evolution of semi-conductors, and such progression seemingly held true for the Internet too. Confidence in such theory greatly outweighed traditional trading rules, and along with it, any fear in the sporadic nature and disruption possible with a dynamic force such as information technology. All values were speculative, all property immaterial, and all reason theory.

Likewise, with the US Subprime Mortgage Crisis homeowners, banks and private investors all share a naivety and confusion of the realities of the material market. The words ‘value’ and ‘home’ have now come to mean something entirely different to the modern property-owner or the local planning authority. Homes do not require occupation or even physicality in order to earn more than their owners. Equally, banks and private investors have suffered the same mystifications with the market to the point that it is the immaterial speculation that has precedence.

Both financial crises are fundamentally tied to the association with complex dynamic and global market economies. Both bubbles formed through a distortion of material technologies (a house is built from bricks and mortar and is lived in by a being of flesh and bone, a computer is an electrical device built from circuitry and semi-conductors and is lived in by electrons, the internet is built from Ethernet cables and phone-lines and is lived in by flesh and bone users) to suit, and eventually synthesise with fluid monetary processes and market economies. This is not a bad thing, but it can be forgotten. Such synthesis is smooth and corruptible, to the point that the very essence and meaning of the familiar can become distorted unawares to all who once knew it. Houses, once homes, have surpassed their role as a space of living, accumulators of memory, raisers of family, realms for creativity and customisation. The family home has gone beyond even materialistic connotations, it is space as economy, bought to be resold, and is equally fluid as the market that builds it. If we follow this route of association, what form will the future home take? Something similar to a guesthouse perhaps, monitored by its owner through a digital interface halfway across the world, designed to be spectacular, appealable to all, tailored for a wide angled doctored photograph on a website? Designed to be financially liquid, it will be adaptable but impermanent to suit the monthly exchange of occupiers. Perhaps sometimes it will shut down altogether, for years on end, standing as a testament to wealth in the books of its owner. Perhaps it will be easily destructible, easily modifiable to the booms and busts. Perhaps even now in the UK, the rise of ‘local property value’ on planning agendas reveals this transcending into a confusion of terms, whereby the home is not quite a home. Local property values hold precedence over the freedom and ability to apply personal effect on ones surroundings. Modifications for the sake of improvement of living, physical application of memory and creative customisation are denied to conserve the value of surrounding homes. On an individual scale this utilitarian system makes some sense, on a national scale we see all owners restricted in claiming total creative ownership under the guise of ‘value.’

It could be shown than that this confusion and symbiotic synthesis of terms is driven by some lessening of the moral guidelines which has catered for a flourishing of greed. Architecturally speaking, the modernist-movement hoped, or at least faked, that buildings could be socially committed and generators of a better world. Today’s iconic and fashion architecture exists as art, and as art alone, in a realm of its own. It is genius, but lacks the ethics of the modernists. However it is not worth discussing the moral discourse (at least in the usual sense of the word) in this text, instead I would like to describe, in part, how such (apparent) greed and (apparent) loss of morals has been aided by a confusion over the materiality and immateriality of space through interactions and synthesis with economic models – and how all sides, losers and winners, eventually fall as victims to such confusion and radicalisation.

I speak of radicalisation as an economic ideology, the premise that self-interested trading can lead to equilibrium and the optimum common output. The belief that unstable economies can be stabilised again through government and authority cash injections, which we now know can lead to even greater issues. Such economic ideology can result in situations whereby the real foundations of existing markets are ignored to suit the perceived economic outcomes. The material adapts to the immaterial, but it goes further than this, the distortion is ignored, and the immaterial forgets the material altogether. Investors, traders, brokers and bankers become equally jilted by the potential value and workings of the market until, in the case of US Subprime Mortgage Crisis, more homes were being built than those could afford, or even exist to live in them. More mortgages were being handed out than those could afford to pay them. On both sides, owner and profiteer, the symbiosis has distorted the material. Similarly, investment in web domains did not take into consideration the realities of web-usage, and was fuelled by unfamiliarity with the physicalities of the network (that is the users) and the computers (the hardware.) Not everyone wanted to shop online during the Christmas that proceeded the bursting of the dot-com bubble, unpredictable, un-determined emotions came into play. The exponential growth of users did not follow suit due to people’s personal reservations for this new technology – it goes to show that free-markets can work if truly listened to accurately, people en-mass do reveal optimum market trends. Furthermore, the exponential improvement with the semi-conductor as predicted by Moore’s Law did not always follow, and like any evolving system such growths can never sustain.

Further examples can be seen in the air-craft sector. In England alone the economic models in place are seeing future targets of 490 million air passengers in 2030, compared to 228 million in 2005. In England this would result in a new Heathrow every five years, an unsustainable and unfathomable future. Immaterial targets forget their foundations, expectations precede their essence. Anything that forces change of pace or outcome to such deterministic targets, however real and dramatic, is seen as interruption. Such interruptions include oil-shortages, climate changes, passenger taxes, sound pollution regulations (change these all as directly copied), flying corridors, site specifics for airports, and ultimately – general user preference against flying. Theory has overtaken science. Such linear pathways do not consider un-exchangeable commodities such as the environment. Growth in the books through exhausting natural resources is not a material growth. The estimated models of future populations and wealth just will not match up with our predictions, which in turn will not match up with tomorrows as well.

We require a material sense of implications and traditions to coincide and complement the fluidity and dynamism of this new ‘post-post-modern’ landscape. This knowing of space and time, materiality and immateriality is crucial in understanding key crises of architecture, namely: socially moral (I use this in the loosest sense) and ethical design, sustainability and environmentalism, and the value and speculation of property and dwelling.

The architect must become an interface between these immaterial and material realms. Very few domains capacitate the ability to build the imaginary world of models quite as effectively. The architect should facilitate a better understanding of how the material and immaterial interact. It has become all too easy for designers to take advantage of lay innocence, to be the magicians and to induce wonder without substance. Instead we must reaffirm space, and the idea of what it means to ‘dwell’ in it.

As computer rendering has reached blurry levels of realism, artist’s impressions are more impressionable than ever. The casual viewer may even begin to wonder whether such buildings have ever even materialised, and yet the speculative worth of the image remains investible and true. All over the world we have seen the blobby become ‘buildable,’ investible and yet rarely ever built. The fluid aesthetic and the liberation of form and structure from gravity and reality rarely exceeds fantasy. The mystification of the architectural practice here lies in the advantage and conspiracy over knowledge of particular computer software package. For as long as these systems of intellectual and professional trading remain a black box, the architect has the crowd fixated.

In the same way as the architectural practice achieves its power, the digital, electrical and virtual worlds have given rise to a new trickery and mystification, and a convergence and misunderstanding of the material and immaterial worlds. The computer is a mechanical binary machine of valves whose immateriality is evoked through the magician’s trickery once again. Like all good magic, such trickery is created through the concealment of processes, the shrinkage of objects to unperceivable scales, and the warping of movements to unfathomable speeds. Understandings of such spaces, operations and communication systems can only be maintained through abstract diagrams which continually reference us back to the immaterial space. Like our own consciousness, rooted perhaps somewhere behind the black box of skin and skull, synaptic and neural processes may exist as universals or empirical occurrences. Both are unfathomable, imaginary and exist purely diagrammatically or through mythical narrative.

Much like the architect, we must begin to question the substance, worth and ownership of such components. To operate a computer on a solely immaterial level is to be a spectator at the magic show. As processes and drivers, motherboards and emails are concealed behind LCD screens and plastic casings, we forget the implications of such technologies – even a web search has a quantifiable carbon footprint.

With the voidLoop we have adopted various tools and processes to critically assess the once immaterial systems around us. Open Source electronics and software, DIY culture, web-forums and hacking all open up new avenues to further enhance our understanding of the space around us, from the nano to the mega. Through destruction and manipulation we can begin to understand our environment and question the legitimacy and rigidity of the designers once above us.

With the voidLoop we have begun to operate as hackers, attempting to create acts of detournement upon the components we once bought and found, to question their efficiency and determinism, and to better understand and critique the power relationship we share with their previous creators. However, as hackers we become creators ourselves. It has become an aesthetic and moral guideline of our work that all components be visible, all operations transparent and instructive, all form generic and open for interpretation and function, all interfaces basic, intuitive and transparent to the code that has created them, and all processes fundamentally destroyable.

Einsteinian space-time affinities have been replaced here by reflexive time and Quantum-physical exchanges. The teleology of modernism and specifically Western societies has been replaced by the cyclical. Matter may become energy, which in turn may become matter again. All processes can occur forwards or backwards through time, and are neither pre-determined nor random. In the same way all ideas can be built, but must facilitate their own inevitable destruction to give way to ideas once again. Such new creativity is neither forwards facing or situated in the past, it instead exists in the synaptic plasticity of the present and is ever influenced from all directions and dimensions. The voidLoop is a reflexive computation, and once engaged with by the user it can provide guidance of future states, memories of previous ones, and sensitivities to the present. It is space as a knowledge producer. But it is also a reflexive architecture, ready for manipulation, hacking and destruction through understanding and dwelling.

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System Interpretation ==(3);

The headphone actuator critically plays on the concept of Universal Deafness caused by the cacophony of our contemporary soundscape which society is becoming more and more desensitized to (R. Murray Schafer). Arguably the built realm is a significant contributor to the diversity and quality of our soundscapes, and should be integrated into the architectural discourse more than just acoustical science. However currently architecture is dominated by an “ocularcentric paradigm” (Pallasmaa).

Headphones are often attributed to the contribution of Universal Deafness, however as integrated into the void loop system they become a tool which reactivates our soundscapes and other immaterial realms when responding to the live readings sent from the sensors.

Being playback in the headphones will be a translation of the real time data being streamed from one of the three sensors selected by the user. This issue of transilience intends to invoke active listening of architectural spaces initially engage by using the parabolic microphone. However when fully integrated into the system the headphones provide an aural translation of the sensory realm while feeding back an array of data which could be use to understand the complex social relationship with the immaterial realm. Laced as well in the playback are aural memories, which were sampled from recordings from a seminar previously held in the exhibited space earlier that year.

The aural memories of the audio where from Peter Nelson’s Lecture “Music as Design: Graphics and The Music of Iannis Xenakis” which also relates to the concept for the headphone actuator and the void loop system. The samples from the lecture are as follows:

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An issue on transilience  which suddenly seemed to me exactly the sort of  concept that I was looking for…  which fills a little gap… which will  I suspect become fairly obvious.

Sample end.

Sample begin;

What pertains to one pertains in the other. Now together into what  I kind of leave you to help me to decide or work out.

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Sample begin;

Everyone has observed the sonic phenomena of a political crowd of dozens or hundreds of thousands of people. The human river shouts a slogan in a uniform rhythm. Then another slogan springs from the head of the demonstration; it spreads towards the tail, replacing the first. A wave of transition thus passes from the head to the tail. The clamor fills the city, and the inhibiting force of voice and rhythm reaches a climax. It is an event of great power and beauty in its ferocity. Then the impact between the demonstrators and the enemy occurs. The perfect rhythm of the last slogan breaks up in a huge cluster of chaotic shouts, which also spreads to the tail. Imagine, in addition, the reports of dozens of machine guns and the whistle of bullets adding their punctuations to this total disorder. The crowd is then rapidly dispersed, and after sonic and visual hell follows a detonating calm, full of despair, dust, and death…

Excerpt from “Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Music” Iannis Xenakis.

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