Masters Thesis: New Reflectivity
At the intersection of technology, identity and urbanity, this project imagines a new kind of public space for Union Square in San Francisco, in which architecture is situated as a frame for the projection, reflection, documentation and broadcast of personal and collective identity. The project seeks to make visible the virtual layers grafted upon the built environment and to exploit the social and architectural possibilities of a multivalent urban experience in which virtual and physical infrastructures collapse into hybrid states. Both real-time and asynchronous social interactions are enabled through coordination between ubiquitous personal devices and larger infrastructural media systems embedded in the project. The project critically examines the contemporary relation between the city’s occupants and the ways in which technology has augmented their relation to both their environment and to each other. Mirroring is a phenomenon orchestrated through both material and technological means, with media deployed as a mechanism through which the self and the collective are “reflected”, documented and broadcast. Reflection is thus presented both literally and figuratively, as both spectacle and interrogation. These infrastructures of projection become the expression of an Architecture that enables, critiques and provokes its occupants in their virtual behaviors, empowering and enticing each individual to explore the boundaries between the virtual and the real, and the threshold between themselves and their neighbors.
Critic: Annette Fierro
A façade of adjustable fabric projection surfaces render the project’s urban expression as a variable contingent upon the whims of the users. Crowdsourced inputs by users determine the projection program, oscillating day-to-day, hour-to-hour and minute-to-minute. Thus, architectural expression and formal identity become subsumed with both collective and personal expressions, a collage of information, impulse, transgression, economy and politics. From within, users can also operate the screens to produce transparency in the envelope, unwrapping the volume to expose interior terraces and enclosed program spaces. The translucent fabric acts on the interior as media to be consumed, however this media becomes a broadcast mechanism as the images permeate to the street outside. The negotiation between viewer and viewed, private and public thus becomes a public affair, negotiated through the layers of overlapping images and impulses.
The underbelly of the structure creates a seamless mirrored surface which fluctuates between episodes of regularized planes and simple curves, to moments of extreme warping and distortion. These moments regulate anticipated crowd activity in what might be described as a perfect “selfie space.” Hatches and apertures in the massing offer viewers from inside the structure a voyeuristic view of the crowd below, who are likely too preoccupied with their own reflections to notice their observers. The behaviors of observation, self-observation, documentation and broadcast begin to layer into a hybrid condition of reality, in which real-time and asynchronous interactions stitch together the experience of a real/virtual hybrid space. Phobias of surveillance are rendered null, as the occupants surround themselves and each in a state of constant documentation.
In their description of the fun Palace. Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price describe the activities contained in the project as a Non-Program.” The pursuit of a Laboratory of fun, they proclaimed that the building could be used as passively or actively as any individual inhabitant desired, and that even when spaces were dedicated to a specific program, guests were under no obligation to obey these programs. An attitude of transgression was embedded in the activates enabled by the project.
Following these ideas, the program of this project and the architecture will be conceptually situated as hardware and software, each seen as interchangeable and updateable, hackable and customizable. The programs can be stacked, combined, determined and then configured through onsite crowdsourcing. The proposal will examine and question the uncanny binary between the mirror and the screen, deploying each as deceptive spectacle, their subjects’ reflections technologically interconnected through space and time. On the exterior, relevant questions of the reflected self and the spectacle created by collective interaction. The interior will seek to create spaces of display, surveillance, improvisational and participatory theater, communication and education. Like apps or other software, this program will be free to fluctuate, offering emergent opportunities typically offered by virtual apps. The Primary Program categories will seek to update the initial program set forth by the Fun Palace: Theater, Communication & Broadcasting, however the scale and intensity of each of these programs may shift day to day, hour to hour, even minute to minute in response to guests’ input.
The sense of occupying two strata of time and place is a unique characteristic of contemporary life. As social scientists have well documented, users of social media construct what might be considered a double life, in which their “real life” is reflected in a kind of uncanny double online through a process of curation and broadcast. The itch to document and broadcast is one of many neuroses of this era, fears of surveillance have been replaced by fears of going un-surveilled, of being of the grid. The narratives imagined in this project find their roots in what might be considered a traditional urban experience, however these episodes are twisted by the presence of the digital, confronted with the potential opportunities of the digital tools typically grafted invisibly upon the contemporary city. Where boredom, stress, pleasure, romance, conflict and indifference play out in traditional urban spaces, these sensations are augmented by the unique conditions of this urban space, in which identities ,impulses and a constantly shifting web of interaction establish unprecedented opportunities for interaction between visitors, the architecture and each other.
Research and Process
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