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This Will Kill That

This studio begins with our observation that the process of building cannot keep pace with the conceptual ambitions of architecture. Buildings are dead before they are built. 

Take CCTV-endlessly hyped, it is the building of the year, complete with a MoMA exhibition on it even before it is finished. Who will want to see it now? Oversaturated in media, its Bilbao-Effect already spent in a junkspace of print, CCTV, like many buildings, is exhausted in advance of its occupation. Buildings today exist for the media, for journals, for books, for the Web. Even when constructed they serve chiefly as visual wonders to see during sporting events on television or as backdrops for photoshoots in fashion magazines. In this radical present-a condition in which the past and the future become impossible to conceive of-critical architecture is so slow and expensive as to be nonexistent. We set out to seek other strategies and to look within architecture to seek what intelligence it still has to offer. 

If today the building is an after-effect of media, our method is to go against logic and turn back to it. This studio is conceptual, aimed at developing arguments and polemics, but it sets out to do so using the tools of the architect. Dispensing with the prospect of realizing buildings as constructions of matter, we instead maintain that buildings can be constructions of thought, conceptual machines that produce arguments and state positions. 

Although we expressly abandon any interest in construction, we nevertheless aim at designing buildings, or rather conceptual structures that look and perform very much like buildings. Against the dominant forms of architectural education today, this is not a scripting studio, nor a place for unbuildable Hollywood fantasy, nor is it a last refuge of the real or its friend, tired from too many hours surfing the Internet, the hand. Against these outmoded positions, we propose architecture based on rigorous design, architecture as a system of thought that makes abstract knowledge experiential and conceptual thought objective, rigorous and understandable. In setting out to design buildings not diagrams, our goal is to see what the world is telling us, not what we are telling the world. 

Rather than lamenting the servility of architecture to media, we engage media head on, not innocently, but rather as a praying mantis embraces her mate. 

Long ago, Victor Hugo suggested that the book will kill the building. As a dominant producer of social meaning and order, it did. But now the book is dying. This studio examines the crisis of the library, one of the oldest and most important institutions in society. 

The goal of architecture has long been to become incorporated into the library, to be absorbed into the flimsy papers that would be placed on the stacks. If this will kill that, that was a suicidal masochist who wanted to die. Libraries are repositories of dead information, where things go to expire. Architecture knew this, but still always desired the stillness of the book as its real goal. Nor were architects somehow more perverted than anyone else. On the contrary, as Freud suggested in Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the universal goal of life is stillness. The library gave us what we wanted, a tomb we could all dwell in, a place in which thought would quiet down once and for all, a place of silence in which noise and disruption was forbidden. 

Under pressure from the pornographic thrill of the Internet, libraries, like architecture, are themselves dying. Year after year, circulation plummets and readership declines. Paradoxically, however, as both architecture and the library expire, they become pervasive. If buildings are obsolete (the current building boom being analogous to the manic expansion of Borders and Barnes and Noble in the last two decades), the strategies of architecture have become pervasive. Design is now everywhere. The tools of architecture are accessible to anyone. 

The Internet and digital technology has made the library's promise of access to knowledge laughable. One hard drive is now capable of holding as much data as a medium-sized city library. In spite of this, libraries are special places. Not only is the Internet (like television) largely filled with garbage, more importantly, books are the first products of immaterial production, and thus they anticipate the dominant economic order of the information economy. But they are also their own worst enemies, heavy objects that lie inertly, gathering choking mold and dust. Still, libraries are ideal research sites for architects, their systems of organization clear, conceptual diagrams of knowledge. As these systems of classification are undone by a world in which "everything is miscellaneous," and Open Source software and peer-to-peer file sharing annihilate any concept of property, the uniqueness and even the physicality of the objects in libraries is threatened. For any book, even the most expensive would be much more valuable if you could perform a full text search on it, something Google understands full well. Soon, books may not be valuable except for the odd collector item. When they wear out, nobody will care. 

But is that the fate of the library? Against the idea of the library as a base for knitting clubs and youth sex leagues or as an Internet cafe for the homeless, we propose to investigate the institution itself as a system of conceptual thought, and as a form of social organization. Thus, the library becomes an ideal place for architecture to re-discover its own methods of thought, its theoretical purposes.

The Invisible City: Design in the Age of Intelligent Maps

Netlab director Kazys Varnelis and Netlab researcher Leah Meisterlin analyze the role of maps in contemporary society in The Invisible City: Design in the Age of Intelligent Maps. See this important article at Adobe Design Center's Think Tank.

Architecture of Hertzian Space in A+U

Netlab Director Kazys Varnelis published "The Architecture of Hertzian Space" in issue 2008:5 of A+U.

Networked Utopias

Since the Renaissance, architecture has responded to new socio-cultural eras with utopian and dystopian schemes. Such fantasies have not only served to advance the discipline, but have also been a means by which architecture can research, analyze, and investigate society.

It is our contention that we are living in a new era defined by the network. During the last fifteen years, the Internet has joined us together and gone wireless; computing has become mobile while applications are increasingly network-based; the mobile phone has become the world's most successful gadget; virtually any form of publication has become available to virtually everyone. But these technological changes are only part of a broader shift in society. If in Fordist modernity the individual was located in a hierarchical system and if in post-Fordism the fragmented individual was in a system of flexible production and consumption, today we conceive of ourselves as networked individuals, assembled out of flows of people and things. 

By and large, architecture has failed to deliver visionary proposals for this moment. This studio set out to remedy that situation. Students responded to our contemporary situation by studying an aspect of network culture in depth and producing schemes based on an exacerbation of that condition that could be utopian, dystopian, or both utopian and dystopian.

1 : Somebody Else’s Dream

Utopias, as figured in this studio, are not merely the products of free expressions but rather are understood as carefully constructed critical exacerbations of the contemporary condition.

In order to understand this situation, turn back to the 1960s and 1970s to find a utopia that you can claim for your own.

Week 1: How did it confront existing conditions? How did it operate?

Week 2: What if that Utopia was accelerated to the present day? How would it be changed?

Produce a project in response.

Review on 26 September.      

Sample Utopias:

Archigram, Instant City
Archizoom, No Stop City
Constant, New Babylon
Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, Exodus, or the Voluntary Prisoners of Architecture
Rem Koolhaas and Elia Zenghelis, City of the Captive Globe
Superstudio, Continuous Monument

2 : Utopia or Not

Interim Review, October 23

Interim Review, November 16

Final Review, December 6

Having chosen an aspect of network culture, research existing cultural trends and develop means a utopian project of substantial depth and resolution by the end of the term. 

Review format

This studio, like all Netlab studios, is run as a think-tank. Students are encouraged to develop new working methods, new presentation methods, and to rethink the way the studio itself functions. To this end, each review is experimental. Reviews are developed based on in-studio discussions.

Interim review format

This review is based on the model of the science fair. Students will present their work at individual stations. At any given time two or three reviews will be taking place. Students not giving presentations will be participating in criticism as well, learning from each other and through the act of giving criticism.

Final review format

This review is based on the model of the gallery. Students will display work in a variety of media—image, model, and text—but will present it primarily through brief videos that hopefully will be completed the night before (you will receive an email as these are produced) and uploaded to the Internet. Videos willl also be shown alongside finished work in the review. Students will be available to discuss the work in the review. At 4.30 we will hold a round table discussion that we hope you can attend to talk about the trajectory of the work as a whole.