We covered a lot of territory this semester in our Media + Architecture seminar. Moving reverse-chronologically through media history, we began by exploring how networked technologies, ubiquitous computing, mobile media, and other “new media” have impacted how architecture is designed and experienced (and vice versa: how architecture might inform the way we design and use new media, too). Then we examined spaces of media labor and infrastructural spaces, and we took a tour of the Google building on 8th Avenue. After that, we looked at screen space: television and the suburban home, urban screens, screen-based exhibition design, and the CCTV building. Then we sampled from the expansive landscape of work on film and architecture. After that, we shifted attention to our ears and examined architecture as an acoustic environment, and considered how audio technologies have informed the way buildings have been designed and experienced. At mid-semester, we had planned to do a walking tour of the High Line as Infoscape, but were (sort of) rained out — so we had a mini architecture film festival instead.
In the second half of the semester, we looked at photography and architecture, then spent a week on Le Corbusier’s various media enterprises. We were fortunate to have Molly Wright Steenson join us that week. Then we turned to architecture periodicals: newspapers’ architecture critics, historical and contemporary design magazines, and blogs, and the resurgence of “little magazines.” Alan Rapp visited us. We then moved on to architecture and the book — from Serlio to Hugo to Koolhaas and BIG. Our final lesson examined architecture and drawing, from the history of drafting implements to the architectural comic.
Our final two weeks were dedicated to student presentations. I was amazed by the breadth of interests the students had generated, and by the creativity and quality of their work. Here’s a synopsis of what they created:
Several projects examined architecture and identity — including gender and sexuality, and how photography might be used to examine individuals’ subjective experiences of space. Alex set out to map “gay space” in New York, and, as part of his method, experimented with various visual and sonic strategies for representing a “queer approach to space.” He conceives of this project, Drawn Out: Mapping Gay Space in NYC, as a pilot test for a thesis he intends to develop over the next year.
Tania was interested in “the media portrayal of domestic environments, the relationship between gender politics, material feminism and space, and the limits, oftentimes disregarded by conventional cultural studies, between what is nowadays considered public and what is considered private (and secret), as seen through the lens, literally, of physical i.e. architectural separation of home and public domains.” She focused on the bed and “invited eight female photographers (Gala Lutteroth, Eunice Adorno, Elsa Medina Catro, Graciela Iturbide, Marta Zarak, Rita Marimen, Laureana Toledo, and Monica Lozano) to take a picture of their beds right after waking up in the morning. [She] asked them to take the photos [rather than having Tania herself take the photos] in order to personalize and document their own transformation of space, and give a concrete meaning to their intimacy.” The result is Make Your Bed, a photozine:
And Namreta aimed “to explore how space mediates itself, through a collection of photographs cataloging the experiences of four individuals,” all of whom were asked to visit, and photograph, four spaces: The Cloisters, Lincoln Center, the Guggenheim Museum, and Grand Central Station. “Photography acts as the ‘transitional object,’ or the intervention between the reality or physical space, and the inner or mental space,” Namreta explains. “Through the use of photography the four individuals mediated their space of experiencing. The final yield of this space testing is a collection of eight photo-books about space.”
There was also a lot of interest in the mediation of the museum. Danielle offered a comparative analysis of the New Museum on the Bowery and the Whitney’s new facilities in the Meatpacking District. She looks at the two museums’ distinctive institutional identities, their collections, and their local neighborhoods, and critiques SANAA’s design for the New Museum and Renzo Piano’s Whitney design within those contexts.
Hillary focused specifically on the Whitney, comparing and contrasting the character of the institution — and particularly how it has accommodated artwork and programming in a variety of media formats — in both its old and new buildings. I particularly appreciated this passage, in which Hillary discusses the Breuer building as a sort of machine for viewing:
The contrast of inside and outside makes the procession indoors one of envelopment, a “haven from the street” (Millard 616). Breuer describes “a new depth of façade is emerging… a three-dimensionality with a resulting greatly expanded vocabulary of architectural expression. Sun and shadows” (171-172)…. The exterior of the building is dark and formidable, but the interior has a real warmth and sense of containment that is due in large part to incandescent lighting, dark nooks and crannies, and most importantly, the building’s unique windows. From the street, the windows can look like protruding eyeballs whose rationale, as far as placement goes, is a mystery. They’re deeply set and angled, which gives a thickness to the building’s surface. Their angling, and what seems to be a tint to the glass, allows them to offer snapshots of the city in the gallery without distracting from the artwork on the walls….
Liz Deschenes, an artist working primarily with the technical apparatus of photography, is featured in the 2012 Whitney Biennial with two photograms made and displayed in the shape and form of these windows. Completely exposing photo-paper to ambient light, Deschenes’s photograms are completely black. They have then been framed with the same angle and depth of the museum’s windows. Her work makes distinct reference to the building as an analog photographic apparatus, a metaphor which is further elucidated in the Biennial catalogue by Matthew S. Witkovsky. He writes that the building, “with its stepped façade and many protruding eyes” is actually quite similar to “the lens and bellows of a view camera” (92).
Emma looked at a variety of multimedia guides and augmented reality apps currently in use in various museums, and developed a proposal for a new app for MoMA. Her application would include:
- a GPS map, which would “allow users to easily locate which exhibit they are currently in, as well as search for the username of their friends in case they skipped ahead or wandered off”;
- various self-guided tours “based on specific exhibits, types and styles of artwork, and even a few specifically geared towards kids. I thought it would be a good idea to also allow visitors to customize their own tours (they can select areas/styles/periods of art they want to view) so that visitors never feel restrained by a pre-selected narrative”;
- augmented reality “paths” to follow for the tours (“using the ‘paths’ button, users will be able to find colored arrows of the different tours so they can switch to whichever path they choose”);
- a search for looking up the audio for an art piece
- augmented reality facts (“The AR mode symbol appears when there is additional information about the piece. Visitors simply click the icon and hold up their guide’s screen to the piece. Colored icons will appear, and when touched on the screen, interesting tidbits of information about the work will show up.”)
- FAQS: museum info & tour instructions
Another group of students was interested in urban media infrastructure. Dan, an architecture student, tied his Media + Architecture project to his thesis: the design of a telecom hotel. He’s grappling with the fact that “the physical infrastructure of the internet, although just as material as the highway cloverleaf, has gone unseen.” He wonders: “[I]s there value to exposing [this] infrastructure? If we do choose to create an architectural type for housing data communications what would it look like, and how would its facade and formal gestures engage its context, milieu, an effect human proximities?” In his proposed design, the facade “broadcasts a message that properly identifies the building and its function” — via blinking light panels that “mirror the popular conception that digital data is carried on ethereal tendrils of light” and, at the same time, address computing history by mimicking the punch card; via the audible “mechanical hum of the building cooling systems”; etc.
Gala also wanted to call attention to overlooked infrastructural elements: water tanks. She set out to see how many people were even aware of their existence and of the essential role they play in our everyday lives. She also explored how the tanks might be able to call attention to themselves, and thereby increase urban residents’ “infrastructural literacy,” by exploring the work of four artists whose work focuses on water tanks [I should be able to post the full video soon].
Seung Jae, a photography student, was struck by the ubiquity and overwhelming visibility of a different kind of infrastructure: scaffolding. He proposes that we repurpose this utilitarian apparatus by using it as a framework for public art. By lining a dark, disorienting scaffolded corridor with layered architectural photographs printed at 40% opacity, Seung Jae aims to transform these passages into heterotopic hallways, metaphors for cultural connection.
Meanwhile, Lily wanted to design a social infrastructure to deal with the abuse of cell phones in urban spaces. She created a (slightly parodic) guide that could hypothetically be distributed in public places to encourage proper cell phone use, and she’s been maintaining a blog where she collects relevant research and documents similar “urban etiquette” projects.
Noah, a musician, focused on social infrastructures, too. He created an audio piece that examines cassette cultures as “social geographies and organizational forms employed to establish alternatives to conventional economies” and examines their potential as “optimistic geographies of exchange.” Here’s the work in progress; Noah plans to develop this project, in particular by expanding its geographic scope:
Seung Jae made use of photography as a method in his project, but photography was of interest as an historical subject to several other students. Vanessa looked at photographic and print representations of the Flatiron building, which helped to cement the significant role this iconic structure played in cultivating a new skyline and a distinctive “23rd Street” culture.
Anna examined how photographic themes common in the work of Eugene de Salignac are echoed in the work of contemporary architectural photographers. She looks at the rhetorical significance of black-and-white photography, the suggestion of movement, and the strategic use of people in the frame.
Others examined how the city was represented in other media — namely film and comic books. Nikolas looked at fascist aesthetics — embodied in both architecture and film — in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. He quotes Susan Sontag, who states in her “Fascinating Fascism” (1980) that fascist aesthetics…
flow from (and justify) a preoccupation with the situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain…. The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure or force […] Its choreography alternates between ceaseless motion and a congealed, static, ‘virile’ posing”
We find these qualities expressed repeatedly, in various dimensions, throughout Lang’s film.
Meanwhile, Matt focused on the role that the city of Gotham has played, both as a setting and as a character, in the Batman comics. Matt writes:
As there has been so much Batman-related media over the years, I decided to give my project focus by mainly concentrating on the work of comic book writer Scott Snyder. A rising star in the comic world, Snyder took on the role of DC Comics’ main Batman writer last year and was met with immediate critical acclaim. Aside from the high quality of his writing, something not seen enough in mainstream comic books, I was attracted to his work as a focus for this project because he seems to be invested in exploring the nature of Gotham City and Batman’s relationship to it. In three separate storylines to date these themes have been central to his work, with each one attacking it from a different angle. His first story from Detective Comics, “The Black Mirror”, looked at it from mainly a psychological angle – exploring the idea of a city’s influence on its citizens and vice versa. The second, “Gates of Gotham”, from a more historical angle – exploring Gotham’s origins and it’s link to Bruce Wayne and his family. His current storyline takes these previous themes and expands on them by having Bruce Wayne’s somewhat symbiotic relationship to Gotham, and therefore his very identity, threatened by a new enemy.
He created a video to explore these themes:
Finally, two students worked with architectures of virtual spaces. Stephen, an avid gamer, looked at the relationships between architectural design and video game design. He argues that greater attention needs to be paid to the design of spatial texture, sound design, and the multisensory spatial “encounter” in game design. You can find his paper here; it includes videos in which he narrates his spatial experience in playing “Dark Souls.”
Meanwhile, Sepand, a programmer, wanted to examine new ways of “navigat[ing the web] that are more like navigation within a city or an architectural structure,” that would “overcome the flatness of the web’s native language, HTML.” He experimented with the spatialization of sound:
For the implementation, I tried to create a form of navigation more or less similar to navigation within a space. Other than the navigation, the other component of the interface is spatialized sound. The flow in the user interface is as follows: Upon entering the page and clicking on ‘start’ a number of boxes appear in the page; each are search boxes with perspective. It is possible to switch between boxes by bring them to foreground or move them around. Searching a word returns a list of poetry by Chris Mann that contains those words. Pressing the ‘p’ button on the poetry box plays the recorded poetry with spatialization according to the position of the box on the screen.
In all, an amazing assortment.