Architecture Design Option Studio — EPISODE 5 (Ibanez)

Required of: 

Mandatory lottery process.

In 1977, Charles and Ray Eames made the movie POWERS OF TEN AND THE RELATIVE SIZE OF THINGS IN THE UNIVERSE. The project, an investigation inspired by Kees Boeke's book Cosmic View. The Universe in 40 Jumps, uses a series of sequential frames to take us on a journey across scales as we add or remove zeros from a camera lens. From the smallest to the largest structures known to humans, from a carbon atom to the edge of the known universe, the movie depicts a world that can be understood linearly, is human-centric, and can be defined by its physicality.

Forty years later, we know that there are things much smaller than atoms, that the universe is far from being empty and quiet, and that our world is not only a vast collection of elements, but a dynamic environment in a constant state of flux.

Powers of Ten remains a fascinating artifact, at the time it was made presented an eye-opening view of the universe, and as an art practice, the Eames was very effective in connecting the worlds of culture and technology. Culture, and architecture as an instrument of culture, are inextricably connected to technology. How far "we can see", seems to sometimes be how far we can understand and imagine. Yet in the past 30 years, technology has taken much greater leaps than architecture.

Episode 5 is a design exercise embedded in a technological world that is non-linear, exists as a shared domain between human and non-human actors, and creates a complex entanglement of elements, relations, and behaviors. 

Very much like Tschumi's proposition in The Manhattan Transcripts, the studio will operate between reality and fantasy, in order to produce a systematic and rigorous description of space, context and environment, and simultaneously the tools and mechanisms for their transformation. 

“Technology is the answer, but what was the question?”
Cedric Price, 1966

In January of 1975, The Carousel of Progress opened in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom in Disney World. The ride was created a decade earlier, as a collaboration between WED Enterprises (the R&D arm of Disney Enterprises) and General Electric. It was the prime feature of the GE Pavilion in the 1964 World Fair in New York. 

Since their inception in 1851, the World Fairs turned to be the sites were “The Future” was announced to the world, the place where cutting-edge technologies, research, and new ideas were shared with the general public. The motto of the New York Fair was “Peace through Understanding”, and within this context, the central theme of the GE Pavilion and the carrousel’s storyline was “Progress” as experienced in the domestic realm. 

The ride takes the visitor on a journey through the evolution of a single-family home in America during the 20th century. Using four sequential episodes that look at 20-year increments, each episode depicts how the space of the home is transformed as technology advances. The story tells us how new gadgets and domestic appliances revolutionized daily life. These changes are correspondingly connected to the development of large-scale infrastructure projects (from the electric grid to highways) and other inventions like systems for the construction of tall buildings, airplanes, and cinema that create new social practices, transform the environment, and our relationship with it.  

The 4th and last episode of the carousel was updated five times, with the last update taking place in 1993. It is a bizarre mixture of 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s imagery with assumptions on what the 21st century was to bring. Some of these predictions are uncannily correct, some will make you laugh. Yet what the carrousel got right from the beginning was the need to establish a connection between objects, subjects, spaces, large scale infrastructure, and the many effects that transforming any of those might produce. 

The Carrousel of Progress presented a very optimistic view of technology and a very singular view of society. Unknown at the time, many of the developments described in the carrousel ended up having negative and long-lasting effects on the environment and transformed social practices in ways we still don’t fully grasp. Technology often works that way. Furthermore, the story centers around the life of a white family composed of a father, a mother, a son and a daughter, grandparents and a dog. It would be an appalling representation of what families and dwellers look like today.  

The task of Episode 5 is to produce the next chapter of the Carrousel of Progress, the future of dwelling through the lens of technological advancement. Centered on the polemic that both architecture and the city are a collection of physical and non-physical phenomena, we will understand the project as a collection of immersive environments. We will develop behaviors and duration in architecture and context, and apply them to a new model of Immersive Architecture.

The task for the Immersive is to remove the anthropo-centric model as a preconception for architectural design, and replace it with a networked synthetic ecology for the human and the non-human. This may present relationships that are seamless, difficult, or unexpected. This type of technological ecology is not based on purist or technocratic engineering; the studio is most concerned with proposing and developing a project where humans, non-humans, nature and artifice - the total collection of physical objects and their augmentation are all interconnected within an open system of exchange. We will look at current technological advancements combined with yet unfulfilled technological promises for their potential effects on the domestic realm. 

We will use the site of the Montreal 67 World Expo, and will travel to visit the site in September. Located between the Notre Dame Island, Saint Helen’s Island and Cité du Havre, the exact studio site will be determined by each student in accordance to project ideas. The relationship between project and context is central to the studio agenda. Understood as a form of synthetic nature, it is paramount to project within a reciprocal relationship that denies a separation of environment, architecture, human and non-human occupant. 

Working across scales of technological impact, the materials and methods of the studio establish a relationship among large scale interventions, architectural objects and active phenomena. Questions of representation will be central to the studio's work. How do we draw dynamic conditions? How do we describe forms, figures and relationships that are not material or have the capacity to adapt? How do we introduce in our representations the variable of time? The techniques we use to describe our artifacts, environments and events are key in developing a specific language through which precise notations and new ideas about architecture are produced. We will understand representation as a speculative medium, where various methods will be tested and used as complimentary in order to address the complexities of the immersive project. 

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