kaon na > WORD > Liberated Architectures
KAON NA @arlduc.org > WORD

Liberated Architectures: Diller + Scofidio, Super-Ficial

This essay is still in-progress. Please email me your suggestions!

It has been argued that the fields of computer science and architecture are chauvinistic. Two small examples: a *** article discusses how for young girls, computer science is the polarizing school subject that math has been in previous generations. And the recent selection of a new architectural plan for the World Trade Center site sparked discussion of architecture's biased gender politics in The New York Times and on WNYC's The Brian Lehrer Show. However, two shows currently running in New York museums, both involving recent combinations of architecture and offbeat computer techniques, are highlighting the possibility for this combination to nudge architecture into a freer arena than that of most architectural projects today: one that is more fluid, more curvilinear, more playful... and perhaps even more liberated from sterotypical gender constraints.

Super-Ficial: The Surfaces of Architecture in a Digital Age is running at the Zenith Media Lounge at the New Museum of Contemporary Art. Each of its four pieces use software more commonly employed in the media arts to redefine surface (often synonymous with embellishment) as a key element of architecture. Liquid Red, by the firm dbox and commissioned by the Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido, focuses exclusively on surface: a large LCD monitor, set on its side, plays video/animation of an overhead view of a rich red liquid. The way the light is set out of the frame and almost horizontally to the liquid's surface reminds me of the penultimate scene in Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck, where the title character, standing in a pond under a red moon and about to stab his cheating lover, has become so deranged that he thinks he is standing in a pond of blood. Indeed, this piece brings to mind all sorts of obliquely somatic references: lipstick, blood, silk, landscape.

Michael Silver's Liquid Crystal Glass House shows a plan for a building made of interlocking liquid crystal triangles whose opacity can be varied by flipping switches inside the house, thereby dissolving barriers between light and dark, interior and exterior. Though the idea is a compelling one, the model for the house ends up awkwardly looking like the big killer worm from the movie Dune.

Peter Testa Architects also dissolve interior/exterior barriers by fusing the helix and weaving techniques in their designs. They use a software program called Weaver to create buildings whose support structure is formed by a what they call "helicoidal systems"-- external helixes that eliminate vertical and horizontal supports and well as a core foundation.

Of the pieces in this show, Jurgen Mayer H.'s piece Data-Protection Patterning places the notion of surface most specifically in an interior space. He uses the interiors of security envelopes and blows them up so that they become wallpaper, carpets, and clothing that 'data-protects' rooms and people. From the envelope to the person to the room-- Mayer H.'s designs bring architecture to the domestic level, implying that the modernist, digitally influenced tenets of architecture can inform interior concerns (like room, furniture, and fashion design) just as much as they inform exterior concerns.


The Whitney Museum is hosting the mid-career retrospective of Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofido, a husband/wife firm who also draw from media and the media arts to create work that playfully push gender, spacial, and somatic barriers around, rendering them unfixed and permeable.

One of the things that most struck me about the D+S show was how domestic items were treated sort of anthro-architecturally, that is, their structural elements were reconsidered and altered in terms of their cultural underpinnings. The most prominent example of this was Bad Press, a series of men's oxford shirts starched and deliberately ironed 'incorrectly' into forms that looked like squat origami buildings. The piece was meant to comment on domestic pressure...

In Vice/Virtue glasses, the structure of another domestic item, the drinking glass, was reified to comment on the addictive ways that modern people can deal with pressure. In each of the four glasses in this piece, pressure is added and vice takes it away: the drinking glass is "filled" with additional glass, but some sort of negative space is left for a vice like cigarettes, pills, hypodermic needles, or whiskey. (Actually, I say "whiskey," but I wasn't sure whether the liquid was meant to be alcohol, urine, or something else. The glasses subtitle, "Reservoir," adds to that ambiguity.)

A small room lined with height-adjustable viewfinders is a deadpan cover for Lawns, the show's most subtly witty comment on pressures of the domestic sphere. Each viewfinder displayed a stereoscopic, vividly-colored, mid-range, frontal snapshot of a suburban scene. Each of the snapshots contained two halves of a house: half a house on the left, half of a neighboring house on the right. Bisecting each snapshot was the border between each house's lawn. In almost every shot (which, judging from the plants in these pictures, were taken all over the country), the dividing line is a stark one: messy lawns are juxtaposed with perfectly manicured ones, austerely empty lawns are juxtaposed with flamingly ornamented ones. But the starkness of the lawn boundaries undermines another boundary: that of the suburban neighborhood. Much recent media dealing with suburbia and how it functions seem to overdramatize the way its inhabitants conform or transgress the constraints implied by the way suburban neighborhoods are developed. D+S's Lawns seem to be saying that suburban transgression is not always explosive, destructive, or even deliberate: sometimes it merely evolves out of the different ways people customize their space, turning their cookie-cutter houses into real homes. (Steroscopic brings some depth to flatness...)

In a large room, D+S use mist and projections along with an architectural model to try to recreate the exterior aura of their recent Blur Building in Switzerland. Of all of the building plans in the show, this one is the most poetic in its reimagination of barriers and boundaries. A sea-like creature set on the sea, the Blur Building is an elliptical disc whose only visible tie to land is a long (maybe half a football field?) footbridge. Set all over the building are millions of tiny atomizers spraying mist outwards from the building. From afar, the sprayed mist seems to blur the building's boundaries, and the building almost seems to vibrate: a cloud eager to burst forth, but forced to sit still.

conclusion: The fact that these shows are in museums

KAON NA @arlduc.org > WORD