(about) studio description

CLOUD Reassembly

Work developed within the Thesis Studio 5th Year Undergraduate Architecture @ RPI

Fall 2012-Spring 2013

Instructor: Carla Leitão

Cloud Studio: Overview

In the past 2 years this section has looked at the possible concept of Cloud Architecture.

The first studio – CLOUD Institution/Transvercity – looked at the design of Cloud Structures with the capacity to create or inspire novel forms of institution within across other environments: of being both an archive/library and an education/promoter of protocols that would insure conservation, repetition of chosen themes, operators, programs, spaces, objects.

The second studio – CLOUD Disassembly – looked into Cloud Architectures that could disassemble other architectures as well as themselves. The context for this search was to look into the architecture and urbanism of large temporary (mainly sports) events – World Cup, Olympics, but also World Expo, among others -, and their promises and shortcomings economically and culturally to their host cities as well as in the larger context of global awareness on buildings environmental impact.

This third studio – CLOUD Reassembly – proposes an enquiry into the possible new structures of order that can be found or (re)created in scenarios of catastrophe or disaster, in the preparation, duration or aftermath of radical cross-sectioning events of destructive force.

CLOUD Architecture and Precedents

The Cloud figure can be found in Architecture culture in more and less apparent ways, having lent its transversal trait to different political and speculative agendas.

Banham’s discussion on Megastructures and the, albeit cross-cutting, totalizing regular spaces they may impose can be seen as both the natural mark of architecture’s ambition for ordering space, but as well can be the face for some of the most common shortcomings of virtual networks.

The project of Horizontal Skyscrapers by El Lissitzky, is used as a stylistic device that  – even when unanticipated – engages the organizational and navigational political space of the city.
Superstudio’s different projects, including the “Continuous Monument” or their “Fundamental Acts” series, speculates on structures which have a vast and either generic or specific type of pervasiveness, a macro-scalar movement which uses transversality as an operative connective tissue which renders certain cultural forms obsolete, while rendering new vacancies to take shape.
In Archigram’s works – such as “Instant City” or “Walking City” – moving, changeable, deployable, pluggable, rhythmic structures, seem to help emerge the metaphor of the cloud as well.

The fast pace of urban culture and increasing communication among different regions was for Archigram – and still is – somehow out of joint with a material practice that embodies concepts of maintenance and property, delayed from that of material, energy and information exchange between its operators.
Cedric Price’s investigations into distributed systems such as the Potteries Thinkbelt – where an educational program reuses an abandoned piece of infrastructure – are yet another early example.
Buckminster Fuller Energy Grids, Dimaxion and World Games were other aspects of Cloud Projects.
Other references to the ‘cloud’ made by architects or design theorists include Wolf Prix’s “Get Off My Cloud”, and its use of the word as illustration of an inclusive design process; as well, the famous Blur Building in Switzerland by Diller&Scofidio, where a literal cloud is produced as a device that fosters new navigational intermediaries, creating new visibility for often invisible virtual links, all the while setting a threshold configuration that interacts with multiple environmental conditions.
But if Cloud-prop’s easy identification with propagandistic endeavors derives from a transversality that needs rendering in its most rough form, what happens when this is best accomplished with invisibility?

Currently, concepts of cloud communication and storage for digital media across networks, instantiate problems of information and intelligence/processing location and subsequent problems of property privacy and access. While with similar vocabulary, these often seem apart from problems of design: cloud structures in their generality seem to propose a future reduction on the need to house things in their proper places, and instead, create new systems of sharing and access that would render property and access, as we know it, obsolete.
However, most of these systems of cloud storage (for data or software/operators) often use the imperfect metaphor, aiming to install central systems to which a number of nodes have access to.

In the Cloud Studio, the objective is to think of real clouds: highly concentrated humidity. A pervasiveness and redundancy of material, of distributed differentiated micro-autonomy, of packed performance and multiplicity – and in this way, create real full networking potential in an ‘object’.
This Cloud concept is rather inspired by the concept of the SPIME by Sci-Fi Writer Bruce Sterling. In “Shaping Things”, Sterling talks of a near future where designed objects are aware of and broadcast their own history through embedded networking apparatus or ‘live’ pieces in their own constitution, cross-connecting to create future objects in continuous processes of assembly, disassembly and reassembly.
‘Live’ objects bring new dimensions to thinking the discipline of architecture, but also challenge some of the culture’s safer preconceptions: which scales can/will the discipline manage, and which processes can/will it influence?

The CLOUD Studio looks into possible futures in the design of spaces which take serious advantage of ultra-locality and remote connection brought by advanced material sensitivity and/or connectivity, and distributed form or protocol – design possibilities in the constitution of new materials and media that Architects will use to design space and environments.

Material Design/Design Material:
porosity is to scale, what 3Dprinting is to time

The furthering conquest of lightness in both materials and assemblies, by revolutions in their constitutions – porosity at different scales, for instance – but also their lightness in terms of time – rapid-prototyping as another example – has influenced the evolution of different cultures of form and structure in architecture and engineering and allowed for certain crystalized concepts of form to open up to a certain level of diversity. However, Industries still cater to architecture mainly in connection with this particular type of lightness, and based on presupposed typologies of assembly, such as windows, walls, doors. Much the same happens with the scientific research concerning new materials, which tends to cater to improvements on elements which are oftentimes too bound to a particular necessity in a specific time.
However, many developments in Nano-materials and Meta-materials seem to be bringing us back into a future of exploration into basic universal problems that have almost infinite applications – how to improve a lens, for instance – and simultaneously to revert altogether to inversions of natural phenomena or hybrids and to the problematic of characteristic or trait and back to the idea of design. The manipulations and effects within these new researches claim to indeed attempt to Program Matter, that is, to constitute new classes of materials which will be derived but also be able to derive other classes, and for these to become  so ubiquitous and about ubiquity that they will resemble or start to integrate that which we now call matter.
These will not be obscure, but potentially also not as tamable. They will probably be political or with increasing “liveliness” traits.

Yet another catalyzer for both speed and quality of development in these, often rather opaque and isolated, areas is the strong emergence of a DIY culture affecting access and ease in learning and experimentation, and as well cross-fertilization of knowledge. In the making, are potentially new generations with greater access to information and collaborative ties, and greater ability and attitude to pursue the crossing of subjects and a pro-active engagement with different fields of expertise on a daily basis.

The Studio proposes that this paradigm shift creates pregnant new reflections to the discipline, in terms of the several new avenues by which terms like ‘concept’, ‘program’, ‘design’, ‘development’, ‘detail’ are understood to be able to be designed. What kind of generative representations, documents, controls and application points will the discipline and practice use?


Contingency and Resilience

The section engages the current  and near future dichotomies between the Anthropocene – Earth’s new man-made geological layer – and the continuing presence of disaster or catastrophe. While the Anthropocene would appear to imply higher levels of control over the Earth’s environment – as a built-up, engineered form – disasters seem to bring an unrepeatable logic and dimension to this globally aware environment. The logic of disaster response, relief and reconstruction tends sometimes – understandably – to formulaic regimes that reinstate ‘normalcy’ as a measure of organization, resolution, and oblivion/comfort.
These spatial and temporal zones tend therefore to press architecture into some of its most famous corners: Contingency and Resilience.

While Contingency Contexts tend to either lay bare or void Architecture inquiries, they also tend to activate new flexibilities in the design and fabrication apparatus of new spaces.
Particularly in the case of natural catastrophes, the unexpected severing of previously optimized communication links, propels the circumvention and creation of new routes for delivery, deployment and exchange of people, goods and materials.
Global awareness and interest has furthermore created increasingly larger numbers of agencies that specialize on preparation, design, production, activation and deployment of strategies dedicated and evolving alongside specific knowledge and experience of different natural disasters with catastrophic dimensions.
Nowadays, response to a natural disaster in a region, often comes from the outside – vindicating approaches of modularity, deployment and repetition closely known by architects through architectural movements of the 20th century.
While many of the mentioned formulaic strategies are not created within and for architectural agendas, they pose important questions to architecture’s role towards different forms of contingency, and can be substantial partners or links within an architecture proposal.

Resilience continues to be a main figure or trope of architecture that has manifested  itself in the demand to create permanence, duration, memory, or the appearance of robustness in built spaces. It is also the property by which character is defined – that a particular structure is present as such: that there is a recognizable unity of some sort. The repeated uses of modules and deployment strategies relate back to the contingent use of resilience, to a demand for tested and proven outcomes.
The studio proposes an investigation of the ways in which the property of resilience can be construed, and how the dichotomy between a ‘static’ and a ‘stable’ structure can offer different aspects of this same operative concept. What dimensions of outcomes are left behind in the repeated use of models and in which places can the discipline insert itself to inquire and nurture them?

What kinds of opportunities and new links are there in the severing of infrastructural energetic and communication links, or in cultural, familial and social ones?

The Studio asks which potentials or virtues can be found from the close contact of a space with its disaster, and in which manner can architecture enter that space creatively to build new structure: from the new scales and processes uncovered by the destructive force of catastrophe and their time marks: esthetic, formal, material, cultural, social, economical, political.

Event, Pattern, Flow

Ultimately, all is flow. When sped up, flow often becomes event.
The patterns that emerge on disaster-stricken areas are both specific and globally recognizable: patterns of radical cross-sectioning of materials through each other, patterns of fertilization and regrowth, patterns of reconvening of population, patterns of sorting, triage and subdivision, patterns of clearing up, patterns of rebuilding.

The once evident traces of the event flow slowly disappear as restructuring of space happens. Broken and separated entities become the only markers of the factor of speed and acceleration that turned flow into event.

Which design can respond to (destructive) flows with its own bag of creative flows – Flows that operate alongside but flickering with the speeds, scales and porosities of the catastrophic flows?

Architecture of Reassembly

The CLOUD REASSEMBLY Thesis Section looks into future architectures that can reassemble broken, left-over, hanging, cut-off, shred, blown-out, disconnected, isolated structures/entities – questioning, while emphasizing, the paradigm of building as unity, and focusing on concepts of synthetic material character, assembly, micro-intelligence, local and remote sensitivity, and temporary characters of architectural space.

The Studio looks at the discipline within transitions from urban planning paradigms based on growth, to practice approaches that foster continuous transformation.
It aims to take Comprehensive Design to a whole new level, by researching, speculating, modeling, and evidencing the potential of highly sensitive relationships between material tectonics and assemblies, environmental qualities and programmatic conditions.

Obsessive search for instantiation is a key interest: by thinking of materials as constructions that are structures to many others and therefore lend speed in articulating macro-scale objects and relationships and ultra-local sensitivity to environments and cultures. In this way, a (tectonic development) project assumes itself as both a speculative fiction but also a cultural contribution that asserts the role of creative thought as a co-adjuvant and/or pressure on the developments to happen in a series of other scientific disciplines, economies and markets. A paradigm shift that deposits trust in architects and spatial thinkers as hyper-cultural agents.

Speculation and Scenario Design

The Section will work with several documents of Scenario Design and Planning from futurologists of different disciplines, including future-research consultancies, diverse scientists, media philosophy authors and also fiction writers and their sources.
Each student will evolve a timeline for their proposal projected deployment, that is particular to the proposal’s goals and objectives as a thesis. The scenario is the form by which ‘site’ can is defined as a multi-faceted evolving context, and for the proposal to be integrated in a projected/proposed spacio-temporal reality.

As a thesis studio, the section proposes that the student initiates work and decision-making endeavors regarding program and site by asking not what he/she can do about a certain catastrophe problem, but rather to ask what can that certain catastrophe problem do for his/her thesis.
While operating on a common challenging scenario of and for Architecture practice, the studio is not interested in finding easy optimizations and problem-solving.

The Cloud Reassembly concept is a framework whose momentary role to the thesis is to render more visibly important questions, inquiries and opportunities for the discipline and practice to think themselves.



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