“In the future, everything will be smart, connected and make my life easier in some way. More importantly, the technology is invisible – I never have to pull out my phone, hide my face in a screen even push a button, for the product to work. I think this is the shape of things to come: invisible design, where things magically happen around me.”
Humans put up different filters of the chaos of reality to facilitate inhabitation - fulfil necessities and protect us from threats. From the simple shed that protects me from the environments to the complex smartphone that protects me from absence of information and communication. Architecture is generally concerned with designing the physical aspect of these filters - walls. The technological advancement of recent years and the near future will drastically expand this scope by blurring the boundaries between the different filters that we utilize. I will from here on use the term ‘walls’ when speaking about filters.
For the case of my proposal I assume that all these technologies and many many more will be successfully implemented into our everyday life, leading into a post-scarcity society and an abolishment of physical laws such as we know them. We will shift from Homo Faber or Homo Economicus - man at work, for the higher purpose of necessity of survival, to Homo Ludens, man at play, since there will no longer be any necessities and threats to our existence. However, if this smartification is entirely anthropocentric - or rather, identity-centric - it will lead to a stagnated eternal ‘now’. To allow our transition into Homo Ludens we need to design smart architecture that doesn’t do what we want, that embraces conflict and ambiguity as driving factors of existence. My proposal is a different approach to the idea of smart user-facilitation, implemented in an ashram in Varanasi.
Chapter 1: Interviews
To get an better understanding of the scope of architecture and the wall with these future technologies I have interviewed a range of different people about what walls (filters of reality) render their life inhabitable - that creates moments of querencia - a socio-spatial condition where one feels the most safe, strong and as oneself. The interviews ranged from friends in London, an LGBT activist in Moldova, a Zen buddhists, Theodore Spyropolous, the head of Design Research Lab here at the AA and many more.
This map illustrates an interview I made with a friend in London, a theatre student and queer activist. One of her moments were in her bed talking to a friend and cuddling her cat while her flatmates were listening to music. In this moment she felt querencia - protection from meaninglessness and chaos.
The walls to her bedroom filters cold, wind, rain and strangers from her space, the mortar in between the bricks filter the possibility of the bricks disassembling and hence loosing their function, while the noise of the flatmates filters the feeling of lonesomeness and the cat filters away the feeling of not being needed. The communication networks filters away the impossibility to talk to a friend in a different place. (The most important walls in play here is of course her body that allows her to be there and be alive, but it still remains a filter filtering away nonexistence.) All these walls filter undesired aspects of the chaos and makes this moment meaningful to her.
Her identity in this moment is the product of these walls together with all the previous moments she has inhabited - her memories which allows her to maintain her identity. Drawing from philosophers such as Elizabeth Grosz and others I assume a non-essentialist ontological standpoint*; that we are a product of the moments we experience, that we become through the filters of the chaos of the world which we inhabit, that we are like a Möbius strip in "a constant flux from the inside to the outside and the outside to the inside", "the treshold or borderline concept that hovers perilously and undecidably at the pivotal point of binary pairs."
We are in control over some of these filters, and some are outside our control. She cannot for example control exactly what her cat is going to do in this moment, or what will happen outside her window, or what her friend will say on the phone. Our identity is a product of the ability to maintain and inhabit these filters - the ability to create a lasting experience of the world, and also dependent on some of these filters being outside our control, allowing us to gain new experiences and expand as beings. I will come back to this shortly.
Chapter 2: Short-circuit Ontology
If architecture’s purpose is creating inhabitation - i.e. filter out meaninglessness from peoples life and allow them to produce a maintained identity - its scope in the future smart city is pushed to the extreme, The DRL department at the school already calls their intelligent bricks pets, in this future adaptive environment the line between a brick and a cat starts to blur. If a cat is an as important wall (tool) for making a space inhabitable as the brick wall, why need there be a professional distinction when there is no technological difference?
To understand how these technologies interact with us we need to regard them as identities of their own with an agency of their own. Each of these identities maintain their identity through filtering meaninglessness and the chaos of reality from the space they inhabit, rendering it inhabitable. What gives them meaning, and what gives all man-made machines meaning in our contemporary reality, is facilitating us. You could say that the inhabitants protects a house identity from meaninglessness, the smart house ‘lives’ in its inhabitants. In the smart city the scope of agency of the machine is facilitating us - we can call it Apparatus Faber - machine at work, fulfilling its purpose of facilitating man.
When every wall making up the environment you inhabit is hellbent on facilitate youre inhabitation the space would be completely devoid of conflict, and hence devoid of serendipity, ambiguity and outside-our-context experiences.
If we assume that our identity is a product of the objects we inhabit, we would here short-circuit the process of becoming through only inhabiting objects that are based on who we already are.
If we extend this thought ad absurdum - assuming every single part of my world would be smartified, this environment would essentially prevent the formation of any new identities or social practices - cementing our current hegemony and reality as the only possible reality - fulfilling Francis Fukuyama’s promise of this age as the end of history, manifested as the fully automated luxury communism of Larry Page’s New Babylon. Turning Homo Ludens into Homo Torpor - man in numbness.
Chapter 3: The Garden of Random Delights
The art historian Wilhelm Fraenger explains the midsection of Bosch’s famous painting not as the sin leading up to damnation in the third panel but as the future paradise to come after that damnation. A future to come after the end of history.
During our unit trip to Varanasi I found a ruin, just in the middle of the city, wedged between an ancient observatory and a bunch of fruit stalls. A ruin is a space that for some reason has lost its purpose - a dead building without an explicit code or agency - that can be reused and repurposed to facilitate the formation of any new social practice and the start of any new history.
I propose an ashram in this ruin, packed with all imaginable future smart technologies. Instead of following the positivist philosophy of user-facilitation this smart building follow a very different set of algorithms that produce a very different kind of architecture. If the smart technologies abolish physical laws as we know them this space introduce a new set of physical laws outside our control, but much more volatile and temporary than the permanent ones we are used to. The input from the inhabitants is rearranged according to a specific set of rules which produce an environment where everyone experience a juxtapozition of each others environment. A garden of random delights.
This is the plan of the garden with the coloured pixels indicating that this part of the garden facilitates one specific user. This seemingly random reorganisation of user input follows a set of mathematical rules for cellular automata, the rules of the garden, a slightly modified version of Conway’s Game of Life. Cellular automata is a way of artificially mimicking the process of life, hence why Conway’s algorithm is called just Game of Life. I use it as an artificial way of making these machines ‘play’ - turning them from Apparatus Faber to Apparatus Ludens - machine at play, for no higher purpose than that of because its fun.
The major difference from the original Game of Life is that the cells here can have an infinite amount of states instead of two. Each new inhabitant of the ashram initiates a new type of cell. The amount of the cells in relation to each other determines changes in the rules, and keeps the space in constant flux.
The cells are just a way of visualising that this specific part of the garden is facilitating this specific inhabitant. If we take for example this part of the garden at this very moment the actual plan could look like this:
To not just become a white noise of randomness the garden follows a few rules of human necessity, such as walkable surfaces, toilets etc. This building seemingly lacks spatial arrangement since its spatial arrangement is a mix of all the inhabitants different desires, just as the content of these spaces. You and I will have very different ideas and desires of how our spaces should be configured. To be able to inhabit the building the inhabitants will need to themselves fill in the gaps, rediscovering long since automated tasks as new forms of leisure but inevitably combining them with other activities.
In this way the garden is kept in a constant state of partial ruin, in the sense of being an uncoded space which allows for the formation of new social practices. These social practices will in turn form new identities that gives new input to the smart bricks of the garden, which gets redistributed and produce new responses, forming new social practices and so on.
The brief for this unit was to design an algorithm for a self-owning apartment in the near future Varanasi. I have assumed that the most fantastic vision of our near future will come into existence, a future where technology in many ways will abolish resource scarcity, work and necessities. In this future I propose a building that introduces a new set of scarcities, work and necessities to protect us from stagnation.
I believe architecture is an active participant in the social practice itself and not just a container for it. In a future architecture that blurs the lines between everything we need to make sure this does not become a one way conversation. Since we cannot (yet) give the machine their own agency like the AI in the movies, this garden reorganises their agency, producing a fully automated luxury surrealism which maximise the possibilities of the expansion of our identities and creation of new social practices - initiating many new histories.
Bring something incomprehensible into the world!