Unreal Architecture

I wasn’t expecting that my first entry into the new radical architecture series would be produced by a large firm known for constructed the Radio Shack campus or the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

But as I read Monday’s email from ArchNewsNow, that turned out to be precisely the case. Last year, my colleague at NYU, Alex Galloway predicted that architecture would soon adapt rendering engines from video games. This has happened much sooner than I expected as HKS has adopted the Unreal Engine to produce interactive visualizations as Business Week recounts in this story on Unreal Architecture.

And it’s about time. If Mayatecture’s days were numbered before, it is doomed now. But punning aside, the devices that architecture uses for projection are constituent for its production. So if video games have replaced cinema and television as the dominant mass cultural form, then architects should respond appropriately. 

The transformation promises to be immense. Take the means that we experience projects in the studio. For the most part, rendering engines based on cinema have produced static images or animations that offered no interactivity. If such technology takes hold the ubiquitous powerpoint or plotter image as well as the long zoom and pan on the object floating mysteriously in a field of black will be history, as well the row of critics staring obediently with their mouths agape.

Instead critics and audience alike will be riveted to their laptops, running through projects to understand them. Narrative and procession will become important again. Surfaces will cease to be interesting, except for the effects they produce as you pass them at a high rate of speed. Perhaps we’ll see the critics shooting at each other with rail guns? Take that, you gratuitous formalist! 

More at the Archengine site. 


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new radical architecture

For the immediately foreseeable future (a way of saying, I’d like to imagine this would last a year, but I’m expecting I will be done with it sooner), I’m setting out a series of projects by architects that embody a radical spirit in architecture at a rate of about one a week.

Two friends (whose work will appear here in that series) recently recounted how Jeff Kipnis told them that the rising generation of architects needed a critic to theorize their position and suggested that perhaps I should take on that role. My response was, well, yes, I would like to, but the amount of time I’ve committed to my own projects makes it unlikely that I’d be able to do that. But they did have a point and just maybe, through this project I can help nudge criticism in a better direction. Surely a decade from now we can’t possibly be talking about cool form, right? 

So this research project is not only for me, but for a broader constituency of architects as well as for the readers of this blog who are not in the field. By all means please make suggestions. Your help in finding projects I may have missed or not looked at carefully enough is critical for me. At the scale of the blog rather than at the scale of a museum exihibit (which is more influential today anyway?), I’m intending this to be something like the collection that Amelio Ambasz put together in his Italy: A New Domestic Landscape, a book that should be in every designer’s library.

In the broadest terms, my invocation of radical architecture refers to the neo-avant-garde work of the late 1960s and early 1970s that sought to reconfigure the individual’s relationship with the world. Often this work, by groups like Archizoom, Superstudio, Utopie, or UFO employed technology but was critical of its use in the existing order. New radical architecture, then, refers to contemporary work that embodies that quality. 

Of course there are differences too. A key difference is that the work of the previous era was concerned with a critique of industrial culture and advocated, above all else, the process of individual liberation. See for example, this statement that curators Francisco Jarauta, Jean Louis Maubant and Frederic Migayrou put together for the CAAM’s show Arquitectura Radical. 

Andrea Branzi, a member of Archizoom Associati first defined it thus – "Radical architecture is part of a bigger movement that liberates mankind from the trends of modern culture. This is an individual liberation that is understood to be a rejection of all formal and moral parameters that act as inhibiting structures making it difficult to fulfil oneself as an individual. In this sense, the term "Radical architecture" refers more to a "cultural place", an energetic tendency than to a unitary movement.

But today that historical struggle of the liberation of the individual is over (notice I say that, not the), revealed as a process inherent in the deveolpment of flexible consumption out of mass society. In network culture, the myth of the individual is itself something we must struggle to overcome.

So what is today’s radical architecture? My sense is that Iain Borden gets at the heart of the matter in this statement in the book Urban Futures when he explains that radical architecture is "not simply the novel, but is to do with something more substantive and transformative…"

I’ll be posting projects to the blog, but for reference they will also be available in one spot at http://varnelis.net/topics/new_radical_architecture. An RSS feed for the topic can be found at http://varnelis.net/topics/new_radical_architecture/feed 

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