INFLUENCE: The Unconscious Mind

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A Realization in Self

In an attempt to make progress on developing a thesis topic, I’ve begun to read Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe. It begins with a brief history of Alexei Gan and the Moscow anarchists. Through the magazine Anarkhiia, the Moscow anarchists were able to spread their message of “paralyzing the government mechanism” through the written word as well as visuals (Leach 25). It was then speculated that “Black Square” by Malevich (see “Black Square and Red Square” below, left), originator of Suprematist art, was perhaps also representative of the anarchist’s black flag (26).

malevich black square

It was this idea that brought me to consider subliminal messaging. In that moment, I wondered: Can architecture act as a means of subliminally messaging social/political views to members of the community?

To postulate this interest, I thought I would gain some insight into the workings of subliminal messaging. I watched a talk given by Dr. Leonard Mlodinow based on his book Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (available here). How we experience the world is based very much on our mind’s perception of the way we want to experience it, essentially retrieving data we’ve collected and unconsciously processing it to apply to a situation. If we miss pieces of information, our brains are still able to understand by filling in the gaps. According to Dr. Mlodinow, our brains are able to use context to understand reality.

We are unaware of the influences of our unconscious minds, and it is this thought that has helped me come to a realization about myself. In my previous entry, I tried to make sense of my representational style, particularly why I create surreal imagery. Through my research above, I have another hunch:

I never met my grandfather, John J. Rahilly who passed away before I was born, but I’ve always been told that we would have a lot in common. Through his assignments in the army during WWII, my grandfather gained experience in laboratory work and forensics. This experience eventually led to a job as operations supervisor in the pathology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where a plaque dedicated to him hangs today. Besides pathology, he was interested and talented in art. When searching through his army chest a few years ago, I found piles of his drawings and notes from art classes he’d been taking on the side. His works, like the image shown at the beginning of this entry, were primarily geometric abstractions and surreal imagery. At the same time I was studying Mondrian and Dali in architecture school, I was finding related studies by a student 50 years my senior.

Could it be that my own interests in constructivism, suprematism, surrealism and the like collected in my subconscious when I was unaware, through the discovery of my grandfather’s art, and are now manifesting in my own work? In the drawings below, these too seem related to Malevich’s “Black Square” above. . .

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MIND MAP: Iteration 2

mind map - dystopia NEW image

visual compiled - constructivism
visual compiled - situationist
visual compiled - futurism

Asking Questions

In order to rationalize the concept of “dystopia,” this second iteration breaks down into architecture as a result of social/political unrest and conversely, architecture as a result of social/political stability. In terms of unrest, constructivism and situationist internationale were both artistic movements that arose out of discontent. Besides art, the development of architecture was also affected. In terms of stability, futurism evolved out of an interest in machines during a time of industrial prosperity. Futurist ideas found their way into art, literature, poetry, and performance as well.

Each of these movements is represented above by the combining of two images. By splitting and alternating the images, the concepts can be read separately  or read individually or in pieces or in a series like a story board. The separate images are shown below. When asked why I tend to produce surreal imagery, I realized it is because in the three dimensional world, I take in a space all at once. When I then represent it in the two dimensional world, I show everything I took in from the space within the same frame. Imagine your clothes hanging in the closet and as you wear each piece of clothing it becomes dirty and goes to the wash. Now imagine trying to pick up the entire pile from the wash all at once. Certain items of clothing stand out more than the others, but their overall form and appearance is just a piece of the pile.

Constructivism

visual 3

visual 1mind map - constructivism

  1. According to Leach, “Beyond the ‘revolution’, this utopian dream has degraded into a dystopian nightmare.” Does a dystopia exists only if the utopia intended fails? Is dystopia merely a state of mind?
  2. Does oppression breed creativity? In what ways has oppression altered the art/architecture of the future? Why does society use art as a means of revolution, considering art supports culture?

Situationist Internationale

visual 4visual 2mind map - situationism

  1. How does the spectacle enhance the architectural experience? How is the concept of spectacle incorporated into the tectonics of architecture?
  2. What is a spectacle? What is the contemporary interpretation of the spectacle?

Futurism

visual 5visual 6mind map - futurism

  1. The futurists were inspired by machines in motion. In what ways can this concept be used in contemporary architecture, specifically to control issues of urban density?
  2. Futurist literature is a combination of unexpected images. Can literature be used as the plans for a building? What is the relationship between the structure of a novel and the structure of a building?

For potential resources in answering these questions, click here.

RESEARCH IN ARCHITECTURE: Compare and Contrast Essay 2

Architecture as a Series of Design Phases

It is human nature to categorize. Food, restaurants, books, movies…even people. Architecture is no exception. History has categorized architecture into styles, each representing a frame of time throughout civilization. Though many structures have physically remained since their erection, most have dwindled in terms of cultural relativity and popularity, while other ideas were even shorter lived. The megastructures craze of the 1960s, described in Reyner Banham’s book Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past, is one example. These ever changing architectural phases also question the definition of monuments within a culture, as explained in Alois Riegl’s The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its Origin. Using these previously mentioned works; this paper aims to assess architecture as a series of design phases defined by time, culture, and history.

To define an architectural phase, time must first be considered. Design phases are ephemeral: what is important in one decade is not always important in the next. The introduction of Megastructures describes this ephemeral phase quite bluntly, “In 1961, [architects saw] the massive support structures, as proper and natural. By the end of the sixties…the support structures were unthinkable,” while a new phase in spontaneous housing grew instead (Banham 10). What seemed like a solution to urban problems in the 1960s, like traffic or environmentally safe transportation, left the decade as merely a conventional idea (41-43). Much of the interest in a design phase thrives on the culture it serves. Culture is the second consideration of defining an architectural phase. Not everyone is an architect, but everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and simple minds tend to admire the “aesthetically pleasing.” To put it simply, “a megastructure was also a building which looked like a megastructure,” so those not in favor of obvious massive structure or condensed cityscapes were not afraid to turn the other cheek (13). The 60s were a time of industrial prosperity, and megastructures grew out of the plans for ships, space travel, undersea technology, and ocean fortifications. Like Futurism before it, this decade held a compelling interest in the design of machines. Even the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine” added to this cultural trend (25). These trends are now exactly that, interests of the past contained in our history. The last consideration of defining an architectural phase is recognition of history. “Hardly a…structure was offered in the sixties without being justified by the citation of some historical antecedent,” megastructures included. References include Ponte Vecchio, Old London Bridge, and Königsbau in Stuttgart, a “multifunctional urban structure” (13-15). This recognition of history helps categorize the passage of one design phase to the next.

Again, to define an architectural phase, the effects of the ephemeral must be considered. Monuments are representative of a moment, having both historical value and artistic value. This art-value of a monument, however, is merely a subjective one invented by and entirely dependent on the changing preferences of the modern viewer (Riegl 622). A direct relationship by one to a monument may be lost by the next generation, now indirectly related to the same monument.  “The monuments of antiquity themselves had only a relative and therefore historically contingent value, and not an eternal one” (628). In this argument, the validity of a monument is dependent upon its phase in history, and after that phase it depreciates. Culture, again, is an instigator of depreciation of monuments, where societal opinion reins free. Significance of monuments is “not restricted to the educated… but also touches the masses independent of their education,” notes Riegl in regards to age-value, writing further to say that just because a monument is historical, does not mean that the modern cult must care about it (624). Sometimes, unintentional monuments become part of society even more than historical ones (629). Though the modern cult has freedom to disregard a monument, it cannot ignore the history that has taken place. Like the references to medieval architecture in Megastructures, Riegl also looks to medieval precedents as historical monuments (626). “Every historical event is irreplaceable,” he writes, “every work of art is at once and without exception a historical monument because it represents a specific stage of the development of visual arts” (622). The time, culture, and history of monuments are used to mark the passage of design phases.

There will always be design, and human nature dictates that there will always be a need to categorize it. Design will never advance linearly, but instead will morph, inevitably subjected to the scrutiny of the modern cult. It will define our current generation and represent us in cultures to come. Most importantly, these cultures will recognize both the failures and achievements that architecture has taught, providing historical precedent for infinite phases of design. Like the “dinosaurs of the modern movement,” next phase designs will act as monuments. How culture will define these monuments in the future is up to human nature.

 

Works Cited

Banham, Reyner. Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent past. New York: Harper and Row, 1976. Print.

Riegl, Alois. The Modern Cult of Monuments: Its Character and Its Origin. Cambridge (Mass.): MIT, 1982. Web.

 

BSA: Student Showcase 2013

BSA Showcase

BSA Student Design Showcase

It’s nice to celebrate completed work, especially in the thick of thesis prep. The Boston Society of Architects held it’s third annual Student Design Showcase, which ran the images of 23 projects from Boston Universities on loop throughout the gathering.

This was my third year with work represented in the Showcase. The project, some images shown below, is a school for painting, weaving, and horticulture at Decordova Sculpture Park. The work from last year’s show is also available here.

Final Design - Perspective 1     Final Design - Displaying

MIND MAP: Iteration 1

mind map - dystopiamind map - modular     mind map - circulation

Understanding Connections

Mind maps are tools to connect ideas. Choose a topic word, branch out verbally with related words, and an image eventually works its way into the visual representation of ideas. For this first stab at mapping my mind, I have “brain dumped”. As a visual learner, I have recalled the places I have been and the architectural projects I’ve  experienced through a collection of mental images. When I say “brain dump” I mean that this mapping exercise has been used as a way for me to catch the images that keep creeping into my memory and illustrate them on paper. The collages above incorporate my photos from Berlin, London, Prague, Munich, and Bolzano for starters with projects and words that I find evocative for a potential thesis.

This initial brain dump has proved itself easier than expected, with the concluding analysis of what these maps mean becoming the troubling part. Though these maps describe interests through representation and narrative, I’m beginning to lose sight of how these previously dubbed evocative terms can stray from the abstract. The most abstract of the three would be “dystopia,” which exists in my mind as a mystery, a sort of unidentified extreme of human civilization, the “Voldemort” of world peace. How does this interest in the mysterious dystopian lifestyle, however, become a thesis? Where do I go next?

Are dystopias just failed utopias? If we aren’t living in a utopia, then is dystopia everyday life? Are these utopian ideas bad ideas, or were they just invented in the wrong time? Is the real question why do cities fail? How much of the culture relates to the success or failure of a city?

EXPLORE: Architectural Installation

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INVIVIA Cambridge

As a Boston based architecture studio, the goal of this semester is to take advantage of the design opportunities happening in our own city. Today, we visited INVIVIA, a gallery in Cambridge, to experience “Suspense: A Womb with a View” by Sophia Chang.

We were fortunate enough to meet with Sophia herself, who walked us through the design from conception to creation. A “sensory experience for your feet,” she described it, as we were all intimidated by the lycra funnel that met us at the front entry. Stepping into this installation, the unexpected feeling of first, the give of the material, and second, the cold of the concrete under it begins this experience. Walking in becomes less intimidating as you recognize the actual gallery space beyond. This recognition is due to Sophia’s framing of views within the installation. She explained that this design was a way of alienating people from what they usually experience. In this case, we expected the first step to be cushioned rather than concrete. She described a feeling of being lost, and the idea of “hidden-ness” both within the space and at its outskirts. There is a relation to the poche of old Italian buildings, which contain space within their walls wide enough for passersby.

Overall, the mix of conceptual and practical, practical existing to function as an event space, work hand in hand. Sophia said it is these contrasting ideas that strengthen the project. And like Lauren, below, she feels it is best when people are experiencing it.

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RESEARCH IN ARCHITECTURE: Compare and Contrast Essay 1

Encouraging Social Methods of Design Research

When we envision the design process, we imagine a creative individual, an architect for example, confined to his/her desk, waiting for inspiration to strike. Solutions to design problems are not quantitative; they are not found in the back of textbooks. Like waiting for a fog to lift, this creative architect can never be certain as to when a solution will manifest itself. However, there are methods one can take in order to encourage this manifestation. This paper aims to encourage the method of pursuing design solutions socially, by comparing techniques from Architectural Research Methods, by Linda Groat and David Wang, to “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research,” by Philip Plowright, James Stevens, and Dr. Anirban Adhya. Both texts discuss research methods for architectural design, the former describing design as a method of research and the latter as an iterative process. Despite the difference in techniques, both papers encourage social methods for design research.

To work socially is to collaborate. “Architecture often emerges as a result of team effort,” states Groat and Wang, “In today’s post industrial economy, in which projects are increasingly large and complex, the design process often calls for expertise in a wide variety of disciplines” (Groat and Wang 115). Complex building forms result in complex building systems, which may be beyond the capabilities of the architect alone. The collaborative research method encourages the inclusion of experts who can help. While Architectural Research Methods questions how this collaboration works, “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research” gives an answer. This paper suggests a research method of catch-and-release, where the architect in this case would advertise for the experts’ help and the experts, through the use of “connections and context, personal broadcasting, and collective intelligence,” would offer solutions. The architect then holds the “role as curator” and either catches relevant information, or releases the irrelevant (Plowright, Stevens, and Adhya). In the process of catch-and-release, the architect is combining the work of his/her collaborators. Groat and Wang describe a similar situation, titling the role “architect-as-cultivator”. The architect is cultivating the relationship between design and the needs of the client. Whether it is the advice of the experts, or these needs of the client, the architect’s design research is influenced by the collaborative method.

In starting anything new, we tend to draw upon these influences or our past experiences naturally as reference for the task at hand. “Designers commonly rely not so much on precise theories as they do on ‘experience and rules-of-thumb’” according to Groat and Wang (115). To look back on an experience is to draw from another source. Architectural Research Methods begins with Austin Dickey’s struggle to design a wedding facility. It takes a sketch inspired by a magazine to generate Austin’s design spark. In this case, another source (the magazine) was used as Austin’s design research (99). In the previous paragraph, one way the experts may offer solutions to the architect is through broadcasting. Broadcasting can take the form of blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, instant messaging, and social networks (Plowright, Stevens, and Adhya). With the advent of the Internet, sources like these and like Austin’s magazine are readily available for reference. In fact, Austin could have employed the method of catch-and-release by posting his design problem on Facebook, waiting for his peers to comment, and using the applicable comments made. Instead, Austin drew upon references from his past, his readings, his instructors, and his sketches inherently; sifting through the concepts that his brain unconsciously held already (Groat and Wang 102). In this case, whether it is the recollection of previous conversations, or the result of new ones through social media, the architect draws from other sources in his/her design method.

Besides using the computer for social media, both papers find similarities between the creative individual and information processors. The design problem enters the architect’s mind through the input, is processed through a design method, and produces an output. Architectural Research Methods mentions Howard Gardner’s evaluation of the “robustness of [creative individuals] output” and describes his model of idiographic research and nomothetic research.  “In idiographic work, the focus falls sharply on the individual case study…In nomothetic work, the focus falls instead on a search for general laws; such work…overlooks individual idiosyncrasies,” states Gardner, essentially breaking down the research between work done by the individual and work done by the majority (Groat and Wang 108). Though Gardner does not favor one over the other in this text, his study challenges the methods of working alone with the methods of working socially. Another comparison to the computer is made in “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research” by stating that, “there are strong parallels between software development and architectural design processes.” Both use a process of synthesizing design variables into a cohesive whole, like the input and output of information. This method is called Open Source Software philosophy and does away with formal organization. This way “team members contribute as they wish in any number of ways” (Plowright, Stevens, and Adhya). Teams process the ideas given to solve the design problem at hand and are able to reach an output without the bias of the individual.

Though the answers are still lost from the back of textbooks, the architect is equipped with many resources for design research. Collaborating with experts, recalling informative sources to share, and using a group dynamic to process ideas are all methods in which the architect can employ. Resources like Architectural Research Methods and “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, cloud intelligence and applied research” are good sources to begin the discussion of individual versus social design methods. We are not computers, however our ability to use them is helping us take advantage of the resources they hold. To all of the creative individuals who are waiting for inspiration to strike, consider a social method of design research instead.

Works Cited

Groat, Linda N., and David Wang. “Design in Relation to Research.” Architectural Research Methods. New York: J. Wiley, 2002. 99-31. Print.

(available here)

Plowright, Phillip, James Stevens, and Dr. Anirban Adhya. “A Study of Process in Design: Curatorship, Cloud Intelligence and Applied    Research.” The Place of Research / The Research of Place. 2010 International Conference on Architectural Research, June 2010. Web. 05 Sept. 2013. <http://info.aia.org/arcc/program/program.html&gt;.

(available here)