The Mirage Conductor

A commentary of World Model for Club of Rome (1960s, book Limits of Growth, 1972)

The World Model by the MIT group for the Club of Rome in the 1960s is a reductive simulation to address and manage global resources. The model’s shortcomings result from the lack of acknowledgement in incorporating the fluid spontaneity of the world and lack of knowledge in unraveling of data through a multiplicity of interpretations.

Although the World Model does have noble aspirations to address issues of the shortcomings of global consumption, the model format assumes a controlled environment, akin to a sterile lab experiment. Furthermore, the creators did not recognize the specific capacity for politics and events to affect the efficacy of data projection. Consider the ongoing data collection and projection of Covid-19. For example, from April 17th, the projection of weekly deaths was a spread of six thousand- from ten to four thousand- for a one-week projection at the beginning of May. The actual observed deaths were approximately fourteen thousand; a 42% deviation in the projection at the extent. [1]What could have afforded a mistaken prediction of how the disease was to spread and affect humans? It leads to doubt the role of predictive models as a false sense of authority over the erratic nature of coincidences that shape a collective reality. The World Model, similarly, offers a delusion over the complex networks, often unaffected by the spontaneous chaos that may significantly augment how resources are distributed. For example, the nature of society in a technocratic future is highlighted in the film, Alphaville, by Jean-Luc Godard, in which a simple laugh breaks the supercomputer. What becomes of predictive model’s efficacy in decision making for society?

Predictive models likewise raise the question of how data is an illusion of subjective application. How does the use of data for a particular purview conflate a true reality when appropriated for other purposes? For example, the US Census data, on the one hand, offers clarity in determination of a host of organizational auditing for personnel, institutions, and community services. However, the data may also be undermined for private or commercial gain. MacKenzie Corporation, a consulting agency, posted that they may use census data to “locate potential sites for your business…, find people to market to…, and identify potential markets for expansion.”[2]By reframing the innocuous information, the complexity of communities and society are reduced to traits, patterns, or behaviors which are ignorant to the actual complex behavior network.

Through technological command, how does the conductor of the predictive model predispose a subjective purview of the issues? However well the model broaches the questions of how society is to justify the many complexities of managing resources, the model does not clarify a promising resolution; it is only an illusion of the true contradictions that must be confronted. Ultimately, the World Model’s design is an example of naïve use of data in a plurality of extenuating factors and ignorant of the role of data’s plastic subjectivity.

[1] Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in the U.S.” CDC COVID Data Tracker, https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#forecasting
[2]Dinnen, Jenny, 2013. “3 Ways You Can Use Census Data” Accessed October 29, 2020. https://www.mackenziecorp.com/3-ways-you-can-use-census-data-2/.

An Icon for a Better Future?

A commentary of the 2010 Seed Pavilion by Thomas Heatherwick Studio

The UK pavilion, designed by Thomas Heatherwick Studio, presents complexities that reconsiders disregarded actors in the architecture. The critique challenges the transparency of the architecture in the exhibition and materiality participation.

The pavilion lacks transparency in neither the seeds’ description nor the process of collection by Kew Gardens; it is merely ornament on the interior surface. A perfunctory use of these found artifacts in the pavilion continues architecture’s limited relevance as a symbol. For example, a multimedia device projected onto the pavilion to share information on the initiative would provide a capacity for the pavilion to engage as a multivalent device, offering the visitor information to be educated or, perhaps, act on the knowledge. How does the armature for the seeds lead to an inquiry of material as an actor?

The acrylic encased seeds present a contradiction in material contribution. As provided, the seeds have been given by the Kew Gardens’ Millennium Seed Bank Partnership whose mission is to “collect 25% the seeds of the world’s plant species by 2020.”[1]British Colonialism in the 19th century afforded Kew Gardens to grow Amazonian water lilies in the foreign England climate. The disregarded, environmental consequences demonstrate a prevalent issue of claimed artifacts. Considering this relationship of stolen objects, Kew Gardens is now collecting seeds as a responsiblesteward, but the pavilion’s presentation of the seeds it is irrespective of any purview. Assuming many of the 60,000 seeds are not from the United Kingdom, it would be expected some seeds are from the Shanghai region. Therefore, is an absurdity in which the pavilion presents non-native seeds as integral to the identity of the United Kingdom.

Separately, if we recognize the material role of acrylic as a plastic, it proposes that Heatherwick Studio is not considering the embodied carbon in manufacturing of material. As a petroleum product, acrylic as the primary material in the Seed Pavilion undermines how the pavilion embodies a better world. In the next thirty years, plastic production could be “almost 50 times the annual emissions of all the coal power plants in the U.S.”[2] It is the carelessness to the material considerations that belies the architecture’s efficacy. However, Heatherwick Studio did disseminate the encased seeds to schools across China and UK as an artifact to spark conversation of conservative efforts.

The Seed Pavilion’s design demonstrates several factors that disprove its value and capacity to contribute effectively to the advancement of architecture. Through a lack of accountability in transparency of artifacts, relationship to Kew Gardens, and material participation, the Seed Pavilion does not embody the Expo’s goal in how the UK will lead a better city and life.

[1] Warmann, Catherine. “UK Pavilion at Shanghai Expo 2010 by Thomas Heatherwick.” Dezeen, 31 Mar. 2010, https://www.dezeen.com/2010/03/31/uk-pavilion-at-shanghai-expo-2010-by-thomas-heatherwick-2/.

Joyce, Christopher. “Plastic Has A Big Carbon Footprint — But That Isn’t The Whole Story.” NPR.Org, Accessed 3 Oct. 2020. https://www.npr.org/2019/07/09/735848489/plastic-has-a-big-carbon-footprint-but-that-isnt-the-whole-story.

Joel McCullough Copyright 2020