Topos Amnesia

A commentary of KAIT Workshop by Junya Ishigami
The Kanagawa Institute of Technology (KAIT) by Junya Ishigami aims to free architecture through openness as a large single-story, one-room. It is envisaged as an abstraction of the forest, but it objectifies the architecture, curates a specific universal space, perverts an endless theater, and imbues an antiseptic, material atmosphere.

The building is rendered an object through minimalistic abstraction of nature as a random dispersal and clustering of steel columns, territorialized within the building. It is objectified through making apparent its symbolic appropriation as an abstraction of forest of tree trunks but disengages the architecture from a conversation of place or the panoply of bodies. The contradiction of minimalism is which “ the space held open by this absence of freedom is then occupied by the mute Minimal object...”[1]The architecture as object is qualified through the separation of the beholder and the architecture, rendering a wholeness or singularity to the form. Although, while it may be noted KAIT departs from an essential minimalism, the architecture does not suspend its own objecthood as it continues to extort the user to confront its theatrics of architecture as scenery. It becomes merely an embellishment of landscape.

Minimalism is a curator, an illusion of flexibility and openness of behavior. The design demonstrates its control through movement and occupation of the space. The published photography of the architecture elicits a universal space, whereas the plan reveals clusters of specific organizations. Perhaps, experientially, one may imagine there would be an obvious difficulty to avoid columns traversing the interior. How is this curation of behavior revealing this architecture to be constricting and establishing rules of engagement? Minimalistic architecture contradicts limits of how the building may be occupied or transformed.

Moreover, the curatorial predisposition of this architecture’s minimalism seeks to control the quality of endlessness. As Michael Fried in Art and Objecthood claims, “ the preoccupation with the duration of experience is paradigmatically theatrical, as though theater confronts the beholder…with endlessness…”[2]The painted steel columns, glass, and polished concrete cleanses the place to be a mode of seriousness, not tolerable for such a perceive temporality in the work; the theatre of austerity foregrounds a continuous attention.

Even in Ishigami’s whimsy scenery, the material neither offers the beholder an understanding of place or how to experience a forest. For example, Peter Zumthor’s Thermal Vals demonstrates a form of material memory through the embedding of the gneiss gathered from of the surrounding mountains, galvanizing an emotional totem of place. Curiously, as the materiality portrayed in published photographs with a plurality of props scatter, most of the furniture is alien to the crisp minimalism of the interior. It is an apparent portrayal to cute-ify the otherwise restrictive imaginary. An emotional essence of place is lost apparent in the fabrication of published imagery as well through the found objects. Is this material memory of the props of the building a recognition of minimalism’s shortcomings?

Ultimately, the austere formalization of a forest through the hermetic therapy of minimalism produces architecture as a foregrounded curator. The conflation of shelter and nature in KAIT workshop doubts Ishigami’s valorization of architecture as scenery of the forest.

[1]Wall, Jeff Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews. New York : Museum of Modern Art ;London : Thames & Hudson, 2007, 36.
[2] Fried, Michael Art and Objecthood, Art and Objecthood, The University of Chicago Press; Chicago, 1998, 167.

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