7 December 2012

Memento Vita: The Final Thoughts

The project essentially started with this: an architectural detail at the Barbican. A circle cast in the concrete especially for the fire hose. Ironic how a building set for a utopian future decided to encase its technology in stone. It really made me wonder: if technology is altering the way we live, what say does it have over our architecture?

To help answer that question I looked at the industry that is pushing our spatial relationships with technology the furthest: videogames. It is an industry that has boomed through the credit crunch and moved $68 billion in 2012. There are 10 million "hardcore" gamers in the UK who with every game bring a bit of what they've learned into the real world. With dreams of headsets being left in the 90s and holodecks emerging in patents, videogames are becoming spatial not just in the virtual but in the real. The epitome can be found in the world of e-sports.

I created a video to better explain this concept. The audio and first image is accredited to Michael Highland. E-sports footage accredited to Fnatic. Animations, renders and video/sound editing made by me.

There are many concepts of game theory that I was very excited about implementing. Flow, Magic Circles, the Lusory Attitude, Emergence all weaved together into an architectural response for an event and residence space.

There are various things I have learned about architecture's relationship with technology. First of all that while technology does change our relationship with space, architecture is often too slow to keep up. We therefore cannot create architecture for future technologies, just for future human and social relationships. Architecture is about creating meaning and volumes for meaningful experiences to occur in.


21 November 2012

Memento Vita

The massive digital spectacle is offering us a magic circle than we can escape to that can and will give us more meaningful experiences than the real world. The internet has made the world smaller and denser. The human mind cannot grasp the vastness of the network so we group individuals into communities. In the small online community, we can find our place in the collective, share our view of utopia and help contribute to its virtual creation. Here we can find meaning and create a collective greater than the sum of its parts.

Litany Against Being Transported Into An Alternate Universe

If I'm going to be happy anywhere
Or achieve greatness anywhere
Or learn true secrets anywhere
Or save the world anywhere
Or feel strongly anywhere
Or help people anywhere
I may as well do it in reality.

In the words of Jane McGonigal, games aren't a waste of time. Instead, they are an opportunity to improve the real world. Rather than a "memento mori" or "carpe diem", games and the spaces in which we play these games can be our memento vita.

16 November 2012

Nearing a Brick Wall

This week has so far been the most difficult in this project's history. There is something about being told to link my project even further to the Olympics that has just drained my creative juices. What do you do when you reach that point yet you still have to produce a heavy amount of work?

At the intercrit my tutor suggested going through the route of e-sports and graphene then using that simple, centered concept as an answer to the wider philosophical questions. Probably the best piece of advice I've been given while seriously stuck on a project: make it simpler.

In the meantime, I went to a series of talks at Digibury in which Andrew Jackson explained the act of making. He mentioned the concept of Flow which I had come across when reading Rules of Play. It sparked an interesting discussion between other visitors and myself  in which we discussed the magic circle, our states of flow, flow in video games and the dangers of escapism. Even after the event, it sparked a  conversation in response to Sam Lowe's project where I mentioned that I don't believe there are experiences for experiences sake but experiences to attempt to reach a state of flow. There was one mode of phrasing coming from Jackson that essentially helped me break through the brick wall. He described the sensation of flow as "becoming your environment".

So here it is, the visual statement, simple and concise. Now I can tackle this project with momentum again.


9 November 2012

UK Internet Usage: An Infographic

Quick compilation of data on the UKs internet usage as a way of showing cyberasation is happening.

6 November 2012

Portrait of an Architect

"Modern man fails to realize he is the inheritor of the great march of technology, an exponential progression which, at this fragile point in history, soon become too rapid to predict."

This is the lone architect, wondering the world, looking down at cities that they can no longer master-plan as society has grown too complex. It has grown old and weary, bound by the tradition when it should have adapted to the new. As an architect, it is my obligation to think of the future and with it the rapid increase in technology. We must be philosophers at the same time as we are scientists and constantly ask ourselves: Where is this world moving towards?

This is a collage created by me, inspired by the Futurology Subreddit which I eagerly follow. The original images are Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer by Caspar David Friedrich and Mass Effect 2 Citadel by BioWare.


2 November 2012

Various Modes of Working

Location: Home
Material: Projector rented from the university.
Utility: Graphics, layouting and watching sci-fi films.
Concentration: High (4 hours)
Quality of work: Above Average

Location: Home
Material: Personal laptop, sketchbook and pens.
Utility: Brainstorming and developing concepts.
Concentration: Mediocre (1-2 hours)
Quality of work: Regular

Location: Studio
Material: Model-making materials and conversational possibilities.
Utility: Developing concepts, conversing about ideas, organising events.
Concentration: Mediocre (1-2 hours)
Quality of work: Regular

Location: Studio
Material: Sketching materials and conversational possibilities.
Utility: Developing concepts, conversing about ideas, organising events.
Concentration: High (4 hours)
Quality of work: Above average

Location: Computer Lab
Material: Large computers and conversational possibilities.
Utility: Developing concepts, layouting, graphics, conversing about ideas, everything!
Concentration: Very high (6-8 hours)
Quality of work: Above average

1 November 2012

The Olympics are a Simulation

We've been asked by our head of year to relate our proposals for the Barbican to the London 2012 Olympics. Not being either from the UK or interested in sports (unless it has the word "electronic" in front of it), this new add on stood out to me like a florescent pink post it note on a monochrome helvetica brief. How are the London Olympics relevant to the Barbican, aside from the fact that they are both in London? After an inspiring debate on this issue with the head of year I accepted that this pink post it note was not going to go away and I would have to find a way to work around it. In fact, it might be a way to make my project stronger.

In my last tutorial with Alex and his colleague David, I was criticized for not being convincing enough that a society connected to a simulated utopia was a possible future. I realised that talking to them about gamer lifestyles, internet communities and online worlds was still very alien to pure architects. This is where the Olympics come in. In the words of our head of year: they are a phenomena that everyone has experienced. Question being, how did the majority of people experience it? Standing in the stadium or sitting in front of a screen? Is this image of the Olympics, streamed "live" on your laptop screen from some online website or on your tv screen from a sports channel, not a simulation? And is the experience of watching these not a small, virtual piece of utopia?

I do not wish to make the architecture respond to the re-experiencing of the Olympic games. That would be dooming the project to a very short life span and it would limit it from reaching the richer philosophical questions that make it a more interesting project. Rather the Olympics serve as an anchor for pulling the project back into the real. It helps demonstrate the importance of the screen in our experience of the world; the dominance of connectivity to a network that may or may not be a simulation; those feelings of loss and constriction that occur after you step out from an 8 hour online game or the Olympic show ends.


31 October 2012

Neuromancer: A Review

It wasn’t until after eleven years of thriving in the cyberpunk culture –eleven years of being jacked into the internet, networking on MUDs and chat rooms– that I decided to read the originator of its movement. Neuromancer by William Gibson can be described as a book from the future that found its way to print in 1984. Reading it in 2012 was like travelling back to the pure essence of all debates cyberpunk.

The plot is set in 2200 in a world of an online matrix and cyborgs, viewed through the eyes of a cyberspace “cowboy”, Henry Dorsett Case, who has been banned from the matrix for using it for illegal hacking. We start off seeing him mourn the loss of the matrix network. Whereas the internet was a new thing in 1984, in 2012 the pain Case goes through resonated deeply inside me. I’ve recently moved house and have not had internet for three months. Gibsons talk of “meat” and the physical constraints of the real world are not science-fiction anymore. From just the beginning of the commercialization of the internet Gibson managed to extrapolate a future human experience that is now very real to the present connected self.

Neuromancer talks of artificial intelligence, the perception of the real, what it is to be human, machine, AI, the limits of the human body and the vastness of the human mind. Philosophies of Ghost in a Shell, The Matrix, Blade Runner, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Deus Ex all weave themselves together into a tight network of understanding. There were various scenes where Case would talk to an AI in the matrix. In a whip of irony, the AI would often be more metacognitive than the human.

The world is essential in the presentation of these topics and the architecture in Neuromancer alone deserves an essay of its own to give it justice: from the intricacies of a virtual dimension, designing for impossible perspectives and the personality and storytelling qualities of the architecture. There is one recurring image that was particularly striking and that is of the hive. Compared to a wasp nest, tightly packed with larvae, Gibson shows us the architecture of a city that has grown into itself. Secluded in their riches, they live in their own realities, preserving their bodies and multiplying their data. 

Having been to various digital expos and computer-related events, the hive felt like a very morbid version of reality. The dream (and sometimes lifestyle) of having a self-sustaining body as your mind wanders the extremities of cyberspace is held by one too many acquaintances including, I must admit, my past teenage self. The hive hit home what might actually become of us should we lose touch with our bodies and with reality. Maybe cutting off on facebook and fanatic videogaming doesn’t seem like a bad idea.

As time moves on, it feels like Neuromancer has not lost but gained in relevancy to our present lifestyle. It is a classic eye opener into our culture and humanity that should be read by all willing to learn about our role in a technological world.


22 October 2012

Utopia and Other Science Fictions

Between scenes of rogue AIs and distopian futures, we are given a brief to design a housing complex for the Barbican in London.

Instantly I am brought to Margaret Wertheim's: "It is just this excluded but irrefutable 'I' that cyberspace seems to provide a home for." The concept that architecure is a slave to our human needs was theorised by Futurists in the sense that they are machines for living. Reading through "The Virtual Dimension" it came to my attention that this concept had evolved to: The architectue is a slave to our human needs. Cyberspace is a slave to our cultural and spiritual needs.

Ironically so, cyberspace has nothing "mystical" about it. Everything that occurs in a computer can be traced down or deduced to the programming code. Sure enough, the resulting behaviour may be more or less dense in complexity creating an illusion of real. We can that way simulate experiences that could otherwise not be encountered in the real world.

Florian Roetzer's argues that "the more uniform the world culture becomes, the more differences between us we desire to have". It is here where I say that an utopia can only exist for the individual. A person's utopia may be another persons dictatorship. In simulation is the only space where we can find utopia.


20 October 2012

The Mother Project

Cities have often been compared with living organisms. [...] However, we would do well to remember that the city does not actually heal or regenerate itself; it relies on the eactive agents (people, policy-makers) within that organism to provoke change.
- London (Re)Generation
David Littlefield

Julie Sumner can be described as a strong woman with a tender care for helpless creatures, weather plants, the elderly or children. She was a member of the maternity committee, making sure mothers and their babies would be treated well during childbirth, and when the olympics knocked on her allotment door, she was the first to stand up for the community.

She described the allotments as a space where her daughter could paint her imagination. She often tells stories of how her daughter learned how to ride her bike there, play with other kids and plant her own vegetables and flowers.

The olympics pulled out her allotment and with it the growing relationship with her only daughter. They destroyed the community and polluted the soil.

Then Julie decided to do something. In the quiet after the storm, she decides to start regenerating a better future for her daughter and she does that in the way she knows best: planting and nurturing.

Using the soil-healing properties of thistle, Julie and her daughter leave fields of legacy; the interior of their vessel a collage of mother-daughter memories. As they brush through the olympic park, planting and growing their relationship, they begin to paint the imagination back into the Lea Valley.


The Luddite Fallacy

There is a concept that AI will eventually replace human brainpower. The field of emergence has been expanding into new technologies, from Selfridge's Pandemonium architecture, SimCity and Nano Quadrotors. The jump from thinking linearly to thinking relationally may be done with a combination of an emergent programming language (we're already halfway there with erlang) that also copies imperfectly. We could even eventually get AI that evolves much like living forms.

Rather than dooms-daying, we're going to have to find our new place in the market.We'll have to find what we can do that AI can't do. At the moment the concept seems bleak: from beating chess masters to AIs coming out in tests as being more human than humans. How is this possible? Is human behaviour really that easy to simulate? Maybe its time we re-conceptualise the Turing test to better define us from AI.


11 June 2012

The Dartford Culmination

Concept renderings of the Dartford Culmination; a project in close research with Occupy.


20 May 2012

Cybernetic Reality

Study and playtesting of UCA Canterbury Campus. The first 4 boards of the final year 2 project where I debate the future of architecture education and practice. More information on the boards.

The full presentation consists of a game created in the Unity Engine, description and development of the virtual design and the description and development of the new campus.


15 May 2012

Meaningful Space - Game Design and Architecture

“Design is the process by which a designer creates a context to be encountered by a participant, from which meaning emerges.” (Salen & Zimmermann, 2004) Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman break down what design is in “Rules of Play”, a book that teaches the fundamentals of game design. It has recently been called out by architecture students and practitioners as a definition that does not only straddle game design but architecture (Toten, 2010). “Architecture is the process by which an architect creates an environment to be encountered by a user, from which meaning emerges.” The key bit of this definition is the ending: “from which meaning emerges”. The book goes on to explain how to create meaning in games but how do you create meaning in architecture?

Videogames is a field that concentrates heavily on the creation of user experience (Salen & Zimmermaan, 2004).While it is true that not all schools of architecture believe that the experience of environments is necessary to create successful architecture, throughout history, the experience of architecture has been center to many designs. Ecclesiastical buildings used experience as a method of spiritual immersion (de Botton, 2012) and marketing (Addis, 2007). In labyrinths it was used as a method of entertainment (Vellenga, 2001) and in the world of housing, user experience was detrimental in the designing of comfort and improving living standards (Corbusier,  1927). As architects it is necessary to understand how we experience space so that we can design in a way that creates meaning (Pallasmaa, 1996). The videogame industry has done various in depth research in this field and as it is a fairly new field of study, it is not bound by traditional concepts of design.

This essay aims to explore how the architects of the virtual world design space and how traditional architects have implemented these techniques into their own field. Each section in this essay will first explain a game design fundamental, cite examples of how it is used in videogames and then show how it has or can be used in architecture.


The first step in designing a game is identifying two things: the end goal of the game and the core mechanic. (Rogers, 2010) The goal is the aim, for example in Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985) the goal is to rescue the princes from the castle. The core mechanic is the main action taken to achieve this goal. In the Super Mario Bros. world it is jumping. In Braid (Blow, 2009) it is manipulating time.

Christopher W. Totten suggests in his thesis that we should design architecture by defining these concepts and implementing them in physical space (2008). He cites Louis Kahn’s National Assembly Building as an example. The core mechanic in this building is voting and the goal is democracy. The architecture therefore uses misaligned layers to give the user a sense of freedom of choice. They can choose to explore all of the layers of democracy or they can choose not to (Totten, 2008).


In architecture, users are often described as observers. We are the spectators of a visual narrative.  Videogames take a different approach to space. In games, space exists to interact with the environment and through interaction space becomes a vessel for memorable experience (Huizinga, 1955). The world of videogames and simulation call on the user to experiment rather than observe (Aarseth, 2001). Through this experimentation we create meaning. A good example would be Portal 2 (Valve Cooperation, 2011) where experimentation with the space and portals creates understanding and that ‘Aha!’ moment (Newell, 2011) or Megaman X (Capcom, 1993) where strategic placing of gaps and walls mixed with user experimentation creates learning (Hanson, 2011). 

The interaction between player and environment occurs in two ways. In the first one the environment exists to aid game mechanics (Casali, 2008). Take for example platformers like Castlevania I (Konami, 1986) or Super Meat Boy (Team Meat, 2010). Positioning yourself on a certain wall or staircase can mean life or death. All of a sudden, the existence of a wall becomes important in the game world. In the second one the environment exists to create a mood or motif (Chandler, 2007). This often overlaps with the first in games like Assassin’s Creed II (Ubisoft, 2009) where the buildings become a systems piece in the game mechanic of climbing but the buildings also exist to make the recreation of Tuscany immersive. In games like Bioshock (2K Boston, 2007) and Dead Space (EA Redwood Shores, 2008) the architecture is used as a cinematic tool to create horror and tension. 

In buildings too we sense and do so much more in space than just observe. (Pallasmaa, 1996) In “Eyes of the Skin” Juhani Pallasmaa adresses the suppression of the senses and the domination of the visual and calls for architecture to touch our sense of “dream, imagination and desire” by projecting meaning (1996). Immersion is caused by responding to all the senses. (Pallasmaa, 1996) If this is so, architecture stands at a great advantage from videogames in creating memorable space. As an example Pallasmaa illustrates Peter Zumthor’s Thermal Baths in Vals who’s use of light, temperature, water, smell and sound create a relaxing and memorable experience.

Ratti and his team, SENSEable City Lab, describe interactivity as an object that senses and responds, a process that occurs in the machine (2011). However when the sensors in his Beijing Digital Water Pavillion stopped, the process started occurring in the user. The architecture became a game; users understood from the rhythmic fall of the water that the goal was to get to the other side of the “water wall” without getting wet. Experimentation with timing and their position in space created a more memorable experience of the space than when the sensing and adapting process was restricted to the architecture only (Ratti, 2011).


A game, according to Salen and Zimmerman is split into three parts of design: the rules (“the organization of the designed system”), the play (“the human experience of that system”) and the culture (“the larger contexts engaged with and inhabited by the system”).  The relationships between these are such that “Play is free movement within a more rigid structure”. (2004) This area in between is called the possibility space, a term that reminiscences Lebbeus Woods’ freespace. The building is the structure or the ‘rules’ of the game. Everything that occurs inside it, the movements and actions of the users, is the play and this architecture or game sits among a wider environment: culture, which it influences.

A user/player is free to move around this space however it has been argued that a certain attitude is prevalent in gamers that changes the way we perceive space. Johan Huizinga calls a game space the Magic Circle (1955). In the Magic Circle the Lusory Attitude kicks in (Suits, 1990). This is “the gratuitous introduction of unnecessary obstacles to the achievement of an end” which Suits states in anything but games, where such actions are essential, it is a “decidedly irrational thing to do”. If we played Team Fortress 2 (Valve Cooperation, 2008) without the Lusory Attitude we would just program cheats that automatically capture all control points. The end goal would be completed but the experience would lack meaning.

In architecture if we take the achievement of an end to be an efficient flow of people or zero carbon emission, then the Lusory Attitude is indeed counterintuitive, unsustainable and in some cases might even be considered immoral. However if we take the end achievement to be a certain view or highly anticipated space, the Lusory Attitude becomes the prime tool in making the experience memorable. An example of this would be the Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier. The end achievement is the view at the very top of the building (Samuel, 2007). By strategically placing in intermediate spaces and ramps, the build up to this view becomes greater and our movement in these spaces a significant experience (Corbusier, 1927). The  Centre Pompidou in Paris has a similar end goal and it makes sure we are aware of this by showcasing a rising staircase at the façade, similar to the way Journey (That Game Company, 2012) starts by showing us the end mountain. We see the stairs and understand there to be a view of the top which we might or might not be compelled to view.


There is no one way to design a game, just like there is no one way to design a building. Here we have discussed accepted terminology inside the realm of game design and its goals but there are different takes on how to start creating an effective environment. Game developers like Scott Rogers call on level creators to design like an architect: from the top down. (2010) But level designers such as Dario Casali from Valve Corporation describe designing from a core mechanic to be the real way to create effective space (2008). Either way all techniques agree on one very important tool of design: playtesting. (Salen and Zimmermann, 2004)

Playtesting is an examination technique in which a prototype of a game is given to a third party group of testers. These testers play the game and give feedback to the developers who base design decisions on these evaluations. The technique is based on the thought that because good play is an emergent system (Salen and Zimmermann, 2004), there is no way of knowing how different people will behave or react in this space unless it is tested. The more a game is tested, the better the end design.

Erik Champion and Andrew Dekker call on the use of biofeedback to assess designs in a virtual environment (2012). In their experiments they tracked a user’s “understandment and engagement” using a device that measured the ECG HVR (Electrodiagram Heartrate Variability) and the GSR (Galvanic Skin Response). The experiment was conducted with the users playing Half-Life 2 (Valve Cooporation, 2004) and at the end of the experiment, 9 out of the 14 players had design suggestions on how to improve their experience. This data was then related to architecture, citing their techniques could be used by architects to help design more intuitive environments that respond to the desired user experience. They did warn however that these tools needed a better adaptation in the field of architecture as designs then risked being gamified and adrenalized (Champion and Dekker, 2012).

In both game design and architecture we can manipulate the shapes but we cannot directly manipulate the experience (Salen and Zimmermann, 2001). Through a deeper understanding of how shape creates experience can we improve the design. The videogame industry goes further into this topic in essays and playtesting experiments that show:

·         How we navigate space through semiotics (Chandler, 2001)
·         The paradox of “you” in the virtual world (Dyson, 1998)
·         Perception of the laws of time and space (Beckmann, 1998)
·         How we make choice (Crawford, 2002)
·         How to create realism and immersion in virtual spaces (Darley, 2000)
among further research.

As a step into deeper ground, it would be interesting to see:
·         Architecture as a complex system: the perfect balance between uncertainty, flexibility and information.
·         The body and the senses in virtual experience:  Is the computer really suppressing our senses or is it improving our experience of space?
·         The future of architecture: Are we shifting towards living in the virtual and if so what does it mean to create architecture?
·         Playtesting architecture: How do we create a program that lets us playtest and evaluate architecture during the designing stage?


14 May 2012

Occupy - Cultural Context Essay


This essay was written during the winter of 2011 after various visits to the Tent City University in London and Acampada Sol in Madrid. The amount of people I met there along with their stories, the way they organised themselves and their passionate debate was a real eye opener on our relationship with public space. I analysed these observations and compared them to the role of architects in previous protests such as the Movement of 1968.

The tents in Madrid and London have now gone but with the rise of a new spring, new protests have budded around the world. None of them so far have gone to the rebuilding of their tent cities. I could go on about the importance of experiencing physical space in the transformation of thought however I believe repeating history might not be the best of solutions in current protests. It is now time for the architects to take on the lessons learned from the occupy and create their own horizontal systems and public spaces.

10 January 2012

Imaginary Landscape

Playing with casting, clay and objects with ACB. Including berries.


The Hermitage

The Hermitage - Site Analysis of Ramsgate Cliffs
Investigations into the ecology of the Wantsum Channel.