Fear as Social Fabric: A Return to the Flat World To think time against the grain, to imagine that which came ‘after’ can modify what was ‘before’ or that changing the past at the root can transform a current state of affairs: what madness! […] It is pure science fiction, and yet… Félix Guattari, The Machinic Unconscious Today, public space in America is continually broadcasted and represented through the collision of human, machine and space. Our physical, digital and virtual relationship to shopping malls, streets, schools, colleges and night clubs are restructured and modified by violent shootings that polarize our political ideals. This psychological disassociation is facilitated by technology, both through weapon design and iPhone screens, and has transformed the way we relate, the way we represent and the way we identify to machines, spaces and each other. This societal and psychological transformation has allowed for an emergence of a new type of social fabric, fear. Can our biases and fearfulness of the other speculate towards a recovery of our civic spaces? How can we re-program spaces with the understanding of fear and its operation on the city? The increasing propensity of technology towards machine precision and user convenience or “ease” has begun to manifest itself into an interface of process automation. While not a groundbreaking observation, the subsequent transformation of technology is tightly correlated to remoteness and disassociation with tools and objects. The many three-dimensional surfaces and volumes of engagement with devices and tools are flattening, literally, into thin surfaces of engagement – while human expectation of the effect of the engagement remains unchanged. This research sets out to unpack the broadcasted and virtually represented spaces between human and machine through the interrogation of the flattening surface of engagement. One can take for example, the relationship between a person in a car and the car wheel. A person grabs the wheel, physically turns the wheel, and expects the car to turn in that direction. With future autonomous vehicles, the grasp or grab becomes simply a surface touch or voice activated control, yet we have the same expectation of the car to turn in response. The void of control (an emotional, physical and psychological one) is a spatial expectation and one that should be explored with architectural spaces. An unprecedented increasing gap/space of negotiation therefore has developed – one which architecture will need to begin to negotiate. “All architecture is shelter, all great architecture is the design of space that contains, cuddles, exalts, or stimulates the persons in that space,” here Philip Johnson’s functions of architecture, defined as shelter, comfort and control are undoubtedly transformed with the prevalence of integrated building systems – but with today’s current technological advancements, it is further transformed with touch screens, buttons, and automatic sensor-based designs. Architecture can begin to anticipate the aforementioned challenges that will indefinitely pervade it by building on Reyner Banham’s theoretical work and more specifically his article “A Home is not a House”. If ‘comfort’ and ‘shelter’ are beginning to be controlled by surfaces of engagement rather than volume, what is really occurring in the relationship between the flattening plane of architectural engagement and one’s expectations of it? Elements which are grounded in a whole history of volumetric and “deeper” spaces of engagement, as they become compromised, can no longer continue to serve as precedents for future design. While the surface of interaction grows thinner, becoming planes, our reactions grow increasingly more volatile and reactive - possibly to fill a void of expectation.
These issues can be best understood through the consideration of the Tesla car. The shift in technology from mechanical to electrical has affected the previous associations that humans have with cars. The Tesla design removes the ignition, the oil and the gas, and the need to unlock the car. The sense of security and control felt from the specificity and personalization of walking up to an unlocked car, and its reactive response of releasing the handles, ironically allows for a new type of intimacy between human body and machine. The hand is no longer in contact with the object, but the human psyche takes on a new three-dimensional, operative relationship upon the machine. What happens, however, when this seemingly fundamental relationship is compromised and negotiated? Consider the tragic incident where the “Autonomous Vehicle Kills a Pedestrian” in Tempe, Arizona. Our increasing dependence on technology paradoxically sparks an intensifying distrust and an awareness of the erosion of our public and private realms. It instills within us a fear that the operative spaces of our lives and subsequently our reactions within certain emotional and physical spaces once taken for granted, will be given over to the automaton. How can design begin to speculate, negotiate and incorporate the self-inflicted psychological manifestations of technologies of containment, surface and isolations? Architecture must therefore engage the visual image, the 2D representation once again, but with the agenda of envisioning and redefining the new 3D implications and promises which automation has ironically bound within the visional, “thin” plane. The comparative study between devices and machines that have historically been physically engaged by the human body can indicate an evolved rendition of collapsed space (again, the standard car versus the driverless car, for example)? Can the juxtaposition between the devices technical drawings, represented media imagery and the human reaction of it (newspaper articles, Instagram photos, social media imagery) become the comparative framework to influence the derivation and implementation of architectural production? This proposed investigative course would allow students to test the extents of disassociation of technology within our society while simultaneously researching media and modes of representation through the evolution of automation. What field of emotional imagery can arise through design within the trust and mistrust of automation? Does the combinatory representation, mis-representation and rerepresentation of these models trigger an emotional response? The students would uncover issues in the modes of representation and design implications within past, current and future technological models of automotive cars. An example of models to be studied could include the following: 1. Cars; the tectonic and technical drawings 2. Driverless cars; the operation diagrams and manuals; 3. Visual Imagery; representation in news articles, digital media etc… Through the making of physical relief models and combinatory operative drawings students can investigate juxtaposition and isolation through machine components and human activation. Design can be explored and re-considered in the flatness of the 2D world to challenge our physical and psychological use of technology.
Fear As Social Fabric: Manicomio Another approach to the social fabric of fear can be through re-visiting the traditional Italian Mental Asylums, the Manicomio, as a case study to better understand our public and civic space relationships. The asylums initial function was one of containment, isolation, dissociation of space and human but one that lead to revolt and re-integration. The Asylum as a typology was de-institutionalized and dismantled in 1978 and can be used to speculate towards a new engagement in the city. Can the fragmentation of form and programmatic collage between asylum residences and public spaces recover civic space? How can we manifest a collective consciousness in our contested spaces through an expansive operative surface of engagement? Three scales of re-adaptations of the Manicomio, the Italian Mental Asylums investigate this collision between asylum, residence and civic typologies. I. II.
San Servolo Insane Asylum Museum “Island of the Mad,” [opened in 1725, closed in 1978, reopened as a museum in 2006] Venice, Italy. The abandoned and adapted psychiatric hospitals: a. "Francesco Giuseppe I" Asylum [opened in 1911, closed in 1978, multi-phase re-opening and numerous functions] Gorizia, Italy. b. Ospedale Psichiatrico San Giovanni [opened in 1908, closed in 1978, multi-phase reopening and numerous functions] Trieste, Italy. Monte Amiata residential complex of Gallaratese, Carlo Aymonio [1967-1972] Milan, Italy.
The case study flight trajectory and homage to Forman’s Cuckoo’s nest, begins with the Island of San Servolo. From 1725-1978 this island was the official mental asylum of Venice. In 2006, the asylum was partially adapted into a museum dedicated to its history. Some parts of the complex remain in its pre-1978 conditions, while other areas are recreated as display theatre sets of the asylum configurations and uses. The museum houses nine categories, some examples include the laboratory, the ambulatory and the anatomical theater. The second segment of investigation is the documentation of the abandoned/re-appropriated programmatic functions of the mental asylums in Gorizia and Trieste, Italy. Both psychiatric hospitals were the sites of the radical movement that de-institutionalized Mental Asylums in Italy and Europe. The Director of Psychiatry at Gorizia, Franco Basaglia, implemented the ‘Basaglia Law’ Law 108 in 1978. The patient riots, media’s public depiction of the conditions triggered a public campaign that deinstitutionalized asylums. “La Libertad Es Terapeutica” translated as Freedom is Therapeutic, as its slogan both liberated the asylum’s architecture of its programmatic function and the “liberation of the self.” In the final scale of research, the fragmentation and the juxtaposition of the programs of residence and asylum typologies are further studied through Carlo Aymonio’s projects and their linear evolution. Aymonio’s pre-cursor to The Monte Amiata residential complex of Gallaratese, Milan is the Psychiatric hospital competition entry with Constantino Dardi in Mirano (1967). Aymonino’s interrelationship and opposition between the asylum design and the residence design articulates pure-forms within the building and the city to explore potentials for a collective urban conscience.
Academic Training: This research is building upon the academic explorations uncovered during my Graduate Thesis project and my current teaching position at Cornell University. My involvement in teaching Freshman Design and the teaching of a Theory Seminar about the myth and manufacture of fire-arms has allowed me to investigate the changing relationship between the human body and its environment through the design of instruments or devices. Throughout my academic work as a Graduate Student and as a Teaching Associate at Cornell University I have been investigating the mechanical and volumetric relationships between the interaction of the human body, the device and the non-tactile elements of our environment. In my two year tenure of Freshman design teaching, I have found that the penultimate pedagogical tool allowing students to de-familiarize, abstract and liberate their normative pre-occupations about design has been the analogue construction of the Drawing Machines (AY ’16-‘17) and of the Human Prosthetics (AY ‘17-’18). For both inanimate constructions, a 2-dimensional mapping or recording was produced. This abstraction flattened the contention between body and machine to probe through scaled analogue projections and physical mediums the tectonic material relationship to our perceptual environment. The technological advancements in making and digital visualization threaten our analogue methods of teaching, how will these physical and perceptual engagements transform with our evolving digital and virtual tools of interrogation? My previous research in this topic includes a seminar titled Guns, Myth and Manufacture, taught with Ben Nicholson in Fall 2017. The course investigated the rapid technological advancements and evolution of weapon manufacturing, from the intimate contact of Flint Lock Revolvers to the AK-47 to the dangerously desensitized use of a drone missile. The weapons were studied through the bar-relief model making of the components and their tectonic relationships. Allegorically, this ultimate manifestation of fire-arms, a combinatory word of the use of fire and arm, isolates and disassociates the human from the act through technology. This begins to uncover the repercussions of automated design that lacks consideration of the physical human utility, and its effects on the human psyche and societal fabric. My graduate thesis: Neutrality Within Discord was the quintessential departure for this research agenda. I set out in search of neutrality within design in post-war Beirut. The weapons and reconstruction devices had hijacked the city, its history and its re-development; the design operations had to challenge the context of the overwhelming private reconstruction and the erasure of the memory of urban warfare. The surgical isolation of an existing building’s components, the assembly, the floor slab and the structural grid projected a relationship to components of machines. An unlikely common protagonist emerged; The AK47 rifle. Its relationship to the people and the city changed the way I related to, designed and thought about Architecture design. The rifle acted as a neutral vessel that unfaithfully and promiscuously transcended the divisive political alliances, detaching and desensitizing from the acts of violence. Paradoxically, the instruments ubiquitous use in the city indiscriminately ripped it apart and its disassembly and reassembly became a corollary to tactics of surveillance from the building to the city’s religious landmarks. The project developed into a subversive building that would house a Beirut night club and a Syrian Refugee Pastry Factory to reveal Beirut’s post-militia social fragmentation.