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Abstract Hadrian's Villa is an optical illusion on the grandest scale. In service of the Emperor's vision for a place of leisure that would not expose the trouble and effort required to upkeep it, the complex was built on several kilometers of underground service tunnels carved into the tufa stone of the Roman countryside. Many of the tunnels of the cryptoporticus are still undiscovered or uncharted today; invisible, immediately before us but out of sight. The Villa Obscura is a collection of subterranean chambers in the cryptoporticus at Hadrian's Villa, presented as useful fictions in the elaboration of a thesis project that interrogates the relationship between architecture, sight, and the human sensorium. The project is informed by perceptual psychology and fits into discourse around ocularcentrism. However, rather than focusing explicitly on non-visual perception, the thesis endeavors to understand optical illusions and the remarkable tendency that the human mind has to see things that are not truly there.


Cloud Chamber In meteorology, a cloud is an aerosol comprising a fleeting visible mass of liquid droplets, frozen crystals, or particles suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body. On Earth, clouds form as a result of saturation of air when it is cooled to its dew point. At Hadrian's Villa, the Cloud Chamber occurs as a result of three layers of very different air. In the subterranean cryptoporticus, there is a natural reserve of cold dry air. Above this, in the middle, hot humid air is fed into the chamber, and above grade, a plastic-wrapped greenhouse intensifies the relative heat of Tivoli's countryside and produces a very hot and dry interior environment. The layering of these three distinct air qualities causes intense condensation, and the cloud effect. The atmospheres above and below the cloud have different qualities of light, temperature, and humidity, separating the spaces with a barrier that is visible but permeable. The cloud can be touched, transversed, and felt, as you move through a series of very different microclimatic conditions and varying layers of visibility.


Cloud Chamber In meteorology, a cloud is an aerosol comprising a fleeting visible mass of liquid droplets, frozen crystals, or particles suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body. On Earth, clouds form as a result of saturation of air when it is cooled to its dew point. At Hadrian's Villa, the Cloud Chamber occurs as a result of three layers of very different air. In the subterranean cryptoporticus, there is a natural reserve of cold dry air. Above this, in the middle, hot humid air is fed into the chamber, and above grade, a plastic-wrapped greenhouse intensifies the relative heat of Tivoli's countryside and produces a very hot and dry interior environment. The layering of these three distinct air qualities causes intense condensation, and the cloud effect. The atmospheres above and below the cloud have different qualities of light, temperature, and humidity, separating the spaces with a barrier that is visible but permeable. The cloud can be touched, transversed, and felt, as you move through a series of very different microclimatic conditions and varying layers of visibility.


Cloud Chamber In meteorology, a cloud is an aerosol comprising a fleeting visible mass of liquid droplets, frozen crystals, or particles suspended in the atmosphere above the surface of a planetary body. On Earth, clouds form as a result of saturation of air when it is cooled to its dew point. At Hadrian's Villa, the Cloud Chamber occurs as a result of three layers of very different air. In the subterranean cryptoporticus, there is a natural reserve of cold dry air. Above this, in the middle, hot humid air is fed into the chamber, and above grade, a plastic-wrapped greenhouse intensifies the relative heat of Tivoli's countryside and produces a very hot and dry interior environment. The layering of these three distinct air qualities causes intense condensation, and the cloud effect. The atmospheres above and below the cloud have different qualities of light, temperature, and humidity, separating the spaces with a barrier that is visible but permeable. The cloud can be touched, transversed, and felt, as you move through a series of very different microclimatic conditions and varying layers of visibility.


Camera Obscura The first actual record of something like a Camera Obscura dates back to Ancient Greece, when Aristotle noticed that a partial eclipse could be safely viewed by looking at the ground underneath a tree. The tree's canopy created a nice, dark space, and the tiny holes between the leaves allowed light to pass through and "project" a mirror image of the sky onto the ground. In the 16th century, artists made use of the Camera Obscura to produce drawings with perfect perspective. In Victorian times, larger Camera Obscuras became popular seaside attractions, allowing groups of people to experience the phenomenon together. The live images were a great source of entertainment. At Hadrian's Villa, a number of Camera Obscura boxes appear throughout the complex, bringing images of the world above into the cryptoporticus as wayfinding beacons for explorers of the tunnels.


Camera Obscura The first actual record of something like a Camera Obscura dates back to Ancient Greece, when Aristotle noticed that a partial eclipse could be safely viewed by looking at the ground underneath a tree. The tree's canopy created a nice, dark space, and the tiny holes between the leaves allowed light to pass through and "project" a mirror image of the sky onto the ground. In the 16th century, artists made use of the Camera Obscura to produce drawings with perfect perspective. In Victorian times, larger Camera Obscuras became popular seaside attractions, allowing groups of people to experience the phenomenon together. The live images were a great source of entertainment. At Hadrian's Villa, a number of Camera Obscura boxes appear throughout the complex, bringing images of the world above into the cryptoporticus as wayfinding beacons for explorers of the tunnels.


Anechoic Bridge An anechoic chamber (an-echoic meaning "non-reflective, non-echoing, echo-free") is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of sound and produce pure silence, in effect simulating the experience of being inside an infinitely large space. Some anechoic chambers have produced reverberation times of as little as 2 milliseconds, with interior background noise measured at -20.6 decibels. Because the human hearing range begins at about 0 decibels, the feeling inside an anechoic chamber is one of extreme, pure silence. So much so that a visitor hears the blood pulsing in their inner ear. Typically, anechoic chambers are built using the Faraday Cage principle, where the occupant stands in a mesh structure or on an acoustically transparent floor. The walls are built of fiberglass wedges arrayed over the interior surface, which retain and absorb any incident sound sources. At Hadrian's Villa, the anechoic chamber is accessed through a door that is clad on its inside with fiberglass wedges. Inside there is a bridge, wrapped in an acoustically transparent dark fabric, so that the cause of the pure and sudden silence is unseen.


Anechoic Bridge An anechoic chamber (an-echoic meaning "non-reflective, non-echoing, echo-free") is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of sound and produce pure silence, in effect simulating the experience of being inside an infinitely large space. Some anechoic chambers have produced reverberation times of as little as 2 milliseconds, with interior background noise measured at -20.6 decibels. Because the human hearing range begins at about 0 decibels, the feeling inside an anechoic chamber is one of extreme, pure silence. So much so that a visitor hears the blood pulsing in their inner ear. Typically, anechoic chambers are built using the Faraday Cage principle, where the occupant stands in a mesh structure or on an acoustically transparent floor. The walls are built of fiberglass wedges arrayed over the interior surface, which retain and absorb any incident sound sources. At Hadrian's Villa, the anechoic chamber is accessed through a door that is clad on its inside with fiberglass wedges. Inside there is a bridge, wrapped in an acoustically transparent dark fabric, so that the cause of the pure and sudden silence is unseen.


Anechoic Bridge An anechoic chamber (an-echoic meaning "non-reflective, non-echoing, echo-free") is a room designed to completely absorb reflections of sound and produce pure silence, in effect simulating the experience of being inside an infinitely large space. Some anechoic chambers have produced reverberation times of as little as 2 milliseconds, with interior background noise measured at -20.6 decibels. Because the human hearing range begins at about 0 decibels, the feeling inside an anechoic chamber is one of extreme, pure silence. So much so that a visitor hears the blood pulsing in their inner ear. Typically, anechoic chambers are built using the Faraday Cage principle, where the occupant stands in a mesh structure or on an acoustically transparent floor. The walls are built of fiberglass wedges arrayed over the interior surface, which retain and absorb any incident sound sources. At Hadrian's Villa, the anechoic chamber is accessed through a door that is clad on its inside with fiberglass wedges. Inside there is a bridge, wrapped in an acoustically transparent dark fabric, so that the cause of the pure and sudden silence is unseen.


Olfactory Holograms In 1584, Giambattista della Porta, the 16thcentury Neapolitan scientist who is credited with developing the camera obscura, described an illusion titled "How we may see in a Chamber things that are not," which is the first recorded instance of a holographic phenomenon. In the rudimentary hologram, four images capturing different sidess of a volumetric object are projected onto the four faces of a glass pyramid. The refraction in the glass corrects each of the four images, centering them in the pyramid. The result is the appearance of a ghostly volumetric object in the center. At Hadrian's Villa, the holographic chambers explore the relationship between sight and smell. The chambers present a variety of images that correspond to the scent phenomenona above them, creating a system of olfactory semiotics. For instance, beneath the rosemary fields, a rosemary bush appears at the same time as the strong scents whaft down and into the chamber (transfered with remarkable clarity because of the warm air); at the olive groves, olive trees emerge in the darkness; at the horse stables, less pleasant scents are paired with the ghostly image of a mare; et al.


Olfactory Holograms In 1584, Giambattista della Porta, the 16thcentury Neapolitan scientist who is credited with developing the camera obscura, described an illusion titled "How we may see in a Chamber things that are not," which is the first recorded instance of a holographic phenomenon. In the rudimentary hologram, four images capturing different sidess of a volumetric object are projected onto the four faces of a glass pyramid. The refraction in the glass corrects each of the four images, centering them in the pyramid. The result is the appearance of a ghostly volumetric object in the center. At Hadrian's Villa, the holographic chambers explore the relationship between sight and smell. The chambers present a variety of images that correspond to the scent phenomenona above them, creating a system of olfactory semiotics. For instance, beneath the rosemary fields, a rosemary bush appears at the same time as the strong scents whaft down and into the chamber (transfered with remarkable clarity because of the warm air); at the olive groves, olive trees emerge in the darkness; at the horse stables, less pleasant scents are paired with the ghostly image of a mare; et al.


Olfactory Holograms In 1584, Giambattista della Porta, the 16thcentury Neapolitan scientist who is credited with developing the camera obscura, described an illusion titled "How we may see in a Chamber things that are not," which is the first recorded instance of a holographic phenomenon. In the rudimentary hologram, four images capturing different sidess of a volumetric object are projected onto the four faces of a glass pyramid. The refraction in the glass corrects each of the four images, centering them in the pyramid. The result is the appearance of a ghostly volumetric object in the center. At Hadrian's Villa, the holographic chambers explore the relationship between sight and smell. The chambers present a variety of images that correspond to the scent phenomenona above them, creating a system of olfactory semiotics. For instance, beneath the rosemary fields, a rosemary bush appears at the same time as the strong scents whaft down and into the chamber (transfered with remarkable clarity because of the warm air); at the olive groves, olive trees emerge in the darkness; at the horse stables, less pleasant scents are paired with the ghostly image of a mare; et al.


Infinite Absence At Hadrian's Villa, four "infinity mirror" rooms are arranged in a cruciform plan, around a central chamber that is entered from above. The inner walls of the chamber are one-way interrogation mirrors, so that the central chamber and stair are not reflected in the mirrored space. The result is the illusion of an uninhabitable, infinity. Whenever there are two parallel reflective surfaces which can bounce a beam of light back and forth an indefinite (theoretically infinite) number of times, the effect is produced. The reflections appear to recede into the distance because the light is traversing the distance it appears to be traveling. Each additional reflection adds length to the path that the light must travel before exiting the mirror, thus producing the phenomenon of the "dark horizon" in the distance. When studied using the principles of geometrical optics, the repeating images form the mathematical surface known as Torricelli's Trumpet, named in honor of an Italian mathematician who first studied it. In theory, such a surface is infinite in area, but encloses a finite volume.


Whisper Galleries The whisper phenomenon is the result of a simple geometrical arrangement of ellipses. In essence, when a sound source is emitted from one of the two foci of an ellipse, it reflects off of the walls in a predictable manner that focuses the sound source at the opposite foci. Thus, a whisper can be transferredwith great clarity. At Hadrian's Villa, subterranean ellipoidal chambers with nested foci are designed to reflect the noise of jackdaw murmurations, which occur around a tree above grade that is filled with bird feeders. Despite the darkness in the underground caverns, the periodic focuses of sound direct the viewer from one end of the tunnel to the other, in an architectural arrangement that is repeatable 1608: Caravaggio visits a cave in Sicily. There, he experience the acoustic phenomenon of the whisper gallery. The natural shape of the cave makes the smallest sound from one end of the cave clearly audible at the other. Caravaggio named the cave "The Ear of Dionysius," establishing the myth that Dionysus used the cave as a prison for political prisoners, where by means of the perfect acoustic mirroring, he could eavesdrop on their plans at a distance.


The Labyrinth Parallax can occur with any motion of an observer, an observed object, or of both. What is essential is relative motion. By observing parallax, measuring angles, and using geometry, one can determine distance; which was the basic principle behind early astronomy. In the famous subterranean quad at Hadrian's Villa, a labyrinthian array of glass walls are etched with various contours that, when visually overlayed on one another from a specific vantage point, produce an image. Moving through the maze, the circles never align properly, resulting in a confusing array of planetary geometries. However, from one perfect vantage point, the projected lines come together to produce a three dimensional illusion. The etched glass is lit at its edge by LED strip lights, which illuminate the profiles of the circles.


The Labyrinth Parallax can occur with any motion of an observer, an observed object, or of both. What is essential is relative motion. By observing parallax, measuring angles, and using geometry, one can determine distance; which was the basic principle behind early astronomy. In the famous subterranean quad at Hadrian's Villa, a labyrinthian array of glass walls are etched with various contours that, when visually overlayed on one another from a specific vantage point, produce an image. Moving through the maze, the circles never align properly, resulting in a confusing array of planetary geometries. However, from one perfect vantage point, the projected lines come together to produce a three dimensional illusion. The etched glass is lit at its edge by LED strip lights, which illuminate the profiles of the circles.


The Labyrinth Parallax can occur with any motion of an observer, an observed object, or of both. What is essential is relative motion. By observing parallax, measuring angles, and using geometry, one can determine distance; which was the basic principle behind early astronomy. In the famous subterranean quad at Hadrian's Villa, a labyrinthian array of glass walls are etched with various contours that, when visually overlayed on one another from a specific vantage point, produce an image. Moving through the maze, the circles never align properly, resulting in a confusing array of planetary geometries. However, from one perfect vantage point, the projected lines come together to produce a three dimensional illusion. The etched glass is lit at its edge by LED strip lights, which illuminate the profiles of the circles.


Refraction Field Refraction is the most commonly experienced phenomenon of light transmission. Typically observed in glass surfaces or in bodies of water, refraction describes a change in direction of a light wave when it moves from one medium into another. The phase velocity of the source changes, but its frequency remains constant, producing the appearance of a deflected image. At Hadrian's Villa, a hypostyle order of glass columns refract light in an extreme manner. The glass columns are found in a mirrored room, making the refraction occur infinitely; to the point that a looming blackness occurs in the center of the field of vision. The phenomenon produces washy band of darkness, contrasted with light from backlit ceiling panels. The effect looks like a highly abstract and occupiable Rothko painting. The hypostyle is arranged in a shallow pool of crude oil. The highly reflective surface of the oil works like a black mirror, continuing the banding effect of the mirrors and the hypostyle, while also inducing a powerful olfactory experience: one of an encounter with a smell that many guiltily enjoy, while knowing that their sense of scent betrays their intellect and instinctual aversion to toxins.


Artifacts Throughout the development of the project, models were used to test the efficacy of the perceptual and optical effects being explored in the various "chambers" of the Villa Obscura. Photographs here represent several of those artifacts which include but are not limited to: - An "infinity box" with a piece of one-way interrogation mirror. The light on the interior and exterior sides of the interrogation mirror were carefully calibrated with dark materials and artificial candles to maximize the effect described in "Infinite Absence" - 3D printed test of anechoic surface texture - Etched plexiglass, lit at its edge with LED - A golf leafed pot, filled with rosemary - The book case itself, finished in a veneer of gold leaf and embossed title


Profile for Nick Reddon

Villa Obscura - Nicholas Reddon  

This is a digital version of a physical folio that was produced as a part of the research undertaken for my Masters of Architecture thesis....

Villa Obscura - Nicholas Reddon  

This is a digital version of a physical folio that was produced as a part of the research undertaken for my Masters of Architecture thesis....