Ideally technology in architecture is ruled by structure. It contributes to enhance features by design and is often limited to a role of support rather than being a main feature. Similar as a body is regarded for the sum of its parts as one organism, buildings are generally perceived as a whole. Furthermore, the common thought of buildings also reminds us of technology that we take for granted and mostly don´t find noteworthy at all, like motors and sensors in escalators or automatic doors for example.
However, in specific cases the use of technology influences the configuration of an entire structure, making it dependent of its capabilities. Think a regular house versus a space station. The process to make a traditional house work is not necessarily limited by the technology it is made of. In the case of a space station however, what is included in its architecture is critical.
This reasoning came to me during a movie night in which I followed up Jacques Tati´s Mon Oncle (1958) with Danny Boyle´s Sunshine (2007). Going into an analysis of the historical context of both movies is rather irrelevant for what really caught my attention, so I´ll just highlight that both movies are intrinsically about space, even though the approach to this theme in each one of them is certainly different. After all one movie´s story is placed on Earth while the other develops in Space.
Tati´s movie is an early warning delivered as a comedy. The movie explores the encounter of the main character, a stereotypical uncle in his late forties who is new to the city, with a progressively mechanized and technified world. Amongst other stressful events, the movie follows the characters frustrating interactions with a variety of popular ¨Domotique¨ innovations (Domotic or home automation is the residential extension of building automation and was a particularly popular design trend in the late fifties and sixties.).
In a different style, Boyle´s film is based on the premise of the immense benefits technology offers while it works and the uncontrollable catastrophe it can invoke when it decides to fail. Precisely, the story presents a scenario in which technological dependance is as unavoidable as the chaos ensued by its malfunction.
After watching these two films I wondered what experience could be created to highlight this relationship of extreme dependance of technology, which becomes a genuine necessity in the special conditions that rule in and under water, in air and space. I was thinking of this relationship of space and technology and inevitably wound up thinking about the potential hazards in situations provoked by technology malfunction.
From this point on I began worrying about the consideration of technology´s intrinsic and inherited potential for control. And so, linking back to Tati´s presentation of intelligent houses I thought about Jeremy Bentham´s 18th century concept of the Panopticon. According to his design, the architectural planning of an institution could convey the impression of omniscient surveillance and control inmates by making them feel observed at all times.
“a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example.”
This led me to think about concentration camps and the impact of space on perception and experience, the psychological imprint of space in our memories and the tremendously complex idea of abstracted or virtual space. Eventually all of these ideas inspired this project, which continues to spawn new iterations that I feel require new technological configurations only to proof the dependance I have been referring to all along.
The fully functional example I am describing here is an installation I have named Audio Cage. The whole experience is based on the premise of surrender. I act as a facilitator and prepare a test subject to accommodate a navigation device that limits his vision and makes him fully reliant on sound cues transmitted over a binaural recording that is fully reactive to his relative position within a designated space.The aim is to establish a virtual space where the user can physically be affected to move freely but his destination is eventually controlled. Meanwhile, the user experience is broadcast to a larger audience in a contiguous room.
While the single user experience is exclusively audible, the group is only presented with a video feed. The separation highlights the distinction between the collective and the individual experience.
Only after the performance is over can both parties come in contact and ask questions about each others experience. While everybody assists to the same performance the perspective between participants varies radically. Completely separate perceptions of space create completely different experiences.
In this iteration the test area is a circular space which is monitored by a Kinect. The sensor measures the position of the subject/user within the perimeter. The location tracking is used to control the transition of the user between a safe space and a hazard zone at the outer limit of the perimeter. Additionally, an accelerometer positioned on top of the subject is used to equalize the sound environment on the record according to the orientation of its head. The soundscape in the center position suggests a safe distance from a beehive, while walking away from the center feels like walking towards and into it (this is especially unpleasant for participants with a fear of insects).
The system is set up so that the center position is slightly uncomfortable, prompting the subject to step out of it. In the outmost positions the intensity is increased dramatically to motivate the subjects return to the initial point of departure.
As an additional element of tension I make both the test subject and the general audience sign a document of surrender, which is actually a paraphrased copy of an official employment contract. It is quiet surprising how liability works and how people react to agreements like this, especially given the context.