What do we do with all those photos?

On travels, weekend adventures, commutes, and just around the house, I often grab the convenient personal computing device (aka iphone) and point its image capture device (aka camera) at something visually interesting. Those photos get automatically uploaded to the cloud via iCloud and Dropbox (and probably other services I have forgotten to disable) to be saved as bits of data forever. I do quite often pull up recent photographs for reference in conversation, occasionally I dig through the archive to use in a lecture, and I organize archival images from big trips and studio reviews. But many just sit there in the catalog, feeding on electrons, waiting.

In a recent fit of procrastination, I was searching for some image to drop into a lecture for a bit more personal touch and got sidetracked organizing a year or more backlog of uncategorized images. I came across a few pictures from a short trip up to New Paltz that Lauren and I took last April to get a few hikes in and see my friend Kira. The rushing water and magical rock rift jumped out quickly to trigger my memories of the weekend, but this foggy treeline was completely foreign. I think it's a nice image (with a little cropping and levels adjustments) but I cannot for the life of me remember seeing this or taking a picture of it. The day was warm and very muggy with spring moisture rising from the ground, we were on the road early for breakfast and to beat the heat of the day, but nothing about this fog. Fun, something unexpected, something to explore without an emotional context, but also something I know I must have seen and reacted to.

I think I will make it into my desktop for a while, and maybe play with layering it with some of the other highlights from the trip.

The thawing Catskills had the river flowing strong. The sound was overwhelming in the ravines and brought a deep heavy meditative rhythm to the hike.

We came across this massive rock outcropping riven in two by the slow creep of water and the subsequent invasion of tree roots. The moss and lichen provided a majestic contrast to the wet grey stone, so much so that I decided to play around with the image and practice my giffing in Photoshop.

Voyage onward!



As we approach another semester at Pratt it is time for planning and designing a provocative and meaningful studio prompt. This Spring I am teaching our arch201 Intermediate Design studio, which is a second-year, fourth semester, undergraduate architecture design course. The students are coming out of the Fall with a foundation in plan organization and programming at the scall of a small institutional extension. This brief focusses on developing architecture as a vertical paradigm within the fabric of New York City. Section is the primary organizing device and strong attention is on structure and envelope. My interest here is in how the envelope of the building can be considered as a thick territory that permeates through the structure to create a strong overlay with the city and pull the civic space of the street into a public institution, architecture as a thick envelope.


The prompt for our Lottery statement and trailer provided by the coordinator was, "What is the relationship between cinema/film and architecture today?" I did my graduate studies at Columbia GSAPP on the tail end of the major digital shift, not just in architectural productions, but in the integration of software and computation into the design process. This shift emerged during the 90s as software for drafting and project automation was being adopted n professional practice and the playful tinkerers of academia started to question what else it could do. The software to easily construct synthetic realities, virtual digital models, of projects was limited in the architecture space, so we turned to cinema.


Applications like Maya and 3DS Max were made for special effects and generating motion camera inhabited virtual environments. They also contained powerful output/rending engines for the time, helping to bring greater automation to raster-based image creation. Probably the most exciting side effect of these new design programs for me was the integration of animation and later simulation tools within the same platform as 3D modeling. This meant that we could output moving emotional images that scanned deeper into the virtual space of our projects and provided immersive experiences for the viewer. It is not surprising then that a huge wave of discussion formed in academia around issues like Time and Sequence and Virtual Reality. Books such as Deleuze's Cinema I and II became popular readings, and while film and architecture have often had a strong relationship due to the inhabitation of built space by humans, the crossover of cinema into architecture intensified in the 90s and early 00s.


There is a lot more history here, and a good subject for deeper analysis, that I am sure many people have written about and explored though design and pedagogy, but I will leave that for another day. This influencing period is important to what the relationship between the two mediums is today and how that can influence a design studio. My process to define these in 150 words began with many pages of free writing and wordplay, visual diagrams of thoughts and phrases floating and coalescing around the page. I wrote a couple of drafts, they were too heady without clear substance to grasp onto. I tried again, took a break, and then stepped up to the keyboard to compress two decades of thoughts on this subject into a few sentences that would speak to twelve undergraduate architecture students. I am not sure if what follows will meet that criteria, but my good friend Cam (who is not an architect or filmmaker) provided some useful writing and conceptual feedback along with some encouraging comments:

"It does sound smart and fun, I think a lot of smart people would be interested."

Thanks Cam, a little ego boost is always appreciated when putting new and untested ideas out there for all to see. Our discussion also drifted into our life long shared diversion and interest in video games when he made the connection between my trailer image (above) and a recent SciFi Thriller game, SOMA. It is one I have never played, but remember being excited about during its development.


As a side note, I wonder if it is more appropriate to look at the intersection of video games and architecture today.


"It's just a scan, it'll hurt about as much as getting your picture taken" :: SOMA Trailer
"Does the color moving down the image represent scanning or is it just cool?" Cam

The comment about scanning from Cam and watching the SOMA trailer helped me zero in on the title for the studio. There were several drafts all building upon last semester's Think Space with Thick Envelopes and adding a dimension of film as storytelling:

:: Civic Territory

:: Architectural Fictions

:: Dream Architecture

:: Synthetic Realities (the leading candidate at the time)


I like to think of films as a medium for transporting us into synthetic realities. For a controlled duration we are living a different story, immersive and emotional, visually and auditorially rich. Film and the experience of cinema interface directly with our most overt senses and captures our attention. I think that one of the primary intersections here with architecture is around the experience of time. Both film and architecture can be transitory, fluid, episodic, dense, and repetitive. Our participation in the story is a hyper-space transit constrained to about two-hours of inhabiting dream territories. Similarly, architecture engages with all our senses, but the experience is drawn out, fluid in time, especially in urban contexts where nearly all our world is defined by built environments. The two mediums support each other, film provides the virtual platform for the story, architecture houses the tectonics of sensation.


Enough ruminating on the process, here is my statement with the "trailer" (full-res video this time) following for reference:


---

THICK ENVELOPES :: SCANNING SYNTHETIC REALITIES


Film and architecture are mediums of sensation and affect, occupying a rift between material reality and synthetic dreams. Architecture forms a fabric of constructed reality deeply layered and interwoven with the human experience. Film instantaneously transports viewers beyond the present by hijacking the imagination through the senses and entangling the physical experience with virtual reality. This studio explores overlaps of constructed views, framed sequences, transient inhabitations, and visual effects as thick layers of an architectural envelope permeating through section.


We will analyze and extract dense metaphors that capture us in film and deploy them in the design of architectural fictions. Buildings are stories with the potential to hijack our emotional root code, unlocking access to our shared cultural histories, perspectives, and speculations. Architecture can support a participatory community of storytellers and viewers generating synthetic realities.


---


When I learned that the project for the semester would be about film, specifically a vertical addition to an NYC institution to house a film center, I started making a list of movies I wanted to bring as an influence to the studio. The list kept grown, I organized it, thought of more things and got a little overwhelmed. How could I introduce these students to my cinematic interests and keep them focused on architecture? My mental database of films, affect, editing, cinematography, and stories are unique, a product of my explorations, diversions, and critical interests. There would be a disconnect. Then I thought, old and new, sequels and remakes, Blade Runner. Specifically, the scene from Blade Runner 2049 came to mind where the virtual companion Joi performs a holographic integration with a physical person. A place to start.


I grabbed a few gif images from around the web of some of my favorite and architecturally influential scenes from both the original (1982) and the sequel (2017).


Not all of them made the cut, and I wanted to integrate these aesthetic influences with some of my own, so I started with a base of my recent topographic collage, reoriented as vertical scan lines with a linear transformation down through the square frame.

I layered and multiplied that with Blade Runner's face in the sky urban billboard in a horizontal pan. It is dark with shimmering speckles of light and the recognizable face element slightly askew and off-center, punctuated by the vibrant swipe of the flying police car (still one of the best fly car visuals imho).

Then came a couple of vertical scan wipes with some Levels adjustments and heavy Divide layer blending. The motion is just a transform keyframe in AfterEffects.

The final layer jumps forward to Balde Runner 2049 with the scene that started this process, Joi's overlay integration. While I hoped for hyper parallelism with the layer blending and conceptual language, this one uses a Screen blending (rather than Overlay blending which was just too dark) to glide into the thick territory of the flowing pulsating images below. A dreaming floating effect layered with a dreaming floating effect.

That's about it, besides a lot of frustration trying to get a manageable size gif out of AfterEffects. Exporting an AnimatedGif is easy with the Media Encoder integration, just export to Media Encoder, choose Animated GIF as your format, tweak the settings if necessary, and encode. I ended up with a 90mb image, which would not be very web-friendly, so I opened it in Photoshop (after trying a bunch more settings in the encoder). and did a good old fashioned Save for Web as an animated gif? I had to reduce the color depth to 24, give it a 50% Lossy parameter, and shrinking form the specified 1200x1200 to 600x600. There was a lot of visual distortion in the compression, but it got closer to 5mb which I am willing to roll with in this hyper-connected present. I actually think the color compression was an improvement, more blending and visual ambiguity, a more gritty synthetic reality.


The Lottery is up, now it is in the hands of the students. I am looking forward to a fun semester of grappling with the speculation of Synthetic Realities in architecture.

Hello Fellow Travellers,


We held a quick check-in before the holidays to see if we could set up an epic read to fill the space of travel and rest over the next couple of weeks. We didn't quite get the whole crew together, and few of us had made it through the book, Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee, so we only made glancing discussion of the military space opera with a body-snatching hive consciousness twist. While we did take a good amount of time to consider what we should dive into next, I have done some reflecting and feel that we should stick with our mission and get more of the group together around a completed book before getting too far ahead of ourselves.

Ninefox Gambit presents an interesting and wonderfully nerdy world building around the mechanics of a mathematical calendar system that governs all technologies, including the ability to travel the stars and unleash devastating weaponry, but it is all dependant on an extremely rigid, unrelenting, and grotesque social order that casts life aside at the slightest threat to order. I wanted to know a bit more about the author not that I am halfway through the third book in the series.


From Locus:

‘‘I approach writing like it’s an equation. What is the… moral is maybe too loaded a term… but what is the thing at the end that the reader should come away with? What is the final conclusion? What is the theorem that I am trying to prove, and what are the axioms that will get me there, and how do I show the steps? I often wonder if my math professors would approve of what I’m doing with what they taught me, because it’s something I learned as a math major, how to think in that manner. A lot of people think that math is about computation, or arithmetic. It’s not just arithmetic, it’s about argumentation. It’s about forming an argument. Certain kinds of stories, especially if you write didactic stories, are a kind of argument too. You can transfer the methods from math to fiction.”

:: https://locusmag.com/2014/09/yoon-ha-lee-axions-theorems/


and Lightspeed Magazine

:: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/nonfiction/author-spotlight-yoon-ha-lee/

This is a good one about the background of the Machineries of Empire series. Also Lightspeed:


" To be honest, the actual math in Ninefox Gambit is pretty minimal. I was going to come up with the equivalent of an applied algebra game engine for the calendrical warfare, but my husband talked me out of it on the grounds that none of my readers was going to sit still for that much math. (To be clear, my husband is not afraid of math; he has a doctorate in astrophysics from MIT, and he actually uses math on a daily basis. But he is also a science fiction reader.) While perhaps not one hundred percent true, he was correct to the extent that my agent and I almost couldn’t find a publisher for Ninefox—even with the minimal actual math in it, several publishers turned it down for having “too much math.” There’s honestly more security engineering than math. (I read Ross Anderson’s Security Engineering twice for inspiration.) "

:: http://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/nonfiction/interview-yoon-ha-lee/


I will offer our two primary considerations for our next adventure so that the group can weigh in on the topic and prepare for the decision when we convene next. We oscillated between Jeff Vandermeer's Dead Astronauts and William Gibson's The Peripheral. Vandermeer's novel has a striking and terrifying cover, not to mention a title full of foreboding. It seems to be a second of a series which means it may need further consideration. A couple of us had already read Gibson's book, but with the imminent release of his next book, Agency, and its connection to The Peripheral, it seems appropriate to bring it into our canon. Gibson also has a propensity for dissecting the present through a grim reflection on our near possible futures. There is also an interview with him in the most recent New Yorker about his flirtations with reality.

Along with the accompanying musical interest:

VS


My suggestion, for now, is to stay the course with our commitment to Ninefox Gambit, and if you are looking for some more Outerspace adventure, join me with the sequels in the Machineries of Empire trilogy, Raven Strategem and Revenant Gun. The strange mechanics of calendrical society based on exotic mathematics and rigorously maintained cultural beliefs lead to some dark days. Technology fractures and is absorbed as biology when cultures as different as Chromagnans and Nedarthals dance for control of resources, the most valuable of all being humans. The ghost of a tortured soul finds refuge in a young idealist and together they take on the whole system with a long game plan that has to unfold carefully layer by layer as an uncertain game of fox and hound takes shape. Oh, and did I mention the secret society of droids subtly tinkering with the great machine and carving their own territory of existence?


We did have a bit of time to traverse mediums and download our shared cultural accumulation over the past month, a few of the highlights were:


We shared a collective shudder at Disney's appropriation of Hans Christian Andersen's, The Little Mermaid.

with a beautiful and bizarre Russian translation into moving images in 1968


The Dark Crystal - Jim Henson's and Frank Oz's 1982 classic of fantasy storytelling through the magic of puppets. This one has always been a touching influence of mine, everything from the ergonomic flowing curves of the furniture of the Mystics to the segmented bodies of the Garthem, to the majestic gate of the Land Striders. My dreams are still haunted by the soul-sucking rays of the corrupted crystal, I still fear that my eyes will sink into a milky void if I spend too much time in front of a screen. I have not yet ventured into the new unfolding world of The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, but it sounds like it might be worth the adventure.

This can never be unseen!


Jumping forward in the lineage of Henson, his company was a major driver for the quirky and often wonderful SciFi television series, Farscape. While the first season takes a while to really find its stride, the character and storytelling influence of Jim Henson and Co brings some amazing creatures to life and sets up a thrilling far away galaxy adventure. A few of The Dark Crystal characters (a ship full of Skeksis) make an appearance and there are numerous references in the racing dialog. The second season pushes hard of the rails and may even have lost them altogether a few times, but settles into something beautiful.


I often wonder how much we have lost from our childhood in the analog process of storytelling with our increasing reliance on digital animation. Everything from the new Star Wars with epic space scenes, which are stunning and extravagant demonstrations of Disney's technology, but lose the focus on the feeling of the characters, to reborn live-action versions of classic animations. like The Jungle Book and Ghost in the Shell. There needs to be space for the child to imagine, not just to be absorbed by unrelenting visuals. The unreal frees our minds to dream and extract abstract qualities and lessons from the full spectrum reality of our material lives. One extreme atrocity is the translation of JRR Tolkien's, The Hobbit. The 1977 animated movie by Rankin Bass didn't cover everything from the book but painted an elusive and powerful aesthetic world with a useful 90-minute constraint. The book is for depth, the film is for gaps and wonder. Peter Jackson's hyper-real super detailed and epically boring rendition is stunning and flat, with no space to dream.


We should remember to indulge in classics such as Jim Henson's, Labyrinth (I am seeing a pattern here) with the unforgettable music stylings of David Bowie.



Speaking of 80's animation and storytelling and David Bowie, what would winter be without this wonderful classic: The Snowman

Being at home for the holidays must be having a time travel effect on me as the 80's are surfacing all around me.


> Your friendly traveller, signing off ~

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