Psychogeographical mapping and collage

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Mapping memory and journeys across London

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Psychological Space in Film

After the last tutorial the project idea shifted away from simply responsive architecture towards the exploration of the concept of psychological space within a virtual reality.

Precedents for this concept can be found in a number of films:

Interstellar (Christopher Nolan): The Tesseract

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The space of the tesseract

Cooper finds himself in the tesseract after travelling within the black hole; as such we do not know where the space is on the spectrum from physical to virtual. The space incorporates time – it is Murphy’s bedroom represented at all moments in time simultaneously, and through this Cooper manages to communicate with the Cooper and Murphy of the past. However, the space could also be read as a representation of Cooper’s psyche. The tesseract contains the moment that haunts Cooper – his decision to leave Murphy and the rest of his family – seemingly replicated an infinite number of times. At the point he enters the tesseract, he believes his mission has failed, meaning he has made the wrong decision and left his family for nothing. This makes the space a nightmare-scape where he must relive his worst moments – although he tries to communicate with his past self, he is unable to stop that self from leaving for the space mission.

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Cooper watching his past decisions through the tesseract

As he realises he can pass the data needed to save Earth through the tesseract to Murphy, the nightmare is resolved: the mission has succeeded after all. One theme of the film is love transcending time and space, and it is because of Cooper’s love for Murphy that the memory of leaving her bedroom is the lynchpin on which his psychological state and all his feelings about the mission are hinged. Perhaps this is part of the reason that the tesseract takes the form it does.

Inception (Christopher Nolan): Limbo

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Architecture of Limbo

In contrast to the tesseract, in Inception we are explicitly told that limbo is ‘raw infinite subconscious’ – ‘unconstructed dream space’. Those who enter this world can create anything they can imagine, and indeed Cobb and Mal, who spend 50 years in limbo, create an entire city for themselves, which includes their previous homes recreated from memory. The danger of limbo is that anyone who spends too long there will forget that it is not reality (due to the immense time distortion), and will not be able to escape. As this is the realm of the deep subconscious, the physical body is not affected by the space – although the dream is set to a timer, one’s mind could be lost by the time the timer runs out in the real world.

Ariadne: But how long could we be stuck there?

Yusuf: Decades! It could be infinite! I don’t know!

Eames: Great. Thank you. So, now we’re in Fischer’s mind battling his own private army. And if we get killed, we’ll all be lost in Limbo until our brains turn into scrambled egg. 

Mal, of course, does lose her grip on reality in limbo, which carries over to the real world when she wakes up. This is due to Cobb’s inception of the idea that her world is not real – triggered by setting her totem spinning in the very deepest recess of her subconscious, a safe in the dollhouse of her childhood home. Added to the danger of simply being lost in limbo, there is also the possibility that the actions taken there are able to destroy the mental stability of the person in the real world.

I found the visual elements of the cityscape that Cobb and Mal built in limbo to be an interesting decision – what does it say about their subconscious that when they have the power for limitless construction, they create a rather brutal, cold and imposing city?

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Monolithic city of Limbo build by Cobb and Mal

The films of David Lynch

It could be said that all of Lynch’s films use architecture as a reflection of the characters’ psyches or mental states. In the dream interpretation of Mulholland Drive, the first three quarters of the film is fantasy space – emphasising the cheerful nature of Betty’s character in Diane’s fantasy or the dark goings-on in the film industry. The spaces turn darker when reality begins to slip through, such as in the scene where Betty and Rita go to Diane’s apartment and find her corpse on the bed.

Mulholland Drive – Club Silencio

In Eraserhead, the architecture similarly seems to reflect the unease within the main character’s mind. From the concrete structures that dwarf Henry to the room where he lives with his wife and ‘child’ and the stage within the radiator, the architecture in the film is also part of the psychological experience for the viewer – we begin to feel as uncomfortable as Henry, building upon other methods of achieving viewer unease like the unpleasant sound effects.

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Architecture of Eraserhead

Blue Velvet is another film where the space leads to psychological experience, both for characters and viewers. As Slavoj Žižek describes;

‘Dorothy’s apartment is one of those hellish places which abound in David Lynch’s films. A place where all moral or social inhibitions seem to be suspended, where everything is possible… the deepest level of our desires that we are not even ready to admit to ourselves, we are confronted with them in such places.’ (From ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema’).

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Dorothy and Frank at Dorothy’s apartment

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock)

It is also possible to apply psychology to film spaces through the application of psychoanalytic theory, as Slavoj Žižek demonstrates in his reading of the three levels of the house in Psycho.

‘Events took place at three levels, first floor, ground floor, basement. It is as if they reproduce the three levels of human subjectivity. Ground floor is ego. Norman behaves there as a normal son, whatever remains of his normal ego taking over. Up there, it’s the superego. Maternal superego, because the dead mother is basically a figure of superego. And down in the cellar, its the id, the reservoir of these illicit drives. So we can then interpret the event in the middle of the film, when Norman carries the mother … from the first floor to the cellar. It’s as if he is transposing her in his own mind as the psychic agency from superego to id.’

Although the spaces themselves do not have any surreal quality, this interpretation gives them a new layer of psychological meaning.

Norman Bates carrying his mother to the cellar

Initial Chronogram

 

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The initial chronogram imagines that the film will explore different scales of architectural responsiveness and complexity, from the perspective scale to the external view of the spaces.

However, during the tutorial I was thinking it would be more interesting to start with footage of a real space and then begin to morph that space, changing it piece by piece to move to the created virtual architecture, a psychological space unique to each individual.

I was also inspired by the visuals and effects in the film ‘Chupan Chupai’ by Factory Fifteen, in which children manipulate the architecture of their city in a game of hide and seek, and would like to use similar techniques to demonstrate the changing of the space from real to virtual in my own film.

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Precedent & Response: The Generator (Cedric Price)

“The whole intention of the project is to create an architecture sufficiently responsive to the making of a change of mind constructively pleasurable.”

– Cedric Price

One key precedent for my project is The Generator project (1976 – 1979) by Cedric Price. The idea was of a responsive site controlled by computer chips and sensors, in which buildings could be rearranged at the will of the user or automatically (if the processor sensed inactivity for too long).

Points of interest relating to my concept:

  • The site had to contain a permanent grid of foundation pads
  • The orthogonal grid was the easiest way of achieving the result, and every component had to be modular
  • A microprocessor was embedded in each building component, feeding back to the system
  • The project worked through a series of timber frames and infill components that included cladding panels, fittings, even services – however, cranes were required to move these components, which meant there was a lot of work involved – the project was eventually unbuilt because of the required maintenance costs
  • The concept of the circulation routes also being components is interesting – this element more than anything would give the idea that the reconfigured space is entirely new
  • The project had to work around the idea of  a ‘kit of parts’
  • The design ‘promotes unpredictability’
  • The design of the computer programs was developed through research on potential users of the building – they listed activities they would like to undertake in the spaces, and rated requirements such as space, quietness, privacy etc.

Ideas/responses for my own project:

  • Each component of my project should also have its own processor, as well as the building as a whole and then the city – data feeds via this hierarchy
  • Is it necessary to have a grid system to allow for the desired reconfigurations?
  • Instead of foundation pads for individual building blocks etc, which means the routes through the city will always remain the same with only the buildings changing, could the entire city rest on a large scale foundation that would allow changing of roads and completely new city layouts?
  • I like the idea of user-based research generating the program, however participation in architecture is often difficult to achieve – in future would this be done by nanomachines in the brain? – look into present research into how users respond to architecture and what they feel they require from particular spaces.
  • I will need to create my own ‘kit of parts’ that can then be reconfigured and combined. The kit will be based on the analysis of types of spaces, and then creating prototypes and combining them.
  • The idea of the construction will be an issue – is there an alternative to the cranes proposed by Price?
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Generator Concept
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Engineer’s drawings showing frames and grid foundation pads

Thematic Drawing & Feedback

To begin the project, we created a thematic image that would enable us to start exploring our initial concepts as well as methods of visual representation that would best fit said concepts, and techniques that could be used.

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Thematic Drawing – Full Image

My project will explore how architecture can be responsive or interactive based on the use of algorithms. The algorithms may drive the architecture from the largest scale, ie. the entire structure, to the scale of smaller interactive spaces or responsive facades.

The thematic image imagines a scene of a responsive city in a post-technological singularity world, where each building has modular, reconfigurable components that may rearrange themselves based on the shifting needs of the community. The buildings incorporate facades that display changing images that would appeal to the individual user, creating an experience of the city that is highly personal. In the background we see a visual representation of the flow of information across the city that is collected by the buildings and inhabitants and then fed back into the wider system, enabling it to constantly transform and improve itself.

The base model was created in 3dsMax using the Greeble plugin1, which takes a base form and procedurally generates complexity, controlled by parameters. This seemed an appropriate technique, as in the imagined city an algorithm may work in a very similar way – the creator programs certain parameters, and then the algorithm shifts the building to the best configuration for the time, having free reign within those parameters.

As I was making the image, one question that occurred was how the responsive screens may be used. My immediate reaction was advertisements; as such I placed a combination of classic adverts by well-known corporations amongst the other abstract dynamic images, which my imagined inhabitant would enjoy seeing in his personal version of the city. However, after the tutorial feedback questioning the somewhat sinister nature of this, and whether the screens could not encourage positive behavioural change (such as education), I realised that ultimately the question of what the screens will display will be answered by deciding who controls the algorithm. In the imagined post-singularity timeline, AI will be intelligent enough to know what to display to each user to improve their quality of life, and there is no reason to think that a future society will be similar enough to today to allow the buying of these spaces by corporations (or indeed that consumerism will even be encouraged).

The idea of behavioural conditioning was a key point of discussion in the tutorial feedback. One reference was the work of Edward Bernays, the ‘father of public relations’, who applied propaganda techniques to advertisement to control the opinions and buying habits of the general public. The impact of this was vast; at the worst extreme, his theories were used by Joseph Goebbels, the minister of propaganda for the Third Reich. In an improved world, behavioural conditioning would only be used for the benefit of the individual and overall society, although the idea of manipulation of any kind is still somewhat distasteful – generally the thought that we are entirely free to make our own choices is extremely valued.

However, others believe that our choices are already not free; it is only the narrating self that justifies them as such. In his speculative work ‘Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow’, Yuval Harari explores this idea with reference to studies on patients with split-brain syndrome, in which the bond between the two hemispheres of the brain is severed. In such patients, each hemisphere has different perceptions and desires. As the left and right visual fields are processed by different sides of the brain, this can be used to communicate with each side individually. In certain experiments the non-verbal right side of the brain was asked something and responded – for example, one patient was showed something funny – but when asked to explain their response, such as why they laughed, the left side verbal narrator (which acts to interprets the world) did not know the real reason, and would often invent a rational-sounding justification for the behaviour. With these examples (amongst others, such as studies showing brain activity occurring before a person registers desire – ie. if a person moves their arm, their brain begins the necessary activity before the person feels any desire or intention to move, although they feel that they moved simply because their conscious self wanted to do so), Harari argues that our internal narrator/interpreter often creates false justifications for our behaviours, including the justification that we behaved a certain way because of our own free choice. The implication for the project (if it was to deal with this issue) is which part of us the algorithms should be responding to – is it the narrating self and its potentially false idea of our choices, or is it the deeper subconscious level of the brain from which desire and behaviour may actually originate?

In terms of the visual representation, the feedback was that instead of a single-person perspective, it would be more interesting to see how the spaces worked with multiple users and how different elements may be layered in such a situation. It could be that the personal response of the displays would be within an augmented reality rather than physical. There is also the question of how this will look from the external perspective – I will next begin describing the spaces from other views such as the axonometric. I also need to create diagrams and infographics to explain the system as well as techniques used.

Further references to look into:

– Discognition by Steven Shaviro
– The work of Donna Haraway
– Walden Two by B. F. Skinner
– Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

Notes

1. Greeble Plugin created by Tom Hudson – found at http://www.max.klanky.com