Posts Tagged ‘peter zumthor’

Cloud Architecture

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Blur Building

Clouds have always held a certain fascination for architects. This may be understandably unremarkable, because I believe clouds hold a certain fascination for everybody. How many hours were spent as a youth staring at clouds, lying in the grass in a field, through the window of a car on a long drive, or simply through the bedroom windows on a lazy sunday? Diller & Scofidio created their Blur Building (see above) as a deliberate and stunningly literal interpretation of “cloud architecture,” and Wolf Prix’s firm’s name Coop Himmelb(l)au translates to “Blue Cloud Cooperative” in his native Austrian (he also designs slightly less literal physical approximations of clouds–see below).

BMW Welt

But cloud architecture has a slightly different meaning today, and this is what I want to draw attention to here. In Tom Vanderbilt’s article in the New York Times Magazine, titled “Datatecture,” he delves into the world of data centers that are silently and conspicuously popping up throughout the country (including many near Portland, OR, from where I’m posting today). Data centers such as these are “like Fight Club; the first rule of data centers is: Don’t talk about data centers.” Accompanying this article are some beautiful photographs by Simon Norfolk (see below). This is what cloud architecture looks like today. Very white, but not as fluffy.

Datatecture

The article begins with an anectdote about the online community of people playing a particular Xbox game (over 60,000 at his precise instant, a number which is equivalent to the size of a small suburb community), and a moment spent wondering about where exactly these people were. In no less reducible terms, they exist in these data centers–these warehouses of servers that worldwide consume more energy than the entire country of Sweden. This “cloud,” which represents nothing less than the future of information, media, and technology, uses 1-2% of all the energy produced in the world and has doubled in the past five years, according to the article.

Datatecture2

In a way, what this points towards is a slightly changing idea of materiality (dare I say metaphysicality?). That was what was so brilliant about Diller & Scofidio’s Blur Building (top), which was as direct and confrontational a challenge to architecture as we’ve previously defined it, even though many contemporary practitioners, including by Rem Koolhaas or Lebbeus Woods have attempted to do so in other, various ways. The blunt numbers, facts and statistics about data centers are surprising only in that they begin to illuminate a changing realm of media (the internet) that is beginning to have very physical, material impacts upon our environment. At this point, I can’t help but bring up Keller Easterling, whose writings tangentially approach these non-national, extra-infrastructural, “ecology of interrelationships and linkages.” In many ways, these ideas are in pointed contrast to the awarding of this year’s Pritzker Prize to Peter Zumthor, who works with a very different idea of materiality. Are those ideas mutually exclusive?

American IV

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

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I’ve written before about the emerging importance of video games as a medium, but I recently came across a great article in Time magazine about one specific game, Grand Theft Auto.

There isn’t much that I can really add to that article, but I remember walking around New York last summer when the GTA IV ads were all over the city and thinking about how wonderful it was that such a brilliant and ambitious work of art such as GTA IV was able to advertise itself with such prominence (see below). Because of the thematic nature of GTA, these things didn’t feel like advertisements: they felt like a narrative layering on top of the cultural atmosphere of New York. They insinuated themselves into the culture-scape of the city. There was something so uncanny, surreal (and dare I say meta) about it: a video game whose subject was the American Dream, based in a fictionalized New York City, being advertised in the “real” New York City.

From Nicknoromal via Flickr

From Nicknormal via Flickr

Imagine William Faulkner being advertised and celebrated on a scale like this in Mississippi, or Peter Zumthor in Switzerland. . .

zumthor1

Artists and architects have been trying to develop new ways to understand the city since the dawn of, well, history. The Situationists in the 50′s and 60′s used new media techniques (collage, montage, and psychotropics) to attempt to better represent and understand the city, and some of their documents are equal parts beautiful and challenging.

debord

There have been a number of articles that have talked about the way Grand Theft Auto represents the city. It’s more than I want to get into at this point, but I think it may be helpful to point out that not too long ago another medium was struggling for artistic relevance, dealing with issues that seemed outside of propriety and taste, and was starting to develop novel techniques to address those issues. That’s right, I’m talking about film; and I think the Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver is a good analog to compare Grand Theft Auto. It helps that both Taxi Driver and Grand Theft Auto share certain thematic ideas about the American city in general and New York City in particular.

taxidriver

It struck me that this may be a golden period for video games, much like the one enjoyed by movies in the 70′s  (a period where directors were working under a studio system that was flush with cash and willing to gamble on unproven talent): it is clear that video games are worth commercial investment, yet because the field is so young there isn’t an established authority to dictate the way that the medium will progress. In essence, video game creators are working with nearly unlimited means and almost no authority. No ivy towers, no establishment, no metaphorical patriarchs. One of the game’s creators says in the article that, “It’s not academicized; there’s no orthodoxy on how things are done, so we can do whatever we want. We make it up as we go along! As soon as we get told, ‘Yes, games are high art. They’re almost as high as painting and slightly less than dance,’ it’s over. Freedom is dead at that point. Then the argument just becomes about people’s egos.”

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I love Grand Theft Auto and can’t say enough about the game itself and the ambitions it represents.