‘Archive of Affinities is the longest project I have ever worked on and all of my research and work emerges from it. It is a project with no deadline, no client, and no budget. Therefore it is a project that has no outside impositions and is free to be a project of pure passion. Archive of Affinities is both deeply personal and extremely public. Archive of Affinities is a constantly updated collection of architectural images that exploits the dual meaning of affinity and the likeness associated with the word as both personal predilection and the relationship between things. Archive of Affinities is not an archive of the canon or of tradition, but rather of the overlooked; or the Architectural B-side. If the canon is a solar system, Archive of Affinities is a galaxy. While the canon is lethargically limited and exclusive, Archive of Affinities is briskly expansive and inclusive. Archive of Affinities is never ending and seeks, searches out, and scans each architectural image – good, bad, and ugly. This collection of useless architecture with overwhelming architectural qualities is arranged in multiple ways to become a crucible for making architecture from architecture.’
Archive of Affinities, a digital project- what does this project represent for you and why was it conceived?
Archive of Affinities began when I was a graduate student at Princeton University, towards the end of 2010. Archive of Affinities was conceived around three main ideas. The first was a simple curiosity – I wanted to understand what constitutes the discipline of architecture. The second was that I was looking for material by architects that I could not find on the internet. I began to scan material from libraries and old media that I would get from the internet or used book stores. Eventually I referred to this material as architectural B-sides. The third idea was that I had a suspicion at the time that many of projects I was seeing being done by major architecture offices were actually recycled from the past, and that despite being promoted as “new” they could also be understood as copies. Archive of Affinities was eventually folded into my Master’s thesis project and since then Archive of Affinities has evolved into the longest continuous project that I have worked on. Archive of Affinities has no deadline, no budget, and no client and therefore is a project of pure passion. At the same time, Archive of Affinities has become an integral factor to the design work that I produce. The material on Archive of Affinities reflects the work or interests that I have at the time, at other times it is quite literally images of the projects that I am working on.
One could effectively almost call this archive/project a ‘self-portrait’?
If it is a self-portrait, it is a self-portrait in my investigations into architecture. In other words Archive of Affinities reflects my interest, and there are shared interests from others. There is also an element of chance and serendipity in all of this, mostly because the way I look for things can seem a bit uncontrolled or random. And this is partly due to the fact that I am trying to find things that I have never seen before. How do you find out about something you don’t know about?
To what extent is the archive/image bank the architects’ ultimate tool?
I certainly think the image bank is a valuable tool for architects that has many offshoots or and formats. For example I really love books like Gerhard Richter’s Atlas, Sol Lewitt’s Autobiography, O.M. Ungers’ City Metaphors, and Alison and Peter Smithson’s Heroic Period of Modern Architecture. In many ways I think books like these are a proto- version of internet blogs. The image bank is not only a way to gather inspiration or find references but also a way to measure one’s output with that of other architects from past. At the same time, at a certain quantity of images, one inevitably begins to chart lineages between architects and projects. Here, the charts made by Charles Jencks become really important. In his first chart, Jenck’s tried to predict the future of architecture, yet in subsequent charts he effectively maps the present – the relations between architects and movements. In contemporary architectural discourse, there are a number of architects trying to recreate these charts, and rather than map the future, they seem to all map the present. For example Alejandro Zaera Polo’s and Guillermo Fernández Abascal’s Global Architecture Compass or Juan Herreros’ and Enrique Walker’s chart shown at Columbia University. I think the ambition in all of the above is to try and draw connections between architects and their work, while also trying to provide a visual map of the work happening in the field. I think there is something compelling in that architects are attempting to make these types of charts again, but unlike the first Jenck’s chart they simply map the present. Since Jenck’s first chart, I am unaware of charts that actually attempt to map the future and perhaps that might be because it is simple to daunting. For me, the word affinity becomes interesting here. Affinity can mean one of two things. First it can be one thing that has a relationship to another thing, or it can be something that I have a personal predilection or liking towards.
How much is ‘The Archive of Affinities’ a personal project or a tool for the users of the world wide web?
Archive of Affinities is certainly a personal project. The material on Archive of Affinities reflect my current architectural interests and that is usually related to the types of projects that I am working on at the moment. Among those personal interests, there are shared interests among others. I think if people can find a way to use Archive of Affinities as a tool for their own production that is great and exceeds the initial ambitions of the project.
How and to what extent are other people in the office feeding into the archive? Can they upload & save material or does it have to pass through you?
At the moment I am the only one that can upload and save material. The people I collaborate with certainly bring a lot of talent, skill, ingenuity, etc. to the table, but at the moment Archive of Affinities is managed by me alone.
From physical to digital what lead you to adopt this method of working and what does it imply?
For a long time I was searching out images in books and magazines and collecting them and scanning them. As some point I began to collect small physical objects that were used in the construction of architectural models, either as speculations or for competitions. I was interested in objects that could be used in combination with other objects to produce architectural models. I was also interested in the actual objects themselves, and their various qualities – be it the objects form, its texture, its color, its materiality, etc. Eventually, I began to document these physical objects with the same book scanner I was using for Archive of Affinities. At one level the scanner created a digital record and inventory of parts and pieces that we were using for architectural models. Many of these digitized images were then used as the material to assemble new images of architectural speculations. During the production Proposal for Collective Living II (Homage to Sir John Soane) that was exhibited at the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, we began to use the scanner to document the dust, debris and offcuts of our model production. In the making of the Chicago Model we produced no drawings, and the scans of the material became an alternative way to generate representation and documents of the project.
While deciding the point of view you are creating a new different object - an interpretation of the 3d physical model - don’t you think that you are sliding from “archiving” to interpreting?
Absolutely. At the start of Archive of Affinities I was simply sharing images – various images of architecture such as plans, elevations, etc. At some point I had scanned so many floor plans, and all at the same level of quality that I started to take that material and thought could it be assembled into something new? This is the moment when Archive of Affinities began to take on a new role and slips from simply being a collection of images to something like a reservoir of material that is waiting to be mobilized towards design. In many ways the material on Archive of Affinities can be viewed simply as a collection, a number of images that I find to be relevant to the work we are doing in one way or another. Archive of Affinities is also a sensibility barometer for me. In other words, the constant act of looking for images, scanning them, slightly editing them, and sharing them has helped me define and refine my own aesthetic sensibilities and desires which inevitably slips, or has influence in how we design. For me this oscillation or slippage is incredibly productive.
In this digital era how hard is to source physical printed images- what are your sources?
My sources are old media. I visit a lot of libraries, used book stores and search the internet for inexpensive architecture publications. I don’t find it that difficult since I am not looking for anything specific when seeking out physical images. When I am looking for images I am really just drifting and browsing and looking for things that I find to be appealing or of immediate interest to a project I am working on.
What role does the scanner hold as levelling device? To what extent and how does it eliminate context?
In terms of scanning physical objects the scanner works as a leveling device in that it flattens physical objects into an image. Physical objects would be scanned in two orientations as if to suggest a plan / top view or elevation / side view. In this sense, I think the context of the original physical object is eliminated, this elimination is even furthered by using these images along with other images to make new images of architectural speculations.
Within the hardware of your computer, with what criteria is the project organized and curated?
Offline, Archive of Affinities exists in is a single folder. There is no immediate organizational criteria for this folder. Before images end up in this folder, they are scanned from old media and saved as pdf’s. The file name of each pdf is the date from which they are scanned. These pdf’s are then edited in photoshop to produce a jpeg that is labeled with the author, title, location and date, all if known, in the file name. These images are then uploaded to the internet and saved in a single folder offline. This folder contains jpegs of all the images on Archive of Affinities. At times, images will be organized by various relationships, but the immediate organizational logic of the single folder is limited.
Within the realm of the digital, how do the various formats from a folder in to a computer to social media as Instagram, twitter and tumblr define the way the image is both shared and perceived?
I think this is a great question. I once asked a number of colleagues to share screenshots of their respective image banks. Some colleagues told me that they don’t save anything, since Google exists. I found this attitude to be rather depressing. Other architects shared Pinterest boards, and screenshots of folder structures that appeared to be highly organized in relatively straightforward and conventional ways, by either year or through individuals or themes. Of the colleagues that sent me screenshot of image banks that appeared to be highly organized into multiple folders all had degrees of error or gratuitous folders that repeated. For example a pair of architects share a Pinterest board with me that had two folders one called “Furniture” and another called “More Furniture”. In this sense to organize conventionally resulted in a convention of disorganization. And, the screenshots of images banks that I found most appealing were the ones that just had a number of images in a single folder. My favorite screenshot of a colleagues image bank was simply called “good images”. I think what one notices when material is not organized in conventional ways is a serendipitous encounter between things that may have never been put in contact.
What about a ‘bad images’ folder?
I think a ‘bad images’ folder would depend on how people choose to organize and collect. My inclination is to lean to a single folder where everything – good, bad, ugly, tall, short, fat, thin, etc. could be contained and viewed. I recently saw a new book by the American architect Andrew Zago called Accident, published by Art Paper Editions (APE) and in many ways it was like seeing the contents of a themed folder of images in book format. The book contains a large quantity of images, one per spread, that show various disasters in the built environment that are either the result of humankind or natural error. Personally I love books like this, and I find the inclination to produce them in the era of the internet to be particularly interesting. In the case of ‘Accident’ all of the images seemed to be mined from the internet and then designed into the format of a book, an art book. What I am getting at is that a ‘Bad Images’ folder still attempts to organize in conventional ways. A single folder as an organization structure can allow for chance occurrences in not only stumbling across things one wasn’t looking for, but also the potential affinities that may be revealed.
how do you decide how /when to put it online? Have you ever re-organized the online archive? Or re use the images to create different “affinities”?
Archive of Affinities as a tumblr site is now queued in advance. The reason for this is that as I get busier and busier I have less time to strictly devote to Archive of Affinities, but yet I still want to do it because it has proven to be a productive and creative outlet for me. When I began to queue images on Archive of Affinities, it also became a way to organize the content by month. So in the archive page, one month might be dedicated to Advertisement for Architecture or just floor plans, or just photographs of interiors. Again the content reflects what I am interested in, but also what I might be working on elsewhere. In terms of re-organizing the archive online – this has been a thought that has been jumping around for a bit now. Since Archive of Affinities is updated daily, it keeps growing and because of that a totality of the collection, or when Archive of Affinities ends is yet to be determined. With that said, at times I have organized a selection of images on Archive of Affinities into say plan comparisons that I share with my students or other categories such as a grouping of various project that share similar qualities like, Square Plans, Circular Plans, Vertical Conglomerates, Everyday Objects as Architecture, etc..
Since March 2018 you have started using the bed of the scanner as ground for a series of compositions- how do these sit in relation to the material archived previously?
Around November 2014 is when I started to scan physical objects on the bed of the scanner. Since then, I have produced a number of architectural speculations that are based off of scanning physical objects. And before then, I began sharing various architectural speculations such as Floor Plans and Social Condensers. All of the material used to assemble these new images came from other images that I scanned and shared on Archive of Affinities. In that sense, scanning and archiving physical objects just became another avenue of the project, in terms of the material that was archived previously.
Do you have in mind a successor for the scanner? What would this imply for the project?
At the moment I don’t, its a great question and something to certainly think about.