Augustus Needs a Baby

Roman sculptures, especially when made out of marble, have a structural problem. Unlike their Greek counterparts, the much heavier marble sculptures seldom are able to stand upright on their own and often require a structural support. A bipedal human figure behaving in contrapposto often has one leg acting as the primary load-bearing member, whereas the other leg behaves more like a kickstand. Whilst with a lightweight material this type of figural posture would be feasible, in the case of marble, some kind of a third structural member is needed. Often, these third members are hiding in plain sight: tree-trunk, chair, or even babies.

Contrapposto as both a semiotic and a structural problem has been an ongoing research at Bureau Spectacular. We are using this opportunity to introduce five abstract studies of immaterial figural structures as the Ginyu Tokusentai battle formation.

How do you define inspiration?

Inspiration is stimulation that allows a person to have a change of heart. It is stimulation that reframes and readjusts a worldview, mobilizing new actions that with a sharper, clearer, and a more refreshed mind.

What are your micro-tools? Are these fixed or do these changes for every project?

History is a tool for us. In particular, the history of art is a guiding force for many of our decisions. We often engage in distant conversations with artists and architects from decades or centuries past. For us, a material and structural problem from Augustus’ era is as relevant today for digital architects as it was for a Roman sculptor. As a guideline, the history of art allows us to frame certain arguments and advance existing projects in a contemporary context. To us, this is the ultimate instrument for both micro and macro purposes.

Since history can always be framed and reframed, the instrument itself is a moving target that changes for every project.

How do you collect and archive these tangible moments of inspiration?

At Bureau Spectacular, we have a 40-page document named “How to Bureau Spectacular”. In it, it explains our relationship with geometry, curve-types, compositions, color, superimpositions, rotations, and other proportional evaluations. In addition, this document contains a short list of architecture or architectural projects that heavily influence our sensibility. This document even contains instructions on how to shop, how to present a project, or how to determine when a line is darkened or not.

However, with regards to inspiration, we do maintain a text and image log for many projects – whenever heads are turned, minds are bent, or hearts change.

How did you approach the brief?

We wanted to open up our tool box of historical references and experiment with our most recent fascination. Since our Coachella project a couple of years ago, we remain fascinated with architecture with postures that imply personality.

In particular, we noticed that Augustus Prima Porta is structurally unstable if not for the baby by his leg helping Augustus behave as a tripod. This is a consequence of marble as a materiality. We think a process of abstracting the posture of Roman sculptures as a structural problem could allow us to generate several architectural characters with unlikely postures and personalities.

What is your take on the role of image platforms within the creative process?

When Victor Hugo famously proclaimed “This Will Kill That”, there was an idea that the press will have a lasting impact over the edifice. The ephemeral nature of experiencing architecture is in itself as fleeting of attending a live-theatre performance of a story arc.

The role of the image, today, is a story about the longevity of an idea. Even though architecture is a spatial experience, it is the image that outlives the live-theatre, and it is the image that reinforces texts. Knowing the image is almost one of the most important steps of the design process today.

What is your relationship to these? How and to what extent do you use these?

Knowing our relationship with image-making allows us to preemptively consider the nature of the space we propose. In which ways do we consider the vector towards a vanishing point? Should we design in a way where the depth, layers, and textures allow for the space to be easily photographable? Or, is something designed to be deliberately flat, so that we can produce elevations or plan images that are nearly two-dimensional? I think all of these questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to design decisions influenced by the knowledge that a work of design will become an image.

How and to what extent has the mediation of architecture through social tools as Instagram impacted the very practice of this?

“Pics or it didn’t happen” is a popular saying here in the second decade of the 21st Century. In a way, it could even be that “Pics then it already happened, even if it actually didn’t.” Our relationship with the documentation of moments and events have so radically changed that 2D images alone can transmit more stories than the architecture itself. In a way, one could even argue that we build so we can shoot.

How do you as an architect approach the idea of ‘instagrammable’ architecture?

Suddenly, the notion of quality is no longer an intangible work of deliberations and arguments, but a quantifiable act by the platform of Instagram. The measure of “good” can be actually measured with a number.

I would like to believe that the driving force towards the quality of architecture should not solely rely on quantifiable measures. At least for me, it was through a series of exposures to history, theory, philosophy, and other related disciplines within the arts that allowed me to take well-considered decisions with both form and function. Nevertheless, I also know that times are changing and we should engage with current means of communication. Therefore, it is with both the “quality of quality” and the “quantiy of quality” in mind that I engage such a platform.

Is this new accessibility to architecture productive?

In a way, yes. But, I also have concerns about it. There was a time where subcultures are very possible – with limited communication, weridos would sit around and develop unpopular ideas that eventually becomes its own discourse. With something that allows for such a mass accessibility, a process towards an averaging out of differences begins to happen. I think the world is much more interesting with the possibility where there are nooks and crannies for weirdos to build on their stupidities and cultivate subcultures. Without that, the world is an otherwise monotonous and boring place.

How do you choose to mediate the work of your practice through social tools as Instagram?

Frankly, we are kind of amateurs with Instagram. I don’t really follow the algorithms super well – just post super long texts alongside single-images. Sometimes we showcase results, other times we reveal progress… but, there are far more experts who are very good at Instagram than us.