Hyperreality : On Tooling Perception
Architects are story-tellers, crafting visions of unbuilt futures and idealized designs, we string together narratives that persuade our audience to believe in realities not yet based in reality. It’s long been up to the architect how to comprehensively manifest design; tools like drawing sets and scale models, largely due to their relative simplicity in assembly and authentic reflection of a physical nature, have become standardized mechanisms of representation. This paradigm has changed. As technology marches ahead, our expanded ability to manufacture realities has given rise to an indistinguishability between substance and the simulated.
“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part, but then I shall know even as also as I am known.” – 1 Corinthians 12:13
Today we exist in an age of the digital interface – mass media, invisible infrastructures, immaterial currencies – contemporary society deals with life through abstraction: the dissociation from the physical to the immaterial. Even the way we separate human history has transcended physicality; through the descriptions of time and technology: the Stone Age, Bronze Age, Space Age, the Information Age – people are no longer operating within material constraints of reality. This abstraction has changed the landscape of architecture. Communicating through drawing, through sketch, through model, through narrative – the role of the architect has always been to envision and represent futures. Modern technology has seen the tools that architects use, transcend their roles as agents of communication to agents of representation; the architect no longer creates image as a means of encoding a physical reality, the image is now a means and an end. The architect relies on the advanced tooling of the post-modern age to operate within realm of perception, not the physical realities of the past; theideaof a project has become the primary focus of architectural intent. Where ideas supplant reality is the frontier of the architect.
Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. – Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulations.
Reality is the collective interpretation of our perceptions. In the post-truth, information age we find ourselves, perception has emerged as the medium through which advanced tooling and technologies operate. We manipulate, we predict, we curate, we project, we lie – all through sophisticated softwares and engines to communicate our ideas. In the past, the inherent limitations of these devices maintained a critical distance between the observer and the observed, but as we run towards the future, these boundaries have dissolved. This has lead us into a world of simulacra where nothing is mediated – a hyperreality.
‘The two modes of knowing and of deriving meaning from outside reality complement each other and are both at work in varying degrees in the shaping and perception of all..’ – Vincent Scully, Complexity and Contradiction.
Our prior experience hinges against present events, allowing our intuition to project and assume readily comprehensible content, the reality we experience is entirely of our personal, individual construction. Temperature, luminosity, color, proximities, atmosphere, and other elemental factors all contribute to the assemblage of reality. Through image, form, story, model; there has always been an ability to craft and shape portrayals of these senses around their essential characteristics. Known as simulations, these are the imitations of real-world processes or systems over time – bearing a honest reflection of a profound reality. With the continued development of imaging and modeling programs, we are able to artificially replicate natural conditions to better communicate the idea of a project. The expanded frontiers of technology have rendered it unnecessary to base agents of communication upon their authentic visage(s). These copies are known as simulacra, they portray things that either had no original to begin with, or no original at all. It is an image or representation that carries vague semblance or superficial likeness.
‘In very general terms, the motive for the theory of Ideas is to be sought in the direction of a will to select, to sort out. It is a matter of drawing differences, of distinguishing between the “thing” itself and its images, the original and the copy, the model and the simulacrum.’ – Gilles Deleuze as translated by Rosalind Krauss – Foreword from “Plato and the Simulacrum”
The reflexive, cognitive nature of division is the basis for the Platonic Theory of Ideas; that as a matter of drawing differences, we select, sort out, and codify information. With the advanced technologies of today, this information is produced and abstracted, leading contemporary society and culture to process thought through sign and symbol – or simulation and simulacra. In our Information Age, the perception of reality is primarily projected and constructed through these agents, which only further perpetuates their precession. A hyperreality emerges from this confluence of image and sign, and their contemporaneous relationship blurs the line between the nature of being and the appearance of being.
‘Truth is not what you think it is so the question becomes, what can we prove. It turns out, not very much, everything is approximations. Why do we live in a universe where everything is an approximation of something else? We are trapped in a fractal maze.’ – Rick Delmonico, The Philosophy of Fractals.
We see that society has embraced simulacra as mechanisms of understanding, and the human experience has become a simulation itself. Economies used to be built on the physically-based value of goods, but has now been replaced with currencies which bear no relationship to the profound realities which they are meant to represent, currencies which paradoxically have no actual purpose or practical use beyond their referential exchange. Our basic needs are informed through contemporary media, which obscures the fundamental nature of products and their boundaries of usefulness and desire.
‘That our mind helps to structure our experience of reality; thus the rules of reality (as we know it) are intrinsic to the mind. So if we identify these rules, we can better decode ‘reality’.’ – Immanuel Kant
We no longer recognize the boundary between illusion and genuine reflections of our basic realities. Simulation has embedded itself within our social and cultural landscape as a primary means of communication and representation. This equivalency is a unique condition to post-modern societies, where sophisticated semiotics and advanced tooling have effectively replaced value or truth-based systems of understanding.
Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory—precession of simulacra—it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map.’ – Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation.
Baudrillard explains the progressive dissolution of truth and reality through three technological historical periods. The first being the premodern period, where representation bears a profound reflection of reality, and is plainly a “truthful” substitute for the real. These simulacra feature distinct properties of objects and events that are forthright in resembling authenticity. A second order is defined after the Industrial Revolution, where mass production and automation ushered in faster and more efficient means of reproducibility, the copy became more sophisticated and was able to imitate more and more the character of the original. This had a corrosive effect on the previously established paradigms of representation and reality, where now the authority of the original was challenged because the copy was now as realas the prototype. A third order emerged in the age of Late Capitalism, where the simulacra came to precede the original; this precession supplanted the agency of the original by generating models based on claimsof reality, rather than faithful copies of the past.
Originality loses its meaning to a significant degree here. With rapid and precise production techniques, the copy and prototype are indistinguishable, and models of information become echo chambers of referential hyperspace. This is of critical significance to both the story-teller and the story they’re telling. Producedvalue and authentic value are exchangeable now. We reside in a world of hyperrealities, where nearly all external experience is mediated. What we have historically considered an authentic reality is now replaced with sign systems that recodify and supplant the natural. Even truth has become a subjective notion. It’s become redefined with imprecision, it’s now centrally ambiguous. The truth of things, now conceal that there is no truth, or by an alternative interpretation, that there is no copy. This doubling of truth and its image is the contradictory yet axiomatic unity of reality and illusion.
The most powerful instinct of man is to be in conflict with truth, and with the real.’ – Jean Baudrillard, Radical Thought.
A world of pretense where nothing is unmediated – As architects, as image-makers, as story-tellers, we must embrace this spectrum of truth in both it’s representation and interpretation of our work. For the profession, it’s fundamentally important to recognize that perception has become the medium through which our tools, and modernity at large, operate. It falls on the architect to embrace the simulation – to continually develop and deploy mechanisms, as a means of simultaneously representing andcommunicating ideas. Contemporary society exists within a hyperreality, a world eager to consume empty signs of status and identity, a culture who has lost the ability to identify the boundary between the natural and the simulated. Perception is now the medium and the medium is now the message.