In Search of Matryoshka Extravaganza

To bastardise Friedrich Nietzsche: the Architect is dead. If enlightenment killed God, then technology has all but bludgeoned the egocentric, xenophobic, Fountainhead architect of the early 20th Century. We can no longer afford the luxury of disrespecting the deluded title of ‘master builder’ as we represent ‘space’ through static two-dimensional viewports. We sit idle as we watch technology define our very discourse. Augmented and Virtual Reality have begun to consume the world around us, embedding information in a fundamentally spatial way. These tools alongside new modalities of distribution have irreversibly redefined architecture and its interaction with the world. We now communicate with construction firms; not in plans or sections, but as apps for real-time interactive site work; to the general public not with printed or static vignettes, but through ephemeral, viral social media posts; and to ourselves not with static orthographic projections, but in interactive, real-time design environments.

Traditional architectural discourse has been exhausted – the architecture meme you dismissed as you scrolled past is becoming more critical than the rhetoric of your favourite architectural theorist. The design and thought tools of our post-digital age are the tools of Architecture’s survival. They engender expansion, reconfiguration, reassertion and the reimagining of the physical world as we know it. Perhaps our reluctance to accept these tools validity is subjugated by the perpetual frustration occurring in our rapidly changing society: racism, terrorism, gender inequality, sexuality and conformity all consumed daily, hourly, or even every second in the form of low-res internet images and tweets. In this paralysis, Architecture has stagnated in a slowly draining pool of Deleuzian pastiche. Humanity exists in a hyperstimulated society and whether we like it or not, Architecture must exist here too.

A traditional orthographic drawing featuring discrete objects, plans, and kitsch artefacts laced with overlapping geometry. This triptych explores the relationships of each object constrained within a 2D environment, imprisoned and agitated. The notion of hyperstimulation is understood here as a flattened whole wherein the boundaries and intrinsic essence is subjugated by the collection.

The architect negates the utilization of terminology to appeal to the elite; cute, beautiful, colour and kitsch are only a taster of terms considered taboo within architectural discourse. They oppose the serious posture our profession is reluctant to shake. Its image, curated through desaturated, stark realism encompassed by sombre, empty renders. Yet, within our work, we find the inclusion of these notions not afaux pasbut as reclamation of discourse which has been discarded.

“If works of art were judged democratically–that is, according to how many people like them–kitsch would easily defeat all its competitors”. – TomášKulka

The reclamation of terminology considered taboo is the first step towards an architecture with validity within our hyperstimulated world today. We must revisit what is ‘real’ within the ‘ideal’; we must embrace kitsch, trusting in our bad tasteand our uneducatedaesthetic for an architecture which can begin to tackle the concrete within our fragmented society.

The kitsch object, its texture and its motif promote unfamiliar familiarity embedded within a nuanced emergent digital language. Kitsch etymologically has ties with commercialisation, authenticity and tradition passed from generation to generation, albeit with connotations of excessive sentimentality. In our ever-shifting cultural and architectural context, this garish quality provides a grounding further freed from the ties of traditional architectural discourse.

The radical unification of digital [augmented] and physical [built] reality recognised through new tools begins to establish a link between traditional forms of representation and a chaotic new world order by serving as a liminal scanner between the two – a visual portal to reframe new hybrid objects through superpositioning and lagrangian characteristics. Our role and our tools have been continuously revoked or repurposed as the architect is redefined in our strife to remain relevant; the almost known, yet withdrawn quality of the kitsch object encourages the use of new design tools in order to pry unwilling architects from their comfortability into a world of unknown familiarity.

An axonometric drawing breaking the fourth wall between the objects and their audience as they are now aware of their surveilled spectacle from a distance. This triptych reveals the third dimension obscured behind the scenes of a traditional orthographic drawing; in this realm the observer encounters the ‘real’ position of the objects. Their depth and distance exposed, yet, it remains a 2D drawing attempting to represent a 3D environment.

What prompted your research into the architectural object?

Our research started as an exploration into new tools and as a rebellion to an architectural discourse stewing in its own stagnancy. The Architectural Object (AO) is an ideal corpse to investigate due to its scale and isolated disposition. In a similar nature to a journalist’s shorthand, each idea, exploration and speculation evolved from small architectural discoveries embedded with short provocative manifestos. We have a fascination with new technologies and the freedom encouraged by them because they offer Architecture the chance to reclaim what has been thrown away by Modernism and in turn ridiculed through Postmodernism.

Architecture and its interaction with the world has always been a major topic of discussion within the discipline. Do you see VR/AR as a means to totally detach architecture from the real or do these new tools reinforce the relationship between the contemporary culture of the digital and the pixel to the built brick?

We believe these tools ultimately liberate the architect from a reliance on exclusively physical and exclusively digital detachment. Our work does not focus on the dislocation of person and space, nor does it dislocate itself from object and space. Instead, our focus relies on the compositing of space, through mixed realities wherein the mediation of physical and digital play, posture and interact. Both the digital and the physical are herein augmented and improved by their cohesion. AR and XR (extended reality) transcend the known in one reality by exposing the unknown in another; the relationship of the unknown with the known is fundamental as architecture begins to engage with the immersive interactive nuances of our hybrid world. Detachment is quickly fading away, the ‘digital’ cultures which have been formed over the past 20 years (or past two weeks online) are often as vibrant and relevant as the physical attributes of these cultures within our cities, because they coexist.

If the drawing was the international language of architecture, which is its digital successor?

The physical, printed drawing itself has become outdated; its relevance is dwindling, even within the physical construction profession, printed architectural drawings are being used less and less on building sites – replaced by augmented reality apps. The digital successor of the drawing will redefine architecture’s relationship with the intricacies of real-time 3D exploration. A consequence is that the drawing’s digital successor will fundamentally integrate the physical and digital in a far more accessible way because of the new spatial relationship they have. This will further enable systems of more organic communication and ad hoc amendments within the discipline.

A superimposition, revealing the mediation of the digital and the physical, side stepping traditional notions of 3D and 2D drawing.  This triptych reveals Augmented Reality positioned IRL settings at varying scales, each exploring how by placing 3d content IRL we imbue a mixed reality wherein both parts equally exist. Augmented drawings offer a much more intuitive and interactive mode of representation for experiencing and designing space. Being able to instantly translate 3-dimensionality within the physical world has already begun to fundamentally distort the architectural discipline.

'strive for the architect to remain relevant'- in a dystopian or Utopian future (depending on the point of view), do you think that this ever evolving digitalisation will annihilate the figure of the architect? Will architecture kill its "master" as our machines get 'stronger'?

We’re strong believers that technology must not be feared or protested like the 19th Century luddites, doing so keeps architecture idle as the world moves beyond us. However, equally important is that these new tools must be understood if we wish to control them – to prevent machines from “killing” us. In this respect, the role of the architect as aforementioned has fundamentally been altered, through machine learning, convoluted neural networks or even a Grasshopper will never dislocate design from the architect. None of these tools are the negation of the architect but rather the original role of the architect reincarnate wherein our presence is felt through the holistic approach engendered in an algorithm or thought. Machines in this case provide efficiency and automation, and also a unique digital reasoning yet unexplored. The discipline is undoubtedly not obsolete but it is certainly changing.

If architecture follows our "Hyperstimulated society" will it potentially self combust?

The problem with architecture, is that it is excruciatingly slow. It cannot respond or impact in time, therefore it must be ahead of the curve directing a path, or remain in the reflections of as found. Built work that concerns itself with political, systematic or cultural problems often finds itself outdated upon completion as the process of building is unfortunately slow. By following the precedents set by this fragmented hyperstimulated society we live in, architecture would be able to adapt and define its surroundings in new ways. Architecture must define its presence and not only act as a background. With the integration of XR in our everyday lives, architecture will not self-destruct but instead organically mediate and intertwine two or more realities.

'Kitsch', would you define this a "tool" for regeneration, the needle and the thread to sew a fragmented society?

Exactly. We see the model of Kitsch as a tool, not so much for regeneration, but as a way to stitch unknown and familiar fragments together, acting as the connective tissue between the known, recognisable architectural objects and the unfamiliar, often referred to as – uncanny – digital, technological objects. Whilst architecture in the built realm moves slowly, it progresses quickly through publications, online presence and in social media. The Kitsch objects allow us to draw parallels between the disjointed notions of the known and the unknown.

Do you think that Architecture needs a shock to surpass this 'crisis'?

In retrospect, Architecture always seems to have a response when some increasing turmoil reaches a breaking point whether that be student riots of May 1968 or Sarajevo in 1993. Today, our turmoil appears fragmented and disjointed wherein we rarely engage in the world as a totalising project. Our facets and current systems unfortunately divide us and allow us to turn a blind eye. We believe that there need not be a ‘shock’ – if we consult the news daily any report may administer shock until the next commercial plays. Instead, conscious insightful architectural thought paired with diverse tooling will allow us to tackle important problems daily through the everyday architectural project.