People will be freed from certain financial burdens – the government will give a certain stipend to everyone freeing one from the situation where you pursue a career or take up a job because “it pays well”. A certain foundation of this studio seems to pose the question of what else you could do… like it’s your job be it sex, drugs, etc… but a more fundamental issue this brings up is that of identity. As part of our initial research, we interviewed many of our friends and family about what they would do if they weren’t financially obligated to work, and ironically the response was: they would still work. Working is a lifestyle; it brings trouble, fulfillment, friends, a sort of identity, and in the best case scenario, passion.
And perhaps here lies the problem with a UBI world, where automation takes over our jobs and robots pay taxes – we would go through a paradigm shift so great one would be forced to confront their own values, beliefs, outlooks.
Park Slope is one such place where I think this response will be especially evident – this is a neighbourhood that perhaps set the standard for Brooklyn stereotypes, and continues to do so for yuppies, hipsters, and everyone else that New Yorkers hate on freely. There have been feature documentaries made about its food co-op, Comedy Central videos about its stroller mafia, and a surprisingly comprehensive urban dictionary about everything that makes Park Slope a “living hell”. It’s a very uniform neighbourhood both demographically and ideologically, and a fairly isolated one, nearly bounded by major streets on each side.
In a world of UBI then, I imagine a Park Slope that not necessarily defies all that the internet hates about it, but an archipelago consisting of individuals who understand their own values, morals, beliefs, and are inclined to reach their own self-actualization. The organic grocery stores, independently owned coffee shops, and yoga studios will perhaps always exist in Park Slope, and perhaps in a world with not work these people will frequent these places more often, but with the creation of a series of heterotopic inspired spaces, Park Slope’s residents will finally have a space for true self contemplation.
In no particular order, a disposable monument, a digital library of Babel, a nudist’s bathhouse, a dispensary den, and a grocery gallery – each addresses a facet of what I believe self actualization consists of; each is a space meant to be used and activated by the people of Park Slope, and each is a departure from a certain reality that the individual is familiar with.
What prompted the project? how does the project respond to the unit’s brief?
In the beginning, there was no prompt. We began the semester by reading Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, who argue for an utopian vision of a future where human labour, or “work”, will be replaced by machine productivity, giving the individual true financial freedom. Within this future, humans would have a capacity to choose our lives and foster our own cultural, intellectual, and physical sensibilities according to our interests. While the means through which this will happen (UBI? Demurrage? New forms of reserve lending?) can only be effectively tested through practice, the idea that people will become empty containers, given time, freedom, and innovative means signifies a paradigm shift that has immense implications, socially and beyond. This was the setting within which this project was developed.
However, within this quasi-utopian scheme, there seemed to be a paradox. When one works, it is not simply because of an obligation to make money, pay taxes, and the like. Work is also connected to purpose, identity, and passion (ie. architects), and it would seem that in a world without work people would be forced to confront their own values, beliefs, and outlooks or risk becoming lost with what to do with themselves.
The fundamental need for self-introspection in this future becomes the role the project fulfills. Afterall, if freedom is the capacity to choose what you do but you don’t know what to do, then the simplest choice is to simply do nothing.
What drew you to these 5 elements in your research?
I had originally looked into Foucault’s theory on Heterotopias and Hejduk’s Mask of Medusa as inspiration – I found both compelling in their narrative strength as a series, each individual proposal working in tandem to convey a greater idea inclusive of its nuances. In this project, each intervention is meant to address different ways of self-actualization as a means of finding “identity”. After a lot of research into my chosen site, Park Slope (informally known as the most hated neighbourhood in New York City) and informal interviews with people from a variety of backgrounds, I came up with 9 interventions but eventually settled on 5 based on the strength of each one. In no particular order they are: a disposable monument, a digital library of Babel, a nudist’s bathhouse, a dispensary den, and a grocery gallery. Each is a facet of what I believe self-actualization consists of; each is a space meant to be used and activated by the people of Park Slope; each is a departure from a certain reality that the individual is familiar with.
How important was first and second hand research in the development of the project? From talking to people to surfing the Internet how was this then collected and mediated in the project itself?
Because the whole project is based upon the human experience, the interviews and casual conversations was extremely important in collecting a variety of opinions and lived experiences from individuals of varying backgrounds, which was then put into context based on research into the demographics, history, opinions of, and formal organization of Park Slope. For example, the disposable monument uses an existing monument to soldiers and sailors as one of its entrances, but once inside, it is a monumental space to… nothing. In a sense then, it becomes a contemplative space for everything, giving the individual the opportunity to decide what is important to them. And for a neighbourhood that has become a defining stereotype for Brooklyn, I think that space for the individual is extremely important for a future where one only has an abundance of time.
What were your impressions when you visited Park Slope?
I visited the neighbourhood with a preconceived notion of aggressive stroller pushing parents, healthy active “perfect” people, and independently owned coffee shops at every corner, but found that it was not radically different than say, Williamsburg, Greenwich Village, or other affluent Manhattan neighbourhoods. In walking into a coffee shop, looking at the menu, and interacting with people there did I begin to get a sense of this “pretentiousness” that online forums like to hate on Park Slope for. As with any neighbourhood, I think one has to really spend time there to get the feel.
What defined the mediums of section and axonometric as final images through which you choose to reveal the specific elements of the project?
For a project operating as an architectural parasite yet based upon something as fickle as self identity, there seemed to be a certain clarity in the axonometric drawing as the main means of representing the project. One understands the surrounding context, the siting, and the proposal itself in one image, and perhaps for a project like this it is important to see and understand everything at once. The plan and section then, are too abstract.
What the axonometric drawing does not portray is the quality of space inside the proposal; it says little about the ambience, light, materiality, which is why I also made a series of collaged sectional perspectives as an addendum to the axons.
Why the lack of immersive views?
Again, it goes back to how I’ve conceptualized “identity” in the project. As something highly discrete, it can only be decided upon and grasped by the individual, and even so, is constantly changing. I think then, if the project is seen as a framework, I leave it up to the observer to decide what kind of immersive experience they see themselves as having. Impact in ambiguity, I hope.
How were these ‘totems’ positioned within the existing site? What is their relationship to each other and to the immediate context of the streets and buildings of Park Slope?
To the immediate context, the parasitic nature of the interventions call for an explicit programmatic connection to its host. For example, the Library of Babel grows out of the existing Brooklyn Public Library, while the Gallery is located in a high traffic grocery store. Just as the project as a whole is meant for self-introspection and not re-invention, the urban fabric is left untouched, the existence of the interventions remain largely hidden, and is only signalled by the truncated pyramids scattered throughout the neighbourhood. To each other, they are thus formally connected, augmented by a series of whimsical narratives that describe the kind of interactions that would happen in each one.
How important were the sketches and diagrams as tools through which to develop the project?
With an abundance of software and scripts out there, I think it’s too easy to fall into the trap of letting the constraints of say, Rhino, dictate how one designs. In this way, the sketches are a way for me to play with an idea, iterate, and begin to formalize them in a way that is both non-committal and tangible. What I like is then brought into CAD as a starting point, and then developed in details.
The diagrams come last and serve as a check – if the big idea cannot be expressed in a simple diagram, then the big picture has been lost, and something needs to either be simplified or changed. Additionally, clear diagrams make a project accessible to the casual viewer, and effective in explaining complex ideas to critics in a presentation.