The Order of Time is an immersive installation featuring sculptural works that reveal the ordering of space and our constructed relationships through direct experiential discovery. Situated at the intersection of physics, art and architecture, The Order of Time engages in our agency and understanding of the world. In this interview we talked with Stephen and Theodore Spyropoulos on their conceptual dialogue with Yona Friedman’s work, the paradoxes of unique world-building, the plurality of time and the importance of academic contexts for the dissemination of their continuous project.
KOOZThe Order of Time was originally commissioned as part of an exhibition that celebrated the life and work of Yona Friedman. How does the project relate to the work of Friedman and his approach to design and architecture as tools through which individuals could shape their own ways of living and their own forms of community?
MINIMAFORMSThe Order of Time was commissioned as part of an exhibition that celebrated the life and work of Yona Friedman, produced by Le Quadrilatère - Centre d’art de Beauvais, the Centre National Edition Art Image (CNEAI=) and the Frac Grand Large - Hauts-de-France in partnership with Idem + Arts and the Frac Picardie from the Yona Friedman Foundation. The invitation was to respond to Yona Friedman’s projects and themes in the form of a dialogue. His concepts of participatory architectures, spatial cities, and early concepts of computational urbanism resonated with us and the work we have been developing in Minimaforms over the years. Our work has always been motivated by constructing frameworks to enable participation and curiosity. We saw this dialogue as a means to evolve some of his concepts and the complexities of these concepts when pushed to an extreme conclusion. We looked at the work that he was developing with projects like Flat Writer for the Osaka Expo and the Architecture Machine Group at MIT along with his more speculative and conceptual works. These projects offered a vision of space as something adaptive and able to be co-designed.
We saw this dialogue as a means to evolve some of his concepts and the complexities of these concepts when pushed to an extreme conclusion.
We began by developing research that moved from Friedman’s circle-inscribed squares to spherical and voxel-based cubic organizations. The move challenged linear adaptive stacking and introduced packing, recursion, and subdivision, a move towards a high-resolution model of interaction. Our work looked to an architecture and urban model that was relational. Expanding on early attempts in what he developed as conceptual apparatus in his “choice machine”, Friedman expressed his thoughts as part of a television broadcast which we have included in the show. He said, “I will call it a menu of these machines, all possibilities are shown, from which anyone can choose anything, whichever one they want. It would have been a huge book, just full, with little plans. Instead of that, I make something like a typewriter. That is, that instead of the book, I made the tool which prints the book.” Beyond apartment generators, we sought to examine the complexity of simultaneous interactions of users through an adaptive framework that was enabled by generative gamified rules of engagement. By bridging art, science and technology, we examined the forces of algorithmic structuring and simulation of life. Building on John von Neumann’s research into self-replicating machines, the invention of cellular automata and John Conway’s Game of Life, the resultant three sections of time speak to the complex interactions of these associative rules within the construction of a model, in the spirit of Charles and Ray Eames’ seminal short film Powers of Ten. Our concept of urbanism challenges the master plan and blueprint as something obsolete and unable to address latency and uncertainty. Our proposal considers a framework that everyone can influence, no one can control.
Our concept of urbanism challenges the master plan and blueprint as something obsolete and unable to address latency and uncertainty.
KOOZ Situated at the intersection of physics, art and architecture, The Order of Time engages in our agency and understanding of the world arguing that “rather than something shared and mutually understood, the ‘world’ is plural, situated and in a process of continuous formation wherein worlds within worlds are made legible through a cosmology of observations.” Where does this leave the discipline of architecture? To what extent can this then be framed not through the understanding and designing of artifacts but rather through the acknowledgement of a system of complex interactions in constant flux?
MINIMAFORMS Architecture is a paradoxical and complex act. It embodies a deeply human pursuit to construct a shared environment. We cited in our description of our work George Spencer Brown’s statement from his seminal book Laws of Form, which was an attempt to straddle the boundaries between mathematics and philosophy in which he declared: “Draw a distinction and a universe comes into being.” This brief statement outlined the paradoxes of world-building and our relationship to these processes. If our understanding of the world is ours alone, then without action this understanding remains inaccessible to others. If our understanding of the world is unique, it necessitates communication and action. We believe the power of architecture is in its ability to think of our environment as an interface. Space as an interface. It is an important acknowledgement that we find in the structuring of life and matter through physics: all is relational. The future and past do not figure in a quantum understanding of the world. All is in the now. If we value our differences and unique knowledge of things, then we need to consider that this complexity necessitates architecture to be considered as an open framework to enable its complexities to influence a more inclusive discipline.
If our understanding of the world is unique, it necessitates communication and action. We believe the power of architecture is in its ability to think of our environment as an interface.
KOOZ In a more pragmatic question, the lifespan of contemporary buildings typically runs from 30 to 50 years, resulting in a vicious unsustainable circle of the architecture and construction industry. What is the value of reflecting on the notion and parameter of time as architectures’ true agency?
MINIMAFORMS Our conceptions of time are understated in daily architectural discourse even when they are of critical importance. The challenges that we face—environmentally and housing-wise—necessitate a radical rethinking in method and practice: howcan we engage and leverage a form of collective intelligence? The only certainty is uncertainty and this speaks to the need to challenge the orthodoxies of discourse and design. Time is plural and it speaks to both the short-term necessities and long-term trajectories of how we conceive and communicate. We should understand the complexities and not shy away from them. From how we plan our cities to understanding the life cycles of materials, we have to challenge disposable and one-liner simplistic solutions. It is important that architecture is experimental and research-led. All ideas need to be on the table and we should find a more creative approach to address the pressing needs of our time by working on these matters collectively.
The only certainty is uncertainty and this speaks to the need to challenge the orthodoxies of discourse and design.
KOOZ The Order of Time is now on show at the Architectural Association of London. What are your hopes and expectations for the project as exhibited within this academic context? What questions and discussions do you hope it will raise with the next generation of young architects?
MINIMAFORMS For us, sharing the work at the Architectural Association is very meaningful. Our studio and my path as an educator and director of the AA (DRL) have moved in parallel over the last two decades. Both are motivated by pushing the boundaries of how we conceptualise and develop ideas through an active engagement with the everyday. Both are experiments in constructing alternative models of collective practice. It is very important for us to safeguard spaces that offer the time and space to explore and challenge things. We believe it is very important to find means to share our research with our community.
We see our work as a continuous project that is altered daily. All process, no finality [...] if the problem can be understood spatially, then it is architectural.
The Order of Time is an important work that brings full circle some of the research that we have been developing in Minimaforms and presents it as an invitation to see the world anew. Stephen and I have always worked to create projects that sit in-between disciplinary distinctions. We find art, architecture, science and technology equally fascinating and source material for creative responses. We see our work as a continuous project that is altered daily. All process, no finality. Stephen and I believe that if the problem can be understood spatially, then it is architectural.
If there is something that we hope young architects could benefit from our path is an acknowledgement that there is no blueprint for the future and that it is important to create spaces to explore one's participation in the discipline. It is to encourage them to feel part of a community that is trying to find a better way. Architecture makes a great deal of demands but it can be a beautiful pursuit. There is a great deal of pessimism and apathy towards architecture and design and this for me is problematic and not constructive. People need to come together and find the means to rise up to the challenges.
Dr. Theodore Spyropoulos is an architect and educator. He is the Director of the Architectural Association’s world-renowned Design Research Lab (AADRL) in London and resident artist at Somerset House. Theodore has previously chaired the AA Graduate School, was Professor of Architecture at the Staedelschule in Frankfurt and co-founded the AA’s New Media and Information Research Cluster. He has been a visiting Research Fellow at M.I.T.’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies and taught in the graduate school of UPENN, RCA Innovation Design Engineering Department and the University of Innsbruck. Theodore has previously worked for the offices of Peter Eisenman and Zaha Hadid. In 2013, the Association for Computer-Aided Design in Architecture awarded him the ACADIA award of excellence for his educational work directing the AADRL. Theodore received his BArch with honours from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, his MArch from the Architectural Association and his PhD from UCL Bartlett School of Architecture.
Stephen Spyropoulos is an artist, educator, and design leader who brings over twenty years of experience in building and scaling world-class teams, creating culture, design innovation, and solving complex human-centered problems. Stephen has built and led design teams at hyper-growth technology companies such as Compass, Gilt Groupe, HBC, and Heavy. He has directed projects for clients such as Samsung, Matador Records, The Beggars Group, and XL Records. Stephen was named Creative Review’s One to Watch and has exhibited and lectured about his work internationally. He has taught Design Thesis at Mason Gross School of the Arts; Rutgers University and currently is a resident artist at Somerset House. Stephen received an MA in Communication and Interaction Design at Central St. Martins School of Art and Design in London and his BFA with honours from Mason Gross School of the Arts, Rutgers University.