Architecture of No Memory is the visual representation of Sejong City’s fictional future, in which augmented reality technology has completely consumed the built environment in order to function optimally. The architectural language of Sejong has become one of markers and bitmaps, one that is only understood by computers. In order for people to give meaning to their surroundings, one has to allocate a part of their abilities – that of understanding and memorizing the surroundings – to augmented reality technologies.
In this future, a new type of architecture emerges that can best be explained along the line of Venturi’s Learning from Las Vegas. In his book two types of buildings are distinguished, namely 1) the decorated shed, an architecture of meaning, where the substance and image of a building are disconnected, often regarded as conventional, ordinary, cheap and boring, and 2) the duck, an architecture of expression, where the substance and image of a building are connected, seen as unique, extraordinary, expensive and interesting… the architecture of Sejong’s augmented future is one that looks extraordinary, but the image and substance are still disconnected; would Venturi call this new type of architecture the Duck Shed? As a consequence of this typological alteration, the role of an architect changes from a former of spaces to that of a digital image designer.
In addition to this architectural experiment and in order to improve the understanding of how this augmented future comes into existence, an augmented reality application was developed that solely reveals the digitally ecstatic overlay when projecting a tablet on the deteriorated images, just like the future of Sejong.
What prompted the project?
It started with the fascination of the idea of digital dementia; the impairment of human abilities due to overuse of technology. Rather than using an architectural design (physically manifested in a building or structure) to propose solutions for solving such a complex problem (which is hardly possible in the first place), the project became a cautionary tale that speculated on the consequences of overusing technology – augmented reality in particular – on the built environment.
What means did you use to acquaint and research the city of Sejong?
Initially the research began rigorously with the question of which city in the world would be likely to suffer from digital dementia i.e. to overuse technology. Different types of patterns were identified through a process of collecting and organizing data from multiple sources –
South Korea is one of the most high-tech countries worldwide, with a vast amount of the population using smartphones and a staggering 100% of the younger generation (18 – 35 years) possessing a smartphone (according to PEW research center and the World Bank).
In combination with the fact that South-Korean tech-giant Samsung recently filed a patent for an augmented reality smart lens and invested a large sum of money on their own Samsung Road in Sejong City, the youngest city in South-Korea in terms of settlement and median age, this city, with a lot of fascinating and unique conditions, irrefutably became the testing territory to experiment with the consequences of overusing augmented reality.
As the research process proceeded more qualitative research was conducted to get acquainted with the socio-cultural aspects: watching documentaries of Korea’s history, stay up-to-date on the political actualities between North and South-Korea, learn about Hangul, drink Soju, scroll through street view and airbnb rentals in Sejong City, listening to K-pop, talk with Koreans and just absorb as much new information on the place and the people as possible. In my opinion this type of research is essential to construct a narrative that connects the event, people and place in the best way possible.
What are for you the greatest challenges of these new cities in terms of urban planning?
It is particularly the process of transformation of the urban fabric and its historical artifacts that will be the challenge. How to deal with the existing structures when replacing physical layers of information with digital counterparts? Which physical elements will be replaced and which will remain? And how does one integrate the two in an overall form?
In the case of Sejong City, which can be seen as the outcome of an accelerated time-pressured process (developed in less than a decade), there were no traces of history and is therefore unprecedented in terms of transformability for optimal augmented reality application.
How important was the format of the video game as means to reveal and discuss the speculation?
Video gaming involves the interaction between people and a digital environment and is therefore inherent to augmented reality, which allows to transform any mundane daily ritual into a type of fun video game. Several moments have this subtle video-gaming dimension, such as having breakfast while catching cereals with Pororo the Penguin or navigating to your work while the floor crumbles away below your feet.
To what extent do you agree with the ‘medium is the massage’?
The phrase implies that the medium of communicating becomes as important as the information itself.
In this project, the augmented reality app that was developed to reveal the digitally ecstatic images enables the people to understand the meaning of the dreary images, only by the use of technology (tablets in this case). This unique process of giving meaning to the images is a very effective medium for conveying the message of how augmented reality could consume and impair the built environment of Sejong in order to function optimally.
What dictated the specific images you choose to reveal the project?
Since the concept mainly involves altering human experiences, perspectival drawings are used to give expression to the (in)humanity of it. It is revealed through a sequence of basic daily moments in the life of a young architect living in this looming future of Sejong City. The combination of interior and exterior images basically gives a guided tour in the city through the lens of the main character.
What informed the decision of using the 24 year old architect as the protagonist of the speculation?
In order to actually attempt to understand what such a future looks like from a human perspective, it is essential to identify with the characters living there. Not just what he or she sees, but what they think, feel or smell. And what better way to explore such a situation than from your own perspective, which is why the protagonist is a reflection of myself – a 24 year old architect (to be).
By doing so the possibility emerges to intuitively overlay textures in the augmented reality – personalizing it to my own desires, which can be seen as an advantage of this future scenario.
How would his experience differ from another inhabitant?
The digital manifestation of desires, fantasies or even fears can be expressed in an unlimited number of different ways – within the restraints of the technology, one is able to personalize their surroundings (color, texture, objects, interfaces..). It could even be possible to visually mute certain events or objects and therefore each experience will be unique and personalized to a certain extent.
What is for you the potential of tools as ‘augmented reality’ for the architect?
Augmented reality is a technique to layer any type of virtual information on top of the real world – rather than replacing an entire city’s image and meaning as done in this project, this technique could be applied in a much more subtle way, by allowing certain elements or spaces to actually be visually appropriated through the augmented reality and by that foster more interactions between an environment and its users. It will be both a challenge as well as the potential to play with the boundaries between the physical and the digital.
How has this project affected how you think of tools and your role as an architect in contemporary practice?
In this project the architect is portrayed as a type of video game designer that is merely involved with scripting the image to be overlaid on the marked substance.
The technology becomes the architecture and the images of the buildings are all iconic and extraordinary. The architecture becomes disconnected from the processes that show the beauty of human inventiveness, a trend that characterizes internationally styled architecture. For my design approaches this implies, despite the novelty of fascinating technologies like augmented reality, to keep focus on human processes that foster appropriation and personalization not solely in a visual way, but also physical. It is the outcome of these processes that represent the moments and meaning in the urban dynamic.
Furthermore, during the design process of the project, the tools that helped to actually envision the future were predominantly analogue in the form of sketches, which for me emphasizes the importance of analogue tools and helps me to prevent technology to be the guiding principle in design, which easily conceals humanist dimensions and often focuses on the image. Again, it is about balancing the physical and the digital.