From the Fourth Amendment to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and from the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to films like Minority Report and The Lives of Others, our law and culture are full of warnings about state scrutiny of our lives, many have tried to shed light on the notion of mass surveillance.
Surveillance is mainly carried out by governments or governmental organizations, but also by corporations such as Google, either on behalf of governments or as their own initiative.
This design proposal revisits that phenomenon with the mindset that no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy and creates a new form of society in which occupants can feel secure.
In the 21st society, a time when people’s data has become the new currency, Queenstown aims to re-evaluate covert responses by proposing an architecture where people can live, work and hide together under a sustainable economic network.
Queenstown encompasses a primary school, workshops and factories with the aim of achieving being completely autonomous. The construction sequence of the proposal is structured into 3 phases and is planned to be completed in approximately 100 years from it’s start date.
Queenstown philosophises several and varied pedagogic systems and aims of illustrating ideas that combined could result in a Utopian system of education which could form the foundation of an idealistic society. This speculative proposal is a device, a thought experiment which give an alternative way of living to London citizens beyond the limitations and the insecurity of the modern society.
What prompted the project?
We are actively present in a moment in history where surveillance has reached a point no one could ever imagine .Video cameras, or closed-circuit television (cctv) are becoming a more and more widespread feature of European Life. Fears of terrorism and the availability of ever-cheaper cameras have accelerated the trend even more.The use of sophisticated systems by police and other public security officials is particularly troubling in a democratic society. In Central London, the police are planning to set up a centralized surveillance centre where officers can view thousands of video cameras around the downtown and police-operated cameras have proliferated in many other cities across Eu in just the past several years.
The design reacts to this phenomenon and aims to provide an oasis, a utopia where people could remove themselves from the rigors of daily life refresh and expand their imaginative capabilities. Queenstown is not detached from the physical reality and is proposing a radical social change something between ‘daydreaming’ and ‘escapism’ which aims to produce the seed for a new, more humane social order.
What is your take on the notion of surveillance in relation to the amount of data we ourselves choose to share on social media as Instagram and Facebook amongst others?
Personally, i strongly disagree with that ‘nothing to hide, nothing to worry’ debate which has been around for ages. I think it only serves to reinforce, justify and extend existing power dynamics, rendering surveillance as a normal and inevitable part of life.So even though im an active member of facebook,Instagram and other social media im trying to minimise my use and don’t expose myself more than its needed.I think that nowadays collecting information on people and evaluating them, whether for marketing purposes ,job screening or friendship has become so normalised and even though not be ‘on the grid’ could be deemed suspicious I will take my chances!
How and to what extent do you think that this new level of connectivity and exhibitionism has affected the spaces we design and inhabit?
It seems that there is nowhere to hide anymore! Everything is public, transparent, visible to invisible others,the sheltering walls of privacy have been digitally disvolved. Nowadays surveillance emerges as an aesthetic in almost all the aspects of cultural production, from fashion and advertising to architecture and design.On the architecture field ,the best example that comes to my mind is the glass bar in Chelsea designed by Thomas Leeser. This bars takes the idea of seeing and being seen to a new level with the bar’s street frontage made up of a one-way mirror, so that people on the street can see into the unisex restroom,but the people in the restroom cannot see out .The assymetrical structure of vision,evoking Bentham’s model, tranforms its occupants into voluntary prisoners of architecturalized surveillance .The fish-bowl effect promises to reveal images of people washing and primping, and perhaps other clandestine activities. It seduces the passerby on the street through invited voyeurism. The shop front, which for Walter Benjamin was the ur-capitalist site of commodity desire, is here transformed into a late-capitalist surveillance peep show!
What defined the time frame of 100 years for the project to be constructed?
The project is heavily inspired by various science fiction stories such as the Sigmarilion by J.R.R Tolkien.In that book the universe called EA was designed in approximately 100 years and it was splitted into 3 key periods,similar to Queenstown.
How do you see this state of surveillance developing in the next 50 years?
I think camera size will change dramatically in the near future. Many of the cameras that can be pointed at us today are easy to spot. Researchers are developing recording devices that can hide in plain sight, some by mimicking animals. A company called AeroVironment has produced a drone that looks and flies like a hummingbird. Engineers at Carnegie Mellon, NASA and elsewhere have designed snakebots that can manoeuvre in tight spaces and could be adapted for surveillance. Robotic bugs are in development,too,and engineers at UC Berkeley and in Singapore are developing cyborg beetles-real insects that can be remote controlled via implanted electrodes and that might someday pack cameras.
Also,another scenario comes for Gary T.Marx,the author of windows into the soul: Surveillance and society in an Age of high technology.In his book he states that as the data collected by all the devices around us become overwhelming, well increasingly rely on artificial intelligence to sift through them and make decisions. This ‘world size robot’ full of sensors, processors and actuator will increase efficiency but wont eliminate injustice.For one think,algorythms make mistakes.If facebook get your profile wrong they show you an add of a Chevy you don’t want to by.
What inspired/influenced the language of representation of the project?
The language of the drawings has been influenced mainly by concept art and artists like Gean Girraud Moebius and Killiang Eng. Also Expressionism was a big influence for me even though I didn’t know at the time. All the previous artists I mentioned are characterized by an absence of harmony, continuity and symmetry in their art, something that I find really intriguing.
What was your work process in terms of project development and drawing?
I always start by writing down a few words I want to express with the drawing. Then I make I small sketch which I make 3 dimensional right after using either Rhinoceros or Zbrush. With the use of a Graphics tablet then I draw on top of the model, I add colour and animation to it. It’s a process which lasts about 10 days .
How important was the drawing as tool through which to explore this Utopia?
Drawing at the time was the only tool I had ,the only method I could express myself with and I think that made it really powerful.
What is for you the architects most important tool?
Eyes I think, architecture is everywhere around us,the only think we need to do is sit back and observe.