The Surface | A contemporary landscape

Project

Today’s world is characterized by a hysterical motion toward change, re- placement and consume. The congestion of the everything-right-now men, not only as a lifestyle or a set of values, but as an ontological issue.

It is not surprising that Internet become so fundamental in everyday life: from the metaphor of the journey for few, we moved to the paradigm of the diving for everyone everyday – virtual reality, augmented reality […], from private space to public space, even to the political space of the recent years.

Mediascape gradually overlapped landscape (the physical space), due to the huge amount of stimulating, new HQ contents, ready for anything, for who never has to ask. Small merchants swallowed up by Amazon, with package delivered to us while we are comfortably seated on the sofa watching Netflix, instead of get dressed for the cinema.

Internet compressed space and time and radically changed our habits: there is an app for everything with the aim of avoid interactions with the real envi- ronment as much as possible.

It is no longer a generational issue, but a concrete fact: physical space be- comes more and more corollary: Facebook is enough to communicate, Tinder to go out with someone, Street View to travel the world.

However, the more the society condenses in the Internet, the more the phys- ical (especially the public) space becomes where protests, demonstrations, ephemeral events or parties, ceremony or rituals take place.

There is an unconscious need to rebalance the physical space accelerating it to Internet attractiveness, and this is the fulcrum of this thesis: a physical entity, an object which encompasses a virtual entity that makes this possible. Architecture plus program.

The object is an experiential topography made up of various surfaces, metro- politan biomes with different narratives. A videogame that can be reassem- bled in multiple spaces multiple times. A triangular landscape of 30m side that acts as a stage for a forest of heterogeneous activities schedule, mostly for entertainment and leisure. Always active even if no structured activities are carried out. In fact, due to its morphology it can be used as a skatepark or as a Temporary Autonomous Zone.

In the research, around fifty existing human celebrations, historical events, party typologies, social dynamics and rituals are analyzed. Some of them, after being baked, generated entertainment devices that are then placed on The Surface.

Three generic sites are then used as Petri plate to incubate the possible de- velopment of The Surface hypertext of activities: the city center, the suburbs and the junkspace.

The Surface is an entertainment carousel, transgression and play able to bring back the interest on the physical space and on the body, which has been atrophied for too long by intensive Instagram, Facebook, CAD sessions.

Interview

What prompted the project?

It can be considered as an ironic, sometimes serious, stance towards the trend of daily life virtualization and the fashion attitude of ephemeral, smart, happy and pastel, online, shareable, on app, on cloud and adjectives-friendly architecture.

The Surface had a rapid and painless birth. More like a sneeze. While gestation has been instead a very long and silent (or latent?) process, entirely background and unconscious, nourished by various kinds of inputs and completely disconnected from the final goal. Basically: sorry mum, I didn’t know I was pregnant, until everything became clear. The Surface is sometimes dada, at the beginning it was more a joke than an answer to a question, but in a full revival of spontaneous generation, a series of reasons a posteriori popped up like mushrooms, fully autonomous and uncontrolled.

What questions does the project raise and which does it answer?

The aim was to create a Manichean project: physical, machinic, analog, pop-trash-nostalgic, excessive, baroque retro-futurist. A freak show of adjectives (at least contrary to those before?) in opposition to the phenomenal anorexia tendency – typical of a certain architecture and contemporary research that is characterized by a virtual/smart apparatus so cumbersome as to make users dumb and atrophied by exclusively on-delay ocular masturbation.

How can the body be brought back to the center of architecture and architecture back to the center of collective interest?
How can low-fi physical reality be attractive, after us being addicted to continuous dopamine hit of 4K porn?
How to create a programmatic palimpsest of experiences that can compete with the web stream?
How can we exploit the same operational speed of datascape, proposing answers on realm of physical reality?

Feasible and functional answers, extremely inserted in the market logic and perfectly compatible with the issue to which it opposes, while never being engulfed by it. The Surface is a physical object that must be experienced in its program with our own body. Being posted on Instagram stories is an intended side effect, as part of the strategic paradigm of current art exhibitions meant as selfie factories: I must be there too. Ergo sum, in its most physical implication.
The project has been defined as a jumble, but a more correct noun is regurgitation. Which is postproduction. A loop of consumption and production blended together, a set of informed readymade (a vocabulary of references à la Durand) that rewire their semantic apparatus in the new belonging context.

How does the project approach and define the very notion of surface?

As a spurious skater – cruising as a means of transport – before the shape, the g force and the broken shins, I have experience of textures, friction and skinned knees. It is a scale approach. It is a modus that subtracts one of the three dimensions to open the doors of perception.
Each surface is a microcosm that, when questioned, replies on several levels: historical, intellectual, symbolic, aesthetic, functional, tactile and experiential.
Each surface is a narrative that contributes to the generation of a biome patchwork worthy of any platform game, if not a more old school 3D Maze screensaver.
Each surface is a different level of the videogame, of consciousness, of distance from home.
The project does not, and doesn’t need to define a univocal truth about the concept of surface. It is more like an aleatory proximity of images that can led, that can prompt a self built narration from the user: open semantic fields, variable and therefore unexpected.

What informed the choice of the three generic sites? What is junkspace today?

The Surface is an itinerant object with the aim of heal bad habits by introducing its own. Methadone for homo videns. The most obvious option in order to respond to the need of structuring an activity carusel makes sense (since it is contextualized) to guarantee its operational effectiveness in the real context, is to model the fluidity of urban nature into the three most distinguishable and repeatable scenarios, and assuming constraints and opportunities: city center, suburbs and junkspace.
Junkspace was yesterday what today is held together not by skin, like a bubble, but by Wi-Fi antennas and fast connection, invisible mediums. Wi-Fi has launched the endless stream. Junkspace is now like being condemned to a perpetual Jacuzzi with millions of your not even best friends, but followers.
Junkspace is additive, layered and lightweight, not articulated in different parts, but subdivided in our pockets. Murals used to show idols, Junkspace’s modules are dimensioned to carry brands; myths can be shared.
Junkspace is today what it used to be yesterday, actually, but deprived of its physical nature, sublimated to algorithm mantra and spread like a virus with likes and shares.

What defined the choice of images and drawings through which the speculation is revealed?

I was looking for an extremely accurate selection of references from the collective imaginary, seen again and again thousands of times. The same that one would find in documentaries, the same that one would find in museums, newspapers, archives, posters, in your own memory when you think about it. An inverted Stockphotos: what one thinks something could be, without it being generic but rather highly specific. It is a selection without hierarchies: pop, cultured, vulgar, sophisticated, refined, banal, advertising, seductive, controversial, annoying, uncensored. All things already seen in all forms in the last century but which, inexplicably, continue to be scandalous.

How are these uniquely constructed to convey the thesis?

The images and drawings selection for The Surface are characterized by semantic layers for multiple targets, exactly like a consumer product. Its visual system is hypertrophic, the textual one reduced to the minimum terms and inflated to 72pt, put bold, underlined, so that the few statements are clear and concise. Advertising slogans to be imprinted in the retinas and forgotten in the subconscious to act as an inception. It is a big advertisement, an auto-spawning popup that one cannot kill. Taking advantage of the aggressive dynamics how brand new and always different contents are conveyed on the web is the first step to accelerate reality, oversaturate and hyperstimulate it through the Coolidge effect. Proposing something completely different and more and more extreme on each page.

To what extent is the medium the message?

The research around The Surface is an object itself. Sparkling and seductive. It is part of the study, since it is designed to disgust and seduce at the same time: few texts, too many images. A machine gun of CMYK synthesized content. The images are a test of what The Surface must be, once active: a social accelerator, a prompter of activities, entertainment, vices and physiological functions that keep us active, alert, present, alive in the physical reality of things. The medium is the means by which the content creates surplus value in order to avoid to be forgotten in the junkspace.

What is for you the architect's most important tool?

A critical vision of things, the ability to nourish and pursue it. Systematically and periodically overturn paradigms that encrust in one’s beliefs.
Long story short: adopting a perspective that is as broad and independent as possible from the individual disciplines.

About

Daniele Ricciardi (@irricciardi) held a Master Degree in Architecture in both Politecnico of Milano and Politecnico of Torino, after accomplishing Alta Scuola Politecnica programme.

He curated and partecipated to various contemporary art exhibition in the middle between provocation, bullshit, architecture and art.

He is currently working as Architect in JDS Architects.

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