Issues of trust between people, companies, institutions and nations are becoming increasingly complex in the internet age. This has prompted authoritarian countries such as China to impose credit systems allowing for complete control both today and in the future immersive internet. The project looks at how architecture as in the past been used to communicate trust (and power) through materials, size and ornaments and speculates that the surfaces of architecture might once more become the face of trust in an augmented city. The project also speculates that this might expand to the body in the form of extravagant masks etc. Not unlike a past where masks, crowns where used to communicate your power and trustworthiness. The project is both criticising the Chinese credit system and speculating on a dark future of control but also on an exciting more archaic future of visual display of trust through visual spectacle. Fur, liquid and reflective surfaces are used because they are very expensive for a computer to calculate.
What prompted the project and the interest in the brief developed by Intermediate 1?
The project begins by questioning – what is trust? And what constitutes trust? Since architecture is already hard to define, the role of the architects becomes ambiguous. While the internet is gradually getting more immersive, architects should not stop at only designing physical environments. As Kengo Kuma mentioned, anything conform with the subject’s environment is called architecture. For the subjects, both the physical environment and the virtual environment are equivalent, and there is no difference between the two. Architecture is a subjective feeling and a subjective existence.
As we move into the virtual, I realized the importance of “trust”. The relationship between people are constitute by trust. When we are in the virtual environment, how do we build trust between each individual, to achieve transparency between relationships?
How would you define your relationship to the internet?
Inseparable. From the beginning of the day to the second before sleeping, I can hardly be separated from my mobile phone and the Internet. From receiving information, entertainment, communication, to work, internet has been widely relied on by contemporary society. Perhaps it is the greatest invention in the modern era.
But the most influential benefits must always be accompanied by the most influential disadvantages. Industrial development has accelerated urban progress but at the same time created huge environmental problems. The Internet has liberated human thought, but it has also evoked major privacy issues – Data and trust. In this data age, the more people rely on the Internet, the more people can’t live without it. We should pay more attention to the issues of trust.
What questions does the project raise?
Architecture has attempted to reflect trust on the facade and had succeeded throughout history. The facade of the building is the visible expression that manifests social status, political status, and even identity. However, contemporary architecture has failed to achieve it and will have to reinvent in order to manifest itself again. How would we achieve this as we move into the virtual?
What importance do you behold upon the images through which you articulate the project?
The images I created elaborate my views on this phenomenon and to demonstrate a different scenario. We can’t predict what the technology of the future will look like, so the form we design is not important, the major thing is the system or concept. The emergence of new cities should not be observed by the same aesthetics, and the style will be constantly changing with the current state. The project’s focus is the system or set of rules, but not the form itself.
What was the most important tool when articulating the project, from research to execution?
Writing. To me a project relies on writing. While writing an article, I constantly reorganize the arguments I want to express. In the process of creation I at the same time refine the argument I want to convey.
What is for you the architects most important tool?
The most important quality for architects is criticality. Through architecture, we should express our arguments and not be limited by objective physical reality. A revolution is made by redefining or re-recognizing the surrounding environment and accepting changes.
What drew you to explore and challenge the façade as architectural skin?
I realized that architects practicing today like to discuss plans and sections, but rarely focus on the facades. Signals are tangible on the “faces” for us to reduce the gap between the known and the unknown, vulnerability and expectations. They are the evaluation of the existing situation to feel confident or comfortable of the uncertain. As I closely studied the facade, I understood that it is not a single plane but actually full of layers. We leave marks on the facade in order to backtrace the past. Marks are preserved in order to understand and remind us, nothing is completely detached from the past. People tend to improve and cover new layers or masks on the existing situation, but these are often upgraded or downgraded from the previous layer, accumulating gradually, not replacing.
How did you approach the research of this through time and across cultures?
By looking at the way we trade from past to present, and how it corresponds to how we trust each others. Our trading methods have shifted from the Barter system to the unit system and now to the blockchain system. Relatively, trust has shifted from the local trust, to institutional trust and now the distributed trust. The importance of the blockchain system is that there is no more centralized power, and therefore more transparency.
From daily activities, people in China continue to be supervised and evaluated. The social credit system rates every citizen based on their financial behavior, personal information, and online activity. Trustworthiness has become a symbol of social status. I realized the importance of trust, so I referenced the history of banknotes. Its extremely complex manufacturing process caused its reliability and makes it trustworthy. I have turned the processing power of the future virtual world into a factor that constitutes trust. The higher the complexity of the facade produced by processing power, the higher the trustworthiness.
You talk about the façade existing as the ID of the building, how and why is it failing today?
In the past, the identity was directly shown on the external visual appearance of a building, which I would consider transparent because the situation is displayed by the facade of architecture. Beginning with the lowliest cottage, and rising from rank to rank, to the most sumptuous palace for a King. Architecture can be a vehicle for conveying power, with image and symbol deployed with communicative intent.
However, the ornamentation is taken out of the building process itself, and it can be separated. The facade of the building is not communicating its identity anymore. It has been replaced with a logo. Any kind of facade can represent any identity, just by changing the sign on it.
As Adolf Loos remarks in Ornament and Crime:
Since ornament is no longer organically linked with our culture, it is also no longer the expression of our culture. It has no human connections, and no connection with the world order.
How does the project address this failure?
In order to prevent the world from becoming a series of irresponsible blank cubes, I propose to bring back ornamentation that can manifest information about the use of the building and symbolize the trustworthiness of the building and who uses it, not a meaningless layer of decoration.
I proposed a decentralised system that self-generates ornaments on the facade and even on people. If the rating goes higher, the buildings facade will increase its complexity. Or when if the social relationship of a person has increased, it will produce a higher resolution. The result is on the facade itself, as it has done historically. This is a speculation of a scenario when texture, color, mesh quality and resolution become the medium to express the situation of trust. Resolution can become a factor to distinguish people’s trustworthiness.
How do you envision as the immersive façade of the future?
A decentralized, constantly evolving city. A city where individuals would control the facades and appearance of others through the blockchain system, with the sacrifice of subjectivity in exchange of absolute transparency between individuals, defined by agreement. Money was a symbol of social status. In this city, the processing power is the new currency, and credit score is the social status. Our identity will be fully displayed on our appearance to communicate the trustworthiness of each individual, even the city itself. We are the image constructed by others, we are the results by others’ decisions and ratings, operated by a blockchain decentralized system which people’s perspective will affect directly on your appearance, we will be the projection of others.