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Space to breathe

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Neil Spiller says that architects must break free and embrace a more fluid notion of spatial relationships

In the last issue of Architech I outlined how architects, using the new technologies, could design architectures that knit into natural ecologies and use artificial information ecologies to reboot nature. This is a critical part of any architectural sustainability agenda and needs to be discussed and researched further.

The new technologies can respond to any collection of ecologies. The operations, vectors and machine-augmented processes of the city are seldom seen as ecologies. Such agglomerations of matter and events contribute to the palimpsest of the city. These palimpsests, that are human culture's largest artefacts, should not be excluded from a discussion of sustainable and surreal reflexivity.

The city is a series of fluid fields populated by multiple architectural objects, sensations, images and chaotic strange attractors. There is little or no internal logic to the city; small perturbations in its current organisation can tip it into a massive rearticulation of spatial emphasis. These may be economic, artistic, and paranoid or to do with abrupt landscape morphology and many other ratcheting triggers. The palimpsest of the city is ascalar, that is, its complexity is revealed at any scale from the city scale to the microscopic. This writhing mass of fleeting relationships is forever on the move, always dynamic, always being given new emphasis.

Corporations are starting to question the static nature of their logos in relation to the liquid nature of their business. The logo has always been seen as the embodiment of corporate stability, branding and philosophy. Graphic designers are starting to create logos that change because they are linked up to external places and people movement.

Paul Madden has designed a whole series of objects that gain their form and movement from the study of the palimpsest of a past construction site. He took the events, vessels and trajectories that were needed to build the huge, heavy caissons of a stormsurge barrier off the coast of the Netherlands, as the 'genetic' of another event. He rescaled, re-used and mapped these loci. This man-made ecology defined the way a whole other ecology of objects was formed. These new mobile interrelated pieces were then used to construct a stand-in arm for the Venus de Milo. This seemingly crazy aspiration can be seen as metaphorically talking about the rearticulation and reconfiguration of the city in respect to history. In effect, processes of design like this can bring fuller contextuality to architecture's cumbersome lexicon.

The current static relationship of history to the city, to the present city and the future city is completely defunct in the light of this work.

Paradoxically, 'place' becomes very important.

Much has been written about new technologies collapsing, concertinaing and jump-cutting space, but here these phenomena contribute to making a variety of invisible specificalities visible. Ecologies, microclimates, human use patterns, human idiosyncrasies and all manner of non-human agencies acting on any site can generate highly dense, contextual architectures.

The architectures will be made reflexive by using virtual technologies of remote sensing and triggering.

One can see a time in the very near future when a traveller might in this way network a space that they only occupy fleetingly. A hotel room, a room in a student hall of residence, a picnic site or an architectural studio, could quickly be not only personalised but also made to reveal its deep ecology. Vignettes of familiar objects or spaces that signify 'home'are possible. Links to a pet's whereabouts perhaps thousands of miles away or mum returning home, even though she is in another country, could be used to trigger further events in a new space. This is the same as the way you would unpack your Marilyn Manson CD, put up a poster or hug your teddy bear to make a space 'homely'. Manson, posters and bears are happily not superseded by these thoughts but augmented by them.

Paradoxically, our world that modernity has made so definable, so calculable and so lacking in spaces of imagination embedded in its architecture has been opened up by the most virulent of its manifestations - technology.

There is no way to describe these new hybrid, reflexive spaces or tried and tested architectural narratives, and explanations are of little use. For my part I evoke Dali's critical-paranoid method to make some sense of the possibilities. Such connections of ideas across space, time and philosophy, is the only method which can cope with the potent objects and architectures of the virtual machine age.

Architecture will have to operate in three or more spaces simultaneously. Our new architectures are of shifting velocity and vector, they are objects that are reflexive, and inhabit vessels and spaces that are fast, slow, slippy or simply suddenly absent but always fluid. We know that the privileged author/object conspiracy is dead, we know that the single spatial relationship is defunct, we know that architecture is no longer a cold machine on a brutal planet. It is the little things that drive us wild, small movements, tiny recalibrations, minute metriculations, digital differentiations and meddlesome menisci. These and many other extreme phenomena silently undermine the prison of a naive reality in which some architects still continue to plonk a plodding architecture for a preposterous posterity.

Architects suffer from selective reasoning, and it is the shackles that limit spatial configurations that need breaking. The de-legislation of architectural space is well overdue. The architectural site becomes a massive palimpsest that demands change, poise and repose, collapse and replacement. Architecture becomes a river of transactions of meanings and movements.

This remarkable space of a new contextual architecture will mutter to itself, equating partialities in lexical hybrids. It will respect absent presences for it will know that all that is absent then, may not be later. Above all it will connect and translate but never in continuous relationships or uni-directional algorithms. It will always look for the next imperative, the next attractive gravity or the new fleeting phylum.

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