January 28, 2007
Cyber Space: Recent Projects Bridge the Disciplinary Divide Between Multimodal Medias and Architecture
Recent projects bridge the disciplinary divide between multimodal medias and architecture. This juncture represents the willingness of design professionals to seek new ways of defining how we, as a culture and society, perceive the built environment. Within a historical context, this trend can be seen as parallel to the Modern Movement in architecture, which resulted from the radically new methods of production and introduction of new building materials, such as the research done by engineer Henery Bessemer, during the industrial revolution in Britain at the turn of the 19th Century. The current trend in architecture similarly deals with a rapidly expanding scope of new media types that provide today’s artists, architects, and designers with a fresh vehicle by which their artistic disciplines may be advanced.
Once viewed as a linear sequencing of traditional elements, architectural space today is becoming increasingly non-linear. This shift in the way we perceive the built environment, or “space” within the field of architecture is also taking place in various other multimodal art forms. The Labyrinth Project, which has been developed by the University of Southern California’s Annenburg School for Communication, is one such example of how cutting edge media forms influence design and result in increasingly inspiring and imaginative art. As “an art collective and research initiative [focused] on interactive cinema and database narrative,” cultural theorist Marsha Kinder works with “visual artists and writers known for their experimentation with nonlinear forms.”
This project takes the user’s interface with the work as its point of departure. By allowing the user to make choices based on his or her own aesthetic or intellectual prerogative, the user is able to influence the direction of the interactive narrative. The experience of Labyrinth thus enables a more natural progression that is based upon individual choice and preference rather than the authoritarian dominance of the creator. Architecture, in a similar way, however strictly designed by the architect to promote a specific architectural experience, is ultimately contingent upon the choices made by the person who is occupying the space. Thus, the perception of a particular environment, be it a public gathering space, a bustling streetscape in a business district, or the more private quarters of a domestic environment, can all differ from person to person based upon their choices of how to circulate within a building or public space, how they interface with the space, as well as what they focus on as their own architectural points of interest.
When contrasted against classical notions of built environment, it becomes particularly apparent how radically different modern day conceptions of space are. Within his treatise Ten Books of Architecture, writen before 27 B.C, Roman architect and engineer Vitruvius outlined how architectural design should and must be conducted to best support the function of the state as a whole. Vitruvius delineates the architectural process exhaustiveley, whereby methods of city planning, the composition of building facades, and the proportions of design elements, are universally mastered to achieve a preconceived solution and cohesive architectural experience. Modern architecture, I would argue, although casting away the stylistic elements of the Classical schools of architecture as were paramount during the Italian Rennaisance of the 16th century, did not circumlocute the Vitruvian ideal, that embraces a rigid design methodology as the means of achieving an intended reaction by the occupant.
Here is where the advent of multimodal media types, such as interactive media, has intervened. Projects such as Labyrinth are indicating the tendency to move away from the design solution as an absolute or known entity, but rather towards viewing the design as being variable, and dependent upon the choices of the person experiencing the art form. It is exciting that this view is not tied down to one disciplinary field, but instead bridges across professional boundaries: “Labyrinth is committed to creating a productive dialogue between the immersive language of cinema and the interactive potential and database structures of digital media.”
Beyond the scope of interactive media, recent filmmaking has also seen striking associations to architectural notions of how space is experienced. LA Film Forum is one agency that organizes events and film screenings in the Los Angeles area. Recent and upcoming films brought together by the LA Film Forum reveal that the scope of these experimental projects challenge the traditional methods of filmmaking: the presentation of a conflict, the development of that conflict with a character, and concluding in the resolution of that problem. This “linear” concept of conflict-resolution is put into question by newly released films such as Decline and Fall, by filmmaker Erika Suderburg, which is “structured as a historical epic and operates in the frisson between bodies moving through artifact and reinventing the space of urban memory as a lived place.” As part of this system, the sequencing of film clips from socially charged events taken from various locations is used as a method of reshaping the viewer’s perception of their own physical environment. Within this “visual contemplation of these conscious leavings and the bodies that move through and recognize their complicity with the Empire machine,” the film “operates in the interstitials, refusing a comforting explanatory voice-over, a singular location, and a conclusion”.
Here, it is evident that by re-evaluating the standards of traditional film making, recent projects such as Rise and Fall, are re-defining the way in which we perceive of space. Urban space is now being defined by film-makers to not be limited to the physical forms that one may interact with, but have expanded the definition to involve the landscape of memory, and the psychological impact of familiarity with objects and places within the built environment. This added dimension is one which is being used to push the limits of these creative fields in order to reach more imaginative and inspiring works.