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This is my blog while at the MSAAD program of the GSAPP of Columbia University. 1st post came with my arrival at NYC. e-mail: eb2283@columbia.edu, ezio@otn.gr, ezioblasetti@gmail.com 

Friday, June 03, 2005

9:55 PM - Biopower Transmutations (Ed Keller Studio)

course outline is comming as a comment on this post...

Blogger ezio said...

BioPower Transmutations
Designing Contemporary Architectural Organisms
ED KELLER, Critic GSAP AAD STUDIO, Summer 2005
Daniel Yao, TA

Today our reality is far more fantastic than science fiction. The inexorable increases in biotech and computational power have the ability to map and change our very genetic sequences. Responding to the contemporary speed of biopower mutations, our studio program will be to design a headquarters, network model, and tactical response team with equipment for an international organization that handles biopolitical events at a truly global scale. This organization will be a hybrid of groups such as NATO, the UN, the World Health Organization, Medecine Sans Frontiers, and the Center for Disease Control [CDC]. We will consider other NGOs, global entities, corporations and technologies as candidates, such as Monsanto, Earth First, the NSA, and CARNIVORE.
The term BIOPOWER has tremendous importance today for political theorists, biotech designers, urban planners, architects, and hackers. It raises two key themes which we as architects will engage in this studio.
The first theme explores the relationship between architecture, Empire [cf. Negri & Hardt] and Geo/Bio Politics, searching for points where architecture and urbanism might participate in the geopolitical arena – perhaps even to create a world with more freedom??
The second theme focuses on the search for a more robust conceptual model and mapping strategy for both politics and architecture, a model for design which can integrate the superimposition of biological, social, cultural, technological, economic, and political systems coexisting and interacting with each other. There are many examples of this superimposition: viruses living in our human bodies, waves of flow passing through bodies in stadiums, human bodies living within cities, cultures born within new technologies, new technologies driving global economies. In today’s high-tech control society, the network already can map us with more intelligence than we ourselves typically have. Reinventing our design thinking, and discovering the optimum relation between the more fluid bodies- what we could describe as the more temporalized bodies- and the more stratified bodies- will be the larger goal of the studio.
In the performance of organizations like the CDC or NATO, it is crucial for information to become actionable immediately and impact the way that both global and tactical responses take place. Architecture has traditionally operated very slowly as a large scale cultural memory mechanism. How can its performance model now be revised to acknowledge immediately actionable information?

"... each portion of matter is not only infinitely divisible, as the ancients observed, but is also actually subdivided without end, each part into further parts, of which each has some motion of its own; otherwise it would be impossible for each portion of matter to express the whole universe. Whence it appears that in the smallest particle of matter there is a world of creatures, living beings, animals, entelechies, souls.
Each portion of matter may be conceived as like a garden full of plants and like a pond full of fishes. But each branch of every plant, each member of every animal, each drop of its liquid parts is also some such garden or pond." Leibniz, Monadology
The danger we're facing, of course, as BioPower mutates and grows, is a total state of war- as Werner Herzog said on location in the Amazon jungle during the filming of 'Fitzcarraldo':
"Taking a close look at what's around us, there *is* some sort of harmony- it is the harmony of overwhelming and collective murder..."
Unfortunately for us today, our technological progress is making it more and more likely that a single person could release a genetic or nanotech apocalypse, reducing the promise of growth and paradigm shifts to simple disaster.
"The parts for a DNA synthesizer can now be purchased for approximately $10,000. By 2010 a single person will be able to sequence or synthesize 10^10 bases a day. Within a decade a single person could sequence or synthesize all the DNA describing all the people on the planet many times over in an eight-hour day or sequence his or her own DNA within seconds. Given the power and threat of biological technologies, the only way to ensure safety in the long run is to push research and development as fast as possible. Open and distributed networks of researchers would provide an intelligence gathering capability and a flexible and robust workforce for developing technology."
Rob Carlson, Originally published in Biosecurity and Bioterrorism: Biodefense Strategy, Practice, and Science Volume 1 Number 3, August 2003.

Compounding this very complicated techno-political situation, the 'bodies' of contemporary geopolitical institutions are more complex than those economic and political bodies we've been accustomed to dealing with historically. Many thinkers- including, e.g., Jameson, Harvey, Sassen, Easterling, Boeri or Appadurai- have struggled in their work to apprehend the full scope of this body and assemble taxonomy of its behaviors.
One could say that our world- call it a post capital world, a post human world, a world nearing a clash of civilizations, or just this "best of all possible worlds"- this world is one where the relevant site for architecture, urban structures and events is the location where a new, more shifty and evasive network comes into contact with older channels of migration, communication and territory. Global economies have indeed existed for centuries, but the power of the individual to affect them is changing ever faster. Foucault foreshadowed this when he identified the three variables of contemporary space as speed territory and communication.

So, to reiterate- our PROGRAM will be to design a headquarters, ORG Structure and tactical outposts for a near-future incarnation of an organization combining, for example, the CDC , NATO, the WHO, and Medecine Sans Frontiers. To do this, we'll be designing an institution which is actually more like an ORGANISM- we'll be building a body which is deployed across many scales. This will be no 19th Century Frankenstein, with arms and legs of mortal clay- it may have almost no recognizable physical form at first glance.
For the CREATION of a BODY, an ORGANISM: we'll need parts of a BODY which are necessary for complex behavior, intelligence, what some call life. This can be modeled, to start with, on an ORGANIC BODY, with fibers, nerves, electromagnetic impulses, sense organs, response patterns and behaviors, preferred environments, reproductive strategies which determine future capability, populations, relationships, etc. Your project will rapidly evolve however to a distributed body, an emergent system, a hive mind.
"What creates the illusion of classical mechanics is our inability to keep track of every aspect of a quantum system. If we can't observe the whole system- if it's too large and complex in itself, or if it's coupled to its surroundings, making THEM part of the system- we lose the information that distinguishes a genuine superposition, where alternatives coexist and interact, from a classical mixture of mutually exclusive possibilities..."
Schild's Ladder, Greg Egan
Another way of thinking about superimposed bodies would be to borrow the concept of coherence from contemporary physics. In quantum theory, a coherent system is one which has multiple states- multiple futures- superimposed. When this system 'decoheres', it 'chooses' one of those superimpositions as the single future it will follow. Likewise, we could say that any architecture, any institution, or any design process is the constant balancing and choosing of possible outcomes- from a reservoir of coherent, overlapping futures.
Our design process will work with this new model of a body and attempt to find the CATALYST moments which choose future paths for a body- whether that body is a single individual living in a city, or half a million immigrants using a new technology in an urban Special Economic Zone, or a new NGO devoted to monitoring emergent pathogens.

As a handshake project in the first week each student will immediately choose a program and design a local outpost, tactical response team and strategy with equipment, philosophy, etc. This will be a trial run, and projects will not be restricted to this initial test of program.
In the first 4 weeks I will teach a series of mini-seminars covering a set of core readings and film screenings with group meetings each Friday. We'll be doing an intensive and simultaneous analysis of several source materials: films, locations, disease outbreak / meme propagation morphology, and institutions. We will use NYC as a host body to test out simulation of organizations chosen from films and outbreak precedents, by superimposing components from these films and historical examples into NYC itself.
Film screenings over the first four weeks will be a central part of the initial work and will provide material for analysis and alternative precedent models for new scenarios and programs. Scenario writing will be used as way of identifying key evolutionary factors in the program (cf. www.gbn.org & www.wired.com).
Our initial analysis work will use FILM SUPERIMPOSITION + REMIX techniques in Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere, After Effects or Final Cut to identify moments of coherence and decoherence; and will construct time based MAPS in Maya and 3DSMax. We will have a guest workshop focusing on Processing, an open source software package useful for modeling complex systems and simulating agent behaviors. All students will produce short films and analysis that relocates alien components in NYC.
Students will choose a final program/site/scale to work with by end of fourth week. Each student will present a brief report on the site and program they have chosen, outlining 3 scenarios developed during the first 4 weeks. At this point each project will be developed from the program motors + scenarios.
Instead of attempting to design a building by analyzing an existing entity- a film, a city, an institution- and then projecting that analysis onto a receptive body- we'll be simultaneously designing, embedding partially completed analytic results, and extracting the analysis in a revised form from the project. In other words, just as in the real world there are many systems which overlap and feedback with each other, we'll be maintaining that the DIAGRAM components of our initial work continue to exist- to live on as a para-site, inside the project.

The design of a near future NGO level organization fusing the capacity of the WHO, the CDC, NATO and Medecine Sans Frontiers; with headquarters, outlying facilities, rapid response teams, etc. This can include CDC scale headquarters, global crisis plus tactical response team unit design; Pharma- development research center and BioTech research center; Pharma distribution via hacker networks; Earth First/Greenpeace headquarters, global organization; etc..
Consider these factors when developing your program:
__the deployment of modernism into the third world through culture, technology, economy, religion and infrastructure [an urban precedent for this was, for example, Corbusier's Obus Plan for Algiers]
__ the technology of desktop DNA synthesis and hacking;
__ Agribusiness PHARMING [Genetically Modified Organisms {GMOs} to produce drugs;
__ Emergent NanoTech problems [unforeseen toxicity of BuckyBalls to Grey Goo scenarios];
__ Emergent Diseases- natural and exacerbated by global air travel, or synthetic and rampant;
__ Ultimately, across all these disciplines, the Hacktivist in relation to networks and Empire.

Duty Free Zones, Special Economic Zones
Jungles: Amazon, Subsahara: Kinshasa Highway
Biotech research facilities, Academic or Institutional
Deep Ocean: new BioVector sources
SubGlacial Lakes: Old BioVector sources

PATHOGENS [outbreak and propagation morphology]:
Existing BIO factors: HIV, EBOLA, etc.
Existing NonOrganic Factors: Radiation, chemical
Existing MEME Vectors: Capitalism, Communism, Net, CelPhone, etc.
Emergent diseases: New organic Pathogens, or synthesized
NANOTECH: Grey Goo scenarios, etc.
Global Industry
Air Travel, Ocean Travel

Existing institutional Vectors: pick a Global NGO, institution, or company.

Lars von Trier :: The Kingdom, The Element of Crime
David Cronenberg :: Crash, Videodrome
Jean Luc Godard :: Alphaville
David Fincher :: Fight Club
Todd Haynes :: Safe
Mamoru Oshii :: Ghost in the Shell
Robert Wise :: Andromeda Strain
Werner Herzog :: Lessons of Darkness
Alan Pakula :: Parallax View
Steven Soderbergh :: Solaris
William Friedkin :: Exorcist
Wolfgang Peterson :: Outbreak
Caro + Jeunet :: City of Lost Children
Coppola :: Apocalypse Now, The Conversation
Danny Boyle :: 28 Days Later
Olivier Assayas :: Demonlover
Emir Kusturica :: Underground
Antonioni :: Blowup, Passenger, Red Desert, Zabriskie Point
Woo :: Mission Impossible 2
Stanley Kubrick :: 2001
Godrey Reggio :: Koyanisqatsi
Chris Marker :: Sans Soleil, La Jetee
Richard Fleischer :: Soylent Green
Ridley Scott :: Alien, Blade Runner

___Websites,TBA via email
Empire , Multitude, Negri & Hardt
1000 Plateaus, Deleuze + Guattari
WIRED magazine Scenarios issue [online archive] and on scenario planning: GBN.org
"Urban Economies and Fading Distances", Saskia Sassen
Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
Shockwave Rider, John Brunner
Transmetropolitan, Warren Ellis
The Invisibles, Grant Morrison
Watchmen, Alan Moore
The Dormant Beast, Enki Bilal
"Possible Urban Worlds", David Harvey
The Geopolitical Aesthetic , Jameson
'Inorganic Life', ZONE 6 + excerpts from 1000 years..., Manuel DeLanda
Critical Art Ensemble, “The Electronic Disturbance”
excerpts from SI journals and monographs: www.nothingness.org
Neuromancer, Gibson
Smart Mobs, Rheingold
Cryptome and Cartome, Natsios and Young

Studio Intro Friday : Introduction to material + program. Class discussion.
Screening of Lars Von Trier's KINGDOM, assign first readings, films

___WEEKS ONE-FOUR: Handshake, Seminars / Research, Mapping + Analysis / Site
___WEEK ONE : handshake + film screenings
begin handshake, scenarios, and film analysis
Mon/Weds. desk crits, review on Friday
___WEEK TWO : analysis work + scenario writing + site documentation + seminar
select abstract models and modeling tools (computer, physical models)
(refine program[s] and 3 film clips)
program documentation analysis and film analysis continues
desk crits
___WEEK THREE : analysis work + scenario writing + site documentation + seminar
abstract models and modeling tools (computer, drawings, physical models)
site analysis , film analysis continues
desk crits, review on Friday. to present scenario and program research, film analysis
Mon, Weds, Desk Crits. Friday: Review: present program, site maps, diagrams, film and site analysis
scenarios to propose scale of project and site(s)
___WEEK FIVE - WEEK SIX: analysis wrapup
Simulations/diagrams/scenario visualizations + initial design
Design at various scales: Global to urban to personal.
___WEEK SEVEN - WEEK ELEVEN: Main design work; presentation
Work proposal into site. Plan/section; animations, video, models.
Final design development
___End of WEEK Eleven: FINAL REVIEW  

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