Explorations in Cyberspace
In contrast, its progenitor Gibson declares it rather more lyrically to be "a consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... a graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..."
If we remove the "computer" from Gibson's own rhetoric, his "consensual hallucination" can be taken as having been achieved through other media prior to the digital age, not least through the written word, film, and theater.
In some ways we need to establish the credentials of cyberspace beyond the technology of its execution and communication in order to establish its legitimacy as both an intellectual and sensational stimulant.
Cyberspace is more than "for its own sake" and provides fertile opportunities for representations as diverse as those of future building projects, or of ideas about building form and arrangements, the spatial visualization of data, and speculations on the formal properties of ideas.
Cyberspace may already seem familiar, despite its relatively recent genesis, through our memory of film sets that predate Neuromancer by some decades. In fact, looking back at certain animation and title sequences, we can see a legacy of artistic and otherworldly intentions worthy of comparison with those of the latter-day, hi-tech thoroughbreds.
There are profound questions concerning the relationships between media, definitions of the role and skill of the cyber architect, and qualitative arguments of the value of the many and varied routes to cyber craft. These indicate that we are still in the pioneering stages.
The tangible intangibility of cyberspace and all the new environments and applications being spawned from it are the most alienating factors to those most wedded to bolstering traditional definitions of architecture and the built environment.
They also represent yet one more challenge to a beleaguered architectural profession, for if cyberspace becomes widely accepted within a broader definition of architecture, what is there in contemporary architectural education programs that presumes the architect to be a professional master of cyberspace?
The Salt Water Pavilion of Oosterhuis
The Salt Water Pavilion is the first true "body" building to display real-time behavior. The body is generated in the weightless digital realm and is embedded in an artificial island on Earth.
The pavilion captures raw data from a weather station on a buoy in the sea and transcribes the data into an emotional factor. The black body of the Salt Water Pavilion feeds on data. Inside the black body, the lights are continuously changing in real-time — visitors feel themselves immersed in the dynamic light and sound massage.
Visitors also influence the sensorium light and sound environment as they follow a three-dimensional folded Möbius trajectory. Sound samples generate the sound in real-time.
The Idea Cloud of Sterk and Woodbury
"We have to build up a counter power to the monotony of 'industrial work.' This can't be done without architecture. We have to... save the human being who does, from morning to night, only a monotonous type of work. If I should say my final words, I should say that, one of the great problems for an architect today is to save the human being; to make individualism of collectivism."
— Alvar Alto, architect, in an interview from The Oral History of Modern Architecture
Architecture is no game. It is an activity that has imposed upon it the great responsibilities of serving and sheltering, both physically and mentally, the people who inhabit its spaces.
Alvar Alto's words serve to identify these responsibilities and they frame architecture, not just as an industrial pursuit, but also as a "human" pursuit where the monotonous can be shed and where an individual can reach into a domain of whimsical delight.
Architecture needs to be individualistic. It needs to he free, fresh, and light, and to go further it needs to surpass any of the limits that systematic technologies impose — be they physical or digital.
The human within: if there is any strength in this project, it lies in the way that it addresses the different types of space that humans (individuals and collectives) occupy.
It recognizes that people have the opportunity to inhabit more than one type of space at any one point in time, and it actively produces a space that lets the "human within" affect the architecture of an entire building.
Our feelings and thoughts affect the ways we interact with environments. For example, the way we walk or march through a space has the potential to influence the mood of a space, purely through physical action. In this light, the mass of a body, its movement, actions, and sounds, can all be used to affect the way spaces are "virtually" configured.
This is especially relevant to spaces that attempt to straddle both the physical and virtual worlds, it is in these sorts of spaces that designers have the clear opportunity to use totally ephemeral yet meaningful feelings to generate a realizable cybernetic architecture.
The Idea Cloud is such a space. In effect, it brings the architecture of our mind into the physical spaces we occupy. We cannot help but act the way we think, and by detecting these actions, sensor technologies, combined with digital networks and hundreds of programmable hydraulic units, enable the Idea Cloud to react to variations in the environment.
Alto's words come with serious intent. If anything, as architects we need to recognize that our architecture, whether physical, virtual, or cybernetic (a mix of the former two), needs to address and acknowledge the humans within.
Author Mark Burry is chair of Architecture and Building, Deakin University, Victoria, Australia. Tristan d'Estree Sterk and Robert Woodbury, are professors at the School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, University of Adelaide, South Australia. Kas Oosterhuis is principal of Oosterhuis.nl, in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
This article is an excerpt from Cyberspace: The World of Digital Architecture, copyright © 2001 by The Images Publishing Group Pty. Ltd. The book is available from Amazon.com.