The Collapse of Spaces. (Self) Critical Reflections_ di Michele Albanelli

Testo inedito.

It should not surprise to argue that the space, as we experience it daily, is unfolding itself into a supposedly infinite n-dimensional virtual domain. The process of digitalization of life that finds its diffuse celebration in the western society is moving rapidly with an army of gadgets of any type, size and price that meets contemporary human needs and subtly takes indirect possession of time and inevitably of space. The “generic space” as we traditionally know it (the three-dimensional region in which all matter exists) and even more interesting for us, the “architectural space”, the one that exist for its users and as being experienced by its users – artist Marcel Duchamp would argue that an artwork do not exist without a viewer[1] – have been sucked into a few inches of flat screens which seem to have the power to satisfy (and eventually reducing) the users ‘ senses. This process becomes even more layered and gain interest when the space’s user is the architect, the eye from within. Too often the design process run the risk to be mainly oriented towards the access to the “virtual world” and that is not mentioned in relation to the use of digital tools – technology has constantly evolved and always will – but it is rather referred to the diffuse, misleading tendency to design something good enough to access the web and to be spread virally through that, consequence of a semi-unconscious attitude of the author who have forgotten and denied the space as a physical condition. On the other side, the non-architect-user of the space of our time seems to be almost repellent to the space’s virtues; architectural space confesses its uselessness compared to the seductive set of deep frames (mobiles, tablets, laptops etc. ) that apparently adsorb and embed into themselves the qualities of the real space. According to that, the contemporary human being is able to feel the space’s intensive and extensive qualities – to quote a definition by philosopher Manuel DeLanda[2] – its proportions and dimensions, its temperature and humidity by only experiencing a simulation of that. Indeed he, the human, has become so unfamiliar with the space as a physical/material entity that he could easily live with the head plus two hands and get rid of the heavy-half, the one devoted to motion which is, controversially enough, a main subject for contemporary architects’ development of discourses about flows, streams and movement in the Digital Age. If, as Le Corbusier stated in an interview with John Peter[3]( recently published on Casabella n.814 ), the space needs to be drawn in order to be “learned, caught and understood, then we could argue that there is a recurrent missing step in the contemporary design processes: the engagement of the author’s body with the built environment is reduced, sterile and filtered. The output-input process (so to say the traditional eye-brain-hand sequence) have lost an important degree of intensity and one of many consequences of that is the lack of “interiorization” of the designed space. While the outer, sexy-looking layers gather and exhaust almost all the resources of the building process, the livable spaces are often a mere leftover space where eventually only staircases, ramps and infrastructure for motion seem to deserve attention, as if the building-body would be made only of a fit skin and an agitated interior: stillness, as an intensive quality of flows is not considered as such. Any unbuilt element of the space seem to be forgotten, or better said, almost any unbuilt element; there is the one infinite domain which has neither exterior nor interior, no air and no temperature, no light and no wind, but it embeds all of them: the virtual domain and its maze of networks (reflected in the fleshy contemporary design) retains us from a free experience of the physical space For good and for bad, it highly contaminates our experience of the space, anytime and anywhere, to the point that we could or should talk of a proto-space where the euclidean three-dimensional space is invaded by an a-dimensional virtual landscape. The apparently infinite digital/virtual space is probably the more appropriated to the contemporary (western) society which have been profoundly shaped by the constant presence of the “new dimension, increasingly growing and taking possession of time and space which now exist and is perceived as bigger, deeper, cleaner, lighter and faster than its traditional ancestor. To further investigate the latter quality above mentioned, speed and the perception of it in the digital world is the main feature around which – to quote Paul Virilio[4] – the virtual domain would build up its strategy to overcome the traditional space in all its forms: social, political, spatial etc. In his “Dromology” theory the french sociologist and urbanist argues that, in a very few and reductive words, the faster dominates the slower; and that principle, for Virilio, would be valid to analyze events through history. Following that theory, we could start to foresee a total domination of the euclidean space in favor of the virtual dimension. The human’s five senses are changing their role in the people’s perception of the world: they are reduced and simultaneously amplified according to the gradient of presence of the “two realities” which are collapsing into each other. A good model for the new form of space is the architecture of the bunker, which has been also a main interest in Virilio’s research[5]. The bunker as a space where individuals feed themselves with visions and images seen through a single opening that serves control and generate a subject-object-subject loop that, to recall a couple of concepts previously mentioned, cuts-out part of the body (the lower, rendered as useless) and involves and implements the use of one main sense above the others, the sight. Nonetheless Architecture, a discipline with a strong attitude towards both theory and practice, have always dealt with the view as the main vector to capture the users ‘ attention, and it would be correct even to argue that architects have constantly dealt with the presence of sub-realities interfaced with the built environment. Since the first humanly customized space, different forms of media developed through the implementation of technology; they have occupied the architectural domain, kissing[6] its surfaces and dissolving their materiality and taking possession of the emptiness by making it deeper to distract and entertain. What fascinates yet scares me – and mainly my architect side – is that while I am laboriously finalizing this text, I am also diving into the web and the space around me seems to loose any intensity: I only feel comfortable with my naked feet touching the cool floor. They, at least, will keep me aware of dirt.

Michele Albanelli

[1]Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act (1957), a paper presented to the Convention of the American Federation of the Arts at Houston, Texas, 1957
[2]Manuel DeLanda, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy, Continuum ed., 2002
[3]John Peter, Conversations regarding the future of Architecture, recorded and collected by John Peter, published by the Reynold Metal Company and in the book The oral history of Modern Architecture, Abrams, New York, 1994
[4]Paul Virilio, Dromology and Claustrophobia, European Graduate School, 2007
[5]Paul Virilio, Bunker Archaeology, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994
[6]Def. from Sylvia Lavin, Kissing Architecture, Princeton Architectural Press, 2011

Nome: Michele
Cognome: Albanelli
Data e luogo di nascita: 12/08/1983, Roma
Professione: Architetto

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