Cinema City

Or…in this case, cinematic architecture. Jonathan Rennie presented a project yesterday that I found most fitting in the vein of design fiction / architecture fiction. For the studio class run by Geoff Manaugh (@bldgblog) called Cinema City, a graduate studio that starts with this brief and asks the students to consider what they may. There were some interesting projects. This one in particular stood out for me. It was an unconventional approach in an architecture class to present a series of fictions about the future of cinema.

Monday December 13 14:06

Continuous Machinic Cinema

This project explores a particular narrative for the future of cinema and, in turn, it proposes new possibilities for the moving image and its place, content, viewers & screen.

The project proposes a scenario of technological discovery and development where:

** Guerilla film distribution occurs in new places via Lawn Bowl and Shot-put film grenades;

** With anamorphic lenses the perpendicular hegemony of conventional cinema watching is broken;

A shift in content to QR coded cinema is predicted and, in turn..

** A future point where non-narrative images are viewed by post-human machine optics is proposed, with screens affecting the fabric of the city.

The project is a sneak preview for a future of cinema, proposing a continuous cinema that is freed from both the spatial confines of the movie house and the literary expectations of narrative — told by and to non-human machines.

FInal Panels_Further Revised.indd

In the first proposal, guerilla film distribution is done by throwing film grenades, a “weapon” first proposed by the Soviets and designed to be surreptitiously deployed during the Olympics. The weapons are found again by Jonathan during his project research, including documentation and some diagrams describing the clandestine Soviet project.

In the second proposal, Skynet — an extraterrestrial orbital satellite platform — finds QR codes in the landscape of earth. The QR codes embed stories and films that the satellites share with one another. Over time, as they see the same films over and over again and become bored — they begin to look for QR codes elsewhere, perhaps interpreting barcode-like structures in the landscape at different wavelengths — for instance an infrared folliage rendering may appear to contain QR codes. They seek out new films in this way, perhaps even instructing terrestrial machines, such as the cranes at loading docks or tractors in large farm fields, to construct new QR codes containing new cinema and stories.

Still 1

Jonathan also ginned up a sort of graphic novella/short story to go along with the proposal so that each QR code that you see in his poster documentation points to a page in the comic. You can see the full graphic novella here: QR Cinema

Why do I blog this? This is one of those architecture projects that plays at the far end of the spectrum of architecture’s inherent speculative nature. The spectrum runs from the pragmatic *planning what will be* (traditional floor-plan stuff) all the way across to *speculating to help think* (architecture fiction), with *proposing (cardboard models, photoshop site renderings, camera-tracked little films showing the space as it would be) somewhere in the middle.

I enjoy considering the spectrum of realizations as things move from idea to their material form. In this case, Jonathan has used the architectural brief to propose a speculation about machines reading the landscape to interpret meaning, or to watch movies that are referred to by the QR codes they (think?) they see. This is using the landscape as an interface, which I find super intriguing.

What does this help us think about? Well — it’s a fun Sci-Fi comic he’s done here, so there’s that on its own. Aside from this, we can start to think about Cyphertecture — embedding machine-readable (or maybe only-for-machine) texts in physical structures. Like, for example, this bit of landscape cyphertecture from several years ago

Space Invaders: Google Earth Edition

DIY Media? Fan Art in Google Earth

Space Invaders upper right..Cylon Raider bottom left.

Geoff has the more lucid discussion of this point, but suppose cornice details became machine readable physical cuts and bumps that would represent some meaning for, say…Google Street View cars? I’m not saying this is entirely practical, but I could see a day when bold marks like this that are required to exist (for any number of reasons — local services to identify what building they are at definitively, etc.) on new structures. This then becomes turned into an aesthetic to make it more pleasing as a facade, and so on. In any case — Jonathan’s work certainly gives me things to think about in an entirely fun, imaginative way.
Continue reading Cinema City

Street Furniture

Wednesday June 17, 15.04.24

Times Square beach, complete with tourists (as any beach should), found here.

Friday June 19, 12.10.57

Urban Lounge found near Madison Square, New York City.

This is probably old hat for current New Yorkers certainly, and something that makes visits home really interesting, these street furnishings and people zones are incredible interventions and nice experiments about alternative urban landscaping. When arriving in Times Square with my brother for a quick screech through of High POV shots, we managed to get one of these curious middle-of-the-avenue parking spots so you basically park right smack in the middle of Times Square. Which is good because you cannot drive through the square itself, only around it, because of these pedestrian urban “beaches”, complete with lawn chairs. According to one of the local business improvement district rangers or whatever they are, tourists quite like it. I wonder if locals find these useful or an annoyance to their conveyance around the city.

Tuesday June 16, 10.28.00

Saturday April 25, 10.07.27

Not quite the same, but in a different category of street furniture — the dispensed with sort.

Why do I blog this? A fascinating example of a reconfiguration of the canonical gridded city. Turning pavement into a more human, habitable space that evokes other leisures is a fantastic way to create new opportunities and to think about new sorts of design practices for urban space. This is an area that many people are curious about of course, and it is something that has attracted the attention of the laboratory quite a bit recently. For some reason, we have been thinking about new kinds of principles, rituals and scouting toolkits for finding new ways to look at the city, using these to think about new kinds of interactive urbanscapes…and not interactive in the “UX” sort of digital-y way. Playful interactions, thoughtful interactions — new rules of occupancy; new social interaction rituals.

Counter Intuitive


How do you find the spirit and play of exploration in an optimized geography?

In the idiom of maps and cartography, the tendency is to thoroughly identify as many attributes of the physical world and coordinate them to geographic, you know…coordinates, typically using latitude and longitude. Those attributes are usually other instrumental and worldly markers, like street addresses, nearly immovable physical markers like, you know…landmarks, buildings, franchise stores, and so on. The database tables fill in with this information, sorted, sifted, refined. Some deletes and updates.

In between the record sets are the most interesting possibilities for new services, new ways of experiencing the physical world and new kinds of adventures. What I’m thinking about are ways to creatively explore within a fully instrumented, surveilled and mapped world, with counter intuitive uses of this data. There are some excellent examples within the art-technology and design-technology communities, such as GPS Drawing, as shown above. This practice is intriguing because it couples measurement with expression and finds an alternative use for the devices involved — a GPS and a mapping application like GoogleEarth.


Surveillance Camera Players using CCTV cameras as a site for performance opportunities

Younghee wonders, in this context, what are the ways of minimizing “digital traces” — those indications of where you are, and where you have been, in a surveillance world. She says,

That leaves another interesting question: How would people drop out of, or at least minimize their digital traces and minimize contributing to create others’? We are probably not expecting stickers and badges showing “this person does NOT have cameras” or “this person will NOT use cameras”. One of the memorable Ubicomp conference talks was on the interesting concept of creating capture-resistant environment, preventing camera phones to take photos by overexposing photos attempted in the region covered by this technology. While I am sure there are certain types of places this technology would be very useful, I do have my doubts if there would ever be any technology successfully controlling people’s digital behaviors.

Similarly, in a reverse mode, Life: A User’s Manual by Michelle Teran captures the signals leaked into public space by RF-based video cameras and reveals intimate spaces in a very DIY and performative fashion.

Minimzing traces is one possible perspective. I think, perhaps in this era where digital kids do not reflect so much on how much of a trace they leave behind, and indeed have entirely different perspectives on the meaning of surveillance and its implications. How many digital kids (the next “us”) have read “1984” for example?


In contrast to the Surveillance Camera Players and their performances — where they are maximizing their imact and traces for counter-intuitive purpsoes, and counter-systemic purposes — groups like the Institute for Applied Autonomy have constructed — years ago, pre-Google Maps — a digital map system called iSee of surveillance cameras that would allow one to plot a course that does precisely what Younghee wonders about — minimzing one’s impact. In other words, the mapping system plots routes that avoids surveillance cameras.

It may be that the question is no to much avoiding “capture” but how to turn that space into something where your voice can be heard. I’m not convinced, but it seems that we (a bit older people) think of surveillance in one way that digital kids (the next “us”) will see as an opportunity for a new form of living.

Beyond this, I am interested in a kind of Personal Positioning System that points out the absences in my experiences in the world. For example, showing me where I have not been rather than showing the entire world from above, as if its fully prepared for my exploration. I’m interested in finding things like longer route between two points, rather than the minimal route. Or routes that are deliberately constructed based on streets or regions I have not been. Purely as a form of creative, digital-era perambulation or motoring. Exploration in a world that is pretty much completely mapped, indexed, databased and optimized. What is exploration in an optimized, instrumented world?

Continue reading Counter Intuitive

Urban Computing As Fried Eggs

Via Fabien on the 7.5th Floor, I came across an illustration by Karen Martin starting to map the field of Urban Computing. It’s not a field, of course — closer to a large set of intersecting practices and broader disciplines swirling about those practices. Two things to be said. First about visualizations and illustrations of complex social-practice-fields. Second about urban computing (whatever that is, and whyever that is.)

What I find most compelling here is the absence — difficult to capture, to be sure — of the messiness that is definitely part of what is referred to as “urban computing”, which I wouldn’t even try to define, except in a rather messy diagram, much messier than Karen’s valiant work.

Knots, intersections, tangles and generally messy illustrations are, I’m sure, very unpopular, particularly with design’s general fetish of clean lines and the Tufte aesthetic of making complex visualizations all tidy and Tufte.

I’m not an illustrator or visualization guy by any stretch, but I’m much more agreeable, and prone to appreciate the messy illustration of what are complex engagements of social practices. This was my one effort to represent the military-industrial light and magic complex — the swirl of history, time, politics, national security and the entertainment enterprise. No attempt to be orderly and legible in the Tufte sense of things. It’s a complex “eco-system” with layers and knots and disorderly eddies (not flows..please..) of power and aspiration and money. Why organize that with bullets and linear connections? Simplifications erase the beast, leaving just shards of bone to be imaginarily cobbled back into a fictitious whole. What produces meaning, in my mind, is not so much names of practices, or companies or individual participants, but rather the ways in which the imbroglios form, power is manipulated and deployed — the process of deploying “resources” to create the names and to give them “stickiness” and the holding power that then makes them, you know — a “given.”

Latour sums this notion up eloquently, and there’s lots more to be said, at some other time, I’m sure.

“..we do not find all explanations in terms of inscription equally convincing,
but only those that help us to understand how the mobilization and mustering of new
resources is achieved. We do not find all explanations in terms of social groups, interests or economic trends, equally convincing but only those !that offer a specific mechanism to sum up “groups”, “interests”, “money”!and “trends”: mechanisms which, we believe, depend upon the manipulation of paper, print, images and so on.” [“Visualisation and Cognition: Drawing Things Together”].

Military Industrial Light and Magic Complex

In an “urban computing” terrain map, the intersections should likely be much more harried and knotted. And, I would consider the an additional axis — the goals, motivations and aspirations of the various practices here. Why an urban computer? What is it about urban space that requires computation? To what ends? To further the unyielding databasing and digital networking of the world? (The Google?)

And when will “computer” be just replaced by “Google”? Like..the Urban Google?

Why do I blog this? Strong interest in considering the city and urban space in the digital age and its evolution as the age “matures.” Also, I’m interested in how to divest these “fields” of the “computing” word, which hardly makes sense to mention any more. Why does it persist? It’s like the Henny Youngman-style one-liner about the buffoon who asks if he can get the web on his computer.

The Fried Egg Diagram

Inverse Machinima and Interfaces for 1st Life Play

We had a short little discussion after the Blur + Sharpen Machinima screening the other night. The screening was an hour of Machinima, a genre of visual story telling that uses video game stylings and form — especially the graphics and play dynamics “engine” — to produce the story experience.

I started to think about this genre in relation to a presentation I gave recently on some insights into video games expressed in real world settings. It was a sort of brief on weak signals related to the increasing over flow of video game idioms into first life. Characters, graphics, game logic, game speak — find their way into practices beyond the video screen into the real world. I find this fascinating, largely because of this vector away from exclusively sedentary, desktop/screen/keyboard/mouse-based experiences towards ones that integrate the “real world” with digitally networked social practices. There’s also the manner in which these idioms appear — very similar in my mind to what you might call an inversion of the usual Machinima production. Video games appear as overlays with the real world serving as the “engine” for the experience. This happens in a diversity of ways — “Photoshopped” images, costumes, cakes..

In relationship to Machinima, I began to see the various bits of material such as this as a kind of inverse of the Machinima genre: instead of turning the video game mise en scène into a stage for showing a visual story, the real world is visualized as a setting that draws from video games.

The question is this: What are the near future possibilities of mixing and blending first life props, actions, movements, proximity relationships, time (especially time factors) into the core of what counts as the user interface? The canonical (and quite ancient, in digital technology terms) keyboard-video-mouse configuration that Douglas Englebart applied for in 1967(!) is perhaps ready for an evolution. This particular screen-keys-mouse-stick-thing arrangement frames very particular kinds of interactions that are suitable largely for sitting still and twiddling. Despite their fascinating and suggestive possibilities, touch interfaces and “mobile” computing do not in my opinion go terribly far beyond this, at least in terms of any new kinds of interaction practices. Things like location and proximity are beginning to creep into the interface space, as are motion and such things like this.

The “fan culture” of some of these more popular games, you find this expression of the game in other realms. People want to continue with the game beyond just the console, and have their “friends” within the game carry on with them in other contexts.

In some situations you can clearly see how the game imaginary and fiction lives just below the surface — especially when fans start seeing indications of the game world imprinting itself on real world objects. In this case, this fan saw this and tagged it as a Donkey Kong structure rather than a simple scaffold. It may indeed be both, or just a Donkey Kong apparatus — it would certainly possibly work as both if a context were available for it to be “played” as a Donkey Kong apparatus. Perhaps finding scaffolds in the real world is part of an extended, first-life Donkey Kong game — the scaffold means you get to pursue the princess up another level when you get back to your computer. Mixing first life and second life into a new kind of game play.

Photo sharing on site like Flickr is a way to perform a kind of digitally networked circulation of what lives in your imagination. Some of these imaginaries are weak signals for new kinds of hybrid play experiences. The inverse of Machinima seems to be in effect here — turning a real world scene into one that is a hybrid composite of video game graphics and play mechanics.

Parkour is a kind of structure-surfing action where participants find new ways to maneuver through diverse largely urban architectures doing anything but walking on the street. This appears to me to be a kind of classic, side-scroller video game play action executed in the physical world. For the purposes of giving some meaning to it in the context of new interfaces for digital play we might speculate that it is an expression of that dynamic, hop-jump-climb action of things like Super Mario Bros. and the like. Manuevering through a diverse landscape of architectural affordances for the simple set of “physical” actions your Mario game avatar has at his disposal. Only, instead of playing exclusively on the screen, sitting still somewhere, you turn the real world landscape into one “playable” like a video game.

The insight here is that it is no surprise that the real world looks like a video game to the digital kids who grew up with them. And, further, that experiencing video game worlds creates a template in ones mind that overlays other real-world experiences — the world and the things we do in it take on the meaning, systems and symbols — the idioms — of video games. The ritual of video game practices becomes the window through which we see and experience the world. This may be a weak signal for new kinds of playful interfaces that happen away from the canonical fixed-screen interface.

Now, I’m not making any sort of normative assessment here as to whether or not this is a good thing. What I am hopeful for is the possibility for extending some of the digital networked worlds’ social rituals into mixed, hybrid experiences. At least the social interaction rituals that seem to make for a more playful, habitable world. For that, you need new kinds of interfaces for interaction and new channels through which to circulate action. This is one of the reasons the Near Future Laboratory has focused so heavily on curious and sometimes preposterous interface devices that use non-keyboard-video-mouse interactions.

When Reality Feels Like Playing a Game, a New Era Has Begun