Similar Architectures

Architectures are often ‘invisible’. A boundary between what’s designated ‘us’ and designated ‘it’ seems to be common knowledge, especially in New York subway stations, where travelers often delineate their boundaries and enforce them strictly. Travelers rarely lean on station walls, touch handrails, sit on floors, even stare at the architecture, and will usually try not interact with it at all.

However, I think it’s more accurate to think about architectures as media, and media as entities that give form to interaction. Interfaces are closely related — necessarily interacted with and making certain forms of interaction possible but becoming disturbing when we’re reminded that they exist. I’m interested to know which cultures and peoples are most disturbed when confronted with what’s ‘supposed to be’ invisible, but speaking specifically about New York subway interaction in particular, architecture remains invisible until it breaks. Similarly, interfaces, especially user interfaces, must maintain invisibility or else they ‘break’ — glitch. Interfaces can be thought of as the architectures of the digital.

architecture is political!

one of bernard tschumi’s advertisements for architecture

Comparing interactions in digital technologies to those in subway stations (they don’t have to be mutually exclusive but I’ll make them separate here just for comparison) were also striking to me. If there’s a glitch — thinking about this as Fuller describes it, as a manifested phenomenon that is unexpected to the user — in an interface, many will immediately react, usually in frustration and confusion and even terror (and, I guess, for gamers, intrigue). One of the most terrifying images to me when I was younger was the ‘blue screen of death’. I would scream and run away from the desktop immediately, and many hit their computers when it looks like they’re malfunctioning. Certain cues signify ‘error’ to us, and there is a specific aesthetic (not necessarily just visual) for error in computing.

beauty is also terror so glitch is beautiful?

glitch is TERROR

There are also specific cues for ‘failed’ architecture in stations, mostly signs posted around the station or announcements telling us about train delays or changes in routes. Many travelers seem to adapt immediately, turning away without a visual emotional reaction and simply going to the next train or next stop. The station is a space we think of already as dirty, disgusting, decaying — most are even underground, like they’re already dead. This is not the typical way architecture functions, at least in this space of 21st-century America. Architecture must usually be clean to the point of being sterile, renewed often, looking ripe for interaction but never daring to cross the line that signals they are also points of interaction themselves. Some might even be visual objects, and we stare at them as we walk by. But the station fosters a feeling that urges you to leave, immediately. The station is somehow an architecture we do not want to interact with, and I wonder if this is at least partially not because we expect it to ‘glitch’ (which wouldn’t really make that a glitch at all), but because we expect it to fail.

architecture is death!

another one of bernard tschumi’s advertisements for architecture



~ by adriene on April 5, 2015.

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