"Urban Drift" / Claudia Gliemann

archis 1999, nr. 10, pp. 77 - 80

The symposium 'Urban Drift', which was recently held in Berlin as part of the media festival 'BerlinBeta 2.0', was attended by architects who are concerned with breaking down the boundaries between the real and the virtual, who dream of computer-generated spaces, who move in multimedia spaces, and who carry out temporary interventions in urban space. Peter Cook (Archigram, London) opened the symposium with the concept of ‚stretching‘. Architecture must stretch out and extend to cover other areas, but it must also grow and keep on changing. ‚Stretching' in fact applied to the entire event, because all of the invited architects pointed architecture in a new direction - though not always a virtual one.

Kunst & Technik from Berlin, a team of engineers working with architecture, art, design and visual communication, design spaces for a reality where material, information and time coincide. Their multi mind project is a system that facilitates changing perceptions under the motto ‘I see what you see`. Multi mind was recently tested in the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg and functions as follows. The visitor is provided with a small rucksack containing a digital camera, a computer and a mini-monitor. All visitors equipped with this 'mobile unit' are linked to one another. The digital camera records continuous images. Each visitor is a transmitter and a ~eceiver at the same time. They send one another images without losing sight of the image that they themselves see - the received image must supplement rather than supplant the individual experience. For Kunst & Technik multi mind is a research into non-verbal forms of communication using digital technology.

However, visitors are not expected to ask what the point of it all is. For Kunst & Technik are materializing their abstract ideas at a very early, as yet unripe stage. The technology is not perfect, the images on the monitors are out of focus, and it takes some time to send them, A4 the same, multi mind is a good example of the expanding field of architecture. lt realizes the concept of overlapping analogue and digital space, the area where people and their perceptions are operative.

In other projects, such as those of Urban Salon and FAT from London and Kas Oosterhuis from Rotterdam, the time factor has a role to play. Kas Oosterhuis is interested in the movement of the object itself. To this end he designs a body which he can then animate - not only the skin, such as images on a screen, but the body as a whole, which has to move and change its shape. Oosterhuis believes that this will presently become possible by pneumatic construction. He has already created an example of constantly changing architecture on the Internet. The question is now: are the Internet and the computer regarded today as part of reality? Is a virtual object an object nonetheless? Or does it only become architecture when we see the physical object in front of us?

In the case of Hani Rashid (Asymptote, New York), virtual and real spaces exist side by side. His projects Virtual Stock Exchange and Guggenheim Virtual Museum expand the existing institutions of the stock exchange and the museum by offering new possibilities of perception. The virtual designs are regarded not as a substitute but as part of a new vision in which architecture too can assume digital forms. The architecture extends into digital space and takes possession of it: new terrain, new possibilities. Old objects, new possibilities is the motto of LOT/EK (Ada Tolla and Giuseppe Lignano, New York). Rather than reinvent architecture, they seek to give existing objects a new function, including objects that do not properly beIong to the architectural vocabulary, such as storage tanks and fridges. A tank, for example, can be used to sIeep in a fridge can be used to house books, the stereo or the TV. Tolla and Lignano often work with containers that have been turned into bars or entire houses. They draw their inspiration primarily from what they come across: an inexhaustible source.

MUF, based in London, also work with the preexisting, the available as they call it. These designers regard the site not only as a physical territory, but also as a realm where architecture, people, animals, culture and nature interact. And they want to involve everything so as to get a clear picture of the conditions under which they can operate. The result is projects on location. In an empty space between two blocks of houses in Hackney, East London, for example, they placed a flock of six sheep and eight monitors. And while the mirrors reflect the green of the field, the monitors seem to float in space. The moving images on the monitors may be of flowers or fish by day, or fire by night. An intriguing combination of nature and media.

Those who took part in Urban Drift made it clear that a movement obtains in architecture, one that plays with changes in form, place, perception and medium. And that movement reaches out in various directions which often exist alongside one another, in juxtaposition, or united as hybrids. Architecture is conquering now terrain and has new horizons in its sights. Yet these too will be crossed by new developments in the future.