[iDC] re: architecture and situated technologies

Kazys Varnelis kazys at varnelis.net
Mon Jul 17 22:45:01 EDT 2006

Greetings all,

I have been a lurker on this list for about a 1/2 year now and am delighted
to take part in both the list and the fall event. Thanks for the invite!

I have four (!) current projects that bear mentioning. Chalk it up to ADD if
you wish and just be grateful that I¹m not mentioning the rest.

The first is an architecture research practice called AUDC
(http://www.audc.org), a collaborative venture between myself and Robert
Sumrell (http://www.robertsumrell.com), perhaps best described not by me but
by our friend Reinhold Martin when he wrote that we are reverse engineering
a manual for the Operating System of Empire (or the Operating System for the
System). Specifically what we are doing is looking at highly charged
situations that reveal the logic of the network. Our first book, to be
published this fall by ACTAR, is called Blue Monday after the enigmatic
dance single by New Order. The cover of the 12², designed by Neville Brody,
is die cut to look like a large floppy disk. Even though Blue Monday was the
most successful 12² of all time, it reputedly cost so much to produce that
it lost money on each sale, a vivid demonstration of the seemingly
ubiquitous and lemming-like drive to immortalize oneself in media now common
through second generation Internet phenomena such as myspace, friendster,
blogs, and so on. Compounding matters, since Factory Records were not
members of the British Phonographic Industry association, the best selling
single of all time is not eligible for a gold record.

In Blue Monday we look at three projects in depth. The first is One
Wilshire, a 39-story skyscraper in downtown Los Angeles, perhaps the worst
building designed by legendary architectural firm Skidmore Owings and
Merrill. Our interest in the structure is in how the building has been
retrofitted into the premier telecom hotel of the west coast, a key node on
the infomatic grid. Given the high degree of connectivity at One Wilshire,
the structure is supposedly the most expensive space in North America. The
second project is an extensive history of the Muzak corporation, founded by
General George Owen Squier (the second passenger in an airplane and the
inventor of multiplexy, which in the spirit of open source he gave to the
American people until AT&T¹s profits from his invention prompted him to sue)
as a ³wired wireless² transmission medium, a competitor to the radio. During
the postwar era, Muzak became a key part of the Fordist office, providing a
gentle erotic lift to the day by infusing the modernist interiors of Lever
House and the Seagram Building with the sounds of love songs stripped of
their lyrics. Today, however, Muzak aims not at the mass subject, but at an
endlessly differentiated spectrum of channels (no longer re-orchestrated,
but in the original) for any taste, mood, or carefully cultivated deviant
lifestyle. The third project explores Quartzsite, Arizona, a city of 3,000
in the summer that swells to 1.5 million in the winter with the arrival of
retired ³snowbirds² in their RVs, all aiming to simply enjoy the
exhilarating freedom of being in remarkably close proximity to thousands
upon thousands of their neighbors. Through these projects, we engage in a
theoretical critique of Hardt and Negri¹s concept of multitude, which we
find unduly optimistic and attempt to reveal the drives and desires of the
individual in network culture. Much more can be found at http://www.audc.org
and our wiki http://www.audc.org/wiki

During the last year, I had the opportunity to be the senior fellow at the
Annenberg Center for Communication at the University of Southern California,
where I worked with Mimi Ito to direct the Networked Publics research group,
a team of USC faculty, a researcher from RAND, two postdocs, and one
graduate student. During the course of the year the group decided that its
product would be a collaboratively written introduction to the theme
composed of four essays, each of which would address Place, Politics,
Culture, and Infrastructure respectively. An interim draft our work,
together with the semester¹s archives and video of lectures can be found at
our Drupalized site, http://netpublics.annenberg.edu. The essay on Place
that I co-wrote with Anne Friedberg for the book and ³Beyond Locative
Media,² the piece I did with Marc Tuters for August¹s Leonardo are the two
pieces that have the most direct bearing on the discussion here.

My own work at the Annenberg, a book length research project entitled
Network City, began as a broad survey of emergent phenomena and the
influence of networks within contemporary urbanism is slowly morphing into a
sustained inquiry into the history and ideological construction of bottom-up
urbanism in the heady soup of military communications research and the
counterculture of the 1960s.

Finally, although my connection at the Annenberg will be continuing through
the Institute for the Future of the Book, I am in a bit of a transition at
this point.... Hence my silence (and even disappearance) for a few weeks as
we hammered out the details of the project. However, in exchange for the
silence, I'm delighted to make the idc list the first venue for my latest

AUDC is giving birth to a new project, the Network Architecture Lab, of
which I will be Director starting this fall. Based in the Columbia
University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, the
NetLab embraces the studio and the seminar as venues for architectural
analysis and speculation, exploring new forms of research through
architecture, text, new media design, film production and environment

Specifically, the Network Architecture Lab investigates the impact of
computation and communications on architecture and urbanism. What
opportunities do programming, telematics, and new media offer architecture?
How does the network city affect the building? Who is the subject and what
is the object in a world of networked things and spaces? How do
transformations in communications reflect and affect the broader
socioeconomic milieu? Our lab seeks to both document this emergent condition
and to produce new sites of practice and innovative working methods for
architecture in the twenty-first century. Using new media technologies, the
lab aims to develop new interfaces to both physical and virtual space.

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