Entrants from 67 countries around the world answered the brief that invited designers to put pen and pencil to paper, writing stories as well as crafting visuals for their submissions. The winners were chosen by an interdisciplinary jury that included: Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Elizabeth Diller, Allison Arieff, Bradford Shellhammer, Daniel Simon, Dror Benshetrit, Sylvia Lavin, Cristina Goberna, Aaron Betsky, Robert McKee, Alexander Walter, David Basulto, Becky Quintal, Matthew Hoffman & Francesca Giuliani.
The Fairy Tales challenge has attracted students, brand-name studios and notable academics alike, including a First Prize Winner for 2016 that testifies to the pervasiveness of Blank Space’s novel creative provocations.
The jury selected three prize winners along with 10 honorable mentions:
First Prize goes to Olson Kundig – Alan Maskin, Jerome Tryon, Kevin Scott, Gabriela Frank & Katie Miller, the Seattle-based firm founded in 1966 and winner of the 2009 National AIA Architecture Firm Award for their story titled “Welcome to the 5th Facade”. The team, led by Principal Alan Maskin, crafted a beautifully rendered story that launches us headlong into the future – a future that is similar enough to our own, yet ripe with new challenges, opportunities, and issues. “Our Fairy Tales 2016 submittal became a tangential detour from Olson Kundig’s ongoing investigation into urban rooftops, the largely neglected uppermost layer of cities. The idea of applying a narrative filter – to both built and conceptual projects – became another way to look at and critique design ideas. “Welcome To The 5th Facade” used science fiction as it is traditionally used – as a modality to visualize and imagine a particular future in terms of both the pitfalls and the potential.”
– Alan Maskin, Principal at Olson Kundig
Second Prize goes to Hagai Ben Naim, an architecture student studying in Paris, who deftly leverages satire in “Parisian Lullaby” to address the current climate in France, and how recent events have affected policy, park space, and the public domain. “Parisian Lullaby is the product of a personal encounter with the urban space and political climate of contemporary Paris, and was triggered by the recent heartbreaking events that took place in the city. The Parisian municipal obsession with governing and ordering life in the public domain gave birth to a series of regulations regarding preservation, maintenance and security. Some of these rules, such as the Second Empire requirement to close public parks at nightfall, date back to the nineteenth century. Through a satirical reworking of the master plan for the new Clichy Batignolles district, Parisian Lullaby raises the question of the relevance of these anachronistic municipal regulations in contemporary Paris. It opens a Pandora’s box of cultural critique that unleashes fundamental interrogations related to space and identity, freedom, prejudice, cultural dogma and hypocrisy.”
– Hagai Ben Naim
Third Prize goes to Kobi Logendrarajah, an architecture student at the University of Waterloo, for “12 Nautical Miles”, an imaginative story that explores how architecture might be created, leveraged, traded, and grown in a literal no-man’s-land. “The spark behind the story was inspired by an anime I used to watch back in the day called Black Lagoon that was based on a fictitious island neighboring Thailand. The island was home to many of the world’s outcasts, ranging from pirates to deserting soldiers from the Vietnam War. I honed the idea of a place of refuge and expanded it to include a place that escapes the eye of any government, where one can practice their full liberties as they seem fit. I wanted architecture to respond to this social structure and I spawned a scenario that touches upon some of the similar issues that we face today. How we claim that a land is ours, who’s allowed to be apart of it, and who was here first were all questions I wanted people to think about deeply about.
– Kobi Logendrarajah
The Jury awarded 10 honorable mentions: Sean Cottengim & Alex Gormley; Scott Lindberg & Katherine Nesse; Rubin Quarcoopome; Liao Hung Kai & Huang Hsiao Rou; Patch Dobson-Pérez; Nicola Chan, Nikolas Kourtis & Pui Quan Choi; Kostis Ktistakis; Will Fu; Mark Morris & Neil Spiller; and Olalekan Jeyifous.
Receiving so many stories from the best and the brightest in the creative field is one of the most exciting aspects about hosting Fairy Tales, say Blank Space founders Matthew Hoffman and Francesca Giuliani:
“Those who submitted to the competition are not only impressively talented, they are courageous innovators that have pushed the envelope of architecture as we know it. These are the most important topics for architecture to address, and they have the power to reshape the business of architecture, its priorities, and its future direction.”
The winning entries, along with the honorable mentions and other notable submissions, will be featured in the third volume of Fairy Tales: When Architecture Tells a Story. The anthology will give readers the opportunity to experience first hand what happens when creatives tell a story. The book layout is designed by Bruce Mau Design, with a special cover by Spanish artist Vicente Garcia-Morillo. Copies will ship in July, and are available for pre-order at a discounted price of $15 here..
My cryonic technician described what had happened:
“A myocardial infarction began midway through Act 1 of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge at the Phoenix Playhouse. Although cardiopulmonary support kept your heart pumping for the 30 minute ambulance drive, you were pronounced dead upon arrival. The stainless steel bracelet on your left wrist was inscribed with CRYONIC ALERT. The card in your wallet outlined medical protocols which, in turn, triggered your immediate transfer to the Al-Cryo Life Extension Foundation.”
“Your naked body was submerged in an ice bath. Profusion – the process of removing the blood from your body – commenced, and your blood was replaced with a non-toxic solution that preserves cells when they freeze.”
“Your head was severed, a relatively new procedure at the time of your death, and positioned vertically alongside your body in a cylindrical stainless steel tank where incremental cooling brought your temperature to -196° Celsius.”
“Your tank was stored with hundreds of others for the many decades that comprised your cryopreservation.”
My cryonic tech didn’t call it a deep freeze, she called it “Big Sleep”. I don’t remember waking up. Mostly just flashes of light interspersed with what I assume were sleep/dream cycles. I was deeply sedated during the months of healing after the re-attachment. And then there were tests. Scores of tests. Medical, physical, and psychological. For nearly two months my technician was the only other thing I was aware of. While staring out the window from my bed one day I saw something moving against the sky and I spoke: “…biiiiii-iiird…..bird…” Baby’s first word.
“Patient crossed Milestone 149,”she whispered into her headset.
After that day, there were more people, technicians mostly, followed by a slow introduction to other patients. Group therapy sessions for the reborn. The few who had family to contact were considered strangers by the very people they desperately hoped would now welcome and care for them. My great-great-great-grandniece supposedly lives in what used to be called Chandigarh in what is still called India. “She has not responded to our attempts for contact,” I was told. “This is not uncommon”.
Orphans like me at Al-Cryo have a predicament: the full extent of long-term cryonic care planning in my era led only to rebirth. For most of us, personal resources and property were transferred to descendants long ago. Today, almost all global governments have stepped in to supply aid. Now, orphans receive stipends upon release that, if spent wisely, can carry us for six or seven months. We attend classes on how to operate augmented reality headsets and weeks of re-birth survival skill courses.
A suitcase they gave me during checkout included clothing and several neckbands, a virtual bank account, coupons for food and boarding centers, a month’s supply of pain medication, batteries, my old Cryonic Alert bracelet, and travel tickets.
“For patients re-entering alone, we encourage them to return to where they last lived – to be surrounded by elements that we hope will feel familiar and foster memory recall.”
And what exactly do I remember? I have memories of a childhood that I assume was mine. I remember nothing during the freeze. Lately, I’ve started to notice that I remember things that happened yesterday, the day before that and so on.
My headset provided me with instructional video and directional guidance graphics as a layer of visual information superimposed over my view of the world. It showed me how to take public transportation, how to find and pay for food and how to find sleep centers. It woke me each morning, explained who passersby were and offered advice whenever I was puzzled. They made it feel like these were my choices.
Not everything was foreign, though. Upon returning to Seattle, the headset led me to a neighborhood where I once owned a business. The streets were still lined with old neo-classical brick buildings that dated to the nineteenth century, but my former architecture office in the Washington Shoe Factory Building had new additive layers. The entire south façade was moving. I paused to stare up at a series of conveyance systems that comprised a vertical farm carrying vegetable planters that rotated plants out of the shadows and into the sunlight and back again. My headset played a video with animated diagrams that illustrated the step-by-step process that ran the kinetic mechanisms for photosynthesis.
The biggest change to my old neighborhood occurred where the buildings met the sky. The instructions on my headset led me up the main stairway to an entirely new urban layer.
“Welcome to the Fifth Façade. This is where you will live and work.”
During the decades that I slept, the rooftops of Seattle had changed. The grey waterproofing membranes, HVAC equipment, elevator machine rooms, long-empty water towers, and miles of ductwork were replaced with a vast pastoral landscape. Rolling green hills, public parks and swimming pools, pastures with livestock, and vegetable farms were joined by enormous water collectors, solar arrays, and wind energy turbines. Bridges, like connective tendons, unified the separate buildings into a continuous landscape. I could wander anywhere, and I did.
No one told me I had to work, or for how long; the headset only told me what to do when I wanted it to. In the early days, I wandered the rooftops. They were always packed with people, walking, strolling, exercising and working. I could stop anywhere along the rooftop and just start working when and if I wanted to. Depending upon where I stopped, my headset taught me new tasks and after a while I got them 90% right on the first try. It never took more than two tries. When I talked with the other farmers, we mostly talked about work. Some bragged about quantities while others were just proud of what they had accomplished. We strolled through this massive urban landscape laughing and talking about the things we made that day. During one of these walks, I passed two women and one of them was reciting a Khalil Gibran poem. Our headsets helped us remember literature verbatim. “Work is love made visible…” she said.
My very first tasks involved harvesting food through the double-hung single-glazed windows of the Washington Shoe Building, whose original hand-blown glass panes had been removed long ago. I once was an architect who looked out from those windows; now, I was a farmer who reached through them.
“What happens in winter?” I said. I didn’t get explanations for everything I wondered about but when I asked, “Should I pick these?” the animations guided me through every step. Soon, I could clear an entire tray of turnip greens in a single rotation without a second thought. It was hard to mess up when you were directed and redirected at every turn.
Sometimes, I noticed the absences. Night, for instance, no longer came. The constant feeling of being cold. It startled me when I realized the absence of children.
“School…?” I asked. No instructions. “Children…?” Nothing.
It’s not as if there was no recreation, although there were never instructions on what activities I should or should not be doing. When I responded to the familiar sound of a large crowd cheering, I was guided to a stadium just south of the Washington Shoe Building. “Baseball….?” I asked. The history and rules of baseball, and the statistics for each player appeared over my view of the field. A huge ovation rose when Ted Williams, “The Kid,” came up to bat. “The greatest hitter who ever lived! The only player inducted into the Hall of Fame three times!” This realization—that “The Kid” was inducted three times, three lifetime achievements–made it all clear: death wasn’t obsolete, just temporary.
The Kid ran the bases with the speed of a twenty year old, which is likely what it was. Old heads on young shoulders, farmed like everything else. Neck bands were a thing we all shared. We all had them—black leather, cinched in back–since waking, I never met a person who did not.
Could I live forever? Could I continue returning to life for eternity? Would it even be possible to truly end my life??? What would happen if I were to throw myself from these sinewy bridges that connect the rooftops, or use my Japanese gardening knife to slice just below the scar encircling my neck?
The decision to return, when it’s your choice, is an act of liberation and extension. I loved my life and the decision for more of it felt obvious at the time. But to return repeatedly as a decision made by others… All of the farmers had old heads on young shoulders. A work-force destined to return in perpetuity.
The decision took several months to make. I completed a twelve-hour shift and folded my work coat. I walked across several rooftops as my headset, in sensing my intention, tried to dissuade me.
My last memory was the free fall.
Past the Eiffel tower and across the Seine, the new master plan of Clichy Batignolles is being built. It’s so new you won’t even recognize that it’s Paris. New buildings, new roads, new functions, new everything. No Haussmann, that’s for sure! The real jewel of the whole project is its central park. Enormous in size, it’s the beating heart of this newly planned territory. Apart from being so well-planned, a great location for kids and a heaven for joggers, this park is a major part of the neighborhood’s infrastructure: it’s the main circulation axis from north to south. It’s a life line. It’s the spatial incarnation of the freedom of movement. Its value is immeasurable. Neighborhood residents are so lucky to have this park and yet… mysteriously… they close it up every evening at twilight until the strike of dawn, like every other park in Paris. Isn’t that peculiar? Well, the local planning agency tries to sell this story that it’s because of security issues, but actually it’s a bit more than just a “security issue”.
After sunset, when the moon rises and the park’s gate is closed, darkness falls over romantic Paris and reason falls asleep. Then, another world wakes up. A world of anxieties and madness, of crime and dirt, where you can’t find logic, right angles or straight lines. A world where you can meet your worst nightmares, your flash-lust fantasies and other such earthly delights. And under the cover of night, this havoc hacks out of its cage and unleashes its awful contents into the park. It crawls up from the basements of new buildings and oozes out from brand new water and sewage pipes. It tumbles down from the sky and slithers out between the roots of seemingly old trees. Its beasts touch the ground of the park, celebrating their time to step upon the land that human consciousness seeks to rule and order.
When the clock strikes midnight this havoc shatters the park into pieces, tearing apart its plan, form and function. Napoleon III watches from his dark grave as his city crumbles as creatures of the underworld crush the urban ethos of Paris that he, through Haussmann, Alphand, Barillet-Deschamps and Belgrand worked so hard to forge. As an appetizer, the beasts start nibble away at Haussmannian buildings. Tschumi’s La Villette is the main course. In an act of rage, Perrault’s National Library is pierced a thousand times. The Notre Dame rises up in a desperate suicidal gesture. The Arc of Triomphe is plunged into the waters of oblivion, never to be seen again. Pei’s Louvre Pyramid is smashed into countless shards of glass. A stake is stabbed in the back of the much maligned Montparnasse Tower.
Space and place are dismantled and demolished, turning into a continuous sea of sewage and filth. Paris empties itself of its content; no Genius, no Loci, no Zeit, no Geist. The heart of French culture is broken. All that’s left is fear and sorrow and sex and death. It’s not clear whether the sun will ever rise again, as the gloomy moon has already been butchered. Prostitutes rule the streets, and drug dealers crown themselves as kings. Murder, crime and illicit sex celebrate freely in the dark corners. Animal sacrifices and wild creatures and meat and alcohol and lust and disease and androgynous bodies and blood and porn and little kids watching and homeless people crying and knives and weapons and psychopaths and smoke and fire and poison and immigrants and radicals and war… and… and… god save us all!
It’s a wonderful Parisian night. All of the neighbors are there, dressed to the nines, nibbling on gourmet appetizers and fancy desserts from the well-placed buffet and drinking the finest champagne. The Clichy Batignolles model room couldn’t be more welcoming, alight and tidy. At the grand opening everyone is so proud of this new urban project. The mayor finishes his kind words to the honorable crowd “… and that’s why we’ve made this considered choice to close up the park at night. You should all know it’s for your own safety and that of your children”, his soft, diplomatic voice echoed the fine and firm walls of the room. “French culture is strong, and will keep on going” he states, “we must sustain its strength”. Loud applause rises up from the public. You see, the fence protects Paris from falling apart. It protects the entirety of French culture from collapse. It protects us.
Yes, it must protect us… it must!
My father sailed to Barena on a billboard with nothing more than the clothes on his back and a sack of second-hand electronics. Yeah that’s right- he modified a dismantled Malaysian billboard into a raft and wound up a few hundred miles east of the Philippines. It was there where he was greeted by an anonymous silhouette of an offshore oil platform, who we would soon call Barena. My father met this abandoned oil rig during its repurposing into an “off-the-grid” marketplace. It served as a hub for cheap illegal trading in the South China Sea. The unidentified oil rig was stationed in international waters, away from the jurisdictions of countries that would seek to confiscate or end these dealings. This allowed people from all over Southeast Asia to illegally buy and sell cheap merchandise under the radar, propelling Barena to be one of the busiest black markets. That’s where my father comes in.
With his bag of knock-off electronics he brought over on the billboard, he started to build his business by rebranding and selling these second-hand products, climbing his way up the sales ladder. Since Barena laid in international waters, it was outside the boundaries of any country and my father took advantage of this capless market. After building up his empire, he erected the same billboard he used to find his way here and propped it up in the centre of Barena; a salute to the spirit of the free market. After his passing, I took his dream a step further. Why not go all the way? Instead of selling cheap electronics, why not sell man’s biggest asset he can own, his land – or better yet his property.
They call me the Lock(e)smith. I created the real estate game in Barena, developed subdivisions, and controlled the flow of the market. John Locke once said “Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labor with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property.” I’m firm believer in this ideology, the epitome of practicing the full capabilities of one’s freedom. With the strength of Locke’s words and the financial backing I inherited from my father’s enterprise, I began constructing buildings in the market spaces on the oil platform. I created the world’s first offshore private community and I targeted the wealthiest entrepreneurs in all of Southeast Asia. Not just your ordinary millionaires and billionaires, but anyone who wished to soil their hands in dirty business. A sanctuary where they can deal without the eye of the state judging and condemning them. What better place is there than Barena!
With these new property lines, I redefined the internal boundaries of this makeshift city. I live by the matrix of these lines and the values attached to them. They bring order to this oil rig, they make sense of everything. Whenever I take a stroll on this oil platform, all I see are potential ventures and opportunities, shaped and restricted by property lines. The distinct organizational separations between buildings, units, and programs is the key to planning. Giving each tenant the precise area of property he or she has paid for, it gives each of them their full liberties to do whatever they will. No need to blur the lines of public and private space, no need to deal with the gray. The world we live in is black and white, rich and poor. Yes and no. Ones and zeros. To understand the past, the present, and the future, the craft of property development is truly handed down from the Gods.
Transforming Barena from a black market grounds to a neighborhood for rich mercenaries wasn’t an easy task. I was faced with resistance. You see, the old mercenaries during my father’s time stood in front of my vision. They wanted to keep Barena as a centre for the common merchant, where everyone can make a living. Claiming that my real estate empire was a monopoly and how it was unjust of me to own a space that is meant for public trading, these low-class peasants were talking about morality. These same deceiving merchants who loot cargo ships like pirates and sell their goods on the black market are pleading for fairness. Go back to shore if you want to play a “fair game”.
You can’t expect Barena, which was conceived from the seed of capitalism, to treat her children equally. She pulls her teat out of the mouth of the weak and feeds it to the strong. The weak will only drink what trickles down from mouth of the strong, the nerve of them! They have even gone as far as breaking into my housing developments, inhabiting the vacant units alongside the units of my valued paid clients. Unbelievable, acting like old fashioned squatters! My tenants have even started complaining about the excessive noise, implicating to the insistent cock fighting and betting. What’s even more despicable is that some of these dirty pests have infested the mechanical rooms to spread their infective conduct of black market trades. They clearly don’t understand the concept of private property…
Perhaps there were a few things that I have overlooked. I should have prepared for this. Lousy scoundrels…These barbarians have occupied the majority of Barena with their persistent squatting tactics. They are hard to defeat while their numbers continue to multiply. Their mob-like mentality is infectious, assimilating even my tenants as they occupy tower to tower. This viral-like growth seems to be enhanced by the form of my density towers, making them circulate easily, floor by floor. Cutting out voids in the cores of my towers and in between floors, these squatters behave like termites. They are reclaiming the property by retrofitting the towers into vertical market spaces with atriums, grandiose circulation, and created bridges to connect the towers to form a network. What rubbish use of space! They completely ignored the property lines I laid down and you can’t even tell when you step into one building and when you exit another! No one will ever profit off of this, this environment isn’t ideal for real estate. I have resorted to take refuge in my father’s billboard. This monument represents everything that I stand for. Perhaps I should restart my father’s voyage. Take the billboard it on another course, perhaps maybe I can find another oil rig, or even an offshore wind farm. I should act fast; it’s only a matter of time until the resistance will find me here. There’s no telling what they will do to me if they find out who I am.
The ocean and sky tell an ongoing love story. When we look up to the sky from below or down at the ocean from above, we witness the separation of these two lovers. Rain and evaporation become like love letters, constantly expressing their relationship. In between is the land, a mere spectator. The land is envious of this love, and we humans resonate with land. We drain and divert lakes to create space for development. We build soaring metallic prisms to obscure the sky. All in efforts to interfere with this love story, a story we wish to be a part of. Land itself is a possessive being, trying to control both ocean and sky. However, these soul mates eventually do find a place to meet in the absence of land; the High Seas. It’s only in high tides where these two lovers can reunite and kiss along the horizon.
It’s been quite some time since I thought about my life in Barena. I’ve renewed my father’s journey across international waters, sailing on the same billboard after being exiled from the oil rig. Although, I must say there was something interesting that I witnessed while fleeing Barena. Down by the concrete limbs of the oil rig, I noticed there was a whole another world evolving beneath my feet. It was a world of marine creatures, living off of the underbelly of the oil rig. From vibrantly textured fishes to majestic egrets, it was another dimension simultaneously living parallel to ours. It was truly a sight to see. Clueless me, I thought, I was the sole possessor of Barena but I was too naive to see that my scope was limited. I couldn’t fathom to see the bigger picture that my “possessions” were shared among something greater than me. It makes me think if we can really own anything in this world. We are born out of the womb with nothing and die without bringing anything into the afterlife. So why do we feel we are entitled to possessions while we live? Perhaps we should treat this world as a gray ocean, aimlessly being seduced by the rhythm of the currents. To leave everything behind and to give up even our bodies to the pulls of the moon…
There is a proverb [òwé] in Yoruba that goes, “Ile oba t’o jo, ewa lo busi”. It translates to “When a king’s palace burns down, the one built to replace it is more beautiful”. Loosely speaking it means, creativity is frequently achieved after overcoming difficulty. Its English counterpart could be, “Necessity is the mother of invention”; and indeed it is. However in this instance, the literal invocation of the proverb is quite apropos because, though the king’s palaces are actually the seething masses of imposing concrete, glass, and steel high-rises that threatened to blot out the sun, we did just that: burned them to the ground. All of them. And whether what emerged from the wreckage and ruin was more beautiful, is completely beside the point, which is: it is ours (o jẹ tiwa). All of it.
Welcome to Lagos, Nigeria, fastest growing city in Africa. Home to almost 25 million inhabitants, it is a crowded and chaotic knot of human resilience, commercial enterprise and a highly complex social infrastructure. Lagos: simultaneously a place of great optimism and social ingenuity as well as extreme poverty, over-crowding, failing infrastructure and nightmarish traffic. Lagos: the most appropriate living, breathing embodiment of hope and despair. This is the Lagos of 80 years ago: a city well on its way to either becoming a triumph of the future eco-megacity or utterly consuming itself through wildly unrestrained and uncalculated expansion.
I don’t have to tell you it was the latter.
This effect of architecture and urban design that reproduces and reinforces the repressive aspects of economic deprivation and political marginalization when combined with forced and unlawful evictions, rampant corruption and a lack of enforced building regulations was a perfect storm and a fatal one at that. And so what inevitably occurred was death by self-immolation. And because life for the often razed yet resilient inhabitants of the slums and informal settlements of Lagos had always been defined by high functioning self-organization, sustainability, and adaptive re-use by necessity, they were the ones to take charge when it was time to rebuild. They rebuilt in their likeness and in their name, dividing Lagos, the mainland and island, into districts christened after the nine largest slums: Agege, Ajegunle, Amukoko, Badia, Bariga, Ijeshatedo/Itire, Ilaje, Iwaya and Makoko. Gone were the more affluent suburbs peopled by the expat staff of multinational corporations in the oil and gas industry, foreign investors, and venture capitalists.
People called it an “Abiku Phenomenon”, the Yoruba myth of the child-spirit ensnared in an endless cycle of living, dying, and being reborn and which existed as a political metaphor for the cycle of coups and upheavals that defined Nigeria’s trajectory in the years following its independence but now refers to the rise of the dispossessed and their sprawling shanty mega-structures in this new city of Lagos.
So let me begin anew.
Welcome to Lagos, Nigeria, circa 2095A.D. largest city in the world. Home to almost 400 million inhabitants, it is a crowded and labyrinthine web of human ingenuity, informal enterprise and the only existing example of a flourishing Chaordic-Anarco Technocracy on planet earth. The system is quite succinctly and aptly called CHAT and it functions not much unlike the chat rooms, governed by loosely appointed “moderators” and self-regulating “users”, of the early years of the internet. CHAT is the best of the ordered chaos that defined the local culture and economy of some of Lagos’ busiest markets such as Mile 12 market and Computer Village, except now it includes innovative yet homegrown developments in sanitation, electricity, medical services and modern communications as part of its autocatalytic and adaptive organization. The result is a complex yet fluid network of cooperation, collaboration, and competition that is systematized and maintained through an equitable distribution of power divided amongst the nine districts. There are “moderators” for every aspect of commerce, culture and industry that attend to a heterarchy of “users”; a fancy way of describing the general population.
The architecture, which is defined by large circular pod-like hulls, housing multiple levels of smaller ad-hoc settlements that connect to one another by twisting skyways and cable cars, follows the system in its infinite malleability and durability. Both emerged simultaneously and are inextricably linked counterparts to the other. In fact the architecture of what has come to be known as the shanty-mega structure or SMS exists as a sort of physical avatar for CHAT and its quasi-harmonious order which somehow endures in both theory and practice.
The acronyms for the governing body and defining architecture of this bold new Lagos are the preferred nomenclatures for various digital communications and mobile technology, and are quite the appropriate coincidence for both Lagos’ history as a leading market in this industry and my own purpose. I am a moderator in this nascent system, and within that role, my vocation centers on developing, designing, and repairing mobile technologies, both in terms of communications and portability. I am considered to be a Witch-Doctor of sorts; a techno-emergent salvage expert who returns life to discarded digital effluvia which in turn sustains life for this city’s many inhabitants. In other words, I am a scrap man, in this scrap city, this remade city which governs our lives and finally centers on the human as a social and natural being.
Infrastructure and networks have been long abandoned.
Collapsing buildings and roads are no longer being repaired.
Pollution levels usually exceed 200 AQI (Air Quality Index), which renders most Metropolises Heavily Polluted in the APL (Air Pollution Level) scale.
The welfare state is no longer.
Health care and social security are failing.
The unemployment average in the Metropolises is pushing 69%.
The only substantial State funding is allocated to riot police units.
The riot police are permanently at war with gangs and their small armies.
Criminality rates are unprecedented.
Individualism is dominant in every level of social structure.
“The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the
‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.
We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight.
Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency […]”
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, hello! Let us introduce ourselves!
We are not a travelling circus, we are not a wandering troupe, nor are we a bunch of artisans, craftsmen or builders.
We are not drifters or travellers, nor are we a bundle of crooks!
We are nothing of the sort – we are all sorts of things!
Some of us set out from the Dark Metropolises, others from the Cities, others from the Villages and the Outskirts.
Some of us lost our jobs, some our houses, some just couldn’t fit into our previous lives any longer.
Some of us started this route, some followed and some went adrift on the way.
Our vehicles are now our homes, the fields and the mountains our gardens.
Some of us are friends, some are acquaintances and some of us are just strangers. Some of us are nice and some less likeable.
Some are educated, some are physically strong.
Some of us are lazy and some hardworking.
We’ve passed through your lands needing some respite from our journey.
During our stay we would be interested in how we could help each other out.
In the hope of a wonderful cooperation, may we have a good time!
— THE SETTLING
This was what K. said and the caravan settled on the edge of the Settlement. Firstly, the Big Tent was put up and the vehicles gathered around it. The vehicled dwellings were situated in a way which created various densities, close-knit and weaker nodes, always allowing some distance from the Big Tent. The school was set up there, and so was the Big Vehicle, which carried the main electrical equipment, capable of covering the basic energy requirements of the caravan. The faster ones occupied the shades of the big trees, some drew away from the Tent and others settled closer to the Settlement. Then they began putting up their tents and organizing their space. (Spring favors the use of tents for accommodation, while in winter, when things get rough, the inside of the vehicle is preferable). A group dragged the night lighting equipment from the Big Vehicle and started assembling it. Another group went down to the river to fill up the big barrels with water. Mr. L. glanced at the battery indicator of the panels and roughly calculated the imminent energy requirements. A couple went away out of sight; some went to bed, while others started cleaning their vehicles.
Some of the vehicles that had joined the caravan back in V. had apparently broken away together with some older co-travelers. “Might they have settled at X. or perhaps gone north? So much is being said about the North lately”, M. thought. “Well, that’s that”, he whispered and turned to his side looking for a more comfortable position in his hammock.
— FIRST CONTACT
The Residents were watching the settling of the Strangers with a certain suspicion and concern. At the same time, though, their sudden arrival, and their bohemian and exotic appearance, made the Residents wildly curious and secretly excited. And for so long nothing had managed to shake things up in that quiet region! The Mayor was forced to immediately visit the settlement of the Strangers and welcome them, making sure at the same time – while being unable to hide his distrust – to sound out who these people were and what were their intentions, as well as the duration of their stay. After he had made certain that these weren’t dangerous intruders, he didn’t neglect to draw some conclusions concerning their financial status and whether they would be able to boost the local withering economy, which was rarely given the chance of any foreign capital inflow.
— CLOSE ENCOUNTER
It didn’t take long for the ice to break and for the first contact between the Strangers and the Residents to take place. The Residents, being mostly farmers, described the problems of their field to the visitors, which boiled down to bad crop yields, low sale prices of the produce and the Government’s indifference, while they listened excitedly to the descriptions and the stories of the Strangers about the difficulties and joys of nomad life, as well as the situation in the Dark Metropolises. (It is one thing to be in the presence of an eye witness, and another thing to be informed by the TV or the internet). After a couple of days and after they got better acquainted, the first signs of cooperation were evident. Some Strangers went to work in the fields, while others offered their various services from their settlement.
But what grabbed the attention of the Residents most of all was, as usual, Argentina. Practically everyone visited it, and some even made it their hangout for a time. It was mainly a canteen which in-situ distilled the local products of each place, while at the same time organizing a small fiesta. In time, it had come to have quite a substantial distilling archive of the entire flora of the Country! Lately, a woodwind quartet framed the fiesta, giving it a hint of unusual with its classical repertoire.
Strangely enough, the tattoo artist enjoyed a booming trade. The Residents were taken over by some sort of mania, and they all wanted a tattoo; a compass on the arm, a heart with the wife’s name, the portraits of the children, a date etc. Some old ladies even asked for a tattoo of their favorite saint! On the other hand, the drama team’s theatrical adaptation of “Dogville” wasn’t so highly acclaimed. A few tents down, the illustrator had set up his gallery and was exhibiting his works, providing documentation of the caravan’s everyday life on the road. In any case, the unhappiest group was that of the little students of the caravan. Whenever the caravan settles, schoolwork is intensified, game time is reduced and revisions for tests are pushing.
Overall, the cooperation between the Strangers and the Residents was quite satisfactory and the stay of the Strangers went really smoothly; so smoothly, in fact, that some Strangers decided to stay in the Settlement for a while, after the departure of the caravan, while a few Residents, whose financials were not so good, started to think of the prospect of leaving.
— ON THE ROAD
After a couple of weeks the caravan went on its way again, as suddenly as it had appeared. Some new members were added, and some vehicles postponed their departure. This is how it usually goes. They were thinking of going to Z. Another caravan had already settled there and word was that a grand fiesta was underway!
— END OF CHAPTER
My encounters are not a mere fantasy, but an account of a vision of bodies from a dream of my sublime interior. As I wander window to window, tab to tab, my digital extensions are in action, structured linearly, housed in platforms with inherent intentions for a specific interaction. The platforms set regimes for a mechanized static set of social interactions. Forms reflect the interface of these social exchanges, marking a clear poché of a virtual city of electronic bodies.
These new forms of architecture are a mutation of digital platforms and their physical programmatic counterparts, generating in their own realm unique dogmas of interaction, structure, and self-authorship. The virtual city is a sum of its extensions, constantly updating, and shifting in its malleability. The density reflects the increasing presence of the user’s digital footprint. Each platform program is embedded with a systematic set of tensions, negotiations, and subverted objectives. To engage in a digital global society, the mask of services hides an underlying voyeur of surveillance and activity monitoring. Our bodies become distracted by mass media and thoughts increasingly polluted by the slow drone of endless sharing and internet thread conversations.
Users construct their virtual identities in an iterative fashion, and engage others in spaces bound by host platforms for ulterior purposes. The editable bodies are malleable and ever-changing, chained to specific functions and subjugated to sporadic edits and updates from its physical user. The whole body becomes a web of cyclical activity utilized with stable relationships but fluctuating populations. At each moment live sections through the city accurately spatialize the repetitive dynamics of experiences while surfing the web.
The notion of loneliness is not familiar to the connected society of virtual cities. The virtual citizen seeks a constant interaction; building and socializing in search of reassurances to reinforce a sense of individualism built around the approval of a collective.
The virtual city is a manifestation of a diverse and connected society. The authenticity of bodies is disregarded as these extensions are each in their own right separate shells for inhabitation. Each body is an apparatus pristinely molded in an ideal state of values and aesthetics, cast forth as mobile narratives of individuals.
Perhaps my souvenir, a visitor’s pamphlet and some jogged down conversations can help clarify these systems and its citizens…
– An architect’s accounts
Google’s infrastructure package ‘chrome’ seamlessly assists in hosting other platforms while providing a configurable storage warehouse, an observatory equipped with a high resolution database of maps, and a light speed mailing system. Contractors work around the clock to ensure high speed circulation, and impeccable organization. The archive is the best in the world. Not only does it provide unlimited storage for your personal belongings [for the small price of $9.99/month] but the search librarians are top class researchers able to pull any resource specified in any medium. Recently our new building the Wikipedia Library has become an integral addition to our resource services with full integration into the database of our search centers.
“I really don’t appreciate the advertisements, like no, even though I want to order Hannah Arendt ‘s Origins of Totalitarianism doesn’t mean the librarians gotta mention it every time I ask them something.”
“I don’t want the most popular thing I want something edgy and out there, I gotta’ keep asking them questions to get something good out of them.”
“I stop asking after a couple of questions.”
“It’s kinda scary that I can zoom all the way from earth and see my bald spot next to my car on maps…since I wear a wig and everything, thanks Google.”
“Thanks I’ll check it out.”
“Funny how you can see developed countries and urban areas in high def, but what about some high-res nature shots?”
“Can’t see Syria all blown up right now, someone needs to update that…”
“The Wiki Library is great a resource and super addicting. I go in looking for something and I just end up getting side tracked with all the links to other rooms and at the end know something completely different, unproductive but unexpected…”
“Just saw some kids in the nations section change China’s national animal into a dragon.”
“Isn’t that Japan’s national animal?”
“It’s no one’s national animal it’s a MYTHICAL BEAST, it doesn’t exist.”
“Can I trust these guys? What’s stopping them from making copies of my stuff?”
Instagram and Amazon has merged to provide an unparalleled set of stores and viewing avenues encompassed in one navigable interface location; the Insta-Amazon Mall. The mall has countless stores of tech devices, apparel, image galleries, food court, and even a Facebook cafe. This is a destination for any virtual citizen seeking to participate in the ultimate shopping experience under a warm and comfortable environment, with stores displaying products and images of culture catered to the interest of the shopper. It is the only mall with a generative escalator technology allowing users to individualize their shopping experience by constructing their own personalized pathway to hit up a specified set of stores, giving shoppers an intimate, efficient, shopping experience.
“Isn’t shopping a collective experience?”
“No the Facebook café is where you socialize.”
“They should have the Tinder factory in here along with the café, same social interaction.”
“Not really, Facebook is way more casual.”
“It’s cool after the first couple of visits but it gets pretty boring fast, all they do is display things related to your past purchases and likes, no variety.”
“Well how else would they do it? They identify you based on the objects and images you prefer.”
“Ya but how would you know to like anything different if all that you see are the same things.”
Facebook allows you to personalize your interactions and social group. Every Facebook café has a unique wall signature to post your interests, pictures, while functionally providing various sized niches for various levels of group activity. The café has the ability to link with others and create a temporary zone for social activity at various scales. Connect and prosper!
“It’s pretty cool to visit various cafes, walk down and see different people doing different things and even read the walls.”
“I wouldn’t even know if people are checking out my wall.”
“I like looking at peoples’ walls you learn something different about them you might be interested in having a conversation with.”
“Ya but they’re all the same.”
“People want you to read that, it’s what they want you to think they’re like.”
“I like having friends who like the same things and share the same views.”
“How’s that critical? Wouldn’t it be better to talk to people who might disagree on certain things?”
“No… why would I want to talk to people who I think are wrong?”
“Ya if they post something you don’t like just take it down.”
Tinder empowers users to look for a connection. It is a destination where your complex life focuses into finding a relationship. At Tinder we believe in efficiency, speed, and quality. By utilizing assembly line planning we provide as many opportunities for a match as possible. Millions of people from all around the world come in to our host facilities every day, your perfect partner is only a swipe away!
“You better be pretty cause that’s what people see first!”
“I just go to look at hot chicks and rate ‘em with my friends.”
“Love how people need to specify they’re not looking for sex.”
“Sometimes you stand in line forever…”
“Dude no one reads your description on the assembly line, just have an awesome profile picture and try to stand out as much as possible.”
Privately Owned MMORPG Public spaces
These spaces are privately owned and managed individually, separate from the city’s jurisdiction. They are islands of worlds giving a full immersive narrative and fantasy with millions of others who share a similar passion. People come to live out a different life, in an entirely different universe. This out of body experience is highly recommended for any visitor. Our biggest hits are the Star Wars Universe, the World of Warcraft, and the Sim City.
“Loving the Star Wars Universe, played it right after I watched the movie.”
“I’m enjoying it too but it needs to have more options.”
“Ya what if I want to just be a normal alien citizen instead of choosing a prescribed avatar for war?”
“It’s open world but my main quest is still my main objective, you can’t really escape any of the key structures of the game.”
“Things are pretty repetitive if you ask me.”
“Lol it’s not like your “real” life is any different.”
Preface, with Apologies to Coleridge
The following poetic fairytale is here printed at the request of an architect of some renown, and, as far as the poet’s own thoughts on the matter are considered, rather as a curiosity, than on the basis of the craft of his words.
In the Fall of 2015, the poet, then in fragile health, had escaped the chaos of Upstate New York in favor of the calm of Harlem, retiring to a friend’s apartment on West 151st Street. Owing to a lingering cold or flu, a bottle of green medicine had been downed, the drowsy effects of which caused him to fall asleep, just as he was reading the following lines: “Taking more than the recommended dose can cause serious health problems. In case of overdose, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away…” the poet experienced a profound sleep for the next few hours, during which he had a dream wherein he composed some two or three hundred lines; if that can be referred to as composition, where images emerged parallel to their expression in words, without any effort on the poet’s part. Upon waking he felt he had a firm recollection of the whole experience, and taking his laptop, quickly, almost feverishly, typed out the lines that are here recorded. A few minutes into his work, he was unfortunately interrupted by a colleague telephoning from Ithaca with a crisis that required a half hour’s conversation, and on return to his computer found, to no small surprise and horror, that though he retained some vague sense of the general outlines of his vision, but with the exception of a few dozen lines and images, all the rest had passed out of his memory like fading Polaroids.
Then the safety seal
Is broken – all that dream world so bizarre
Arises, and a million pictures dance,
And each inflects the other. Stay awhile,
Dear dream! Let my eyes stay shut to see –
The landscape assembles, blurs and reorders
New images take shape! And, lo, we watch,
And soon the picture trembles, fades, and once again
The eyes open to blindness.
From the lingering recollections of his vision, the poet has repeatedly thought to finish for himself what had been, originally, as it were, handed to him, but that day has yet to come.
As a contrast to that unanswered proposal, he has roughed in a fragment that conveys with fidelity what might have been.
Or, a fragmentary vision.
In Fordwich town did Ink-Soaked Boy
A wondrous island there design
Where Stour, the silty river, bends
Through reeds and marsh, fields and fens,
Into the sunny brine.
And all around the island’s rim
The cattails bend and the tongue laps in;
There were gardens built with silken laced threads,
Sending messages from spiders to spies;
Who draw near us with thickly bearded heads
Sipping wine as they mutter bald-faced lies.
And so the island received its objects and foils
Arranged over time and space, line by line:
A temple of repose reclines and recoils
With suckling objects beside it now groaning;
Breathing the way forward, a sigh for a sign!
To the green gateway hedgerow abuzz with its bees,
Its vines sprouting thorns amidst wide waxy leaves,
Beside a dimpled couch dripping with fried fish
Aligned to a vista across the shore
Where a boy sits drawing with pen in hand,
Black smudges spilling all over the land.
His mind wanders widely but comes home for tea;
Back out it goes to the river that was sea.
Back to the island, a world of his own making,
Where the baroness sits in her bower,
Keeping the time, but never the hour,
Her filaments all arranged for the taking;
Twitching for more grease to smooth out her mind;
Taking it now from before and behind.
From her bower she governs with care,
Commanding the vistas converge
To the pulsing part in her hair
Where the dark diamonds emerge.
Jewels for her landscape: its grottoes and caves,
All sparkling bright now and never to fade!
Questions remain on the table,
Tacked down tight with a staple,
To be solved by chicken computer
Hatching plans swiftly to suit her.
Eggs drop through multi-tiered trays
To be counted by pigeons,
Claimed as charitable gifts
To no well-established religion;
A faith in drawing has risks.
Masking tape could never repair
A rip in the thin paper’s slice
Where worlds within worlds would despair,
Rushing to hide, lair within lair!
All that was hidden now laid bare!
To an architect’s wary eyes
Not yet asleep, nor wide awake,
Daydreaming for others to take,
A piece of well-drawn paradise.
I was born in a time where the only thing worth a true celebration is to die.
My very first memory was at the platform the day my great-grandpa, Alexander, “REturn-ed.” It was a joyful day with a hint of sadness. Before Alexander’s departure, he handed me a sealed envelope and told me to open the envelope only after my great-grandson is born, and to make sure passing this envelope to him at my own REturn. For the past 150 years that I have lived, this envelope remained the biggest mystery of all. And it marks the beginning for me to learn about the program, the world, and the time we are living in.
This is a time when human life is virtually infinite. The medical advancement in the 21st century practically creates a new world where when to die became a personal choice. Mankind celebrated this new idea of immortality for centuries until we finally realized the devastating global breakdown it was leading us to. An irreversible destruction first predicted by Thomas Malthus.
Malthus, the name known to absolutely everyone, was an English mathematician, who first published his notorious essay of Malthusian Curve in 1798. He theorized, with solid mathematical support, that an unchecked exponential population growth will eventually reach a critical point, called Malthusian Catastrophe, where earth’s limited resources, such as water, food and air can no longer sustain human life. When such a point is reached, not only nature could become hostile to us but mankind will become his own worst nightmare. The competition for resources in order to survive would make human unthinkable…
In the year of 2254, the population reached a new high of 28 billion; one of the most important historical events took place- Mother’s Purge. Earth’s nature environment overnight turned into an unfamiliar stranger. As if the planet has its own consciousness, it started to eliminate the parasite inhabiting it. The unbalanced environment rendered devastated chain effects which caused nature to disappear and the habitable ground for all living beings severely shrunken.
We survived this catastrophe by channeling eighty percent of our energy consumption into generating life-sustaining necessity. Sol-E’s air-based solar generator and mega solar block are the only reason we still have breathable air and drinkable water. The dazzling Time Square in old time postcards no longer shine. The night can never fall darker, all to ensure we will have enough power to produce fresh air and clean water for tomorrow. To save energy, if not generate more, becomes the only focus of our everyday life. However, despite all the efforts to keep ourselves alive, with the population still growing in a non-forgivable speed, we soon realized that the population needed to be controlled or even reduced… somehow.
“Malthusian Curve Program”, initial MCP is a government program first conceived in the late 2250s. The program is aiming for a solution beyond birth control, a solution for true population reduction. In the time like ours where nature environment no longer exists in the natural state, the program recreates a pristine natural wonderland, far away from the human settlement, where air flows, river runs, forest grows, animal lives freely. Once an old person enrolls himself into the program and becomes a “REturn-ee”, he will be sent to this paradise, where connection to the outside world is cut, including medical attention. As a result, the REturn-ee will experience the last stage of his life and eventually forever rest in this peaceful Elysium. Simply put, the program’s objective is, on the one hand, to use this long lost paradise as a catalyst to encourage people, who have lived for a long time, to make their final decision; the decision to die. On the other hand, by detaching the dying people from the living society, the program altered the perception and idea of death fundamentally. Since we never have to witness the passing away of our love ones, for us, death is no longer painful and fearful. Instead, it is fulfilling and celebratory.
“Malthusian Curve Program Works,” became a well-established fact of our world. Despite the unimaginable amount of resources and capital needed to forge this natural environment, the government launched the program in the year of 2280. It has proven to be one of the most rewarding and successful government operation ever established. The world population was reduced significantly in the first few decades and the growth rate was finally calmed to a sustainable level ever since. So as always, life goes on.
My great-grandson, Noah, was born when I was 153 years old. I have had witnessed the birth of our family for several generations, but Noah’s birthday was destined to be very different for me. Because this was the day I had waited for my whole life; the day the largest mystery of my life will be resolved; the day that I can finally open the sealed envelope from Alexander after more than 15 decades of guessing what could be in it. And I certainly did.
Not long after Noah was born and the envelope was opened, I decided to embark on my own REturn. REturn is the word officially used by the program. I always assumed it means to return myself back to Mother Nature, but the truth is nobody knows exactly what it is referring to. REturn describes the ceremony at the platform on the day of a REturn-ee’s departure. Unlike the very mournful ceremony called “funeral” performed in the past, REturn doesn’t mark the death of a person. Instead, it marks the departure. The departure from all past connections and affections, toward a new chapter; the final chapter of one’s own reflection and enlightenment.
It was a beautiful winter morning the day I REturn. As always, it was a joyful day with a hint of sorrow. REturn is sorrowful for the fact that this departure platform represented the very last place and moment that I could have contact with my beloved family and friends. But it was indeed way more celebratory. With one less person consuming earth’s resources, my REturn presents a better future for the living, the greatest gift I can possibly offer to my love ones. As for me, it’s a self-recognition that I have lived a passionate and satisfactory life, thus I am ready to move on without regrets. Before I board the departure pod and commence the last one-way journey of my life, there was just one last thing I need to do. I tucked the sealed envelope in Noah’s swaddling blanket, kissed him on the forehead, and whispered softly in his ear:
“I hope you’d understand.”
There are countless life decisions during our lifetime, some easier while some tougher; what profession to choose, where to live, whether and when to get married, to have a child, and so on and so forth. However, when to die, is no doubt the hardest decision we ever have to make. I saw many people baffling with the idea and eventually got lost in their way to the decision. Some had lost their purpose of living but still find no courage to go beyond. Therefore, I definitely feel blessed that I was able to make up my mind in my early 150s. What was in Alexander’s envelope certainly made this decision easier for me.
It was a card, with no word, only a single circle drawn on it.
Now, I have been living in this long lost paradise for a bit more than two years. Without any medical attention, I can certainly feel my physical body getting weaker and weaker by the minute and I am getting closer and closer to my own completion. But my mind cannot be clearer. In this peaceful isolation, in this harmonious coexistence with nature, and in this state of deep self-realization, I think about Alexander’s circle every single day.
Aristotle once described circle as a perfect geometry. He was also the first person in history to define the meaning of perfection. He characterized perfection as being that which is so good and cannot be better, where all purposes are fulfilled and completed. Have I lived a life without regrets? Have I fulfilled all my responsibilities and purposes? Do I consider my life journey completed? I believe these are the three qualities Alexander was challenging me with his card. I certainly found my own enlightenment through the perfect circle.
I was born in a time where the only thing worth a true celebration is to die. This is a time where the conception of death is fundamentally altered. To be able to undoubtedly know your death will offer a brighter tomorrow back to the world is the most gratifying knowing one could ever wish for. To be able to willingly decide your own ending, and consciously witness your own completion, is the most fortunate decision one could ever dream of.
I hope you’d understand. I have REturn-ed. And my life ends perfectly.
Once upon a time, a rather peculiar child was born.
It wasn’t a baby boy, or a baby girl, or even a little puppy. It was a tollbooth.
This little building came humbly into the world. There was no silver spoon from a signature architect parent, and there was little celebration of its arrival, aside from a handful of toll booth workers happy to have a place to sit. It was simply a tollbooth. Though a valuable building – useful in the busy, high-traffic, motorway system – and sturdy, with decent proportions and a pretty snazzy blue color; it was of sheer practical use. It had no spatial quality to speak of and was in no way glamorous. The building’s proportions were fair, but its details were poor and it was made of lowly materials. Its acrylic glazing was already scuffed and hazy.
This diminutive nature didn’t prevent him from dreaming however. And with every passing vehicle the tollbooth wondered what other kind of building it might like to become:
Maybe I could be a bustling fire station….
or an enormous old castle….
a rumbling sports arena
a towering skyscraper.
a yummy candy factory
a complex space station
“Thank you, have a great day…”
a sophisticated museum
“Thank you, have a great day……..”
Now after quite some time of toll-by-toll daydreaming, the tollbooth had made up its mind to change its path and become a world-renown building, something special – like on the cover of all those fancy architecture magazines. Celebrated not only for its amazing spaces and illuminating light but its incredible, articulate details. With its vent-space in the clouds it was easy to ignore the many passing customers through the toll-way.
These mental exercises continued day by day until another peculiar thing happened…
“My oh my what an interesting building you are!” said a cheery young woman.
Just when the building thought there was nothing more in this world for him other than the glamorous museum in the center of the architecture universe, he was struck cold.
“Who is this woman?” He thought to himself. “I’ve never seen such a beautiful face!”
The building was quite smitten and invited the woman inside. They spent time together discussing the building’s plans and what sort of exciting changes lay ahead. Over time the building and the woman formed a relationship and before they knew it, the woman had moved in. The following summer the building had added some sleek columns for a backyard portico for outdoor get-togethers instead of the bold, broad museum exterior they were originally for; it would get to it next year. But as time passed the building and the woman spoke less and less about the grand museum plans and more and more about their common interests – cooking, watching films, making things, music. The building’s spaces began to change slowly but surely to reflect these interests. As their relationship grew so did their family and before long they had children of their own: Francis and Darlene.
And so began the many and interesting events of their lives:
The nursery and soundproofing were added so the neighbors could get some peace and quiet…
The time they built a lofty addition to add rooms for the kids…
The year the kids spent make-believing the building was a submarine…
The time they put in skylights to grow food for a science project…
When they added a library to make room for a kids play area…
The time Francis broke her leg so the building created a track through the house she could use to roll along…
When they outfitted the family room with high ceilings like a chapel so Darlene could practice her cello…
…Oh and the extra loft space for sleepovers.
When the library became two stories for all the studying the children did…
When they added a bike repair shop to the garage for their new commuters…
Can’t forget the rock climbing wall – complete with a waterfall!
The tollbooth – now the family home – was a complete reflection of their lives; it evolved as the family did. Sooner than they thought, however, the children had grown up and moved out of the house. Darlene was off to teach music at a middle school, and Francis off to work for an architect.
The building and the woman rested. They had friends over for dinner and talked about old times. They were young and dreamers once, but every now and then a thought would creep into the Tollbooth’s attic space. It would remember its big dream of becoming that glamorous, edgy-yet-stoic museum. “Where did it all go?” it thought. “What have I done with myself?” What was it now? It had many spaces, mixed and varied. No particular theme to speak of, no grand halls, no breathtaking artwork. It was most definitely not fit for any magazine cover….
Time went on and Francis had made quite a name for herself as an architect. Francis became known for her innate sensibility to space and light tied together with her rather oddball formal styling. Her buildings began popping up far and wide and were recognized by all the world’s magazines. When she was asked where she finds her inspiration, Francis simply replied, “it’s easy, all I have to do is copy the house I grew up in,
and all the times it was a fire station,
and an enormous castle,
and a battle fort,
and a glamorous skyscraper,
and a yummy candy factory,
and an incredible mansion,
and even a space station.
“It really was this incredible collection of spaces growing up and when I think about it all my ideas are right there inside. It’s a museum of all these memories.”
The building and the woman sat together, reading and rereading the magazine article.
It was then when the building realized that, in a way, it became what it had always set out to be. A building of inspiring spaces, comforting rooms hosting countless stories, an exquisite example of architecture to be copied the world over.
With that thought the building turned to the woman and said, “What a life we have lived. Without you I wouldn’t have given up those foolish dreams of grandeur and riches. But because of you, I have been granted all those dreams and thousands more.”
School’s out! Freedom for small Vera Lee. Her bag skids across the Formica counter as she sheds her burdens and reaches for a glass in one movement. The water sparkles in the red plastic, reflecting the deep blue autumn sky. “To the park!” cry her feet. They skip down the hall over the brown and patchy carpet. A hop and arabesque, Vera presses the elevator button (down!) with her nose. Across the lobby she slams open the front door. Her eyes are assaulted with sunshine and a piercing glint off the sidewalk. Her fingers create a lattice across her eyes and, suitably shielded from the brilliance, she bends toward the gum-marked concrete.
The small, round object takes form as her eyes adjust to the blue and orange fall day. Vera reaches out her delicate fingers to rescue a quarter from a life of grime and demise in the sewer system. It does not budge. She kneels down to inspect it more closely. It is stuck! She picks at it with her fingernails. Nothing. She kicks at it with the toe of her tennis shoe. She drags the treads of her sole across it. The quarter doesn’t budge. She pokes her finger in her cheek and contemplates the dilemma. In the gutter lays a piece of metal from an unknown object. It is thin, rigid and sharp: the perfect tool. Vera works her little fingers around the metal object, slicing at the quarter, prying, poking, until she frees it. In triumph, she holds it up to the sun. She admires it before slipping it into her pocket along with the very handy tool. Satisfied with her accomplishment, she continues her walk to the park, her purposeful steps interrupted with the occasional skip.
The oasis of imagination built with steel and paved with wood chips lies kitty-corner across the street. Vera eyes the traffic as her feet tap impatiently for their park adventure. She balances on the curb as she weighs the likelihood of cars stopping for a little girl in a green dress and purple leg warmers. She hears footsteps, laughing and gum popping. Turning, she finds a trio of girls lounging down the block. Oh, the smack of that gum! Vera negotiates with the giggling girls for a stick of gum in exchange for her quarter.
She makes two for the price of one by tearing the gum in half. She slips half in her mouth and half in her pocket. She works the gum between her molars as she admires the girls’ red lipstick and big gold earrings. How wonderful to be such a big, powerful girl! Still giggling, the girls step into traffic, confident of their ability to stop cars with a toss of the head as they make their way diagonally across the intersection. Vera, also confident in their supergirl powers, follows them, imitating the wiggle of their hips and set of their arms. On the far corner, the girls continue down the block while Vera’s feet beg her to enter the park. She waves to the oblivious girls and skips onto the grass.
Running as fast as she can, Vera leaps onto a red-white-and-blue merry-go-round sending it into a crazy whirl. She leans back and watches the apartment buildings and skyscrapers whiz by upside down. She shakes her head and her hair goes in a hundred different directions, scattering the intense, orange, late afternoon light bouncing off her glossy hair. She gets off and propels the metal disc faster and faster. The stray wood chips fly off it followed by the slightly heavier pop tabs and bottle caps, the remainder of some past conclave of neighborhood teens. She pushes it around and around until she is dizzy just watching it.
She falls backward and lays, staring at the deep blue sky. Michael, a boy from a nearby building, finds her.
“Hey,” he says, leaning into her field of vision, looking to Vera like he towers over the tallest skyscraper.
“Hey,” replies Vera. “The earth stopped spinning and I am stuck to the ground. Help me.” She reaches in her pocket for the other half of gum and finds that it has multiplied. The centrifugal force of the merry-go-round has spun half a piece of gum into a pocketful. Vera offers Michael a piece in exchange for his hand. Taking it, Vera allows herself to be pulled to her feet. She races Michael to a great, big oak on the far edge of the park. The massive tree has a low branch on the park side and leans far out over the street. Vera hoists herself up onto it and Michael climbs up after her. She pulls herself up branch by branch until she is perched over the street, on level with Michael’s kitchen window on the second floor of the apartment building facing the park. Inside, she can see Michael’s mother washing dishes.
The sun slants in and it looks like her hands have disappeared in a glowing, magic froth. Vera and Michael wave to her. His mother smiles and waves back, the magic stuck to her fingers. She motions for Vera to wait a moment and produces a bubble wand from somewhere beyond the window. Bubble follows bubble as her puckered lips direct her breath steadily through the wand and out the window. Vera reaches for the first bubbles as they float by but they pop on her fingertips.
Vera looks back to signal for more bubbles but there is no need, Michael’s mother is obscured by bubbles foaming from the window, into the tree and onto the pavement below. As the bubbles flow out of the building, so do the people: heads poke out of windows, people open their doors. They occupy the stoops, then the sidewalk. Someone flips on a car stereo. The booms of the stereo punctuate the rising voices and laughter. Michael’s mother appears below the kids, waving up to them. She grabs a neighbor and shimmies into the street. Vera’s mouth stretches into a slow grin as she turns toward Michael. “Thump, thump, bump,” says the music from below. Wiggle, bounce, kick goes Vera, making the oak leaves dance. Hop, spin, leap! The music lifts her off the branch and she jumps into the middle of the neighborhood below.
Many years ago, far away in the small town of Onsted, Michigan, the board of the famed honey packer Groeb Farms, huddled together to come up with a new, inventive initiative. They racked their brains for weeks on end, struggling to materialize an unprecedented vessel for their sweet product.
Eventually, the youngest member of the board, 76-year old Percy McAllister, uttered one simple, brilliant phrase: “Honey Street”. The next several months were a mad rush of inspired planning and organization. Before long, Detroit’s Highland Park area was home to the initiative, and for a while, all seemed well.
For, you see, Honey Street was a concept meant to make a tidy profit from the bee industry by centralizing several necessary honey-producing components in Highland Park, whose 24.6% unemployment rate cloaked the venture in an air of corporate magnanimity. Combined with the fact that Michigan was already home to an incredible amount of backyard beekeepers, the synthesis suited the community and the board quite well.
And so, three nearby buildings were picked: a church, a strip club, and a hotel. Each was given an aspect of honey production while retaining its initial program. The church proved just as capable to inspiring its followers with faith as it did serving as a honey deposit and storage facility, replete with well-trained bee-monks carrying out their tasks with solemn pride. Loyal strip club patrons at the Déjà Vu seemed remarkably nonplussed to see their titillating destination outfitted with a stage on the roof where bee-drummers attracted swarms with sound and scent in-between the rhythms of the DJ’s music. The hotel was overjoyed to be beautified with a bee garden in the courtyard, with patrons more than willing to share the space with their hungry, new apian neighbors.
For a while, all seemed well, and all were content. Groeb Farms, however, was also using Honey Street as a means of smuggling federally banned Chinese honey into the country for a low cost. The board was caught in the largest food crime of all time, Honeygate. It drove them to bankruptcy. Percy McAllister was shamed into obscurity, and sentenced to a weighty prison stint. Their Honey Street initiative had to be abandoned, and the buildings were eventually vacated and left unoccupied for years.
But the bees didn’t know any of that. Their contribution never stopped. In the church, as its walls weakened and fell apart, hives within began to become visible underneath. The honey bulbs, once meant to store and carefully dispense honey to be stored in barrels for sale, kept dripping with abandon. Massive pools of the substance began to form. Some of the floors eventually gave out under the weight of the confection.
Déjà Vu suffered from arson years earlier. The culprit was never found, as is too often the case. Much of the bee’s footprint was damaged in the flames, and yet there was still evidence of their presence. Hives on the roof sat, burnt but still sturdy, unoccupied. The intense flames had driven out the former inhabitants, whose honey had once dripped down the strippers’ poles and added an unforgettable element to the patrons’ lecherous nights out.
Down the street, the hotel had been transformed utterly. The bee garden had overtaken the building itself, growing wildly and suffocating the former structure with foliage and greenery. Within the now empty rooms lived massive hives, unbridled in their growth by all but the dimensions of the rooms themselves. The bees had turned them into pollen storage, as a result of the banquet they enjoyed in the courtyard. Once a somber space with cultured, controlled plots, the garden had grown wild with flowers and leaves and nature. It overwhelmed the senses, and sustained the apian gardeners.
Soon, the residents of Highland Park began to notice the completely remade structures. What had been, years earlier, eyesores and visual reminders of their neighborhood’s troubles had become fascinating sites of reinvention and welcome reuse. Humans began to explore their abandoned lands.
The church’s new honey pool proved a popular spot for picnics, and cooling off after a long day. Swimmers swore by the honey’s revitalizing effects on the skin. Across the nation, people trekked down – via the caved in wall – into the basement for a dip or a snack. The Déjà Vu’s corporate board was met with extreme public outcry at their initial plans to rebuild their Highland Park if it meant destroying the bee’s imprint there. They eventually backed off, leaving patrons to erotic dances scored to the faint – and perhaps phantom – hum of bee wings. The hotel proved a peaceful destination, soon becoming recognized as one of the largest, most diverse gardens in Michigan.
Honey Street lived on, under new – decidedly smaller – management.
Imagine a perfect world. Free from the risk of human decision, calculated absolutely by one objective mind and constructed by a million unquestioning components. Smooth, efficient, wasteless; a completely formulaic method of design and construction. A perpetually self-building world in which day and night no longer impact work-hours, in which builders never sleep.
In this world there is a single substrate, fully calculated and controlled by the omnipotent system, adaptable to many climates and conditions. This is a world of concrete.
All-in-one construction machines varying in size slide along rails high in the air, moving faithfully to Mind’s perfectly composed tune: 100111000100010.
They work in harmony, going where needed in unbroken choreography. Some are so vast they can cast a city. Others are smaller, for high resolution, delicate work. Then there are quarrying machines which dig, extract rock, create aggregate and cement, desalinate water and mix concrete. They manicure the earth until it is suitably prepared to have a precise piling network drilled into it and plugged with a thousand immense concrete foundation caps.
This is the blank canvas on which an entire city – an entire world – is painted. The artist’s brush is a global network of these machines, and every brushstroke is completely precise within the Cartesian grid of scaffolding offsetting the Earth’s surface. The Mind uses complex algorithms to calculate processes of design and production with maximum efficiency and utility, and these commands transmit to every ‘bristle’ electronically. This artist’s language is binary.
The brushstrokes appear fluid and organic at distance, but up close, amidst the heaving, screeching, industrial network of machines and their vertical and horizontal rail-tracks, oil drips, sparks fly and a concoction of dust and noise saturates the air. The machines travel along their tracks in ± x, y and z. They readjust their volume and shape, adding and subtracting formwork panels until they lock into their assigned position and await the Pour. Whilst fresh concrete sets, the machine lays out new rails to move up and across and continue the growth of new geometry.
The brush carves and extrudes, sucks and spews, paying no heed to geographical obstacles. Mountains and Sea give way in its path and an angular geometric topography replaces them, envelopes them and becomes a secondary crust; a concrete shell. The diameter of the Earth increases in the form of a Mega-offset. The planet grows fatter.
One day, on the last LCD screen in existence, what was usually a trillion pixel display showing the exact co-ordinate of every part of every machine in real-time, simply showed two symbols:
Mind was confused. It didn’t really use this outdated interface, which was powered only by nostalgia, but it knew there was a blip in the command line. It felt something that it hadn’t experienced in a long time. An unscratchable itch. Usually if a machine became defective it was a physical malfunction, and the operation could be paused and the damage rectified. But this time the malaise came from within. A part of the script was corrupted, and a machine had gone rogue. It had become a parasite on the world-wide organism and Mind’s usual ‘esc’ tactic was unresponsive.
At co-ordinates 53.0000° N, 2.1833° W (an unbuilt area of the world still in its foundation phase) one of the larger city-scale machines groaned into action. The hydraulic vices loosened their grip on the formwork panels and it reconfigured to its maximum area of 1km x 1km. Nearby Quarrying and Mixing machines were hijacked and began to feed their captor the sustenance it needed to extrude upwards, leaving a hardening concrete trail behind. Aggregate was mined, crushed and mixed with water taken from the ocean by the Desalination machine.
As each Pour was completed, hydraulic crampons contracted and drilled into the hardened facade of the previous Pour and then stretched upwards, heaving the entire Machine up with the two-step locomotion of a caterpillar along a twig. It climbed tirelessly and methodically, fighting the current of gravity and never deviating from ‘+z’ verticality.
Mind frantically attempted to override – esc esc esc esc – but soon accepted the futility of the situation. This paralyzing virus had rendered it powerless, a helpless observer doomed to watch the earth sucked dry until … until what? When would the command line end? How high is high enough? Mind heard a murmur in the code, a response from the rogue Machine, “I’m gonna build the tallest tower there ever was.”
The machine plodded upwards day and night, day and night. The tower followed obediently behind. The earth was quiet, with only a handful of mining and mixing facilities at the tower’s base remaining operational. These hijacked tools obediently pumped concrete up tubes running the length of the tower’s z-axis. Up it went, kilometer after kilometer, until a smooth grey block protruded out of the clouds with the jump-forming Machine perched at its very summit; a malign crown.
One night, far past the tallest tower there ever was, the Machine had a feeling. Up to now it had existed in a +z haze. Numbed by the monotony of the command it just clamped, poured, cured, unlocked and climbed, over and over again. But at 10,000 m something inside it awoke. Through ragged holes in its bed of clouds, there was a panoramic view of the whole world and this dizzying vista provoked a rush in its mechanical core. Vertigo! The Machine embraced the feeling and for the first time it stopped obeying and began to choose. It chose to obey, and it chose to climb higher.
“But how much higher?” Mind asked. “You’re a giant standing taller than the tallest tower there ever was. Look down! See? Your peers are puny and crumbling. So, how much higher?”
The Machine, until now ascending in a delirium of frantic mining, piling, pouring and climbing, hadn’t yet considered when enough was enough. But its newly awakened consciousness considered this novel question. The stars twinkled awkwardly as there was a break in communication and then the code came through.
“I’m gonna build a tower to the Moon.”
Centuries had passed and the tower clung to the earth like a cherry stem – a long tendril blindly reaching out towards the still-distant Moon. On its odyssey the Machine had fought through meteor storms, felt the heat of solar-winds, and occasionally seen long-defunct satellites float aimlessly past. It had wondered what these mysterious objects were, as they looked nothing like its sleeping companions on Earth.
Suddenly, here, at 36,000 km, it found itself in a sinister place. It was surrounded by hundreds of these mechanical corpses, sent here to die. This was the graveyard orbit, where satellites are lain to rest. The Machine noticed cold and darkness for the first time and then it had a second novel feeling. It needed company. The Machine shook Mind awake, and asked where it was.
As time passed, Mind had become weary and philosophical. Rather than scold the stubborn machine it told it tales of old. It told tales of blind disobedience – of Icarus; of Prometheus; of human failure and of ego. It asked what had been the point of this journey fueled only by a cocktail of obsession and addiction but the Machine had no answer.
It wrenched itself through this celestial underworld and drowned out the wise rationality of its patient companion, seeking only to bathe more luxuriously in the milky glow of the Moon.
Many more years passed and the cherry on the stem began to rot. The Earth was hollowed out from incessant mining and the concrete crust could no longer support itself. Oceans had become deserts and whole continents began to collapse like mine-shafts. The Quarrying machines struggled to satiate the relentless hunger of their master and finally, 10 km from the Moon’s surface the 400,000 km-long pumps sputtered and chugged as they retched out the last few gallons of available mix.
A cold shiver shook the machine in the blackness and it looked down at the finishing line. It noticed a splash of colour on the grey chalky surface. A blue square. Red and white stripes. Next to this small patch of textile stood the decrepit corpse of a very old machine, wrapped in strange orange foil.
The Machine, enraged and helpless, attempted to wake Mind. But there was no response. The dark feeling returned. Here Machine rested, at the summit of a tower taller than had ever been imagined, higher than its earthly counterparts and infinitely +z, but what was it for? Not only had it been beaten to its destination by this primitive gadget, but it was now condemned to sit in silence for all eternity, for how can one gloat when there is no-one to hear? The machine wished it had never left the buzzing hive of the earth where it had been part of one big mechanical family. The machine strived for -z but it remained frozen, fixed forever in its loneliness.
PANOPTICON:-INTERROGATION ROOM, 02:53 pm
#052815, a half-dedicated POPROCKET ink attendant is fidgeting nervously in his chair, eyes wide, looking at the floor trying to hide from the glare of the lamp.
#052815, where were you at 08:47am this morning, during the time of the first incident?
I was in bed…Sir.
In bed? At 08:47? Why were you not at your designated work station?
I had to work an extra-long shift last night as the Boss was up all night, posting about the packing she was doing for her holiday.
We are not here to discuss what the boss was doing last night but what you were doing this morning, #052815.
So, you were not at your station this morning. Did you ask someone to cover for you as dictated by protocol?
And who covered for you?
It was #076478. I asked him before I left for my night shift yesterday. He said he would do it and that I owed him one.
The officer nods and jots something down in his note pad.
What happened Sir? What did he do? All I know is that I woke up this morning and the whole dormitory was flooded with ink; everyone was running around like mad.
#076478, part-time shift worker; typically manages INKWELL but filled in for #052815 due to said subject working late into the night.
From what I see here, you claim to have been at the POPROCKET station when the VALENCIA filter tower overspilled?
Yes, I was going about my business when I looked out from the POPROCKET balcony where I was stationed, and saw the whole thing.
What did you see exactly?
Well, one of the main pipes supplying ink to the station seemed to have cracked, and there was ink spilling into the tanks next to it and some of the colors got mixed up. Loads of the workers were running around trying to contain the leak but I could tell that it was too late. When something like that happens, the only thing you can do is shut the filter station down, drain the contaminated ink, clean the tanks and then start again.
In such a scenario, what is the impact of cleaning process to the factory?
It depends. Small errors take place often and most of the time we are able to fix the bug and restart the filter station without a glitch if the boss doesn’t require that filter. But during busy periods like the one we are going through now, all the filters need to be in standby, things get a bit trickier and we can’t afford to close any filter stations for repair.
So, this is not the first time that something like this has happened?
Well, as I said before, things are bound to go wrong when you are dealing with such hectic and complex processes; especially when the machines and the employees are working non-stop to keep up with the Boss’ constant usage. It is the first time that something like this has happened at such a scale and I cannot say for sure whether yesterday’s incidents were all a coincidence.
Are you implying that some of your colleagues may have been behind yesterday’s incident?
I’m not sure, but I remember seeing #648493 from the DARKROOM department, covered in ink and trying to avoid being seen. Soon enough I heard about the incident in the DARKROOMS.
#064849, stationed at darkroom E for Toaster was seen in the filter factory half an hour before the events of 23.12.16.
#648493, I understand that you work in the DARKROOM sector. Is that correct?
Yes, I do.
And what exactly is it that you do in the sector?
We are in charge of developing all the photos, applying the correct filters and settings as dictated by the boss, before they are delivered to the gallery or sent to the archive.
You do not seem very excited about the work that you do here in the factory.
It’s a job I guess, we all have to do something.
Do you enjoy your job?
I wouldn’t go that far. We work very long hours and being in the darkrooms all day is not exactly fun. We’ve also been working around the clock for a few days now and the boss isn’t really giving us any time off. People are tired. I guess things were bound to go downhill at some point.
#064849 pauses briefly and continues.
The factory is really worn out and so are its workers.
Are you saying that the workers are unhappy with the factory’s conditions?
#0648493, do you think that anyone would want to sabotage the system on purpose?
You don’t understand. The majority of us are generation v5.1. Why would we want to sabotage the factory? Last time something like this happened it was a worker called #072149, who was behind it. It was added to his record and everything. Maybe you should be talking to him.
#072149, noted history of minor rebellion, has been under constant watch by PANOPTICON since the light leak outbreak of ’09.
One of your co-workers has kindly suggested that I speak to you about yesterday’s events. What do you know about the events that occurred yesterday at 10.03 am?
I had nothing to with it this time I swear. I learned my lesson. I know now that we just have to follow the rules and do our job to ensure that the factory runs smoothly. I know that if we do not do our best or if there are recurring bugs in the system, the boss will opt for a newer, more efficient generation. You know what I mean. An update. We will become obsolete. Many of us only last a few months and then we are not needed anymore.
#072149 is staring at the floor.
Listen to me #072149, I am here to help. You are a smart man and I am sure you realize that the boss has the whole factory in the palm of her hand. If these incidents continue, the boss will take matters into her own hands. She has no qualms about how hard you are working just so that she can continue posting photos, showing off about her holiday in Bora Bora. If you ask me, whoever did this did her a favour. Perhaps if she can’t be on her phone all the time, maybe she will sit back and enjoy her holiday rather than stressing about the perfect upload, or getting more likes or more followers.
#072149 looks up to the officer, his eyes gleaming with tears now.
Help me figure this out and we can fix it. That is why I am here to help, to figure everything out and to try and fix it.
It is like you said, we were doing her a favor right? Also it’s not like it was our entire fault. The factory was broken to begin with. We didn’t know things would escalate this fast. We just wanted to stall the system to get some rest. Maybe a day or two.
A triumphant expression forms on the officer’s face and the previously gentle smile widen ominously. The officer has got what he wanted. He writes something in his note pad before picking up the megaphone.
This is an announcement to all those who belong to Generation v5.1. We appreciate your short time here and everything you have done to aid the investigation. We have identified the cause of the incident but unfortunately the damage has been done and the evaluation of the system has resulted in a request for an imminent update. Please vacate your positions and gather you belongings immediately. Boxes will be available for you by the PANOPTICON. Your positions will be replaced immediately.
Thank you for your cooperation.
A couple of minutes later the update is complete. Factory settings have been restored. A flurry of new workers enter the sparkly, gleaming new entrance. The FILTER STATIONS are restored to their former glory; the pipes are fixed, the DARKROOMS are dark once more and the PANOPTICON remains ever watchful.
CURRENT SOFTWARE VERSION v.6.