Urban meteorology

One of the most exciting possibilities of a new materialist approach to architecture and urbanism lies in the divorce of form & space within the architectural diploid-construct. Though Levi Bryant fuses the two with his term “hylospatial” to denote the architectural act (a term I have taken and ran with), this phrase still allows us to dilate upon a contradistinction: “architecture” is a linguistic rarification, processed, smoothed, curated; “hylospatial” is a nasty compound kluge of word. This is what architecture is: the inaccurate and poorly-undertaken fusion of matter and energy, to use De Landa’s slightly mystical terminology. It is an unfortunate chimera – unfortunate because we can never talk about all of architecture all at once: only about space or form. There’s always a catalyzing agent and a subservient one.

In attempting to formulate a new architectural optics in a new materialist vein, I’ve begun thinking of architectural as atmospheres. The architectural atmosphere is the collision between space and form. It is space, but space that is itself thought of as full (with compositional differences etc.) and heavy (what is the weight of the column of air that is constantly crushing us on the planetary surface?), both of which are typically properties of matter; following these reasons, it has form, but a form that is highly defined by exteriority (the void, the solid) and conditional behaviors (an atmosphere is never static from one moment to the next). If we think of architectural atmospheres in an array, we produce an urbanism through agglomeration. These atmospheres have a multiplicity of traits – some are massive and low, spindly and tall; they can be joined into fields of startling density or left disparate. This makes an urbanism a meteorology, reacting on us by making our focus the nature of the atmospheres (and their interstitial exteriorities) and paraverting the dialectical figure-ground. All becomes a flat field, with intimations of structure and population to uncover as analysis of the totality continues.

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Occulted architectures; or, a shiver along the planet’s spine

The intention of Laka’s REACT competition is left refreshingly ambiguous: to create an “architecture that reacts”. This ambiguity rehearses intriguing possibilities to go beyond what is typically considered architectural reactions—passive phenomena that are a direct communication between the building and the visitor. Light, space, movement, etc. These reactions are the common pidgin of modernist architecture vernacular and produce a linear sequence of preprogrammed evental and discrete moments that insist on recuperating ecological relations in rarified Euclidean space. Architectural reaction in this vein is a mechanical, strictly curated sequence of events occurring between populations of hominid organics and rigid hylospatial structures, using environmental phenomena as its engine.

Reaction can no longer follow a cybernetic/modernistic paradigm that leaves us pushing buttons and watching lights and claiming to be moved. Modernity’s hackneyed interpretation of the machine as a model for architecture has enforced a shallow bottom. We want to interact deeply with our machines, not stare at them; to dip our hand into the water and watch solitons and saltations cascade around our fingers. Pushing a button is no longer enough; its time to recuperate the architectural machine as an architectural ecology.

The architectural ecology is transcalar and emergent. It can be many pieces, or one structure; it can be newly built or retrofitted to existing structures. Whether planetary or local, the architectural ecology is an infinity of potentially moving parts—a bristling biome of seething possibility and interpretation. The movement I’m describing does not have to actually take place, but will always be implied—constantly moving outward, a rarified explosion, a gordian knot of vector rays and axis mundi offshoots that terminate cloudily in an occupied space. It is an animal, with life pulsing beneath an operable exterior. Architectures of flesh are no longer for demonic cathedrals or parasitical infestation. The bleeding tunnels are our own, and as we recapitulate them, they will lose their alien quality. Their twitches, their shivering, their musculature, their teratology is our own.

Sinking down deep into the loam of the planet, the architectural ecology buries itself—or maybe its a planting?—only to grow forth or be exhumed at the proper moment. This moment is one of pure function, a distinct hinge point, in which the architecture announces itself out of the swarm-void to become of use. Instead of reaction functioning as the mouthpiece for an architecture that sits hollowly and lets environmental and operational use define its tongue, it withers vestigial. The architectural ecology is the environment, is the mouth—allowing hylospatial practice, the planet, the operator, and especially the reaction to go alchemic, to commit autophagy. Reaction and architecture become indistinct, inseparable, twinned.

Dromocartography

Space & distance are a sham—we know that our cartography is a series of nodal distinctions, hard intensities, rigid qualifications, and boundaries and borders. The map is just a tracing of the territory (even when it’s digital – granularity is not the issue here).

Imagine instead a new mapping tactics. Manuel de Landa, in A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, writes that before steam, land distances possessed a multiplicative, dilationary relationship to spacetime compared to water. In one lecture, he repeats a (possibly untrue) story from around the advent of steam: it was quicker to get from London to Johannesburg by sea than London to Edinburgh by coach. Admitting fully this is likely an elaboration, the idea contains the potentiality of what James C. Scott would call a ‘frictional cartography’ but what I intend to call dromocartography (a specializing school of dromology, after Virilio). Scott repeats de Landa in saying that, essentially, distance is rarely a concrete entity, speaking in terms of marks of longitude and latitude on planetary surfaces. Instead, Scott asks for a mapping of ‘frictions of distance’—with a base unit being a day’s travel.

This raises the obvious question: travel by what means? This is why I choose to refer to this as dromocartography. Where Scott is working in an Anthropological mode and therefore, I’m assuming, taking the average distance walked by an able-bodied human adult as his frictional quanta, I’m interested in the polyvalency of reactions the world-form depending on the ambulatory strategy undertaken. Plane travel articulates a very different planet (high concentrations of activity and energy at international imports, linked by sur-topographical lines, free to ignore most geographic and meteorologic concerns) then the one experienced by the one expressed by highway travel in a car (a sustained release of energy, with a minimal amount of nodal knottings or lacunae – a solid, continuous line, entirely beholden to the topos that it wanders over). Of course, sea travel, bike, bus (and whatever else) would also offer their own strange conditions of planetary perception.

Dromocartography only tangentially arose from Scott’s work (as with the concept of extensibility as defined in PC Adams’ brilliant A Reconsideration of Personal Boundaries in Space-Time). It was instead largely informed by a particular passage in China Miéville’s Embassytown, in which the main character of the novel describes an occult space or cosmic substrate known as the immer:

“There are currents and storm fronts in the immer…stretches it takes tremendous skill and time to cross. […]

On a map, it’s not so many billions of kilometres from Dagostin or other hubs. But those Euclidean star charts are used only by cosmologists, by some exoterres whose physics we can’t work, by religious nomads adrift at excruciating sublux pace…Look instead at a map of the immer. Such a big and tidal quiddity. Pull it up, rotate it, check its projections. Examine that light phantom every way you can, and even allowing that it’s a flat or trid rendering of a topos that rebels against our accounting, the situation is visibly different.

The immer’s reaches don’t correspond at all to the dimensions on the manchmal, this space where we live. The best we can do is say that the immer underlies or overliesinfuses, is a foundation, is langue of which our actuality is a parole, and so on. Here in the everyday, in light-decades and petametres, Dagostin is vastly more distant from Tarsk and Hodgson’s that from Arieka. But in the immer, Dagostin to Tarsk is a few hundred hours on a prevailing wind; Hodgson’s is in the centre of sedate and crowded deeps; and Arieka is very far from anything.

A map of the immer is fundamentally and truthfully useless, as it attempts and consistently fails to even approach representation of its subject. Immerspace is the meteorological body-without-organs carried to its delirious apex. It is the soliton-thing of impossible matter, an amalgamation of intensities, knots, eddies, etc.—a fluid topos, a hydrology-form (or hylology, perhaps) in which finding solid ground is at best transitory. To map the immer is to map unterritory: depicting the deep field, the infrared, to manifest images of Planck-actors.

Cosmic microwave radiation
Map of cosmic microwave radiation: a dromocartography of light

An immermap is dromocartography—depicting a space only revealed by travel and activated by speed (whether that speed/velocity occurs in this actuality or some other), that fundamentally rejects rationalist notions of meaning, rigidity, or cartographic responsiveness to the actual. Simply put, dromocartography would seek to make immermaps of the human movement on our planet, to expose global geopolitics to the hypersubjective and extensible vagaries of movement within and without borders, boundaries, gaps, faults, foldings, etc. Real space deserves to be dethroned from its position as arbiter of distance.