Above: A performance by Yves Klein, the inventor of “Air Architecture.”
The surface space of this planet is filled with fluids—air and water—which we humans have adapted to by both natural and technological means. We not only live within veritable oceans of these fluids, with their ebbs and flows, their flux and interactions, but have become entirely dependent upon them. Their lighter density relative to that of our own bodies, allows us to move about with relative ease. We can walk, ride, fly, float, swim, sail, and dive, for the most part safely and increasingly with speed, even while the fluids themselves continuously swirl around us according to their own necessity.
Not only is our physical existence intertwined with what we might call the life of the fluids we inhabit, but our mental existence as well. It is telling that people will often begin a conversation by talking about the weather—how hot it is, how cold, or the rain or the snow or the coming storm. While this may be a way of keeping an emotional distance, it can also be understood as a common concern for the fluid space we share with all others, whoever they might be. This concern is also about our ability to move effectively, to travel, to get work and other important tasks accomplished. It is not mere coincidence that the arts and literature spend a fair amount of time concerned with human movement and its consequences, whether in the historical past or an imagined future, and the states of the fluids which enable it all. In this regard, architecture, among the plastic arts, stands apart.
Architecture, traditionally, is the anti-fluid, or rather it is a primary form of resistance to the flux and flow of air and water, creating fixed points in their turbulence. In a similar way, architecture has always aimed at providing a refuge—‘shelter from the storm’—from a sea of changes continuously occurring in the intertwined human and natural worlds.
Exceptions include the tent structures of nomadic people, recreational vehicles, automobiles and mobile homes, but these are rarely considered architecture, precisely because they do not fit the standard model of resistance to the essential fluidity of space, but instead celebrate it. Science fiction has proposed the occasional flying city, as did the Russian Constructivists when they speculated about the brave new worlds of the Socialist adventure. Archigram’s Ron Herron proposed ‘walking cities,’ and Michael Webb designed “suitaloons”—clothing that becomes a personal-scale living environment—but these have all been ignored by architects and even theorists as too far from architecture’s essential mission: creating resistance to the natural flows of space.
There are, however, some benefits to be gained by speculating about architecture that moves. Such architecture does not simply have moving parts—from doors to moving sun-screens and the like—but wholly moves from place to place. The main idea at stake is that of social stability. If everything is moving all the time, and not even as predictably as the weather, how can a coherent, cohesive community of people to formed and maintained? It is fine if we have some wandering vacationers, itinerant poets, migrant workers, and (for most) not so fine if we have roving bands of political insurgents and rebels, but in any event these nomads and their various modes of portable environment cannot serve as models for a viable human community. Or can they?
If we think about the quickly changing nature of contemporary society, its increasing mobility and dependence on ephemeral electronic systems of communication as the connection between diverse people and places, it is useful to understand the spatial morphologies of ‘lateral,’ non-hierarchical systems of order. The internet is such a system, a network of constantly shifting centers occupied by individuals who come and go unpredictably. It does not work according to an overall, hierarchical ‘chain of command,’ but rather by the autonomous, uncoordinated actions of individuals following an agreed upon (or at least universally accepted) set of relatively simple largely technical rules or protocols. Beyond these, the overall form of the network is indeterminate, changing from moment to moment. Still, it works as a coherent whole, indeed as a community of people who do not otherwise know each other, much like a city. One architectural counterpart is, then, a community of autonomous structures moving freely in fluid space.
ICEBERGS: a community of inhabited structures floating outside the San Diego harbor. Much of their form—and interior space—is beneath the surface of the sea:
AEROLIVING LABS: A community of heavier-than-air, experimentally inhabited structures in the air over Paris. The moving structures drag immense sheets of light-weight material through the earth’s magnetosphere, generating static electricity in sufficient quantities to levitate them silently, much like a mag-lev train, but freely in the open sky.
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You’re currently reading “FLUID SPACE,” an entry on LEBBEUS WOODS
- June 28, 2009 / 7:58 pm
- Lebbeus Woods