“I now remember the future...”
The magic realist deconstruction Blueprint
The magic realist deconstruction Blueprint
“All perception is already memory. We almost only perceive the past, the present pure being the non-seizable progress of the past gnawing on the becoming.”
Henri Bergson, Matter and memory
“We attempt to have a conversation with memories”. This axiom most certainly sums-up best the practical and theoretical concerns of Opening United studio ever since it was founded by Liu KuoChang.
In the eerie worlds of Opening United Studio’s projects, time is collapsed and compressed; the past meets the future at the present, perception of architectural signs and conventions are put to the test. This is perhaps why they favour sites with remnant history, where in the empty spaces, in these spaces of absence, in these traces are contained an infinite potential of appropriation, of participation, of presence; sites of memories where the past becomes a reflection of the future and the present acts as a mirror. The existent and imaginary entangle, fuse together and become “realer” than reality. Memory isn’t just the ability to store and retain information but also the ability to retrieve and project desire; it is therefore retrospective and prospective at the same time. It is the dynamic criticism tool that allows us to see and think beyond the static surface of transcendental preconceptions.
Tainan is the oldest city of Taiwan, which makes it the most historical urban collection of the Formosa Island. The Dutch settled here as they first arrived on the island around 1624 leaving quite a few architectural prints. The Dutch occupation was then followed by the Ming then the Chin and more recently Japanese occupation. The culture accumulated during the last three hundred years has made Tainan an irreplaceable cultural capital.
One very noticeable asset of Tainan is that it didn’t undergo the contemporary urban development frenzy cities such as Taipei or Kaohsiung, where only scattered pieces remain from the past. Nevertheless Tainan does manifest some urban development scars, one of the most visible being the enlargement of HaiAn road. HaiAn road was originally a two lane street; somewhere around 1995 the local government planned to enlarge it to a four lane road with a planted median promenade. The project included an underground street market – the kind you can extensively wander through in Taipei. Houses along the street where sectioned and the underground gallery was excavated. However, at some point the project went bankrupt and was never completed, leaving a huge unused gallery which also made impossible the proper planting of the promenade. The project could be qualified as a total urban fiasco.
In 2001, the municipality initiated the HaiAn road street museum. Artists and architects were commissioned to make installations along the sectioned street, some directly working on the remnant facades.
The Blueprint was Opening United Studio’s proposal.
“The first thing we had to do was to create a very strong contrast between the original architecture and our proposal. There had to be a rupture, because when something has been seen too many times, we only see it but don’t pay much attention to it. We don’t look at it anymore and just pass by, so it was very important to make our intervention very obvious. Exposing the limit between the old and the new was our first prerogative.
Outlining the different furniture and drawing an architectural perspective would clearly differentiate the old and the new. First the new precise construction lines contrast hardly with the original worn out architecture.
At the very beginning, we considered painting the entire façade white and tracing the lines in black as to make it look similar to usual architecture plans or AutoCAD prints. However, we realized it wouldn’t stand out enough so we then went for blue background and white lines. This also suggests another important characteristic item used in architecture: the blueprint…”
Liu KuoChang - Opening United Studio
Originally, a blueprint is a type of paper-based reproduction usually of a technical drawing, documenting architecture or engineering designs. More generally, the term "blueprint" has come to be used to refer to any detailed plan to be.
The blueprint process is essentially the cyanotype process developed by the British astronomer and photographer Sir John Herschel in 1842. The photosensitive compound, a solution of ferric ammonium citrate and potassium ferric-cyanide, is coated onto paper. Areas of the compound exposed to strong light are converted to insoluble blue ferric-cyanide, or Prussian blue. The soluble chemicals are washed off with water leaving a light-stable print. It gave a clearly legible copy of the drawing with a white line on dark blue background with unlimited resistance to light and resistance to water.For almost a century blueprint was the only low cost process available for copying drawings. Once invented, no technical development was required and the process was thus put to widespread use immediately.
The remaining architecture of the Blueprint isn’t very unique, many other similar sectioned houses can be found along HaiAn road and even then, there is nothing particularly spectacular in this kind of architecture – comparable architectures can be found all around Tainan – which sure has some history but not enough atypical architectural characteristics.
Hence, the entire façade was painted blue and a fictional perspective traced using white paint. Length annotations of the various furniture and objects where also painted as to emphasis the mimesis. Some real volumetric elements such as tables and chairs grow out of the façade and were also painted in blue and outlined in white stressing the confusion between the real exterior and the fake interior, the two dimensional and the three dimensional space. A blueprint is in itself already a timescape as it shows a projection of what could be but isn’t yet. However, the perspective drawn on the remnant façade is a fictional perspective which recalls what could have been here and that which was once a process used to show the becoming is overturned in the process. The past and the future, both illusory, fold together into the “real” present.
Exposed to this unstable dynamic of absence-presence, one is invited to question the very foundation of the a priori perception model. One is invited to consider architecture as a non-contemplative responsible and active experience.
The Blueprint is arguably the most radical project of the HaiAn road street museum whether it is seen for its aesthetic or for its conceptual manifesto.
Opening United Studio’s Blueprint project deterritorializes – the declassification process by which accepted elements or defined territories are liberated from their conventional usage towards other usages, other lives – the paper-based blueprint rendering onto a sectioned façade of HaiAn road.
Territorialization is the procedure by which a potential is transformed into material for a certain usage or function in a constrained space. The material constrain is similar to alienation which by which a potential is congealed in a determined form. Deterritorialization diverts, or dis-alienates a material from its initial usage in order to make it potentially free from constrains.
“We know the importance, in the animal kingdom of activities which consist in forming territories, in abandoning or exiting them and even in making up new ones on something of another nature (the ethologist says of the partner or friend of an animal is “worth a home”, or that family is a “mobile territory”). To a higher extent from the moment of birth, the hominoid deterritorializes his anterior paw; he pulls it of the ground to make it a hand and reterritorializes it on branches and tools. A staff is no more than a deterritorialized branch. One must understand that everyone, at all time, in the smallest of things as in the largest trials, seeks a territory for himself, endures and initiates deterritorializations, and reterritorialize unto almost anything, memory, fetish or reverie. (…) We can even say what is first and all territory most probably implies a prior deterritorialization; or maybe everything is at the same time.”
Gilles Deleuze & Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy?
The consequence of painting the entire façade in an even dark blue (the color itself isn’t what matters most; an entirely white façade would produce the same effect, though the latter wouldn’t be as effective, due to an evident lack of contrast with the actual surroundings) has an immaterialization – the disappearance of material qualities and properties – effect.
When objects are stripped from their materiality, the visual, temporal, spatial, historical and cultural pre-systems our perception usually refers to automatically are removed and the objects lose their usual quotidian acceptation.
Though the process of immaterialization seems to be a destructive process it nonetheless has exceptionally creative consequences. Immaterialization obviously takes information away from a given object; however the immaterialized object is hence made autonomous, it collapses from the human world to somewhere in-between the palpable – the being – physical world and the spiritual – the meaning – psychological world. It is in this shifting autonomy that the inherent immanence – immanence, meaning “existing or remaining within” – of an object is found.
Immaterialization thus deterritorialized any given object which can now be freely reterritorialized.
To this certain extent, Opening United Studio’s projects and theoretical researches – the Blueprint being just one methodical demonstration – aim to achieve magical realistic ambitions in decontructivist architecture.
The term “magic realism” has been used in literature and art criticism since 1925 so as to account works where elements which are usually perceived and decreed irrational appear in realistic environments enclosed in a frame which is visually, historically, geographically, temporally, spatially, culturally or linguistically credible and anchored in a recognizable reality.
For instance in literature, magic realism most often mingles the outer physical features of human existence with the internal psychological ones. This combination and amalgamation of the material realities, the tangible contexts with the emotional realities, such as thoughts, dreams, or mythologies therefore portrays more accurately what could be seen as human reality, inclusive of both realism and idealism.
Thus, seen from the insider’s point of view, a given magical realist text will most likely truthfully depict reality. However, seen by an outsider this reality may appear rather absurd and illusory. Yet, the outsider can bridge the gap by temporarily and consciously suppressing his perception reality and embracing the reality described in the text.
Through this twofold process of de-realization – the detachment from the pre-accepted familiar object world – and de-familiarization – the representation of common elements through a descriptive technique which causes them to appear disturbing and new – the insider’s irrational elements fuse with the outsider’s corresponding rational elements. The traditional descriptions are therefore thrown into disarray and the limits of the assumed “real” world are stretched, generating an unstable universe that stands in-between the real and the unreal, where one doesn’t supersede the other and what was once ontologically different now coexist metonymically.
This paradoxical situation of multiple realities coexisting emphasizes the usually hidden immanence of the challenged elements, now made potentials that face the battlefield of changing permanencies / permanent changes resulting from the overlap of several layers of specific realities.
Haruki Murakami’s Kafka on the shore is but one very good illustration of magical realism in contemporary literature. Kafka on the shore is a modern initiation tale where the two main characters seek for their other half. On one hand there is Kafka Tamura – the material – a teenager who doesn’t see the spirituality of the surrounding world and on the other hand there is Satoru Nakata – the spiritual – an old amnesic whose world is no more than the manifestation of his own personal interpretations which are totally independent from the common social conventions. Both characters have been severed from what we previously called the human reality and Murakami depicts their respective journey towards completion. Kafka’s
“normal” world is slowly invaded by irrationality while Nakata’s “fantasy” progressively invades the rational world until they finally collapse upon each other. As Kafka and Nakata undergo their magic realist quest, Murakami gradually invites us to reconsider the transcendental distinction between mind and body, where mind would be conceived as a self-contained field, substantially differentiated from the body.
The unperceived connections between objects within the quotidian are brought into a new light and all real distinctions are flattened into an plane, namely immanence, which for Deleuze, is the formless, univocal, self-organizing process which always qualitatively differentiates from itself and disavow its reference to preconceived impersonal judgments.
With the Blueprint, Opening United Studio challenges the way we perceive architecture. It works to reveal the autonomy of the architectural object and through the process collapses the object with the spectator subject into a single plane of interaction and interpretation where appears both what must be thought and what cannot be thought. There on the diversity of things and particularity of events will demand the concrete methods of evaluation and experimentation where the signifier and signified are constantly re-actualized in the subjects and objects.
“It is because of différance that the movement of signification is possible only if each so-called "present" element, each element appearing on the scene of presence, is related to something other than itself, thereby keeping within itself the mark of the past element, and already letting itself be vitiated by the mark of its relation to the future element, this trace being related no less to what is called the future than to what is called the past, and constituting what is called the present by means of this very relation to what it is not: what it absolutely is not, not even a past or a future as a modified present. An interval must separate the present from what it is not in order for the present to be itself, but this interval that constitutes it as present must, by the same token, divide the present in and of itself, thereby also dividing, along with the present, everything that is thought on the basis of the present, that is, in our metaphysical language, every being, and singularly substance or the subject. In constituting itself, in dividing itself dynamically, this interval is what might be called spacing, the becoming-space of time or the becoming-time of space (temporization).”
Jacques Derrida, Différance
Différance is a French neologism invented by Jacques Derrida and homophonous with the word “différence”. It plays on the fact that the French verb différer means both “to defer” and “to differ” and focuses on the play of presence and absence as both the condition of possibility and the impossibility of meaning.
For example, the word “chair” derives its meaning from how it differs from “stool”, “bench”, or “sofa”, more than from how the word “chair” may be tied to a certain image of a traditional chair. Not only are the differences between the words relevant here, but the differentials between the images signified lead to différance. Deferral also comes into play, as the words that occur following “chair” in any expression will revise the meaning of that word, sometimes dramatically so, just like anyone will revise the Blueprint through his own experience of it.
For instance, there are several different stools that are part of the Blueprint; one is a stand-alone normal traditional stool, the second being the same traditional stool sliced and integrated to the façade and the third being paper-folded. All stools are painted in blue and outlined in white. The process blurs the distinction between the real object and the false one. Through this process all stools enter the abstract space where they are all real and fake at the same time, and our perception of the element “stool” is freed from preconception and acceptation. What remains isn’t a particular stool but the sign of a stool, free from material, free from appearance and its meaning is left floating in-between, suspended and waiting for appropriation. Like most of the elements of the Blueprint, these stools focus on rendering différance in architecture and to show that the meaning of architectural elements is always postponed and Roland Barthes describes this in his essay Death of the Author. A language, such as architecture, is a self-contained relationship between various signifiers. A symbol is defined by its relation to other symbols, and yet those other symbols are only different from it inasmuch as they have a different relation to each other. But then, what are they in themselves? Where is this elusive “meaning” they are supposed to terminate in?
The meaning is fleeting and changing and never terminated, there is a constant play and necessity for deterritorialization and reterritorialization.
Hence, Opening United Studio’s Blueprint attempts the deconstructivist act of moving architecture away from the constricting “rules” of modernism such as “form follows function”, “purity of form” and “truth to materials”. It reveals the hidden relations between the different elements of architecture, invites us to challenge the quotidian. To do so, the Blueprint borrows much of the magic realist procedure as it reminds us that the “real” reality is the one that involves personal desires and interpretations. The Blueprint captures the poetry of space – the interiority of architecture – and is to be read and revised again and again.
Opening United Studio invites us to reconsider architecture as a dynamic act, the act of constantly renewing the subject-object-environment status quo.
Architecture is no longer contemplative but generative; it constantly updates the world and our connections to it and reminds us that history is in the becoming.
Architecture is a call for possibility, involvement, responsibility and action.
It is a call for renewed creativity.Written in Taiwan by Wu Yalin (2008) for Opening United Studio email@example.com