God is an Astronaut
Richen Jin @ University of Melbourne, Melbourne School of Design.
‘God is an astronaut’ is a manifesto on how architecture can activate people’s interaction with the city and break the everyday routine.
Jean Jay is a blue-collar Parisian, born and raised in the 19th arrondissement, Paris. He starts his work at 8 in the morning, finishes at 6. Every Thursday night he buys a few drinks at the bar 2 blocks away.
His routine is just like that of his colleagues in the 19th arrondissement, 2 points: home, work, home, work.
In an attempt to break the everyday routine and create unexpected interactions, the city of Paris launches a Grande project to reactivate the city by extending Tschumi’s Parc de la Vilette into the city . The huge perforated wall frames the view from Jean Jay’s apartment, the small installation on his route renders his movements more adventurous. At first, he is uncomfortable, but soon gets used to this. It becames once again a part of his routine.
‘When we are used to things, we tend to forget what these things are.’ [phase C quote]
We always tend to overlook the things we see in everyday life, and we have developed a habit through the daily routine. We are unwilling to break it; most people just want to stay in their comfort zone – a cycle they feel safe in. Like Jean Jay.
How can architecture activate the interaction between individuals and break the routine?
On a Saturday morning, Jean finds an almost expired movie voucher on his desk. He walks down his apartment to the cinema 5 blocks away. He finds himself in a homogenous world – where the facades of all the building look the same and are the same distance apart.
He would have blind-walked to the cinema he’s been to since 6. He panics, takes out his phone and google maps the route to the cinema. But he is still one block away. Instead of walking to the pictures, he walks into a building of pigs. He takes a central lift to the top, and sits on a carousal with flying pigs. He looks down on the building and sees the process of: Feeding, breeding, to chasing to slaughter house, stunning, washing, checking, stamping, cutting, to transferring to butcher, cutting , and to restaurant, eating pigs. He completely forgets about the movie. He takes the lift down and goes back home. He decides to never eat pork again.
Life is like a box of chocolates, you will never know what you are going to get next, and architecture has this weird relationship with the individual. We design the building the way we like to, we use it – we affect it once it has been built, the building then influence us back.
When people are too unwilling and reluctant to change – potentially they are just too tired after work, or there just isn’t a motive, or incentive for them to explore, even the intrusions from Tschumi’s Parc de la Villette will be used to human – the most adaptable animal in this planet.
How can architecture activate the city and break the routine?
A homogenous city. Where the facades are the exact same in terms of form, ornamentation, scale, colour, material – with completely different – cross programmed interiors. Because they are all the same, one cannot forget. It forces one to interact with the city allowing for the accident to happen; whether good or bad, the accident may open up new opportunities or perspectives. Just like Jean Jay, he never saw how pigs were fed and slaughtered, now he has decided to never eat pork again.
Even though you try to adapt to the new scenario, one tries to remember how many block he needs to go straight, then left, then straight then right, one is still able to get lost and enter another building.
When you see a friend on the street for a small conversation, when you turn your head around and up again, you lose track of where you wanted to go, and once again if you turned to talk to your friend, and started to resume your plan of walking, you may end up in a completely different building.
The project name: God is an astronaut, derives from this concept of an homogenous exterior and an interior heterotopia. Here the axonometric, as a perspective which is only viewable by god reinforces the notion of a homogeneity which at ground level can only be viewed by humans whilst in axonometric projection reveals the various programs of each building.
Who influences you graphically?
Wes Anderson, Cj Lim, Laszlo Feher, Tschumi and Koolhaas, KooZa/rch, le_triptyque, hannespeer and a lot more.
But mainly the process of doing things. I found myself needing a particular amount of time tweaking, collaging, and comparing images. The idea would come by when you are doing it. For the color I would chose the tone that fits with my scheme. Mainly looking into some of my favorite artists and directors: Wes, Bi Gan, Laszlo, Edward Hopper, Adam Tan, Paul Delvaux, Mehdi Ghadyanloo, Henri Rousseau, David Hockney etc. The composition was inspired by Archizoom, Superstudio, and Cj Lim.
What defined the choice of the timeline as method of representation?
I started the research on Tschumi’s Parc and I knew it would be somewhat of project at the scale of the city. A great amount of research went into the history of Paris. The 1973 film Themroc inspired me too – this dull and mundane life of a blue-collar Parisian goes with my chosen phase C quote. I continued with the idea of reforming Paris, through a narrative of a blue collar Parisian and what he sees and experiences of the changes.
What was your work process in terms of project development and timeline creation?
I knew I would have to do a big poster/ timeline long drawing (1200 x 7000) and I decided to model the 19th arrondissement in the most detailed fashion. The site took me 4 weeks to model and tweak, most of the time was spent splitting up the heavy file and turning it into meshes.
Planning beforehand was important when doing the large format print.
Firstly, I did some large A0 format test prints to decide the resolution and line work. In this case each image in the timeline is around 28000 px. I had to consider the use of vector based, hand drawn or self-taken photo images for the purpose of resolution, besides I didn’t want to risk banality by using images borrowed from the internet. When thinking of what combination and tools would best reveal the narrative I asked my friend in the studio to pose for some bizarre body/facial expressions as I also have a particular interest in adding a personal mark to the project, like a bonus scene/easter egg in movie. As a result I spent some time modelling the Advertisement boards on some of the Parisian buildings playing between reality and narrative, for instance, I included the project name ‘God is an Astronaut’ in one of the boards, ‘Scott you are the gift to my city’ in another ( Scott is my supervisor, and Gift to the city is the name of this studio), as well as the name of a Chinese insurance company on the head of train because when I was modelling the site, I saw that Chinese company on one of the 19th arrondissement street which I felt bizarre. I think it’s worth to put these things on even they are time-consuming. When people look at it they might find their kicks.
What programs did you use? what was the time frame?
Rhino, V-ray and Photoshop, and 2 Chinese pig farm app for pig farm regulations and rules.
Phase A and B took first half sem. Phase C took the second half. Design and production took place simultaneously. The project developed over 8 solid weeks. In between I spent a lot of time watching YouTube video on the slaughtering and butchering of pigs in order to design my own cross programmed chain of pigs.
Did you ever think of using the image to develop an animation which would allow for a further manipulation of the drawing?
No. Before you ask this, no. But now I want to try. I would love to construct and narrate a story in different ways.
How important is the element of narrative?
In this case, I reckon it’s best to have a narrative for the audience and panel to understand the idea behind the project. By illustrating the timeline of 3 status of city: old, intrusion, and complete homogenous, I had to have a protagonist – a well-constructed character that everybody can relate to.
What is your take on the architectural continuum? Where do you position yourself within this thread?
Well in a macro scale, it’s almost unescapable, the precedent from the former, say, for this project, there are similar concept from Rem, Generic city; Corb, Radiant city, which I looked to. We share some points in common but the starting point is totally different, which is understandable in the different social and economic context. The former might already have a similar idea, but there is always a nuance. In a micro scale of my portfolio, I would say there is no continuum at all in terms of graphics. I have always wanted to try different representations and media for each of my project. The one I have used before will not be considered in the current project. Maybe it’s because I always wanted to try something new, as if I’m cheating to manipulate the same representation style, seems effortless. Nonetheless, my architectural approach has been a steady continuum. There has always been a narrative and somewhat related to the current issue of the society. Of course, architecture is mostly just about people. But I always have a particular interest in human’s interaction and behaviour with architecture, and its social context.