Sofia Pia Belenky @ Architectural Association
In the Atlantic Ocean about 1000 miles west of Africa is Null Island, at the intersection of Prime Meridian and Equator. It is a busy place, thousands of people live there, millions of photos are taken there. Or at least thats what it looks like to a computer because as we approach Null Island ; There is only open water and a buoy.
Null Island is an accumulation of data in open water. The sea is pixels and particles; anything that falls outside the set of location-based information. It is the point in which images that have no geo tag are stored. This is a particularly interesting site today due to its role in two recent events. The June 2016 vote on Brexit and the recent campaign and subsequent election of Donald Trump. This null data set became the lens through which these elections were seen, understood and won. The Brexit vote created a different map of the UK. Remain pockets and leave areas turning London into an island and Scotland into a peninsula. Countries are moving towards a new age of de-globalization We are seeing a hyper partisan cities, perpetually exposed to like-terms and related content – forming new borders. Cambridge Analytica, hired by both votes, took advantage of this, influencing the vote down to the individual. Open and permeable borders that the Euro represents are threatened. Within this sea stream of unprocessed data, we are looking for a way out of the current trends.
Null Island is said to be a space of dissent from the current state of politics, a place that stands for bridges not borders, unions not ‘exits’ and absolutely no walls. The only evidence of the island is postcards that have been received, a travel brochure and a map. Its boundary is difficult to define, perhaps the reason why it has not yet been found. Null island is a series of sand bars that expand and contract depending on the time of day. It has no clear border.As we zoom in closer several structures appear on these sand banks.
The Data Center contains the fragments of information that has gone missing. The buildings interior cannot be visited but is said to contain hundreds of servers kept cool by the surrounding ocean waters and protected by layers of mesh acting as faraday cage to prevent data leaks. Its facades screens display two layers of missing pixels, that offset to combine. Its rear facade faces the ocean and mirrors this in metal sheets that attempt to camouflage in the ocean.
Parallel to the Data Center is the Resort, triangulating off from both the post office and pointing towards 0,0, Each room is individual, but blurred midway by a glass wall that begins the shift the boundary of private onto the more public balcony space which faces the data center. The information is viewed as entertainment and relief is found in connecting missing parts. Like most contemporary resorts there is a swimming pool, great restaurants and a nightclub and its millennial pink color is great for instagrams.
The Welcome Center is a tall thin wall, but really it is more of a door, In the interior of this public square is a monument to null island which has all the colors of the world on it. It is a rounded stone, curved like sea glass. From elevation the walls appear closed, but as one approaches the walls can be seen offset and open. At times of the day the tide moves the sand into a pile that can simply be walked over.
The Bridges symbolizes the spirit of union and participation on the island connecting the Welcome Center to the Resort and the Resort to the Post Office. These bridges spin on their central access – a full rotation is a 60 minute journey.
The Post Office is a very long pier, pointing towards 0,0. The walk along the pier becomes a pilgrimage of sorts, resting along the way on the benches that extend from the cantilevering window. Its window, the proportions of a postcard, frames the ocean. Internet communications are jeopardized here, post is the only trusted system for both understanding the island and delivering information globally.
As buildings begin to be increasingly designed for their image or render view, facts become indistinguishable from fictions. Image making becomes the most lucrative part of being an architect, producing something between spam, speculation and spectacle. In a world of fake news and alternative facts, the architecture of this new normal may take form of gossip and cities built from zero.
This watercolor postcard, has the potential to create anonymous international networks. Like currency and data it can cross borders. It provokes mistranslations, which produce new information. It becomes a political catalyst that has the potential to form its own nation. In doing so the counterfeit copy becomes a ‘real thing’ or its own original.
Looking back at Null island; the null dataset can now be seen as the artifact or relic of primary information that has set our course, our capacity to navigate. In a twist of fate it is also a beacon of hope, the signifier of possibility, for a way out of current trends.
From here, we are searching for something unseen, something yet to be seen.
Who influences you graphically?
Reality T.V., currency design, old maps with sea monsters, renderings of Dubai, Zoe Zenghelis – New Welfare Island, postcards made while on vacation, and a NYtimes article by Tim Wallace that depicted ‘two Americas’ after the Trump election.
To what extent and how has the Architectural Association influenced the way you operate as an architectural student and how you tackle the notion of representation?
The close knit nature of a community like the AA brings along an interesting social dynamic similar to a family; with support, love, rumors and complications. This is true in most schools but the academic as well as spatial structure of the school also foster this. There is no other school where you are given such freedoms in terms of the way you can represent a project. The way in which a project is drawn is completely connected to the way in which it is interpreted. Some projects are best understood in plan others in film. My work has been interested in serial narratives and the use of publishing.
What dictated the variety of drawings you chose to reveal the provocation through?
My hope was that the variety would lead to more contradictions and questions rather than illustrate answers and solutions. Was the render more realistic than the postcard?
What defined the use of the drawing as a medium when compared to the animation, model etc?
The project focuses on the inherent tension around the notions of authenticity, precision and value. Drawing is probably one of the earliest forms of fake news. It is used it to skew perspectives, enhance features, bring particular moments in focus. In a time when all the information we were receiving about these elections (Brexit+Trump) was from the media, I never wanted to use a screen to present the work. And the way in which currency is rendered as physical drawing is important to its authenticity.
How could the notion of fake news be enhanced through the use of a specific medium?
There were four strategies applied to the visualization of Null Island; hyper renders (the way in which much of the image of Dubai that we understand from afar is produced through the use of slick renders), black line drawing (that becomes embedded with information much like historic maps produced of fictional islands (and their seamonsters) or currency that embeds information to avoid counterfeit (fakes), the use of collage (the trend of narrative based illustration, much like the work Koozarch shares, becomes a lens that produces a fictional story of an architecture with characters that begin to show up in multiple images internationally all escaping from the same Hockney paintings) and lastly the postcards which are an attempt to say (I went there, it’s real), these become the only proof we have of the island existing, but in the end are the most abstract means of communicating this, as watercolor images. These postcards were produced by a translation of my description to an artist, that then further informed design decisions.
What is your take on color?
The color was symbolic. The water is blue, the resort is millenium pink (because it is very instagrammable and many historic resorts were pink), a lot of the textures for the collages were gifted to me by FALA which is why maybe they begin to fall into this Koozarch archive.