(ab)Normal is a graphic novel without chronology. Instead, obsolete 3ds and rejected timelines are reconfigured in spatial narratives. Iconographic images describe the allegory of a culture that revolves obsessively around Internet, Gaming and Religion.
Being the collective idea of four architects, (ab)Normal is firstly an experiment on Architectural Representation; Photorealism is carefully deconstructed and rearranged in illustrations based on Normal vectors, avoiding the traditional structure that builds the contemporary visual description of a space. Hence, this project is both scientific in its method and evocative for its thematic background.
Around the American crop belt, driverless threshing machine cultivate the soil with zero tolerance. This is possible only providing them real time geometrical information: Normal vectors. Satellites floating around earth’s exosphere, scan terrestrial soil and return gradient maps, that lead tractors’ movement. It’s a very compelling image, for, these slow and constant machines, look oddly like an organized army of pachyderms.
Normals are vectors describing the inclination of a nominal fragment of a surface, according to the point of view of the observer1. Thus, Normals are impalpable characteristics of surfaces, controlling lights and reflection. If Natural Evolution didn’t provide mankind with such a perception, technology did. Under the transhumanist perspective, Normals become akin to a supernatural sense, the first sense for the machine, the sixth human sense by product.
A Delusional Revolution
At the beginning of the ‘90, 3d Printing had been welcomed as the system that will upset products industries. Autarchic utopias, in which the procedural design of an object will become more important of the object itself, in which a diffused society of producers will replace the fordist top-down routines, started to colonize popular fantasies with uncountable catalogues of user’s designed objects. Well, anything similar never took over. While Printing revolution might sparkle in a next future, these replicas remain useless. (ab)Normal collects and arranges them in three-dimensional collages.
Internet, Gaming, Religion
These three topics, sounding at first unrelated, structured the prehistory of the metadata society. According to Harari2, Religions are intersubjective reality, conventions trusted and supported without verification by entire communities. Religious dogmas had always represented less the unravelling of a mystical truth rather than the trajectories that channel coexistence among men. Internet, and the consequent epiphenomena, could be understood more likely under this perspective; HTML and coding in general, are complex languages, oddly resonating as religious litany, understood by a very limited elite of initiated. The constant interactions with communication devices constitute a body of digital rituals reiterated without comprehension, like chanting the Christian rosary. What led us to embrace religions in the past, brought us to accept Internet as the main societal manager.
Not last, if Internet is a Religion, Gaming represents its heroic beginning, the rebellion against a pre-existing status quo.
“In the 80’, Arcade rooms provide a space for cyber freedom. They were often advertised as spots of youngster rebels who desire to upset the hierarchy […] Akin to a Primitive Hut for the digital reduction of the world, Arcades became the founding myth of a generation of future technocrats”3
1. Edmund Husserl, “Der Ursprung der Geometrie als intentional-historisches Problem” Revue Internationale de Philosophie, Vol.1, No,2 (January 1939) 205.
2. Yuval Noah Harari, “Homo Deus”, translated by Marco Piani (Milan:Giunti/Bompiani, 2017) 223.
Who influences you graphically?
The strange clash between Arcade Gaming and Religious Iconography, especially Hinduism, brought in the exotic atmosphere. We are clearly influenced by Edward Rusha for the use of colour, Ettore Sottsass in the formal approach, as well as many others, outside architecture, such as Tame Impala, Virgil Abloh, Don Delillo or the trap subculture, which stimulated the whole graphic concept behind (ab)Normal. In some respects people like Elon Musk, that support a rampant techno-utopism, are offering great inspirations in the definition of scenarios, for their visionary (delusional?) dream of progress.
What sparked the project?
(ab)Normal came out from the frustration that the four of us experienced rendering photorealistic images while working in architecture offices. Behind the layer of perfect photo-realism, architecture gets often banalized and reduced to its realizability. We wanted to explore the fantasies abandoned during the design process. For us it is a therapeutic release of unexplored obsessions through illustrations.
What is your take on colour? What define the colour through which you reveal these collages of collected item?
In our illustrations, colours are defined by gradients based on Normal vectors of the surfaces rather than based on shades & lights. Thus, the objects we model and arrange in the frame are often chosen for their geometric “output” rather than for thematic affinities. Sometimes gradients led us to unexpected compositions, a process that is building up a self-nourishing narrative.
Could you talk us through your work process both conceptually and in terms of programs and treatment of the image?
Among us the routine is quite different. In general we carefully compose and render the scene on Cinema 4d, exporting every possible layer. In Photoshop, we mess up the order behind the exported image (reflection, refraction etc.), experimenting with different calibrations. Then, it’s a long process of fine-tuning according to personal taste. Of course the starting point is always the Normal map.
What is your take on the contemporary state of architectural representation?
Drawing architecture is a more a tool to tell architecture rather than an autonomous art. nowadays too many firms are just drawing without being support by a narrative. It’s perhaps a well known results of the industrialization of architectural representation. The muscular photorealism (extremely useful) tend to propagate a boring, rigid and yet unrealistic atmosphere through every image digitally rendered. There is nothing interesting in architectural representation as such.
Architecture as representation instead, intended as tridimensional language able to carry information through its stereometry, is far more exciting, from both user and producer perspective, for its ductility in formulating a spatial and compelling storytelling.
How and to what extent has this side project influenced and effected the way you operate as an architect?
This project is a testing canvas that helps us to experiment formal approaches and thematic urgencies. There is reciprocal influence between (ab)Normal and our professional attitude. Nonetheless is exactly the complete lack of rationality that gives us satisfaction. Architecture is glorious for its dealing with real constraints. We want to avoid reality, at least in (ab)Normal.
In parallel to this project what are you working on?
Three of us, Luigi, Mattia and Marcello are members of the collective GruppoTorto based in Milan. GruppoTorto is a collaboration on texts and projects, founded firstly as a platform among a group of architects coming from Politecnico di Milano.
Davide instead is part of a research duo Uso based in Milan and Rome, that focuses on projects of different scales and paper architecture.
Where do you see this ‘abnormal’ concept developing into? Is there a final product, or a continuous process of research?
It’s in constant progress and it will update in its scenarios. For the future, we don’t want to avoid any of its possible applications. In specific we are incrementing the presence of devices in our illustrations, understood as amulets of an hypothetical cult of technology. We are also looking to the Interplanetary expansion of the species as possible theme to explore Through (ab)Normal. The future for us is uncertain.
Luigi Savio, Mattia Inselvini, Marcello Carpino and Davide Masserini met in OMA office in Rotterdam, and started to illustrate (ab)Normal at the end of 2017. Luigi and Mattia are among the founder of GruppoTorto (www.gruppotorto.com) a research collective that deals with architecture through texts and experimental projects, Marcello who now is working with Herzog & Meuron in Basel, joined GruppoTorto in 2017 and founded (ab)normal along with them. Davide Masserini founded USO in 2017 together with Ludovica Marcacci Balestrazzi.
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3 GruppoTorto, “Ongoing Research on Forgotten Spaces”, www.gruppotorto.com, 2017