The Snoopers Charter
Daniel Avilan, Aradhana Kapoor & Sanjana Samant @ Bartlett School of Architecture, 2018
The Snooper’s Charter is a nickname given to the United Kingdom’s Investigatory Powers Act in 2016. The act gives an update to Britain’s often unwieldy surveillance legislation. But it also includes a large set of new powers — including the ability to collect the browsing records of everyone in the country and have them read by authorities.
This urban environment sets out to spatialize the amount of surveillance used by London and the world post the legislation. The varying scales of surveillance — from internet cookies to Google Satellite — the citizens of London are forced to live with the state of mass surveillance.
By designing an anti-surveillance society, the public will begin to develop urban tactics that will allow them to evade and hide from the covert surveillance tactics used by the government and large corporations. Citizens of London can imagine new urban conditions that can accommodate societies that desire a unique form of urban production of space.
What defined the language of representation through which you articulate the proposal?
The representation was inspired by several mediums that have explored and critiqued surveillance in popular culture — Mr. Robot, Phillip Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, Brazil (film), 1984 and many others. We also felt the emotion and expression of surveillance is also best expressed by the new wave science fiction cyber punk pioneers of the 60s and 70s. These helped the project create a artificial and cybernetic aesthetic that reflects on the world we live in.
What is your take on colour? What is its role within the project?
For this specific project, colour was important for the player to see their impact on the city through the use of anti surveillance tactics. Surveillance itself it often depicted as dystopian; which is emphasised by the monochromatic depiction of London. In general, colour is specific to each project, and should be used within reason depending on the concept and overall emotion of the project and context.
What defined the format of the game?
A recently released video game Tokyo 42 was released earlier last year that creates an isometric world for the player and the environment. Taking cues from this game, we developed a drone view of the game which the player was watched from a “drone” or “satellite” view. Conceptually, the person playing the game was also acting as a lens or CCTV of the character in the game; which creates an interesting paradox and layering of surveillance not only in the game, but engaging with the actual player themselves. In other words, the player is “Big Brother” in which they actually surveil the city and the game character’s every move.
What prompted the project? What is your take on the contemporary state of surveillance from the in the street to that within our homes?
Everyone has their views on surveillance and its importance on our lives or endangerment to our privacy. However, after reading several articles that tell some extremely fascinating yet nightmarish technologies that exist or are being developed that people have no idea exist. For example, the most interesting I found was a new facial recognition software called Churchix. A software has been developed for churches to surveil church goers and keep track of people coming (or skipping) church throughout the day. Fundamental ethical questions come to mind, but it was important to spatialize these bizarre and fatuous technologies that are changing our way of life.
We developed around 20 responses to 20 articles, but there were actually hundreds of articles with interesting urban implications and surveillance tactics that are being developed.
How can we as architects work within this surveillance frame? What should our role be?
The most crucial starting point is to take a stance on the subject. Architects should and will have to design for surveillance now and for many years to come. By establishing a basic understanding of what different views on surveillance means in terms of protection, crime prevention, control, or privacy, architects can learn to either work with our against the grain of surveillance and its advancing technology respectively. This project offers both architects and citizens of any city the opportunity to learn and engage with surveillance in ways otherwise not available. I believe this is important in the process of considering the implications of surveillance. We as designers and architects should engage with surveillance and other issues in order to design cities and architecture with full knowledge of the matter.
Where do you see this condition in 10 years time? What are the implications?
London is infamous for being the most surveilled city in the world — with over 6 million CCTV cameras. By those standards, in 10 years, there will be roughly one camera per citizen. China, the US, Germany, Russia, and many other countries are following suit and have began to pass legislation to increase surveillance capabilities. The not so shocking revelations that Facebook was hacked along with the information of over 50 million people is just another question of how far does surveillance go before it consumes our lives. These are a only a few examples of just the past 2 years of surveillance and its implications on our society. I do believe, however, that many people have begun to realise the gravity of the situation and speak out against the future surveillance on our world — ie Edward Snowden. This inspired us to create a game, and the hope is that it will inspire citizens to react.
Currently finishing his Part II at the Bartlett School of Architecture in 2019. Daniel also has a MArch in Urban Design from the Bartlett as well as a BArch from the University at Buffalo in New York.
He has also worked as an intern in New York, NY and held various internships in Buffalo. You can view his work and CV at danielavilan.net.
Received her Masters of Architecture in Urban Design from The Bartlett School of Architecture in 2017 and her Bachelors of Architecture from Balwant Sheth School of Architecture in 2014.
Prior to joining Gensler as a Technical Designer in April, 2018, she was working as an architect with a leading environmental design and landscape practice in Mumbai, India for two years, primarily handling large scale urban design and landscape projects.
Recently graduated from the Bartlett school of Architecture, London with a Masters degree (Distinction) in Urban Design, Sanjana is currently working with UHA London as a Project Architect.
Prior to her post graduation she was working in a Mumbai-based architectural studio as an architect and graphic designer. She holds a B.Arch degree from Academy of Architecture, Mumbai.