The Curation

Things –

a conversation with

Sarah Hearne

(05) 24.07.2018
Interview: Anna Tonkin, Beatrice Myatt
Thumbnail image: Post-
Splash image: Sarah Hearne


Sarah Hearne is an architectural historian, curator and educator currently based in Los Angeles. Hearne graduated from the University of Technology, Sydney and practiced at Ateliers Jean Nouvel in Copenhagen and Paris. She is currently completing her doctorate at UCLA while also teaching and working on curatorial projects. She has a particular interest in alternate forms of architectural production. Her research focuses more broadly on the procedures and protocols of art and architectural production, and technologies of representation.

Anna Tonkin and Beatrice Myatt caught up with Hearne over coffee when she was in Sydney late last year. Shifting between the historical and the contemporary, the conversation covered the information infrastructures of Architecture Biennials to the production and use of architectural drawings in the 1970s. Whilst the scale and temporality of a biennial seems disparate to the physicality of a historical drawing, Hearne’s interest and specific approach to unpacking the systems that inform architectural production draws them together. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Anna Tonkin
Beatrice Myatt

Sarah Hearne 

(AT) You were the associate curator of the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial which ended in January this year. Could you tell us about that experience and the processes behind making the event?

(SH) Yes I was working with the artistic directors Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee (Johnston Marklee) and joined the team in November last year. They borrowed the title from an Ed Ruscha art book that was published in 2009. It’s this thick brick-like book, but all 600 pages are blank. The point was to invite a contribution but also that of course, a blank page is never ‘empty’ because you approach it with the full weight of what has come before.
In the end, the show was oriented to the relationship of practicing architects to their study and use of history. We invited 140 architects with an artistic statement, which was pretty open. The list included a cohort of Johnston Marklee’s peers that were identified as engaging with diverse aspects of ‘history’.

(AT) How did the overarching theme translate into what work was included and then how it was exhibited?

(SH) I would say that there were two big moves; the first was a spatial idea about site specific transformations of the Chicago Cultural Centre venue into viewing typologies like arcades, hypostyle halls, salons, and lounges. We invited different artists and architects to engage with these typologies so we had BLESS customising a lounge of artek furniture, or AGENdA making a marbled velvet arcade of curtains.

Curatorially, alongside the invited pieces from various firm’s existing work, there were two collective projects where we invited two groups to respond to shared briefs. The first brief was the Vertical City project that invited new takes on the 1922 Chicago Tribune Tower competition. These were built as huge 18 foot models that were laid out in a grid that created a hypostyle hall of model tower ‘columns’. The other collective project was Horizontal City that invited 18 architects to choose and respond to a photograph of a canonical interior as a large scale model, which inverted many of the interests that were in the other collective room.

(AT) Who would you say was the audience of the Biennial?

(SH) The interesting thing about the Biennial is that it’s held in the former Chicago Public Library building, which since the 1990s has been the main free-entry Cultural Centre for the city. It’s very well used, it has a big lobby with tables and chairs and you have people meeting in there, kids getting tutored after school, it’s an important day time shelter for people who live homeless in the city. In some way it does bring a public audience (who we like to imagine in architecture that we're engaging with) in contact with the Biennial. In fact, I would say after the vernissage that many people who passed through the Biennial never specifically came to the Cultural Centre to see it, but bumped into it on their way to municipal offices or perhaps just to avoid the cold.

(BM) That seems to be the criticism of every Biennale – that it's not speaking to enough people. Yet critics will say that the role of an exhibition is for architecture to speak to a wider audience.

(SH) Yes, in this case we had the audience but perhaps that led to some criticism about the insularity of the work – which was by nature discipline-oriented.

(AT) The critique might also come from the context of what’s happening politically in America right now. There’s so much going on, it seems like so many people are engaging with political issues and the push for architects to consciously engage with politics is greater than ever. Despite this context, the Chicago Biennial seemed isolated and that there was no relevant political position.

(SH) Definitely and I think it has something to do with the artistic directors’
position that these real world problems are more systemic than our disciplinary agency. Which perhaps is an idea that is being challenged right now in many ways. Funnily enough the biennial we got compared to the most was Aravena’s ‘From the Frontlines’ in Venice which was very much oriented toward real world problems and architectural agency. In some ways one might question the biennial format as well if the two poles can fall to the same criticism.

(AT) Do you think it’s important that the exhibition engages a wide audience through addressing broader concerns or is there value in presenting work that is more introspective towards the discipline?

(SH) I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. In fact, the better works managed to convey disciplinary interests in very unexpected ways. I would also say this about a biennial as a format; One thing that surprised me was how much emphasis the participant list had, and the fact that a lot of reviews of the show were coming out before we'd even opened – the reviews were based on the list alone. I think there is an expectation with the biennial format that one of most important things is the group of people you bring together. The list was also groomed over by the PR for metrics and stats. There was an incredible sense of stocktaking or accounting. The first Chicago Biennial in 2015 took the form of a survey of contemporary architecture. I think the question there is how do you represent ‘everybody’, which is what a survey promises. What does it mean to set the survey up as a format for architecture? How does one put together this list? There was – rightly so – a lot of scrutiny if you claim to represent everybody. Whereas ‘Make New History’ two years later got some heat for repeating many participants from the 2015 list, because perhaps the first edition had set an expectation for the survey and therefore a whole new list of participants. But I think the idea was not to survey but to take on some common interests already seen in the first biennial and push it toward a more thematic focus. Perhaps along similar lines as the critiques before the show opened, the temporality of a biennial is a curious one. It seems to begin long before the doors open and is very much related to the ‘content managers’ who are not often seen but who (largely) before the event regulate the lines of communication. We had Consortia who consult on web content. There was the PR firm who were connecting the architects with journalists more directly. So it was really unlike any other exhibition that I have worked on with just the enormity of managing content. There seemed to be a constant need for us to feed information, which was like a full time thing in and of itself.

(AT) But that's also interesting because you have the biennial as the event itself, and if people are critiquing it beforehand and if there's a relationship with the PR agency, the ‘event’ almost began when Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee were first announced as the curators.

(SH) Absolutely.

(AT) And how do you make it an exciting exhibition if you have to set something up so early and be consistent and accurate with it, even though things might change?

(SH) Consortia was dealing with that. They were basically planning out aspects of the exhibition or particular architects’ projects that they could publish and the PR kept asking, "What can we announce?" (laughs). And the catalogue which I was working on, also had to go to print in four months, which is an incredibly tight turn-around to begin so as you can imagine it had to go out before the work that we were showing was even confirmed. So even the format of a catalogue, which traditionally documents the event and the work had to be reconsidered to fit with the temporality of a biennial. I suppose what this all points to is the difficulty of finding the limits of the biennial as an event, exhibition, and the information infrastructures of them.

There was an almost provisionary nature to information in this environment because it had to get out at a speed that was immediate, so there were media rooms for instant online reporting. All the reviews – as someone pointed out – had at least one error, almost every one; people getting left off, misattribution, spelling, little things. The mentality seems to be that you correct and edit after you publish rather than checking before. You’d really want to start thinking about what this means for the permanent record or documentation of the show, speaking of making new history!

(AT) Could you discuss your current research, particularly in terms of the construction of the image in relation to architecture?

(SH) My interest in drawing is to provide a counter history of the ways that authority was constituted and managed through the architectural drawing set and its reproduction and circulation.

Right now I’m looking mostly at the 1970s when architectural drawings became very visible with a series of exhibits, and many people were writing about the market around selling drawings. The drawings that were exhibited are kind of a mixed bag as everyone tries to sort out the new context. Some of them are intermediary, or sometimes quite elaborate drawings. They weren't necessarily operating to communicate to an audience or toward a building, so some of them were (to use Eisenman’s term a little later) more project oriented. There’s a sense that working in this way would have been closer to some idea of ‘architectural autonomy’ in that they were not to connect with the world of real estate and development per se. Drawings for drawings sake… but I'm also looking at ‘working’ drawings in that time as well, and the ways that the artful and production drawings diverged. And the anxiety in offices about these useless (non productive) drawings.

(AT) That’s really interesting – these different types of drawing sets being produced for different audiences and the links between them. In terms of renderings that were produced for commercial reasons and then the more artful drawings that were produced for a disciplinary audience, do you think there was anyone crossing between these types? Or were they too separate?

(SH) Yes, well, renderers or illustrators. But also it's probably just about how the architects divided and managed the drawings that were circulated – the way you saw them and how you then associated that back to their signature.

On that note, one important aspect of my research is looking at the terminology of how drawings were labelled and organized into a sequence. In the most traditional tellings, you’d have the sketch on a napkin (if you’re a modernist), it's immediate, you are putting down your first idea. And then there would be design development, where the drawing would then march towards becoming construction drawings in a sense. Right now I’m looking at how those phases were determined, and how their labelling starts to shape the ways that they circulated, were stored, exhibited or collected. What you start to see post-war was the category of ‘working drawings’, meaning those that were developed for building production becoming increasingly problematic. There were studies into working practices that claimed architects were effectively mimicking the shop drawings that fabricators were also making, and adding extra aesthetic touches like hatching that needn’t be there. So there was some consternation about what information needed to be on the drawings that is more endemic to the organization of labour behind the building production.  

(AT) So in a way, elements of these functional working drawings were actually more useless than say the ‘useless’ (non productive) exhibition drawings themselves?

(SH) Absolutely. The problem at that time was that the regulation and organization of building production became more and more fragmented and complicated –  you had to communicate to more and more distributed groups of people. Drawing sets ended up larger and larger. There's an idea that every audience needed a little bit of different information. So on the one side there's a lot of discussion in the period around use; the use of the drawings, or the uselessness in the case of those that floated off into the gallery context. If you look at the reviews in the 1970s you have someone like Reyner Banham looking at the proliferation of exhibitions around architectural drawings at that time, and pointing out that even though the production of architecture no longer necessarily required architectural drawings, the architects kept going through the motions of making drawings regardless. It’s sort of a very similar lament to today with BIM and so on.

(BM) That's interesting though. With the shop drawers, and the need to have authorship over the drawing in order to legitimise the profession.

(SH) I guess the biggest point to be made would be that architectural drawings have always been collaboratively produced often with anonymous contributions. Maybe what’s more interesting about the 1970s is that because of the sudden attempts to make drawings valuable as sale items the need to re-attach an artful authorship became a priority.

The re-assertion of value in drawing which tended to involve arguments around the artistic autonomy of work on paper, is a disciplinary throwback to architectural intellection over the more manual aspects of building. But I would argue, that if you start to look at the tools you’ll get stationery stores, the tool manufacturers, paper types that allowed for certain types of drawings. Or if you look at the institutional side of things, you’ll see the drawing training, the professional regulation of drawing types and their marks and templates. So you'll start to see, it's just as embedded and absolutely entangled with the so-called real world, as everything else. You know, it's a fantasy that it was somehow otherwise.And that's why the 1970s is the perfect time then, because these guys are investing in the idea that you could produce a drawing and that it somehow is autonomous. Architecture for architecture's sake. 

Photo: Letizia Garzoli


Anna Tonkin and Beatrice Myatt are Architectural Graduates and Masters of Research students at UTS School of Architecture.


The alibi of

(04) 06.06.2018
Words: Timothy Moore
Thumbnail image: Post-


Google Maps Street View of 1204 Wayburn Street, Gross Pointe Park, Michigan

In the American summer of 2014, three barns appeared in the middle of an intersection of Detroit, a cross-road that forms a critical connection between Detroit’s East Side and three routes to wealthy Grosse Pointe Park. The local council hoped that the temporary project would revitalise the location, including acting as a traffic barricade to cross-city traffic.

In a short period of time the official narrative around the rural mis-en-scene begun to unravel. News anchors and vox-poppers wondered whether the appearance of he temporary architecture was an instrument to keep the poorer, black residents of innercity Detroit from the predominately white and wealthy suburb rather than a temporary ‘activation’ to slow-down and connect the two communities through fresh produce.

The quick appearance of the temporary architecture came as a surprise to the neighbouring City of Detroit who govern the East Side; they fought to remove the barns as it created a traffic hazard. One driver took it into their own hands, in protest or by accident, slammed into a barn under the darkness of night. Grosse Pointe Park did not see what the fuss was about. The responsible council argued that the farmer market was only temporary - the temporary nature of the project becomes the perfect alibi.

The alibi of temporary architecture is that it conceals or plays down its purpose through the excuse of being time-limited. As time extends, however, temporary projects leave permanent effects. By Christmas 2015, one shed and the elevated concrete plaza still blocked passage – as did a Christmas tree. In 2016 the blockade was replaced with a one-way turning lane from Detroit into Grosse Pointe Park.


Temporary architecture – such as makeshift markets, performance venues and community centres – has been recognised in formal planning frameworks where small-scale projects are part of the strategic mix in urban development led by government and property developers. A temporary festival hub can pre-empt a permanent arts centre; a communal garden anticipates a new residential tower; an impermanent pool warms up a site for a future office building. In the immediate present, these projects pop-up to bring short-term social amenity; they provide a moment of fun and frivolity before large-scale and more lasting development takes over and regenerates the site, or city. The temporary use of space is a gap-filling measure. It is viewed for and of the moment: a screensaver or placeholder for future development.

The transient nature of temporary architecture seems counter to large-scale urban development – of sports arenas, apartment complexes, cultural precincts and business parks – that is made with billions of dollars wrapped up in concrete and steel. Temporary architecture has a low-budget urbanity being cheap, agile and quick while long-term urban development seems slow, durable, enduring and expensive. But the two different scales of architecture, of the small and large, of the cheap and expensive, of the temporary and permanent, of crates and concrete, are neither dichotomous or equal. The two scales can co-exist, be complimentary, that the quickness of temporary projects and the slowness of large-scale development are both qualities that have value when entwined over time.

By looking at temporary architecture as just that, temporary, it becomes an alibi for the speculative development to follow because its temporariness disguises the notion that short-term projects can have long-term relationships and lasting effects. I ask that you look once again at small-scale temporary projects, and look more closely at the relationships that are formed over time to large-scale urban development. Entangled within a scaffold of urban planning documents, schemes, frameworks and rendered visions, temporary architectural projects may become a behaviour management tool by which to prepare people and places for massive upheaval. They have an intentionality.

Temporary architecture can not be conflated into one universal typology or taxonomy. (A cute farmers market for one may be a nightmare for another).

Whatever the case, by recognising temporary architecture and its connection to long-term urban development over time, there’s an opportunity to stake out territory for architectural practice linking scales that are usually seen in opposition, or recognising methods seen as marginal within the architectural profession. And through this recognition, one can intervene with these relationships. This urban intervention is important because the urban field never plays out as prescribed in the official documentation of master plans for urban development. The large-scale building may never come: all that remains is the temporary architecture.


Timothy Moore is a director of Sibling Architecture, lecturer of architecture at Monash University, and the co-curator of Melbourne Design Week presented by the National Gallery of Victoria.





(03) 12.12.2017        
Words: Jack Self
Thumbnail image: Post-


There is a chair designed by the artist (and architect) Donald Judd that has always appealed to me. It is simply called the “Backward Slant Plywood Chair 84” and was first produced in 1991. The design is not complex, and the labour required to make it doesn’t require particular skill or much time. In total, the material costs might come to a hundred dollars (if you were ripped off). The chair was out of production for a long time, and has only recently become commercially available again – the Judd Foundation licensed the production to a company called Schellmann. The price is a whopping $2,950.

Chairs #84/85, Judd Foundation

Since I have recently been working with an excellent joiner, the idea came to me that perhaps I could have it replicated. I mentioned casually to a friend that I was planning to ask a carpenter to knock out a few out and did they want one. Their reaction was one of pure horror – they were appalled and aghast that I would have the audacity to flout not only the legalities of an unlicensed reproduction, but that I could be at all content to own an object they considered would have no soul (since it lacked the artist’s creative intent, and thus could not possess any “aura”). I shrugged my shoulders. The nuances of such an argument are lost on me. A chair is a chair. There is no difference between the image and reality.

I can’t understand how objects could possess an “aura” anyway – this mystical and sentimental attachment to the origin and intent of an author is a cultural superposition onto a thing. The object itself doesn’t know it’s a replica, and it doesn’t care. If there is any such thing as an aura then all objects must have them, irrespective of how they came to be. In fact, even the term “replica” is a highly problematic and confusing one. It suggests a kind of moral hierarchy between an original and a copy. It suggests that you should shell out an extra $2,800 because, even though Judd was a bastard and has been dead for several decades, his spirit lives on through the authenticity of his work. The chair is, as it is sometimes described, an “authentic replica” – identical to the original to such an extreme extent that there are no meaningful differences. The copy, in this sense, is an original.  

I would completely agree that the copy is always an original, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend three grand on a stained ply seat. Why am I so blazé about the idea of duplicating – of “stealing” – an existing design and commissioning an unauthorised version? It is because the arguments for what makes a design “authentic” are not essential to the material world. They concern social status (if you have a fake chair you are deceiving your friends and thus are fake yourself), peace of mind for the owner (I know it is real), and sociocultural or semiotic interpretation (the meaning of the object, in terms of its history and other qualities contributes to the overall understanding of the context in which it is located). Thus, a “real” Eames armchair denotes an owner with a passion for design, a knowledge and appreciation of quality. A “replica” Eames armchair denotes a superficial desire for a “lifestyle” or “look” that has no connection between ethics and aesthetics.

I don’t normally quote from Wikipedia, but in this case the article on “Replicas” has some telling lines: “Replicas and their original representation can be seen as fake or real depending on the viewer.” … “Replicas work well in museum settings because they have the ability to look so real and accurate that people can feel the authentic feelings that they are supposed to get from the originals.” Perhaps accidentally, we can see that original and copy depends on your own ability to interpret those terms, although I am highly suspicious of any argument based on “authentic feelings” a person is “supposed” to experience.

My position that an illegal copy and an authentic replica are the same thing is what is known as a “null hypothesis”. This is a form of assessment employed in medical trials, and it’s premise is that a placebo and your test drug are identical – in other words, probably your drug does nothing, so please demonstrate that it does actually do something (ideally what you thought or hoped it would). The assumption is that the fake and the real are the same; the onus is to prove they are different. In the case of replicas and originals, I naturally assume they are identical unless they can be shown to be different.

I’m making two arguments here: if a replica is so “authentic” you can’t tell it’s not an original, then it is an original. A fake Rolex that is indistinguishable from a real Rolex is a real Rolex. On the other hand, if you discover what in medicine would be called a “clinically significant” difference, then the two objects are not bound together. You are not talking about an original and a copy, because they are not the same. They are both originals of themselves. As Judd himself wrote in his seminal text “It’s Hard to Find a Good Lamp” (1993), “A work of art exists as itself; a chair exists as a chair itself. And the idea of a chair isn’t a chair.” By this he means every object is ultimately self-referential and specific. As architects, what we would call the design is what Judd calls the idea for a chair. The idea is not the chair itself, just as the design is not the building itself. Even if you make ten copies of a building, every one is a unique object.

The conclusion to such an argument is always the question, “how would you feel if someone was to copy your work and make a profit from it?” Our entire relationship to ownership is changing, and we can no longer be either the authors or the benefactors of much of our own work. This was something Rem mastered, and even Palladio understood. If you make your ideas easy to copy you create a sphere of influence that increases, not decreases, your value. Your influence through imitation makes the original more expensive. In both cases, publishing and the image have been central to the dissemination and dominance of these architects’ ideologies.

In my own case, I am pursuing an ideology of material equality. I believe that high-quality, low-cost housing poses the only existential threat to capitalism and it is what we as architects should be totally focused on delivering. To achieve this would require such immense scales of construction and finance that no architect could ever achieve it by themselves. It is a struggle that will last centuries. So my ambition is not to make designs that are singular (they can’t be copied). My ambition is, quite the contrary, to make designs that can be freely and rapidly duplicated, but whose essence is so rigid that even significant natural variation does not corrupt the idea.


Jack Self is a London based architect and writer. He is Director of the REAL Foundation, Editor-in-Chief of the quarterly publication ‘Real Review’ and currently holds editorial positions at the Architectural Review and 032c. In 2016, Jack curated the British Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale. During his time at the Architectural Association in London, Jack cofounded Fulcrum, a weekly publication on the contemporary fringes of architectural culture.


The street


its own uses for
things -

a conversation


Liam Young

(02) 21.11.2017
Interview: Jack Gillbanks, Eric Ye
Thumbnail image: Post-


On an unusually overcast Sunday afternoon, Post- sat down with a pixelated facsimile of Liam Young. A conversation about architecture and fiction ensued. In this issue we relay an edited transcript of that conversation—sans compression artefacts, lag or the digital echoes of deinterlaced signals.


Liam Young 

(P) Could you explain what ‘world building’ is?

(LY) Essentially, what I do through my work and the work through the program at SCI-Arc is a world building program. It’s a technique that comes from cinema that basically rewires the traditional linear process of telling stories. So, traditionally a film would start with a script and that script would start to get names attached, get funding and then at that point it would go into development, bringing a production designer on board to flesh out the world of that film. You would then shoot, edit and post produce it to make the film.

World building puts the creation of the world before all of that. Rather than developing a script, a narrative or a set of characters you develop a world. You then inhabit that world with characters, a story, and just following those characters through their most logical interactions of the spaces and structures in the world around them - this is an architectural way of thinking about film.

One of the big proponents of world building is Alex McDowell who was the production designer that worked on Stephen Spielberg’s Minority Report. He came on board with a group of technologists and futurists well before there was a script for the film. They were tasked with imagining this future city and they developed the whole design for that city. They imagined where it would sit in America, the traffic infrastructure and the road network - even the nature of the screen in this future world. The gestural interface, for example, was developed as real tech with a group of designers and technologists from Silicon Valley. Out of that one film came over 100 patents for new technologies.

How they developed the story from there was simply to put Tom Cruise's character into that world. They then started writing a script.

The vertical car chase was only something that could have emerged if you had designed the world in the first place. It required the vertical traffic network - with the mechanisms and concepts of that specific transportation infrastructure in place - only then could you have Tom Cruise’s character crash out the window of his apartment and start hitching rides on cars driving on the sides of buildings.

That's really what we do at SCI-Arc, we design imaginary worlds that become the setting for stories and we use them as a way of looking back on our own world in new ways, and that is something that I think architects do really well.

What do you see as the architect’s role in generating these fictional worlds?

What we try and do both in my work and in the program at SCI-Arc is look at the ways that architects can parasitically occupy and operate within the mediums of popular culture.

When we're talking about architecture and fictions, I am less talking about speculative architecture projects or the traditions of paper architecture - the sort of stuff that students do in kinky design studios at architecture school - I'm talking about architects operating outside of architecture entirely and entering the entertainment industry as directors, concept designers or environment designers for films or video games - or even in VR, advertising or documentary filmmaking. I think the days of the speculative architecture project are numbered, or at least I see more capacity to affect change by moving outside of our discipline, whilst still operating as architects but working specifically through fiction. So that's what we're trying to do. I try to treat cinema as a kind of site through which to talk about architecture and urban ideas.

And that's what we try to do with our students. They don't make some crazy speculative building, they make a film that is designed for, say, the Sundance Film Festival or as a pilot for a TV show or a short film that's used to pitch for a feature film. At the very least it’s something that is designed for the web to get 100,000 views. That’s 100,000 more views than any one architecture project is going to get.

Are we seeing the marginalisation of the architect in the built environment?

I think the built environment is something that structures all of our lives. And, yes, the architect’s role in shaping that environment is becoming increasingly marginalised. We need to begin looking for alternative ways to affect it - moving beyond the making and shaping of a building as a merely physical object - because for the most part that building is defined by areas outside the remit of the traditional architect. It is shaped primarily by the forces that govern the property developer or the real estate agent.

The way we start to affect and shape those forces is by guiding and instigating the cultures that exist around them. With fiction we can start to shape those cultures - and in doing so we have a much larger reach than the making and shaping of any singular building. It is through this paradigm shift in the realignment of urban culture that we're going to get substantial change. Causing the architect to operate as a cultural agent as opposed to a building agent, in my mind, is the most effective way we can play a role in shaping our futures.

Traditionally it is through fiction that cultures have shared and disseminated ideas. It is a shame that architects aren't better at engaging people in those mediums and aren’t better at disseminating the really urgent and critical things that we speak about as practitioners but are unable to communicate as individuals. Fiction in this sense is a really powerful medium.

What are you currently working on at SCI-Arc?

What we're doing at the moment is looking at the themes of the post-human. By that I don't mean cyborgs and replacing eyeballs with digital lenses. I mean thinking about the ways that a lot of our spaces and cities are being designed not for people any longer but for machines or at the very least machine vision.

We are exploring new narratives that don't put the human at the centre of the story. Instead we look at the alternative subject positions that emerge when some of the dominant actors in this space are actually algorithms or the countless bestiary of machines.

We did a film ‘Where the City Can’t See’ which is told in part from the perspective of a driverless car. It's a film that is shot entirely through laser scanners, the technology that driverless cars use to see and scan the world. It is the first of our explorations into what it means for a story to be told from the perspective of an autonomous vehicle.

In another film we produced ‘In the Robot Skies’. The drone was the active narrative engine of the film. What we did was program a series of GPS points from which the drone could make its own decisions about how to catalogue the characters and their reactions. The actors are just running through their scenes over and over again. The drone would follow them initially and start to make its own choices of what it wanted to focus on. We were interested in the ways that a surveillance drone might actually view and see the world and view and see ourselves within that world.

We are interested in something as apparently absurd as the notion of what happens when the protagonist is an internet connected toaster? What does it mean if someone’s best friend is a very dumb comfort bot? Or what does it mean to tell the story of the city through the operating system of the city? Or what does it mean to design a city and a space for non-human inhabitants? And that is leading to very novel forms of film-making.

We are in the territory of post-cinema where the traditional genres we understand like romantic comedy, horror, drama etc. don't necessarily apply anymore. We are taking traditional characters out of the equation and looking for new storytelling potential that comes out of the context of this new technology.

What emerges in response to this non-human reorientation?

What I do in my own projects is explore the subculture of outcomes of these technologies. Gibson has a great quote that he uses when he talks about the way that he thinks about technology in his books, which is “the street find its own uses for things”. So the point that he's most interested in with new technology is when it hits the street and it becomes democratised. That's when it gets used and reapplied in strange and unexpected ways. And that's really where we site a lot of our own film work through the narrative development - in thinking about the ways in which sub-cultures might start to work with and use these technologies.

So in ‘Where the City Can't See’, we looked at rave culture. We developed a new vocabulary of dance movements that are designed to evade body detection algorithms. We developed new textiles and a new hoody that's designed to create glitches and distortions when it's seen through the eyes of a driverless car or through CCTV laser scanners. We worked with Adam Harvey an artist that designs make up systems to fool facial recognition technologies. And those same textiles were used ‘In the Robot Skies’ to create hoodies that would evade drone based camera systems.

They’re not just storytelling elements they're inventions. We're designing products. They become very real when you engage the technology and inhabit the fictions themselves in this way.


Liam Young is an architect and futurist operating on the periphery of design, architecture and media. He chronicles the weak signals of possible futures exaggerating and extrapolating them into speculative scenarios and imaginary worlds. He is founder of the M.A. in Fiction and Entertainment at SCI:Arc, holds a teaching position at The New Normal programme at the Strelka Institute and has held teaching positions at the AA and Princeton.


“Here’s your coffee,
and would
                you like an
Trading on the cultural capital of
to sell

(01) 02.11.2017
Words: Marston Bowen
Thumbnail image: Post-


There is often a package: A title, a slogan, a website, a glossy exterior render. Tools to give an impression of what it would be like to live in a new apartment complex… once it’s built of course. There is also the physical space, the ‘display suite’, where prospective buyers can glean an idea of the apartment’s finishes. While display suites have existed for as long as buying off-the-plan has been an option, they have been increasingly dedicated to promoting a ‘lifestyle’. The flavour of lifestyle offered by an apartment differs between developments and locations, but the lowest common denominator seems to be the local café.

Contemporary cafés have their own logic of evaluation: the origin of the coffee, the local roaster, the Swiss grinder, the Italian-made espresso machine, the Japanese soy milk – and that’s just the coffee. You then have the source of the produce, the food ethos, the personalities involved and the ‘fit-out’ also form part of a checklist used to value a café. With cities like Sydney and Melbourne becoming renowned for their ‘café lifestyle’ it makes sense for these markers of value to become part of the display suite language.

The Marrick and Co sales suite is located on the corner of Illawarra Road and Marrickville Road, a local hub of shops, bars and cafés quite a distance away from the site of the development. To right of the entrance is an espresso machine and coffee grinder on a dedicated table, and to the left is a series of banquette seating, both fixtures built in polished ply. A series of shelves display empty beer bottles from the local brewery, cookbooks by Bill Granger and others, and the windows decorated with a commissioned work by a local artist. You could almost sit down and order a coffee, until you realise the seating is cordoned off by a velvet rope, and you look up to see the slogan: ‘A New Kind of Authentic Living.’

Coffee is only for client meetings, as is the row of banquette seating. Also accessible to registered parties is the model of the development in the centre of the room, and the display kitchen on the back wall. Without delving into what might constitute ‘Authentic Living,’ the most stand-out observation is that any sort of architectural communication is clearly irrelevant, bland or at best: secondary. Presumably a typical floor plan, or any other specific or descriptive information is made available to ‘serious’ buyers; but it seems the value of this development is not in the planning, spatial quality, or the tectonics of the apartment, but in the ungraspable concept of ‘Authentic Living’. There is however, access to two pamphlets, featuring several exterior and interior renders, and slogans aiming not to answer any questions, but at least ease concerns.

Marrick & Co is not unique in its adoption of café culture, at Novak Properties in Dee Why you can sit down at the marble ‘welcome bar’ and order a coffee and an antipasto platter before buying off-the-plan. Thirdi is a developer that has now opened two fully-functioning cafes adjoined to their display suites. Property website Domain writes an article featuring Thirdi’s cafes and an anecdote about a couple who mistook the space a regular café, fell in love with the place and bought off the plan several hours after their meal.

While it’s easy to dismiss the use of café culture to sell apartments as simply a sales trend, or a new marketing tactic, the increasing public-ness of display suites presents an interesting situation: a seemingly neutral forum where the value of an apartment is dictated by the seller. The home is not a dwelling here, but a product like the coffee, the prosecco or the antipasto. Other voices in this forum – the Engineer, the Architect, and alternative dictators of what is important when considering a dwelling - need only be ‘award-winning’, any further detail is just baggage. Perhaps architect-led developments like Nightingale could employ a public-like suite of their own? Advocating for architectural rigour instead of lifestyle? Would photos of attractive women eating salads be replaced by designs for barely-legal staircases? And glossy renders be replaced by diagrams of an effective thermal break?

In these spaces the public is carefully directed, the criteria for evaluating a home is dictated by the seller, and this is nothing new in sales-suites. While the criteria presented to the public may change from cost, to location, to lifestyle or another measure, when housing is treated as a commodity there is only one important component for the seller: the transaction.

Bonsoy as cultural capital - The product, the product popularised as a tattoo, the product as a background feature in cafe marketing.


Marston Bowen is a designer and casual academic at the UTS School of Architecture.