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Atari Does What Nintendon't

The first Atari Hotel will break ground in Phoenix later this year
The burgeoning “corporate gimmick hotel” space is expanding even further, as gaming company Atari announced that it would be opening eight gaming hotels across the U.S., with the first set to break ground in Phoenix this spring. Atari has partnered with GSD Group, who will develop and design the hotels, and local Phoenix developer True North Studio to realize the first building. Although no concrete details have been released on the number of rooms or height of the first hotel, GSD Group has promised a suite of gaming-related amenities. That includes augmented reality and virtual reality integration and video game-themed branding (one assumes this means Atari's games)—selected locations will also include production studios and esports venues. Design-wise, it looks like GSD Group is banking on nostalgia, similar to the reportedly troubled Atari VCS retro console the company was crowdfunding for on Kickstarter. Atari’s swooping, triple-pronged logo will wrap the otherwise boxy first hotel, and from the rendering, it appears the bands will light up and give the project a “modded PC case” feel. “When creating this brand-new hotel concept, we knew that Atari would be the perfect way to give guests the ‘nostalgic and retro meets modern’ look and feel we were going for. Let’s face it, how cool will it be to stay inside an Atari?!” said Napoleon Smith III, partner at GSD Group, in a press release. The pivot towards hospitality and esports might seem like a strange choice for a company better known for Space Invaders, but experience spaces have become major growth areas lately; the aforementioned Taco Bell hotel, or any of the numerous Legolands, can attest to that. More Atari Hotels have been planned for “Las Vegas, Denver, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco, and San Jose” according to Atari and GSD Group.
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NEW SPACES, NEW MEXICO

Nonprofit Vital Spaces converts Santa Fe's empty buildings into art spaces
Vital Spaces, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico is dedicated to the adaptive reuse of local vacant buildings into spaces for art events, exhibitions, and studios. Local real estate investor Jonathan Boyd was inspired to establish Vital Spaces after observing the city's overwhelming number of empty spaces, high rent, and underrepresentation of the area's younger and Native artists. "We see the lack of affordable spaces in Santa Fe as the biggest threat to sustaining a diverse cultural environment," the organization's website claims. In 2017, Boyd had several productive meetings with the organizers of Chashama, a similarly-minded organization based in New York City founded by actress Anita Durst that has secured over one million square feet for local artists. Since moving into a downtown property in Santa Fe in March of last year and establishing a midtown exhibition space shortly thereafter, Vital Spaces has made a significant presence within the local art community in a remarkably short amount of time. But its biggest breakthrough came this month after signing the lease to the campus of the former Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and the College of Santa Fe. The 64-acre campus, which includes a series of interconnected buildings designed by famed Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta, has been sitting empty since May 2018, following the university's closure. This gave Boyd time to consider how the campus could become Vital Spaces' most significant contribution to the local art scene yet. Currently, the organization has plans to use the campus in-part to one day provide four- to-six art studio spaces and a large exhibition area, with the hopes of bringing in other organizations to curate shows and propose a wide range of uses for the site. Until the campus project is finalized, however, Vital Spaces will continue to focus its energy on the city's smaller vacant properties, starting this Fall with the use of vacant storefronts throughout downtown Santa Fe as displays for the work of local artists. "When we give artists space," reads Vital Spaces' mission statement, "we breathe life into our communities with innovative artistic programming that inspires Santa Feans of all ages and backgrounds; we bring economic vitality to those communities; we raise Santa Fe’s profile on the national art stage."
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DAM FLEXIBLE

OMA reveals new gallery spaces and studio for Denver Art Museum
The New York office of international architecture firm OMA, led by Shohei Shigematsu, has designed new gallery spaces and a design studio within the recently renovated Martin Building, designed in 1971 by Italian architect Gio Ponti in Denver. The gallery spaces and design studio are part of the renovation of the Martin Building and overall campus reunification project for the Denver Art Museum (DAM) led by Machado Silvetti and Denver’s Fentress Architects that began in 2016, adding nearly 10,000 square feet of additional gallery space to the museum's sprawling footprint. “It is exciting to design a new space within the historic Gio Ponti building,” wrote Shigematsu in a press statement, “and draw from his extensive, multi-faceted design philosophy.” Much like the firm's design for the gallery spaces within Sotheby's New York headquarters, OMA's approach to the DAM is primarily a spatial one, laden with subtle material and performative choices throughout. Machado Silvetti's horizontal bisection of the museum's original Stanton Gallery gave OMA significantly more room to create three distinct spaces—the Joanne Posner-Mayer Mezzanine Gallery, the Amanda J. Precourt Design Galleries, and the Ellen Bruss Design Studio—that will house DAM’s vast architecture and design collection of over 19,000 works. The galleries will be composed of modular platforms to accommodate the museum's wide scalar range of design objects. The design makes many subtle references to the exuberant detailing of the building that contains it, including the floating planes of the Mezzanine Gallery, the built-in shelving in the Design Studio recalls Ponti's lively furniture designs, as do the playful use of mirrored surfaces throughout. Additionally, the Design Studio will be made up of hinged walls that can be rearranged to transform the room into a wide range of programs that, according to Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director of the DAM, will offer visitors an opportunity to consider the potential of “design-based creativity.” The new spaces will be unveiled on June 6 in coordination with two inaugural exhibitions, By Design: Stories and Ideas Behind Objects and Gio Ponti: Designer of a Thousand Talentsboth of which have also been designed by OMA. The project reflects OMA's second collaboration with the DAM—the first being their exhibition design for Dior: From Paris to the World that was held in the main museum building in winter of 2018.
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Owe'neh Bupingeh

Ohkay Owingeh tribe restores a historic central village in New Mexico

Thirty miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, Owe’neh Bupingeh, the central village of Ohkay Owingeh, has been the home of one of the 19 federally recognized Pueblo tribes in New Mexico for over 700 years. The village is organized around a series of plazas where hundreds of homes once stood. Although Owe’neh Bupingeh remains a vital cultural center of the Ohkay Owingeh tribe, only a small fraction of these homes survive today. Also containing important historic relics such as ancient homes and a 19th-century chapel, the area was in dire need of preservation and repair work to ensure deteriorated homes became inhabitable again. 

A plan by Philadelphia and Santa Fe–based Atkin Olshin Schade Architects simultaneously restores the area to its original form while providing quality housing within existing and new buildings. Based on the preservation values of the Ohkay Owingeh tribe, the plan was developed in close collaboration with tribal elders—oral histories played a major role in conceiving the future of the space. Thirty-four homes have been renewed so far as part of the ongoing project with grant funding from the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

The preservation work is as much a community education effort as it is an architectural project. Training Pueblo students and residents in GIS and adobe construction ensures the longevity of Owe'neh Bupingeh while bringing quality homes and spaces to the local residents.
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Set in Stone

An interview with archaeoacoustician Steven J. Waller

Steven J. Waller practices archaeoacoustics, an emergent subdiscipline of archaeology that studies the sonic dimension of archaeological sites, including a location’s capacity to produce resonance. Waller’s research focuses on rock art. He was the first to theorize that echo, when interpreted by ancient people as spirit beings living in rock, was a motivational factor in rock art image placement. In preceding a science of acoustics, rock art, in Waller’s conception, begins to function as a tool for phonetic transcription or proto-recording, pointing toward the ability of materials to talk back to us—if only we listen.

Emma McCormick-Goodhart: What are the prevalent architectonic and sonic characteristics of rock art sites in the American Southwest?

Steven J. Waller: Much of the rock art in the Southwest is sited in canyons and on cliff faces, rather than in deep caves. A canyon is almost like a cave without a roof on it. Sound still bounces around; it’s just that in deep caves, it’s much more reverberant or resonant. Reverberation is like a thunderous sound, whereas in shallow shelters—canyons or cliff faces—it’s more like a distinct echo that speaks back to you, sometimes with multiple repeats. Shelters are interesting, because they can act like a parabolic reflector, just as antennae dishes focus sound and help to magnify it. There’s a place in Chaco Canyon [in northwestern New Mexico] called Tse'Biinaholts'a Yałti (Curved Rock That Speaks). An artificial mound was built at the focal point of this curved cliff face, and you can actually get an echo that’s louder than the original sound, because it focuses it. There’s a legend associated with a spirit being that’s in the rock. In fact, there’s a whole mythology about portals that open up into a spirit world. Sound reflection helps to give that illusion. It’s like when you look in the mirror, you look in the mirror—and sound reflection gives that same illusion of depth. Even though you can see the rockface, what you’re hearing is depth, as if there’s something beyond there: a chamber or something, where spirits are living. It’s an interesting illusion of space. In the Great Gallery at Horseshoe Canyon [in northern Utah], for instance, it’s like the paintings speak back to you. Sound reflection, as a general phenomenon, would have been inexplicable to ancient people—whether it was a distinct repeat, or a reverberation that blurs together like thunder—because they didn’t know about sound waves. Instead, they had a supernatural explanation for this phenomenon. Hearing it as communication with the spirit world, they sought these spirits deep in caves or way up on cliffs, where sound appears to come from.

How did you “hear your way” into this theory?

I don’t think that it was a Flintstone kind of sound system for their music; I think that it was spiritual. I made my discovery, by accident, at the cave of Bédeilhac, in France. I was standing outside of the cave, waiting for my wife to get a sweater from the car, and I asked myself, if I were a caveman, why would I go deep inside the cave? Why would I only decorate certain chambers? Why would I only depict certain things—and what was taking her so long? I yelled, “Hey, Pat,” and the cave spoke back. My subconscious heard that echo not as an echo, but as a voice speaking back—and I instantly remembered learning about the legends of echo spirits that live in the rock. My subconscious realized ancient people would’ve heard it like an echo spirit calling back to them, calling them into the cave. That was in 1986, and I’ve been going to as many caves and canyons as I can ever since to test my hypothesis about the correspondence of sound and rock art. The more places I go to, the more I hear it.

You argue for the preservation of soundscapes at sites of rock art. Can you elaborate what’s at stake in facsimile production?

It’s a natural offshoot of my theory: the realization that a rock art site is not simply the panel of images, but also the experience of the sound environment around it, which is, I think, what inspired the rock art. There’s effort dedicated to documenting and “preserving” rock art, which to me means keeping the original, but to a lot of people means making copies. They’ll spend months recording every stroke, yet they make no effort to document or study the sound. I think that if they’re making a facsimile or replica and they want people to have a realistic experience, it has to include sound—it has to be audiovisual—or it’s going to be misleading. Lascaux II is completely misleading—it might as well be your living room. The sound is dead. They gave no thought to acoustics at all, even though millions were spent reproducing the shape of the cave to the centimeter, and art to the brushstroke. It also doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical replica of the cave; this can be accomplished with virtual reality.

What might explain this recurring sonic omission?

I think that it’s twofold, at least. One is that we, as modern people, know about sound waves and reflections. We know what an echo is, so it’s trivialized. It’s such a contrast to how echoes were viewed in the past as spiritual phenomena, revered to the point of worship. There are legends around seeking echo, like the Acoma migration story. They would go to places and test for echo, and if the echo was no good, then they would move on. The legend describes a place just to the east of Acoma, where they found the perfect echo. The land area of the Acoma tribe has the Petroglyph National Monument [outside Albuquerque, New Mexico] at its eastern boundary, and it is one of the strongest echoes I’ve ever recorded. There’s also another myth: “The white man calls it an echo; these are witches that live in snakeskin and inhabit sheep. That’s where the echo spirit lives.” Some legends don’t call it an echo, but a “talking rock.” The other thing is that the very name of the thing that we’re studying is rock art, so the attention is focused on the “art,” or the visual. I think it’s more interactive and audiovisual, because of the evidence I’ve collected showing the correspondence between locations that were selected and their sound reflective intensity—so it seems like they purposely chose places with the best echo and reverberation. I don’t think that the art was an afterthought, but an auxiliary part of the ritual.

You’ve written about the percussivity of stone tool production as another source for interpretative “mishearing.”

When you’re flint knapping and making stone tools, those percussion noises—when they echo back—sound like hoofbeats. That’s why certain engravings are of hooved animals. They might’ve even purposefully chosen places like that to make their stone tools, thinking that it might endow tools with magical qualities reinforced by spirits. You could also speculate that that’s how they discovered making tools; that they were banging rocks together to make echoes, and some of them happened to break. Some people have been looking at the tonal quality of some of these blades. It makes you wonder how much sound impact was important for stone toolmaking.

Sound is still physically measurable in rock art sites. Sound doesn’t fossilize, per se, but might it be useful to think of sound as a living fossil layer—a form of what UNESCO would term “intangible heritage”?

That’s an interesting way of looking at it, because it’s not that the sound itself can still be heard, but that the structure of the place—the characteristics of the rock, and the shape—still produces the same phenomenon as it did then. Any effects of erosion add statistical noise or statistical uncertainty, but I think that most of these places are spatially similar enough now to how they were in the past that you can figure the sound is going to be quite similar. You’re not hearing the same airwaves as our ancestors, but the same acoustic response. I try to apply my scientific methodology and hypothesis testing as a basis for arguing for the conservation of soundscapes in order to study rock art not just with our eyes, but with our ears, too.

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Santa Came Early

Santa Fe live-work complex offers artists affordable housing amid critical shortage
Santa Fe’s housing shortage has reached critical levels in recent years, prompting comments that “the fabric of the community is weakened as precious resources—people’s time, energy, and money—are drawn away by housing costs or long commutes,” according to the Santa Fe New Mexican. With an estimated 5,000- to-10,000 additional housing units needed to ease the crisis, a debate has emerged over the market’s shift in focus toward short-term rentals and Airbnb listings rather than affordable long-term rentals. Siler Yard: Arts + Creativity Center hopes to be a small-but-mighty part of the solution by offering income-restricted living and working space for 65 artists. Planning for Siler Yard began in 2012 when Creative Santa Fe, an organization dedicated to “using collaboration and the power of the arts to reframe critical issues and drive positive change,” reached out to the nonprofit developer Artspace regarding the plausibility of creating an affordable living and working complex for Santa Fe artists. Over the next several years, the team commissioned designs by Atkin Olshin Schade Architects, Trey Jordan Architecture, da Silva Architecture, and Surroundings Studio. Most recently, the project was awarded a $10.4 million low-income housing tax credit from the State of New Mexico, officially launching the neighborhood into construction. Siler Yard will welcome applications from anyone who shows passion and commitment to creative pursuits. Applicants do not need to receive their primary income from creative work, and Siler Yards plans to include a variety of creatives, including musicians, writers, chefs, and designers. The units are capped in incremental amounts that will cater to mostly low- and very low-income residents, and more than half will include two or three bedrooms for families with children. In addition to the private units, the complex will include a shared maker space with specialized resources and space to host community workshops and classes. The project, overseen by nonprofit developers Creative Santa Fe and New Mexico Interfaith Housing, expects to break ground in spring 2020 with the full build-out completed sometime in summer 2021.
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Shoots & Ladders

Perkins + Will creates a playful workplace for e-commerce startup Spreetail
Solidifying their place in Austin's tech-savvy landscape even further, Perkins + Will has just completed a multi-story headquarters for edgy e-commerce company Spreetail. Transforming a former bar in a historic, dare we say picturesque, building along one of the Texan city's main drags, the firm helped brand the startup with a colorful scheme that appears to be bursting from within its brickwork shell. Such aesthetic contrast makes it so that the project's facade resembles a Shoots and Ladder board; certainly to the delight of any child obsessed with building scenario games. And yet the firm's goal was to create a dynamic design that could facilitate a rapidly-growing company, not just a group of local aesthetes concerned with the alternative city's curb appeal. Inside, a playful matrix of workplaces, break out zones, and amenities underscores the young brand's values. The reception area boasts a neon Spreetail sign and colored graphics, with a wooden architectural sculptured ceiling making a statement. A lounge, mezzanine, and all-hands area greet employees immediately following the reception area, all prominently featuring the company's signature hues: turquoise, aqua, and coral. This engaging theme plays well off of the building's raw industrial core. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
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Cross(crete)

Specht Architects combines the local with the architectural for the Carpenter Hotel
A mish-mash of buildings in one of the last pockets of Old Austin has been transformed into The Carpenter Hotel by local and New York-based architecture firm Specht Architects. The hotel not only incorporates a great mid-century union hall from 1949 but is located in what was once a small industrial area and before that a pecan grove,” founding principal Scott Specht said. The compound surrounds a tree-shaded courtyard and pool and houses a restaurant, cafe, event pavilion, and a new hotel building with 93 guest rooms. Made of an exposed cast-in-place, concrete frame, the project is composed of “some classic and unseen Texas materials,” Specht explained, “such as hollow clay structural blocks and decommissioned steel oil drill pipes.” It’s exactly Specht Architects’ propensity to work with locally sourced elements and raw materials that attracted to call upon the firm for this unique project. Yet, the client-architect relationship was not completely straightforward, Specht told AN Interior. Read the full article on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.
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Playskool-chic

Paul Andersen’s new Colorado campus rethinks the industrial business park
Paul Andersen’s new space for makers, entrepreneurs, and retailers is now complete in Frederick, Colorado, and provides a new take on what it means to design industrial office space. Responding to the changing landscape of retail, work, and the city, Emerald Workshops was designed to establish a new typology of workspaces focused on engaging the community as much as it engages the economy.  The development consists of eight buildings with a total of 56 customizable units. With 26-foot-high ceilings that can accommodate large equipment or even a mezzanine level, the space is suitable for a variety of purposes and tenants throughout. So far an architecture firm, mobility retailer, cross-fit gym, and textile artisans have quickly taken up residence on the campus.  The spaces themselves feature large windows and operable glass garage doors to reflect the values of transparency and social interaction. The parking lot, a large, planar design element often bogged down by a single use, has been filled with planters, seating, and lighting to encourage outdoor work as well.  Located twenty minutes from Denver, Boulder, and Fort Collins, one goal of the complex was to “bridge the gap between urban main street and spacious rural landscape,” according to a press release. “The buildings are a new take on Colorado’s historic architecture. They combine the false front commercial architecture of the Old West with industrial construction that has been common since the 1960s,” explained Andersen. The exterior features a graphic, contemporary shingling that brings to mind Playskool toy homes almost as much as the Old West vernacular, especially when contrasted with the grey brick "outlining" present across each building and undulating roof lines. “We selected materials for their timelessness, durability, and clean details—in the buildings and the surrounding landscape,” Andersen explained, “The effect of our design approach is to strike a balance between familiar and new architecture, to make a place that is deeply connected to our region and, in its own subtle way, unlike any other commercial project.”  Phase one of the campus is now complete, and all of the units have been leased. Phase two is currently under construction with the expected completion of the entire project scheduled for May 2020.
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Paleolithic Pains

Scottsdale’s oldest, Pueblo-revival style strip mall is being demolished
“It was a peculiar and visionary time, those years after World War II to which all the Malls and Towns and Dales stood as climate-controlled monuments,” Joan Didion wrote in her iconic 1979 treatise on Californian culture, The White Album. “The frontier had been reinvented... that new free land on which all settlers could recast their lives tabula rasa.”  Didion romantically reflected on the rituals of the freeway, the immediate gratification of the rising strip mall, as well as the architects who built them who she claimed: “Staked the past to seize the future.” Today, few typologies more accurately represent the promises and shortcomings of suburban life, its perils made clear as towns across America continue to witness the “death” of their local shopping mall. The demolition of Scottsdale, Arizona's oldest strip mall, Papago Plaza, and its replacement with a massive, mixed-use redevelopment, shows that this death is perhaps more akin to an evolution.  Vacant for years, demolition of the pink stucco strip began December 5, where Lee Mashburn of Pivot Development spoke at a ceremony that marked the beginning of the next phase of the site. “We’re not developing a strip center,” he said at the groundbreaking according to a local news network, “we’re developing a sense of place and I’m proud of that.”  The adobe-style landmark, Papago Plaza, was built in 1962 and originally named Frontier Town Plaza. In an attempt to stay true to regional architectural heritage, the plaza changed its name while simultaneously undergoing a Pueblo-revival style renovation in 1988. The term, Papago, is now an obsolete name given to the indigenous Tohono O’odham people by Spanish colonizers—it has since been rejected by the tribe. The redevelopment will keep the name in remembrance of the original strip. “Keeping the name was important to tell the legacy of the project. You gotta respect that. It’s been here for 60 years,” said Mashburn.  The $100 million redevelopment will consist of a 118-room Marriott hotel, more than 270 apartments developed by Alliance Residential, restaurants, retail, and an Aldi grocery store. It would be a stretch to call it adaptive reuse, though some have, but the developers plan to repurpose a few of the strip’s elements such as the kachina on the sign and the original wood beams. The new center will also feature murals, gathering areas for events, and a park with a water feature. Construction of the first phase retail center is expected to be completed in the fall of 2020. The hotel, apartments, and grocery store will follow.  Aesthetically, the redesign couldn’t be any different from the original mall, as the ethos of the American roadside establishment has faded—exchanging parking lots for 120,000 square foot garages, novelty gift shops for accessible green space, and suburbs for multi-level apartment buildings. And while it is certainly emblematic of good ole’ Americana, some residents could care less about the strip's demise. Local journalist Peter Corbett tweeted, “Good riddance to Papago Plaza. It's a stretch to call it iconic... the architecture was a mashup of Flintstone's Bedrock City and faux Pueblo style." But as Didion said, when it comes to the retail experience, frontiers will continue to be reinvented, sometimes at the expense of history and sometimes at the expense of pure nostalgia. See below for a video tour of the historic Papago Plaza before demolition:
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ACADIA

ACADIA 2019 showcased the state of digital design
The presentations and activities at this year’s ACADIA (Association for Computer Aided Design in Architecture) conference gave attendees a glimpse of potentially disruptive technologies and workflows for computational architectural production. The conference was held this year in Austin from October 24 through 26 and was organized by The University of Texas School of Architecture faculty members Kory Bieg, Danelle Briscoe, and Clay Odom. The organizers collected papers, workshops, and projects addressing the theme of “Ubiquity and Autonomy” in computation. Contributors reflected on the state of architectural production, in which digital tools and methodologies developed in the boutique, specialized settings at the fringes of the profession a generation ago have now become commonplace in architectural offices—while at the same time, new forms of specialist computational practices are emerging which may themselves soon become mainstream. While each participant grappled to position themselves in the cyclical and ever-advancing framework of technological inheritance and transference, the most encouraging efforts can be described in three categories: Expansions, subversions, and wholesale disruptions of the computational status quo. The expansionists claimed new technological territories, enlisting emerging and peripheral technologies to their purposes. The subvertors sampled the work and scrambled the workflows of their predecessors, configuring novel material applications in the process. Disruptors actively sought to break the techno-positivist cycle, questioning the assumptions, ethics, and values of previous generations to leverage computational design and digital processes to advance pressing and prescient political, economic, and ecological agendas. Expansionists appropriated bleeding-edge technologies, or those newly introduced to the discipline, to stake new terrain in design and construction. The conference was the first of its kind to host a dedicated session on the use of Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) in design. This machine-learning system pits two forms of artificial intelligence against each other—one AI acts as the creative “artist,” generating all the possible solutions to a given task, while the other acts as the “critic,” selectively editing and curating the most appropriate responses. After training the networks on archives of architectural imagery, panelists put the GANs to work on evaluative and generative design tasks, alternately generating passably authentic floor plans, building envelopes, and reconstructed streetscapes. The workshop sessions, hosted by a suite of computational research teams from several architectural offices, demonstrated possibilities for adopting emerging technologies with familiar platforms, adopting and adapting tools like Fologram and Hololens to more familiar software platforms and fabrication methods. The subvertors, familiar with the expected uses and applications of given tools, would offer intentionally contradictory alternatives, short-circuiting established workflows and celebrating the unintended consequences of digitally enhanced platforms. A project from MIT researchers Lavender Tessmer, Yijiang Huang, and Caitlin Mueller entitled “Additive Casting of Mass-Customizable Brick” is a good example of the subvertors’ approach to interrogating workflows, enlisting precision-equipment for low-fidelity effect. As the current state-of-the-art in custom concrete formwork employs costly and time-consuming workflows to task CNC routers or robotic arms with milling, the MIT project is a critical alternative. Instead of shaping the mold, the project mobilizes the mold, achieving a wide variety of sculptural concrete “bricks” using standard cylindrical forms wielded by a robotic arm, while leveraging the ability of liquid concrete to self-level. The molds are shifted to preset positions while the concrete sets, allowing the sequential states of self-leveled concrete to intersect in complex geometries. The process is surprisingly delightful to watch, as the robot controls seven molds simultaneously like a drummer with a drumkit. The unexpected combination of high- and low-tech recalibrates possibilities for the robotic craft. Other researchers swapped out expected materials to produce unexpected results. Vasily Sitnikov (KTH) and Peter Eigenraam (TU Delft) teamed with BuroHappold to produce IceFormwork, a project that uses milled blocks of ice as the unlikely forms for casting high-performance fiber-reinforced concrete. Ice, the team argued, is a preferred, environmentally neutral alternative to industry-standard EPS foam molds, which produce a vast amount of waste. Ice molds, the team demonstrated, are easy enough to make (with some help from a reliable water source and a repurposed refrigerated ISO container). Airborne particles suspended by the ice-milling process are harmless water vapor, unlike the dangerous foam dust requiring ventilation equipment and other protective measures. When it comes to de-molding, the ice can simply be left outside to melt. While these investigations showcased new ways to hack the assembly process of cast building elements, their choice of concrete as a material contradicted a growing consensus in the panels; that designers should actively seek alternatives to the glut of concrete in the building industry, given the high ecological cost and high carbon footprint of concrete manufacturing in the context of an accelerating global sand shortage. Daniela Mitterberger and Tiziano Derme (MAEID/University of Innsbruck) offered one of the more radical alternatives with their project “Soil 3D Printing.” The team is using hydrogels—non-toxic, biodegradable adhesives—as binding agents injected into loose soil, to form alien landscapes of networked, earthen structures that portend a near-future where biocompatible, organic additive manufacturing processes restructure geotechnical landscapes and planetary geology. The provocations of the disruptors—who radically repurpose computational tools beyond perceived disciplinary constraints—raised profound questions about the potential for design technologies to enable and enact larger societal transformations by lining up global supply chains, material economies, and non-human constituencies squarely in their sights. Jose Sanchez (Plethora Project/Bloom Games/USC), in the presentation he gave while accepting the Innovative Research Award, presented his work leveraging computation and game design to critically examine and transform economic and ecologic realities. Sanchez has developed a series of game environments which force players to navigate wicked problems in contemporary cities, to confront the complexities, contradictions, and paradoxes of urbanization, logistics, and manufacturing. Sanchez described the continued focus in his work on efforts to "optimize for the many"—as opposed to the few—in a period of increased economic inequality, re-assessing the predominant use of digital technologies over the past few decades to enable complex mass-customized assemblies. Sanchez, in his own work, and in projects like Bloom with Alisa Andrasek (Biothing/Bloom Games/RMIT), has been exploring the potential of digital technologies to disrupt mass-production models through high-volume production of serialized and standardized “discrete” architectural components. In a similar vein, Gilles Retsin (UCL/Bartlett) argued for a reconsideration of the labor practices and digital economies enmeshed in, and implicitly supported by,  a building industry that has not yet come to terms with automation. By focusing on the ability of digital tools to combat material waste, Retsin argued, a generation of digitally savvy architects have ignored the potential of automation to address wasted labor. Through speculative research and small projects, Retsin is hoping to disrupt the building industry, increasing the capacity of architects to design and implement new platforms for project delivery which can combat exploitative practices. As expansionists pointed out where to look for the next big advancement, subvertors demonstrated how existing tools could be used differently. Disruptors were some of the few to ask—and answer—why. Stephen Mueller is a founding partner of AGENCY and a Research Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University College of Architecture in El Paso.
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Lights in the Sky

Border Tuner reaches over the U.S.–Mexico border to facilitate dialogue
The divisiveness of the U.S.-Mexico border wall’s construction in recent years has prompted members of the creative community to develop public protest art in response. Consider, in the last year alone, the bright pink seesaws Ronald Rael installed through the brown steel slats between Ciudad Juárez and New Mexico’s Sunland Park, or the Golden Wall fencing “prototype” New World Design proposed outside of the president’s Mar-a-Lago compound and golf course in Florida. The newest in the genre is a light installation erected by artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer that, much like Rael’s seesaws in particular, aims to bridge communication where the U.S. government strove to disrupt it. The installation, Border Tuner, placed spotlights on either side of the border of El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, for members of either city to operate. Attached to each spotlight was a microphone in which visitors were encouraged to voice their thoughts and, when the lights intersected in the sky over the border wall, a two-way channel of communication was opened, allowing the two to hear each other’s voices over loudspeakers. The intensity of the light beams was determined by the voices of participants, illuminating the divided sky by the cadence of vocal expression. For those who couldn't visit either site in person, they could have sent send pre-recorded messages online and watched the event take place on a livestream. Each night of the installation began with performances by local activists, artists, historians, and others whose indigenous voices confirmed the importance of communication in the globalized present against the suppressive agents that divide it. A physical wall may drive a wedge between cultures on the ground, but it can’t control what happens in the sky above it. "The idea that the artwork takes place above that wall to me is symbolically important because it's almost like you're trying to ignore it," said Lozano-Hemmer. "You're trying to say we still share the atmosphere." Though Border Tuner closed to the public on November 24 after opening on November 13, there will certainly be other installations to replace it as artists continue to explore the shared culture of the communities on either side of the border.