Posts tagged with "AGENCY Architecture":

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AGENCY uses deep research to push architectural boundaries

The Architectural League of New York’s Emerging Voices award and lecture series highlights individuals and firms with distinct design “voices”, singling out those with the potential to go on to even greater heights. 2018 saw two rounds of judging; first by a panel of past Emerging Voices winners, and a second to pick the winners. The first-round jury included Virginia San Fratello, Sebastian Schmaling, Wonne Ickx, Lola Sheppard, Marcelo Spina, Carlos Jimenez, and Marlon Blackwell, as well as members of the second-round jury, Sunil Bald, Lisa Gray, Stella Betts, Jing Liu, Paul Makovsky, Tom Phifer, Chris Reed, and Billie Tsien. AN originally profiled all of the emerging voices firms in our February print issue. AGENCY founders Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller will deliver their lecture on March 8, 2018, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. Ersela Kripa and Stephen Mueller started AGENCY to consider the margins of the world. “We use our architectural training to uncover the shrinking of individual agency in public space and the reduction of human rights or potential human rights violations,” Kripa said. Working out of El Paso, Texas, the pair deploys words, maps, wearables, and installations to uncover contradictions in liminal spaces like military training sites, refugee camps, and borders—especially the one between the United States and Mexico. The architects completed their first project as AGENCY in 2008. A decade later, the firm continues to be defined by deep research into contested urban spaces and humans’ relationships to environments, built and digital, that are increasingly designed to collect personal data and monitor people’s actions without their consent. Kripa and Mueller, both instructors at Texas Tech University College of Architecture – El Paso, wound up in the city after a research visit for their forthcoming book, Fronts: Security and the Developing World. They were studying military training environments, like Playas, New Mexico—a village of hundreds of empty homes the U.S. Department of Homeland Security uses for counter-terrorism training. Increasingly, these simulated spaces feature shantytowns and junkyards, informal typologies associated with the developing world. AGENCY, Mueller said, believes these are both a “preamble to where the U.S. military can engage in the future” as well as a reflection of state attitudes toward public space in the contemporary city. Along similar lines of inquiry, the duo writes "Border Dispatches," a series for AN that explores these and other expressions of militarism along the U.S.-Mexico border. These are worthy topics, but are they architecture? AGENCY believes its designs could not manifest without the deep research it conducts. “In our built work, we start with intensive research and problem identification, where we proactively uncover hidden or emerging realities that are just beneath the surface of contemporary urban space,” Mueller said. “We try to imagine a scenario that can be inflected by designed objects or spaces that have a discreet presence.” The approach is apparent in Selfie Wall – A Public Sphere for Private Data,¹ a subversion of the made-for-Instagram interiors that trend online. For El Paso’s annual art fair, Kripa and Mueller fashioned the ideal selfie sphere from 162 units of CNC-milled composite aluminum panels that diffuse soft LED light. The pair asked visitors to hashtag their photos from the installation so they could be collected and tracked. “People were very on board with hashtagging selfies so we could collect them,” Kripa said. “That was surprising.” AGENCY may remake Selfie Wall in Juarez, the Mexican city right across from El Paso, with an eye toward connecting people on both sides of the border. Design, they believe, can—and should—be deployed to control data, as well. For Delta Fabrics – Air Pollution Data Mapping,² a project executed during the 2017 Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture, the pair walked the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen with Arduino sensors to monitor air quality. The region’s air is cleaner than it was in the past, but it’s sometimes hard to tell what pollutants still linger, as the Chinese government often releases inaccurate data. To empower people with knowledge about the air they breathe, Kripa and Mueller are looking to mass-produce the sensors and distribute them to residents, who can then track air quality throughout their day. This should be a busy year for AGENCY. At home, Kripa and Mueller are working with a local entrepreneur to adaptively reuse a warehouse site, transforming it into a kitchen incubator and outdoor public market. Fronts is coming out this fall, and after that, the duo is scaling up the Delta Fabrics project. “We want to dive deeper into understanding how to democratize data so [people can] measure their own environment on their own, to take back agency a little bit,” Kripa said.

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¹ Selfie Wall – A Public Sphere for Private Data was commissioned by the El Paso Museums and Cultural Affairs Department

² Delta Fabrics – Air Pollution Data Mapping was a one-month residency in Shenzhen for New Cities Future Ruins with Future+ Aformal Academy and Handshake 302. The project was supported by Design Trust Hong Kong and Texas Tech College of Architecture as part of the 2017 Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture

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Inside the U.S. government’s simulated border patrol installations

AN has partnered with El Paso, Texas–based AGENCY to bring readers Border Dispatches, “an on-the-ground perspective from the United States-Mexico border.” Each month, the series explores a critical site or person shaping the mutable binational territory between the two neighboring countries. While architects commonly use mock-ups of custom elements, construction details, and assemblies to gain confidence over the future prospects of experimental endeavors, the national security complex amplifies this logic at a much larger scale: building entire mock infrastructures and city-scale installations to test and refine its operations, procedures, and footprint. Among the many replicas of critical infrastructure populating a growing number of law enforcement training sites in the United States, the port of entry (POE) is an increasingly common typology, used for training U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and related forces in the duties of facilitating and managing the various flows of people, vehicles, and goods which enter and leave the country. In the annals of security training, the port is an archetypal and enduring site, a frontline where the oft-competing interests of international commerce and national security collide. Since the establishment of the U.S. Customs Service School of Instruction at the Port of New York in 1935, ports have been a fertile testing ground for young customs officers and border agents to learn their crafts in situ, embedded amid the swirling complexities of life at the edge of sovereign territory. Interstate boundaries belie similar dynamics, with port-of-entry training a common feature of state patrol academies as well. Over the years, security officials have conducted tests to improve efficiency at mock ports of entry. In a multinational security experiment hosted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2004, participants from 18 countries worked through a debugging session for the use of e-Passports, document readers, and facial recognition devices in a makeshift simulated port in Morgantown, West Virginia. Fitting the artificially smooth, fictionalized setting, each participant held simulated travel documents from the nation of “Utopia.” Recently, this pre-collection and efficiency strategy has broadened its scope at operational ports to include the capture of Bluetooth wireless signals from travelers’ portable electronics, which the CBP gathers in order to—per official statements— issue wait-time updates to would-be travelers. The recent Laredo POE Mobile Query Pilot program distributed clearance operations to arriving busloads of simulated travelers, using “smartphones paired with a peripheral to perform document reading and biometrics capture.” With current projections focusing on further streamlining operations and securing territory “between ports of entry,” this extension of port security space continues to spread. Meanwhile, the security objectives of the port site itself have diversified and intensified, with a growing host of initiatives and technologies coming together under one roof. In the first week of September 2001, reflecting a growing dissatisfaction with what was seen as a fragmented operational environment at the nation’s ports, the U.S. Congress began requesting funding to build a port of entry training facility at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) site in Glynco, Georgia. In the following week, the attacks of 9/11 put all of the nation’s ports of entry at an elevated Level 1 alert. Shortly after, border security efforts were consolidated under the newly formed CBP. Officers at ports would be assigned new, broader security roles. The ports and their simulations would need to adapt. FLETC partnered with CBP to construct the mock port, integrating new security directives while building on a history of port simulation on site. As early as 1998, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was using mock stiles at the FLETC site to test systems for tracking foreign-visitor travel through ports of entry. Construction was completed in 2003. The 22,600-square-foot facility boasted “state-of-the-art computer systems” and “primary and secondary inspection points for pedestrian and vehicular traffic,” complete with license plate readers and radiation monitors to acquaint trainees with the layered logistics of port screenings. Since beginning operations, trainees have used the simulated environment for a wide range of practical exercises, conducting mock vehicle searches, training canine units for human detection, and simulating treasury enforcement operations with the use of role players and computer tracking. In 2007, it was common practice for trainees to enter the FLETC port simulation environment after initial training at their assigned real-world POE. In a kind of mirrored urbanism, their environmental awareness would be augmented and accelerated at the mock port, seen as a kind of interchangeable extension of and stand-in for any of the over 300 real-world sites, only for the trainees to return to their home posts for duty. The mock port has been somewhat of a calling card for FLETC and a focus around which other simulated developments continue to aggregate at the center. A 200-acre counterterrorism training environment including “rural and urban neighborhoods, buildings, and roadways” sprawls nearby. A former dormitory was converted to resemble a federal building for training. An intermodal site was built in the complex, where students train for emergencies interfacing with other forms of vulnerable infrastructure; buses, trains, aircraft, and subway systems dot the site. With an increase in demand for CBP port agents, a planning proposal in 2015 included increased training capacity at the mock port site, expanding “simulation areas and laboratory and practical exercise areas” for trainees. While the FLETC port site specializes in the required training for CBP port agents and other federal agencies, other simulated port environments expand the breadth of security training offerings, along with the types of sites and constituencies they engage. The HAMMER Federal Training Center in Richland, Washington, reportedly designed by the U.S. State Department, hosts a 1,000-square-foot mock port of entry, decked out with a “vehicle inspection pad, radiation portal monitors, and sealand cargo containers.” Training exercises here focus on law enforcement searches of containers for possible threats or smuggled material. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory uses “a series of mock port-of-entry configurations” to conduct mock-inspection exercises, anticipating and resolving emerging threats. PNNL works in concert with the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office to conduct studies in how to improve radiation-detection technologies and procedures to eliminate false positives and improve detection response. At times, it seems, the simulated environment cannot match the fidelity of its real-world counterpart, and training takes over operational port sites. Multiple agencies recently converged at the Ysleta POE, in El Paso, Texas, for hazardous material (HAZMAT) training simulation. Trainees responded to a mock battery-acid contamination scenario, in which three role-playing victims were affected by defective forklift batteries in transit on an 18-wheeler. CBP partnered with the DHS’s Office of Science and Technology to construct a mock air POE to test prototypes for biometric exiting strategies at airports in 2014. The experiments were later conducted in real-world airports. The Nogales Port of Entry has hosted a number of mock disasters and counterterrorism drills, including at least one role-playing suicide bomber. Since 2014, the CBP has been authorized to partner with private-sector interests to construct and improve POEs. The federal agency is allowed now to accept donated real estate to construct or expand its operations at ports, in a bid to expedite the retooling of this critical security infrastructure. The architectural and operational experiments conducted in the nation’s parallel network of simulated port urbanisms prevision this next generation of border stations. We imagine these new sites will be a different kind of test-bed—where real estate speculation and commercialization of the port as commodity will create a new layer of managerial complexity at our nation’s borders.
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This “Selfie Wall” explores the limits of personal data privacy

On January 3, 2017, El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juarez, Mexico-based AGENCY Architecture took advantage of the selfie phenomenon, transforming a public park with a temporary installation and data privacy experiment dubbed the SELFIE WALL. AGENCY describes its practice as engaging contemporary culture through architecture, urbanism, and advocacy. By uncovering whether photo data remains private, SELFIE WALL aims to address concerns about how personal selfie culture really is. Thanks to metadata, a picture may really be worth a thousand words. According to AGENCY, selfies are a resource for third-party data-crunchers who use facial and pattern recognition software to extract identity and mood. Metadata is embedded in the photo file, social network post protocols, mobile device settings, and user-generated content, jeopardizing every selfie-taker’s individual data privacy. Located in El Paso/Ciudad Juarez (what AGENCY calls a "binational metropolitan region"), SELFIE WALL provided the ideal lighting and visual interest (a perfect selfie stage) to explore these issues. 162 custom-fabricated units and CNC-milled composite aluminum panels were folded to become surfaces for bouncing, scattering, and collecting light. Its rigid, multifaceted structure mimics stage lighting and the photo umbrellas used in portrait photography, film, and vanities. SELFIE WALL allowed for different lighting conditions for day and night, with LED lights providing different color temperatures for nighttime self-portraits. AGENCY is following up the installation, analyzing metadata from SELFIE WALL selfies uploaded to Twitter and Instagram that have an event-specific hashtag.