May 192016
 

20160515_154247

A small back-page article for the Western Australian The Architect Autumn edition. It concerns the latest Star Wars installment and a sample of the architecture, or rather the space architecture, found within its fictional universe and the ubiquitousness that has been bestowed upon it, that has seen it aligned to other filmic devices. Pick up a copy at all good outlets…? There are also some excellent pieces of writing to be found within its pages.

 May 19, 2016
Jan 292016
 

A NOSTALGIA PRODUCING INSTRUMENT. A LANDMARK FOR SPACE.

Outer space begins a few hundred kilometres perpendicular to the Earth’s surface. There have been various gateways to this infinity, the most celebrated of which is Cape Canaveral, located near the centre of Florida’s Atlantic coastline. Nestled here within the Kennedy Space Centre (KSC) are two launch pads that have been responsible for supporting countless launches.

In the excursus of Collage City entitled Nostalgia-producing instruments, Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter include two photographs of the KSC launch complex structures. The authors pose the question, ‘Why should we be obliged to prefer a nostalgia for the future to that for the past?’[1] The launch-centered buildings invite the nostalgia of a golden age of space travel when these structures represented a gateway to space and the future.

Launch pads 39A and 39B stand out on the low Florida coastline, piercing the blue horizon as they sit atop a futuristic hill-fort. From a distance they could be mistaken as the skeletal remains of Hans Hollein’s aircraft carrier’s run aground inland, perhaps in the process of being broken down as often happens to ships amongst the low-tides of Chittagong’s ship-breaking yards in Bangladesh. The structure is so impenetrably dense that any human scaled element is lost amongst it; analogous to the insignificance of man set against the inky black infinity of space. But these dense expressions of structure are not being dismantled nor are they lying dormant. After more than fifty years of service they continue to operate as a fundamental component to the launch facility, being modified and repurposed to accept continually advancing launch systems technology.

The two launch pads are linked to the cavernous VAB via pathways topped with a layer of spark-resistant river stone. This gauntlet is run at a deliberately unhurried pace by the crawler transporter; a moveable element of the launch pads that as well as providing a plinth with which to stand the launch system atop, is responsible for the delivery of the rocket to the launch pad proper. Decades of use has seen rockets scorch the fire trench that is used to control and direct the blast over water. Bricks lining the fire trench walls are often shot kilometres away from the launch pad due to the incredible forces at play. These bricks bear an indelible patina, the mark of a sublime event whose forces you can conjure as your hands run over them.

Man no longer frequents the Moon, though has left some evidence; Skylab has since burnt up on re-entry; the International Space Station will certainly suffer a similar fate. Space it seems is no suitable place for a landmark to celebrate mankind’s ultimate endeavour (although Lebbeus Woods’ Einstein’s Tomb would tend to make a case for its viability). All that remains and will remain in the wake of such historically significant events are two hulking launch pads that continue to endure a solemn, dutiful service here on Earth.

 

List of Illustrations

image a – Launch pad 39A (2012), the author’s image.

image b – Launch pad 39A (2012), the author’s image.

[1] Colin Rowe and Fred Koetter, Collage City (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1978), 173.

image a image b

 January 29, 2016
Jan 292016
 

2014-06-02 09.58.30

The Venice Architecture Biennale 2014 – Craig McCormack

The idea of an Unbuilt Australia existed prior to the release of the biennale’s theme of Modernity 1914-2014. Such is the nature of the idea; it was a simple enough task to realign it to its new thematic home. We always liked the idea of presenting architecture that never made the cut. It tells a more compelling story in most cases. It’s like someone who dies to soon; they remain that way forever, an unrealistic and uncompromising edition. And so Unbuilt Australia grew the suffix of 1914 – 2014 once the theme had been determined. Our local team of Rene Van Meeuwen, Simon Anderson, Sophie Giles, Matt Delroy-Carr, and I had grown to include Melbournian Philip Goad to dilute the western waters and add his talent to the pool. We journeyed eastward to convince the powers that be of the AR technology we were intent on using. This led to institute members walking around Bradfield Park inside an augmented reality pavilion we had geo-positioned there, from Perth.

Twenty three projects in all were chosen, selected to represent an alternative narrative to Australia’s modernity, including the at-the-time-incomplete Denton Corker Marshall pavilion. Eleven temporary projects were determined by voting through the institute with final choice determined by the creative directors and eleven historic projects were selected by Goad and Anderson. We knew we couldn’t please everybody and I’m pretty certain that we didn’t. Once the projects had been determined work commenced in earnest on digitising all of the selected projects and designing the accompanying catalogue. Including the creative directors, students that toiled on the augmented reality models, and contributors for the accompanying catalogue, numbers totalled roughly 140. This process required a patience I am still yet to manifest. But I can feign it convincingly now.

Situated across the canal from the new Australian pavilion in a sunken courtyard (a site that was fought for) bordered by Greece, Romania, Poland, and Brazil, the pavilion served as an information centre and fixed exhibition site. The ‘Orange Cloud’ was designed as the frontispiece for the exhibition; the tangible element, a physical pavilion. Having worked as a volunteer at the pavilion for a short stint during winter, a roof over my head and a seat to recline on were very welcome, even though the orange, translucent material made all that entered look like an ‘oompa loompa’. Manufactured in Perth, by two different contractors, with completion due three months prior to the opening of the Biennale (due to shipping times), we crossed our collective fingers for its successful construction in Venice as we simply ran out of time to do a test run in Perth prior to it leaving.

The construction was regularly frustrating, involving more often than not, the tracking down of something so common to Bunnings but rarer than rocking horse shit in Venezia. It seems a universally acknowledged fact within the Biennale that all will not go as planned. Making friends with all of your neighbours is a wise course of action that is necessary for the completion of most pavilions, it would seem.

The real achievement of our exhibition was the placement of all of our exhibited projects placed digitally using GPS in select sites across Venice. These projects could then be experienced using the exhibition’s augmented reality app at a 1:1 scale using a smart device as an oculus, revealing Australia’s invasion of Venice as a temporary site. Of course finalising app development and having to check each augmented project across a tourist-infested Venice with inconsistent internet coverage meant for a frustration that equalled its physical counterpart in its completion.

I don’t know if you can completely prepare for exhibiting in the Biennale; at least when you have no permanent space and intend on using technology that remains in its infancy for your exhibit. You have to role with the punches. Luckily there are far worse places to be rolling and you quickly realise that you are not rolling alone. Every now and again you get time to catch your breath, or a sliver of a vista as you hustle through the winding streets on some pavilion related crusade. There are plenty of long evenings after the site curfew to be had with other teams, mulling over the day, spritz in hand, out doing each other with tales of near failure and narrowly averted disaster. Except for Norway. They always seemed to have everything under control.Craig-McCormack-The-Architect-Spring-Issue-2015-4

 

 January 29, 2016
Oct 102014
 

This small article is a review that was published in the CLOG: Unpublished edition last year.

 

A Distant Architecture

Admission to the International Space Station (ISS) is by way of capability; capability to get there and capability to remain there. This is no Laugier’s hut. Only 208 people have visited the ISS. Such is the exclusivity of experiencing architecture in space. The implication is in its nomenclature; that this is a station does more than hint at its military origins, suggesting an extremely practical employment. This is the property of a consortium of institutions. It was not named the International Space City; or the International Space Platform. God forbid that people might just turn up on its doorstep; or would it be hatch?

Or it may be the escalating cost that is prohibitive to a space architecture boom. The ISS is the twelfth in a short list of thirteen habitable space stations. Of the space stations that were never realized, exponentially mushrooming cost was the primary factor in aborting the projects. By the time that the ISS is decommissioned and doomed to a fiery grave upon re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere, it will have cost a rumored US$200 billion. This makes it the most expensive piece of manmade architecture ever constructed, far surpassing the Marina Bay Sands’ measly $5.5 billion in comparison. This cost does however include the US$1.4 billion transfer from Earth.[1]

The ISS is 72.8m long and 108.5m wide. Its width consists primarily of the mega-truss, the principal structure that ties the majority of the solar array units to the station. The habitable modules are attached perpendicularly from the centre of the mega-truss, along with the remainder of the solar array units. It serves as both a laboratory and as an observatory, with only the most necessary of additional programs. It is a simple, yet extremely high-tech architecture. Viewed from the right angle the ISS resembles an abstract, robot-like dragonfly, its not-quite-static solar array wings catching the sun’s light as it orbits the Earth at 27,800kmph.

The assembly of the ISS is the largest and most complex space architecture ever undertaken. From the initial module placed in orbit in 1998 to the final robotic arm in late 2013, it will have taken over 1000 hours of spacewalks to assemble. Its construction required the production of two 1:1 replicas to allow for the training necessary to complete the assembly in space; one underwater for simulated spacewalk training, and one ground to test the internal systems.

The ISS is an amalgamation of past international architectural good will. It is a curious and unequal blend of American modernist aesthetic, from its pure white surfaces and black Helvetica typeface; Russian Constructivism with gravity-defying trussed structure and bold, angled construction; and a dash of Europe’s Archigram inspired techno-utopian aesthetic in the form of ‘plugged-in’ technology including solar array systems, and articulated robotic arms. And while it is its very creation and of course its dramatic location that allows for its deserved inclusion within the canon of architecture, it does possess the most desirable view from a window ever constructed by man.

1. Claude Lafleur, “Costs of US piloted programs”. The Space Review. {2010} : accessed 15 May 2013, http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1579/1.

 

image 1 - the International Space Station

image 1 – the International Space Station (2011), NASA, “no copyright”

 

 

image 2 - the cupola

 

 image 2 – a view from the cupola, aboard the International Space Station (201), NASA, “no copyright”
 October 10, 2014
Oct 102014
 

The following text was intended to accompany the drawings that were published in the CLOG: SCI-FI issue from 2012. The drawings obviously spoke for themselves…

 

The 100 Year Starship.

What started out as an exercise in the fiscal stability needed to support such a venture, strangely enough materialised. Nobody, not even those that instigated the project could have imagined that it would actually be built. Even the dreamers.

And so, over the course of a hundred years (give or take) a starship was constructed in a high earth orbit, keeping it beyond the ever expanding belt of debris, but also as was widely acknowledged at the time, beyond threat.

First world nations, supported by their largest multi-national corporations, mined the Moon successfully creating 3d printed silicate structures and panels. This technology combined with the use of abandoned space stations to form a skeletal structure, ensured the slow but steady construction of what resembled a city, taking shape in space.  Gigantic, extruded, square profiled sectors grew from a central mega-truss, the birth just within eyeshot on a cold, clear night.

The starship was sent out from its orbit to slingshot through the gravities of other moons as it made its way to uncover possible second homes. It mined as it circled these celestial bodies, supplying a new religion of architected construction that provided some form of occupation for those generations forging an existence aboard. 3d printing machines became churches, to a background of air-conditioning hum, unpredictable mechanical clanging, and revolutions…

The heliosheaths of many suns and stars have been passed through by the one hundred year starship. The solar sail that once caught solar winds from within the Milky Way has been tossed and turned so that it now resembles swaddling, wrapped over the platonic form.

It appears motionless in a distant galaxy. A traveller from an antique land. A colossal wreck, boundless and bare. Intact for the most part, there are moments when life once struggled to escape it’s greebled carcass. No passengers are left now. They are all long since departed. The last one died thousands of years ago. The last of his species.

A reliquary of progress, it has outlasted its creators. Technology has triumphed over man. It has left him for dead. It is now utopia incarnate. At least for another five hundred thousand years or so. Its course will be interupted by the supernova of an aging star. The starship will travel directly towards the gravitational collapse and be intercepted by the star’s expelled material at a combined velocity of sixty thousand kilometres per second.

A product of the Enlightenment, it will end in a burst of radiation that will outshine stars.

starship construction

internal fit-out

starship death

 October 10, 2014
May 102013
 

The Architecture of a Monstrous Space

Craig William McCormack

The practice of involving architects in the space program grew out of the Space Race (that mid-to-late 20th century competition between the Soviet Union and the United States of America for supremacy in space exploration), although its origins can be seen much earlier. The need for their involvement stemmed from the push to extend space mission durations and address the needs of astronauts including, but beyond minimum survival needs. A now valid discipline in its own right, space architecture owes its origin (at least in an earth-born sense) to any human that has looked towards the stars in fascination. The earnest notion of inhabiting outer space awaited the rapid advancement of industrial technologies around the dawn of the 20th century.

Space architecture is now a professional discipline in its own right, with NASA employing many space architects within its facilities. The University of Houston in Texas now offers a Master of Science in space architecture, which provides training with a strongly technical emphasis, clearly removed from the theoretical and historiographical context of on-world architectural research. With the recent success of private company, SpaceX, and its Dragon spacecraft, the first commercial vessel to visit the International Space Station (ISS), architects are now being groomed to work for space tourism companies. Milan’s Domus Academy hosted a two week design intensive during the European summer of 2012 suitably entitled ‘Zero-Gravity Design: Products & Microenvironments for Orbiting Hotels.’ Participants were challenged to,

…come up with creative antidotes for isolation, confinement, boredom, sensory deprivation, bone-muscle atrophy, as well as social-psychological-and-cultural stressors characteristic of living in cramped spaces where privacy is limited and so are resources.[1]

During October, 2002, within a space architecture workshop organised by The AIAA (The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) held at the Glassell School of Art of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas, the first manifesto for the emergent discipline was drawn up.[2] This manifesto was to establish and outline the scope and philosophical guidelines in regards to space architecture as a discipline. Space architect Constance Adams, an attendee to the Team 11 Charter Summit, describes the determined attempt to align space architecture with the ideals of CIAM (International Congress of Modern Architecture),

The central goal…was to engage the strongest history of our profession in the previous century in forging a milestone of the same standard for the century that was to come. To do that, we hoped to combine a clear sense of direction in a millennial statement of significance parallel to the CIAM Congresses of the 1920s-50s… Added to that was the importance of ensuring a continuity with the CIAM tradition so that historically we could demonstrate a genuine connection to the International Congresses of Modern Architecture, a body that essentially spurred our profession for the first time into a real global engagement with politics, social issues and ideology as well as tectonics and craft.[3]

From the charter was produced the quickly adopted, and now widely recognised definition of space architecture; space architecture is the theory and practice of designing and building inhabited environments in outer space.[4] Examples of space architecture that meet this description can be found in the ISS and its vanguard. Unfortunately for space architecture this definition, as concise as it may be, falls short not through what is included, but what is excluded. Considering the optimistic scope of the Team 11 Charter Summit and its wish to align space architecture to the ideals of Modernism, a more inclusive definition would surely have reflected the lofty goals of the cause.

In 1936, Nikolaus Pevsner published his well known book, Pioneers of Modern Design, a positivist survey of architects and their work that contributed to the advancement of the Modern Movement. Pevsner is widely remembered and often quoted for his explanation of architecture from his 1943 publication, An Outline of European Architecture,

A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture. Nearly everything that encloses space on a scale sufficient for a human being to move in is a building; the term architecture applies only to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal.[5]

Despite this also limiting definition, within Pioneers… Pevsner saw fit to include a chapter describing the influence of iron on the evolution of architecture, where a great deal of writing surrounds the development of bridges and the impact that this new technology created. Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Clifton Suspension Bridge of 1836 is used as a superb example of engineering then adopted by the architecture fraternity, regardless of the intent conscious or otherwise, of its author.

Surely, a man like Brunel must have been susceptible to the unprecedented aesthetic qualities of his design – an architecture without weight…only once before had such daring spirit ruled European architecture, at the time when Amiens, Beauvais, and Cologne were built.[6]

Clearly Pevsner is including not just habitable structures under the banner of architecture, but the wider built environment also; that which not inhabited, plays no less an important part in our lives, as long as it meets his aesthetic requirements. After the inclusion of bridges in his architectural treatise, Pevsner mentions the Eiffel Tower as the last show of iron’s strength before steel’s dominance, with, ‘…the elegance of its curved outline, and the powerful yet controlled energy of its élan.’[7] The aesthetic of emergent technology, for Pevsner, was the cost of admission.

Although not all bridges may be considered architectural and not all towers while architectural may be of merit, it is with certainty that architecture welcomes more canidates for admission into the canon than those which are capable of inhabitation; for example monuments. The inclusion of feats of engineering and technology within the architectural fraternity was not solely limited to Pevsner’s Age of Modernity. Publications incorporating bridges and other monuments as architecture, also mentioned by Pevsner, included Kircher’s China monumentis, qua sacris qua profanis, nec non variis naturae and artis spectaculis, aliarumque rerum memorabilium argumentis illustrate (1667) and Fischer von Erlach’s Historical Architecture (1726).[8]

In Technological Utopianism in American Culture (2005), Howard P. Segal, by way of providing a definition for technology refers to a sensible explanation by civil engineer, David Billington. Billington explains that technology can be divided into machines and structures, with the latter encapsulating the built environment, using examples such as bridges, dams, harbours, power plants, and skyscrapers.[9] These examples of the built environment, with their inherent technological bent, only seek to broaden architecture’s scope and demand a tolerant definition.

Following in the tradition of the ‘paper architects’, such as Étienne-Louis Boullée (whose Cenotaph for Newton provided inspiration) and Claude Nicolas Ledoux, Lebbeus Wood’s Einstein Tomb (1980) is not only a tomb, forever locked in an infinite, cyclic trajectory within the depths of outer space, but one that along with the majority of Woods’ architectural work, was never realised. Here is a clear example of space architecture (or architecture that occurs in outer space) that defies the discipline’s internally devised definition. Woods’ tomb is no place for the propagation of human life yet it is convincingly architecture.

Earth bound architecture too has had its share of examples that defy traditional notions of the discipline, far beyond the acceptance of aesthetically pleasing and culturally significant examples of civil engineering. The list is long and celebrated including, as well as the aforementioned Woods, Boullée, and Ledoux, such architects as Massimo Scolari, Peter Eisenman, El Lissitzky, Louis Sullivan, and Hector Guimard, all producing what are considered to be architectural masterpieces that do not lend themselves to inhabitation. Scolari still invites debate as to whether his work is more art than architecture. Like its parent, that refuses to be confined to a simple definition, space architecture is no less easily defined. This is especially so if we are to include examples from the space program’s early financier, science fiction (sf).

The brick moon from Edward Everett Hale’s story of the same name could replace the well worn Utopia by Thomas More as the commonly referred to example of the perfect community, and unlike the island in More’s story, the moon was not happened upon, but designed and built. The Borg cube from Star Trek could be examined as the ultimate expression of the Modernist social condenser, where the inhabitants have assimilated with technology in order to attain perfection. The stargate from the similarly named sf television series, located in orbit around the fictional planet Proculus is no less an aesthetically novel bridge than Brunel’s. Even if the discipline of space architecture grew to recognise such a stargate, it may have difficulty admitting the monolithic form in Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001; A Space Odyssey.

The application of architectural theory to this new found wealth may prove to be just as stimulating. SF has already become well established as a genre for critical theory over recent decades, with significant writers in this field including Darko Suvin, Carl Freedman, and Istvan Csicery-Ronay Jr. In the recent Architecture and Science-Fiction Film, author David T. Fortin has applied architectural theories to films based on Philip K. Dick’s writings, providing additional understandings surrounding the subjects of home and habitation.[10]

Works by these authors while offering insights and critical discourse within the realm of sf, may also provide opportunities for rich dialogue between architecture also, where due to a lack of earthly restraints and inventive imaginations, the built environment has had opportunity to develop in unexpected ways. Not that this has not been happening already. Jeffrey Kipnis, in his essay Forms of Irrationality, discusses the plot of an sf film, Forbidden Planet, in which architecture ultimately represents the idealized human body against the backdrop of structures created by the alien Krell race, from the sf film, Forbidden Planet.[11] That is to say, architecture takes on the role of a meaningful cipher connected to an essence of human identity, far beyond its utilitarian base.

If space architecture is to carry on the tradition of its earth-bound parent into the cosmos and perhaps beyond, it would do well to wear an equally vague definition. Perhaps the simple adjustment of the current definition would suffice, to now read; space architecture is the theory and practice of designing and constructing the built environment in outer space. In this guise it neither confirms nor denies fiction or non-fiction.

 

Notes


[1] Domus Academy, 2012. http://www.studiesandcareers.com/domus_academy.html (accessed March 2, 2013).

[2] David Wong, 2012. The Orbit: Special. http://theorbitspecial.webr.ly/ (accessed March 2, 2013).

[3] Wong, The Orbit: Special.

[4] A. Scott Howe and Brent Sherwood, Out of This World: The New Field of Space Architecture. {Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 2009}, ix.

[5] Nikolaus Pevsner, An Outline of European Architecture{ Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1942}, p23.

[6] Nikolaus Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Design; From William Morris to Walter Gropius {Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975}, 128.

[7] Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Design, 140.

[8] Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Design, 126.

[9] Howard P. Segal, Technological Utopianism in American Culture {Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005}, 12.

[10] David T. Fortin, Architecture and Science-Fiction Film: Philip K. Dick and the Spectacle of Home. {Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011}, 11.

11 Jeffrey Kipnis, “Forms of Irrationality,” in Strategies in Architectural Thinking, eds. John Whiteman, Jeffrey Kipnis, and Richard Burdett {Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1992}, 151-153.

 

Bibliography

Csicsery-Ronay, Jr., Istvan, The Seven Beauties of Science Fiction. Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 2008.­­

Domus Academy S.p.A. ‘Domus Academy studies and careers website’ <http://www.studiesandcareers.com/domus_academy.html>.

Fortin, David T., Architecture and Science-Fiction Film: Philip K. Dick and the Spectacle of Home. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2011.

Frampton, Kenneth, Modern Architecture; a critical history, fourth edition. London, Thames & Hudson Ltd, 2007.

Freedman, Carl, Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2000.

Howe, A. S., Sherwood, Brent, eds., Out of This World: The New Field of Space Architecture. Virginia: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 2009.

More, Thomas, Utopia. The Project Gutenberg eBook, Henry Morley ed. Released: April 22, 2005.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, Pioneers of Modern Design: From William Morris to Walter Gropius. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1975.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, An Outline of European Architecture. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1942.

Scolari, Massimo, Between Memory and Hope. Massachusetts: The Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies, 1980.

Segal, Howard P. Technological Utopianism in American Culture. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005.

Suvin, Darko, Metamorphoses of Science Fiction; On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven and London; Yale University Press, 1979.

The Orbit. ‘The Orbit: Special website’ <http://theorbitspecial.webr.ly/>.

University of Chicago Press. ‘Chicago Style Citation Quick Guide.’ Last modified 22 August 2006. <http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html>.

Woods, Lebbeus, Pamphlet Architecture 6: Einstien Tomb. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1980.

Westfahl, Gary, Island in the Sky: The Space Station Theme in Literature. Lexington: Borgo Press, 2009.

Whiteman, John, Kipnis, Jeffrey, Burdett Richard, eds., Strategies in Architectural Thinking, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1992.

Craig William McCormack is a current PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia. While currently his research and writing is devoted to the history and theory of space architecture, he manages to find time to maintain and enjoy a ’96 Kawasaki ZX7R, a motorcycle that according to McCormack, punches well above its weight.

 May 10, 2013