Technology & Architecture Part 1: #GAPpgh

A few weeks ago I mentioned my entry into the Young Architects Studio Competition. If you didn’t make it to the gallery crawl (or did but didn’t bother to read my text-heavy entry), then I’m here to tell you all about it. Click on any image below for a full-size version that you can actually read. Also, I’m doing a Pecha Kucha presentation on Thursday night, October 17, starting at 7:30 at the Cultural Trust’s Education Center at 805 Liberty Avenue. It’s perfect timing if you’re in town a night early for a certain wedding.

This year’s YASC asked entrants to come up with a “place” or “places” along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail within the city of Pittsburgh. (The full criteria can be downloaded here, if you’re really that interested). The GAP trail is a continuous 150-mile stretch of land that allows hikers and bicyclists the ability to get from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD without having to deal with vehicular traffic. From Cumberland hikers can pick up the C&O Canal towpath all the way to Washington, DC. Along the way people are afforded great views of the Allegheny Mountains and, perhaps more interesting, unique interactions with the edges of the built environment.

When I first read the brief, I thought about the time I spent at Zion and the Grand Canyon earlier this year. I typically don’t even bring a camera on trips like these, but this time around I spent a lot of time taking pictures. Being behind a camera for a lot of that trip made it hard for me to be in the moment, to actually experience the hike. I see people doing this everywhere, taking video at a concert, live-tweeting a TV show, and posing for a picture at an overlook. Do we go to these events to experience them and be a part of them, or just to tell our friends that we were there?

YASC2013_01 Abstract

I think that in a lot of ways smart technology and social media plays too big of a role in our lives. In creating my entry for this competition, I wanted to look at what might happen if we continue along that path, allowing technology to play an ever bigger role in our world. What kind of structures will be created to satisfy our the bottomless need for social media, even on remote trails where we are supposed to be getting away from it? We need ways to expand the network so we can always be connected to our followers. We need maps that show us what’s happening on the trail so that we can see what we’re missing, so we can tell everyone else what they’re missing. We need structures that not only draw us to the best views, but let us insert ourselves in the best possible version of those views.

YASC2013_02 Tube

I ended up pursuing two kinds of structures, the Tube (above) and the Overlook (below). They both play on the idea of taking a metaphor (experiencing the world through your phone) and making it physical. The Tube is like your phone in a nightmare, grown to surround you, letting you catch brief glimpses of the outside world before shoving more information in front of your face. The Overlook is immediately a visual joke: we are constantly looking at the world through the Instagram interface anyway, so why not just make it life-sized? But there’s more to it than meets the eye; the Overlook lets you see the same view as it was at any point in the last 24 hours. So even if you missed the sunrise, you can still show your friends that you’re a sunrise kind of person.

YASC2013_03 Overlook

I learned some from this competition. First of all, if you don’t have a “money shot” image nobody gives a shit what you have to say. During the gallery crawl I hung around just to see what people’s reaction might be to my project, and I wasn’t there to see a single person read it. Conversely, Carnegie Pier seemed to dominate in grabbing peoples’ passing interest. I also learned that I still have a ways to go in finding my “voice”. The paragraph above makes my point way better than any of the text that I wrote for my competition entry. Part of that is that writing for the blog is comfortable for me, and I feel some insecurity about writing anything outright funny or sarcastic for an “academic” audience. Sure, this is an entry into a “serious” competition, but my entire entry is basically a joke. I wish I had found more ways to let on about that without coming across as a smartass.

That being said, I think architecture is a great tool for satire, and the competition format is the best way to use it. I had a lot of fun with this entry and I think when I do a good job of explaining it, it does a good job of highlighting the problems with social media. I’m looking forward to doing more stuff like this in the future, and maybe even putting forward some ideas for improvement, too. For more on that, check back next week. Or come to PKN on Thursday.

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