Posts Tagged 'embodiment'

video: tourists on the fourth floor

Like the chartreuse escalator, the shiny red fourth floor area appears in many personal videos and photos, very likely for the same reason that, being a relatively intimate, narrow space through which one moves, it presents the visitor with a personal, cinematic experience of imagery moving past. This is not the overriding logic (or algorithm) of the Library itself however, so it is not surprising that this area is again a transitional space, not one in which the public is meant to linger. It is the “assembly” platform where computer training and meetings take place. The librarian on the video tour skips it entirely.

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chart: scenario diagrams

diagram narrative

These graphics representing “scenarios” of visitors interacting with the library are rare in that they narrative, sequential, and subjective experiences. Nonetheless, because of the the library’s database structure: groups of programs on discreet (and hierarchical) platforms, these visualizations represent these narratives as flow charts of functionality, an algorithm of the order in which one must perform and move through the building.

On page 38 of the OMA Proposal the Library’s virtual presence (internet site) is conceived as: a training ground — introducing the new platform model, the hierarchy, features and formats of the new library, facilitating navigation (and reducing demand on staff) for visitor orientation in the real communities that will regularly ’embody’ themselves in the real building.

In short they conceive of the library as new hardware, new datastructure, and new software requiring advanced training which they have moved onto the web, rather than have to employ a large and live technical support team.

Yes, Microsoft is one of the sponsors of this building, as are Boeing and Starbucks.

rhetoric: the OMA Proposal / Concept Book

OMA’s Proposal for the Seattle Central Library weaves a tale in which OMA intends to “redefine / reinvent the Library as an institution no longer exclusively dedicated to the book but as an information store, where all media — new and old — are presented under a regime of new equalities.”

This is the happy ending they propose to the dire tale they begin which imagines that the Library considers itself, like the Prison, one of the “last moral universes” whose reactionary morality is connected to the book, which it protects, like a fortress.

The Library stands exposed at its most outdated and moralistic at the moment that it has become the last repository of the free and the Public.

Libraries housing books are associated with fortresses, prisons and morality – all constricting, which the Electronic and information are public and “free” (apparently even from morality) — this is distinctly rhetoric of the “information revolution” and “information doxa” Andrew Liu identifies and associates with post-industrialist corporate culture.

The Public, refers to the library’s “Social Role,” which, we see via a graphic (p. 18), refers to public service programs such as adult education, art exhibits, remote access, library war service program, to which the Library has “not yet adjusted.” The Library is likened “a host organism overwhelmed by its parasites.”

The key to OMA’s design, or what Manovich might call their algorithm, is the transposition of books to programs, as revealed in the color-bar chart which is the heart of their visualization of the new Library. In this way, they reclassify the library from book-oriented subject areas, to areas of grouped “programs.” They are shifting the model of the Library from a database of material books, to a database of both actual and virtual materials.

The virtual can become the distributed presence of the new Seattle Public Library that users find confirmed in its actual site in the city.

Note the word “user” instead of “patron” to denote a person who would visit in this new Library. As the rhetoric of the entire proposal describes the Library in terms of functionality, organization, and grouped programs (algorithms); it is not surprising that there is no indication of narrative or human subjectivity. Humans are not the subjects of this proposed structure, nor are books. The Library itself — its identity — is the subject. There is no acknowledgement that this identity exists only in human perception.

In contrast, Frank Gehry discussing the Walt Disney Concert Hall:

… I hope that when people attend concerts in the hall, their eyes will wander through the shapes of the building and find that what they see harmonizes…

The entire building was designed from the inside out and was meant to invite people to come inside.

Both of these statements imply narrative, human, experiences of the space as seen through the embodied vision of human eyes.

It may be going too far to claim that the database aesthetic expressed by the Seattle Central Library is anti-humanist (or post-humanist), but the shift in emphasis away from subjectivity to information system might account for many of the complaints about the “arrogance” of the Library and the impression it doesn’t cater to its patrons. (See blog post of visiting librarian).

The only images in the Proposal that posit actual human bodies are purely conceptual collages that do not pretend to represent the planned space of the Library. The collages merely express a pop-culture attitude. The humans are decorative.

[See also SCL as Database]

video: music video clip

Here the Seattle Central Library is the setting for indie-rock band Peaches’s music video. Like the library spaces, the music is also composed of a distinct duality of elements, namely smooth electronica sounds alternated with strong beats combined with the human presence of the vocals. There is a striking proposition in this piece, where the space-time continuity of the action is only allowed in transitory and dynamic spaces like the escalator or the highway, and other static spaces like the meeting room floor, the mixing chamber or the reading are flashed through in rapid succession. Also shown in rapid succession are several different notorious floors of the library, where the presence and stagnation of the human subject is suggested by the immovable image of tennis shoes and trousers while the floors rapidly flicker through. A possible reading to this situation could be, initially, an insinuation to the problematic of the rapid changes of contemporary society to which the human subject must quickly respond and adapt to. The solution seems to lie not in a change of the subject, but in a change of its view, suggested by the zooming out of these views visible in the end of the video.

The video presents another case of a syntagm (narrative) constructed from the paradigm of the SCL. This narrative again emphasizes a singular and subjective point-of-view and an embodied experience of the space. Although we never see his face or hear his voice, we know that our narrator is also our protagonist, as we see, from his point-of-view, his feet, against the various floor textures as he navigates through the space. The soundtrack, the jump cutting, and the reduced frame rate imply a playful, pop-culture subjectivity. Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, the story that unfolds has nothing to do with books, computers, or librarians. It involves a young woman in a beige trench coat whose face we never see, although we – via the protagonist – follow her. This narrative is a romance with an air of mystery or visa-versa, for which the building is but the setting, or perhaps even a secondary character.

collage / 3-D wireframe: reading room

3D view

This image illustrates the space envisioned by the architectural team for the reading room on the 10th floor of the Seattle Central Library. This picture is in reality a collage of distinct elements: photographs of human figures in the foreground, a photograph of Elliot Bay in the background and the 3-D wireframe image of both the interior space and the surrounding buildings.

The focus of this representation is neither the space nor the people, but the view. This focus is reinforced by the contrast between the transparency of the book stacks and the opacity of the surrounding buildings, but also by the contrast between the neutral white color of the space and the vivacious blue tonality of the bay.

This image attempts to demonstrate the inherent rationality of the dislocation of the platforms in reaction to local conditions such as vistas and sunlight exposure. However, it is also appropriate to reflect on the positioning of the human figures in a manifest digital universe, as it seems to address the immersion of the human subject/body in virtual spaces. In this image the human subject seems to be occupying a place in flux, while only its own presence appears (on the surface) to remain stable and unaltered.

It is worth noting that none of the faces of the four people are visible, and none of them are, photographically speaking, in focus. If the view is indeed the subject of this shot, we could say that overall the images expresses the buildings relationship to that view, in which case the humans appear to be included only to demonstrate scale, or possibly as agents that enact the viewing relationship between the building and the bay. Although this does beg the question: why is the reading room the public room with, emphatically, the best view? Where should one’s eyes be, when reading, according to the logic of this “room?” It seems to imply that the view of this room has little regard for embodied, human, vision which cannot read and gaze at the view simultaneously.