Friday, November 25, 2011

Janiski_round 2

As presented, the work is still investigating the idea/territory of "mirror space" and identifying the terms from which to continue. Ideally, the project will incorporate all three of the following aspects of mirror space, though eventually one will take a priority:

1. symmetry + difference: symmetry considered as a mostly formal project, as a contested/eschewed topic in contemporary architecture (according to Jeffrey Kipnis and in general) and difference as something we innately look for as a means of understanding individuality (with reference to Derrida's differance and Freud's narcissism of small difference)

2. reflection of society: architecture as a cultural product mirrors society in terms of those things we care most for at any given time; for example, Robert Levit reads our reflection, as a society of many individuals (the "multitude"), in the cellular pattern-making of contemporary architecture

3. real + imaginary: the mirror mediates between real space and reflected, imaginary space; the work will test the productivity of working on complementary "real" and "imaginary" sites as part of a single project's construction of mirror space

Potential, physical sites are currently located in the "other islands" of New York City, namely Rikers Island, North Brother Island and South Brother Island, as identified in the maps below. The first and second images show the context of these islands. The closeness of LaGuardia is of interest, as is the relationship of these island to the five boroughs.

Rikers Island, below, is cited as "the worlds largest penal colony" and is mostly made of reclaimed land/landfill. The light red line approximates the original 90-acre island prior to its growth.

North and South Brother Island are currently bird sanctuaries and completely uninhabited by people. They are 20 acres of land together. North Brother Island hosts a number of abandoned buildings including Riverside Hospital and the quarantine home of Typhoid Mary and was the site of the 1904 General Slocum wreck.

Programmatic considerations are outlined around the following four topics:

1. The institutional "non-place" like a double-loaded corridor, party wall or reflected ceiling plan; these sites and programs would be selected for their characteristics of symmetry and/or difference for formal investigation

2. The visitor's center: where a version of the place being visited is curated and explained for the tourist to more easily navigate. What would it mean to create a visitor's center for a prison? A bird sanctuary? An island only discovered within the past ten years?

3. Punishment & Imprisonment: This topic could be interpreted loosely or very directly; if investigated directly and literally, the questions are led by one: what is the agency of architecture when considering spaces like solitary confinement, which the UN has just denounced as torture, and death row?

4. Cultural competency: As part of a course in medical school on the topic of patient care, medical students at Michigan State University were asked to read a book on the culture clash between western medicine and the traditional culture of a Hmong family. Cultural competency or negotiation or appreciation in this case specifically requires conversations between "real" medicine and the "imaginary" spirit world the family identifies as the cause for a child's epilepsy.

Some of the comments, questions, and suggestions that came up include:
- soft versus hard versions of imprisonment
- is Rikers Island too loaded and "known" as a site, will it get in the way of the work? is there another site or program that's inherently the same in terms of imprisonment but different?
- pairing a visitor's center with an institution
- difference of time and scale in reflection
- spreading out to work on a network of islands instead of a singular island
- Ellis Island's role in a transition to society, transformative processes on various Islands in the NYC area
- how would I describe a "serious" project?
- differences of water, land and air in the siting of realness and imagination
- the history of the National Parks system is marked, positively in terms of generating tourism, by the creation of the visitor's center
- cloning: Shinto temple construction every 20 years; there's never more than one fully complete at one time; theater of the absurd?
- strange twinning of buildings: Piazza del Popolo
- mirror as magic trick: making something disappear
- look up the movie Mindwalk made up of a conversation between three characters visiting Mont-Saint-Michel, a tidal Island in France


  1. Julie,
    I think you have a really strong concept and critical positioning of the project. Mirror space is an interesting and fruitful conceptual conceit, and I think the 3 ways you set up to investigate it is interesting. I do think that the 3rd way is the MOST interesting because, I can already imagine some of the products and drawings from such an investigation, some simultaneous things happening in a real and an imagined site- space of a drawing vs space of an image… there are some interesting representational questions which this brings up and can start to comment on, because as architects the products we make are in a sense all imagined. I think the sites and programs you look at are all have potential, maybe you just have to pick one and run with it- if you find there isn’t enough there, to look at mirror space in the three ways you identify, you can always add more. I think that site and program function largely as a testing framework for your other ideas. That is to say, they are not the real drivers of the project, which is I think what you intended. I love the discussion of human desire for difference in the 1st way to investigate mirror space (symmetry + difference). Why is symmetry so disdained in contemporary society? In the 2nd way you look at mirror space I would caution against the reduction of architecture to a reflection of society, because while it is in a sense, and Levit’s example is fitting here, I would argue that architecture is also an active participant in culture, not a mere reflection. This brings up the question of the architects responsibility/agency that I know you’re interested in (Amy’s class); Are we to build something to reflect a culture, to project a new future, to comment on a situational structure, to seed opportunities- what is our role exactly? This is mostly a rhetorical question but something I think your project wants to grapple with a little bit.
    While generally I think the Rikers island and other islands around New York City are an ok site (really, anywhere could be your site) I would caution against the prison program, because I think there are other ways to make a project serious- you don’t need a program that has so much cultural baggage to unpack. There is an ethical question there that I’m not sure you want to take on- people have strong opinions on the issue. Taking on the concept of imprisonment on a spatial level when looking at things like symmetry and reflectivity would benefit you more, IMO, if you still are really invested in it. Also, perhaps super obvious and not where you want to spend energy, I think the actual mirror is an interesting… architectural device. It could be on a material level – reflectivity can give the sense of extra space which can comment on interior/exterior relationships for example.

  2. I’m intrigued by the institutional nonplace as a program, because I’m not sure what that means exactly in terms of your description, and I think it affords you some inventiveness. What is the 21st century institution? What is the role of institution in society today? Projects like the Seattle public library really start to redefine the institution and I think other programs could be similarly redefined. Could there be an institute for a bird sanctuary which also functions as a visitors center? I like the idea of a the visitors center as a curated space, but maybe it isn’t just about human comfort or convenience, maybe it is about a controlled sequence leveraging architecture as agent of experience? Lastly while I think the cultural competency is super interesting, I’m not sure it is something within the scope of an architecture to really address deeply. It also forces you to take a pro-western stance which in the case of that novel it was obviously biased towards (with good reason, perhaps). What I mean here is that there is an assumption that architecture can deliver the right answer the right meaning, when I think there are actually multiple meanings and no real universal answers. But I could be wrong. I would encourage you to take a stance on this idea of mirror space and what he architectural outcome of such an investigation could be. Think about what you want to make, how you would frame this as a studio if you were an Anca(architecture professor). I think that will help you to get all the pieces in play and prioritize where energies go.