A few weeks ago I was looking for some image references for an industrially-inspired cooling pergola when I stumbled upon some great photos of industrial decay on Flickr. Most of these photographs were of mysterious machinery and other oddities lost to time, but a few them had plants fighting their way into these spaces. I had a sudden epiphany as to why I had never thought of my thesis, or at least the process of "stratified overgrowth", as a mutation? Read More »
This morning I had a mild epiphany in regards to my thesis. Over the weeks of December I was thinking about the core concepts of the thesis: stratified overgrowth as a condition/process which allows for "rituals/rites of passage" to happen and whereby transcending our level of experience through this narrative of "ritual". And it can only happen in a "landscape of ruin." I wrote in my thesis proposal that I am not designing a rite of passage, rather that I am designing for a rite of passage.
Back in December during our thesis proposal review, I was challenged with the question of what rituals/rites of passage do I want people to engage with in this landscape. Was it to be for passing from one status to the next (child to adult, single to married)?
From that perspective, I was uncomfortable with the notion that I was designing for, let's say, a marriage ritual. And this thinking cannot conform (easily) to transcending one's level of experience. I do not wish to force things to fit. I feel that Goethe's three levels of experience is absolutely essential in knowing this possible landscape, not just experiencing it. Therefore, perhaps I should be more aggressive, but not forceful, of the idea that I am designing a ritual in that I want people to transcend their way of knowing the world through this landscape. Existing rituals do not exist for this purpose, unless one is to consider going to a mountaintop and not eating for three days straight as they await an epiphany. It is unrealistic for the layman to engage in such a determination of will, as the precedent for embarking with the mountaintop ritual is usually done by a person with an already high level of (Goethean) experience. Therefore, I must design for spaces of incremental significance and then spaces that test the occupant so they may continue on to greater challenges.
The following is a 21 minute transcript of a 55 minute conversation I had with Leonard Newcomb regarding my thesis. As of this writing, he has been the only faculty member to have responded to our draft thesis proposals. We collectively hope that we will be getting more feedback before the December 4th Final Thesis Proposal deadline:
LN: If I get this right, there's more that can be written or vocalized about these places that are not being vocalized.
JB: For example?
LN: Let me change the focus a little bit. 'Rituals of existence have become banal.' -- meaning to me: too common, too ordinary, too frequently noticed. 'Rhythmic flow of narrative' -- that's this? Is the banality also a rhythmic flow of narrative? Rhythmic to me is a positive thing, if flow of narrative is a part of the banal, to 'which we measure and quantify our lives' -- there's something more in-depth, more interesting, more important, more challenging in the landscape ---
JB: Perhaps I should have written it as defining the rhythmic flow of narrative -- how we define that narrative is how we define our existence.
JB: And I think the point of having the "existence is banal" is.. I know this is very broad but considering our daily lives I think it has become second nature to us how we do things, how we make a cup of coffee, how we get up, have breakfast, go to class or go to work and that process repeats itself everyday. I think that has become banal.
LN: Okay, so that's a daily routine.
JB: Yes, and the other thing was that these banal landscapes [sic] have the potential to change that rhythmic flow or renewing the rhythm or, because you're inhabiting that space something happens in which you have a new idea, thought, which is a new chapter in that book of narrative. That influences the characters of that existence.
LN: Okay, and how do you approach that, how do you get a hold of that issue? Is it a designed issue? You mention existing landscapes, or changes to existing landscapes...
JB: Probably you can look at this from many perspectives. There's philosophical perspectives, social and psychological and there is the space we inhabit which both of those has something to do with it. I think that is something you can design; so it's plausible to approach it from that path, though you can just as easily write about it. ...I'm not sure if that answers...
LN: It does, in part. It's a difficult thing to talk about because there isn't really a vocabulary or logic to it but it's an experience. Suppose you hear a bulldozer start up, [raarrr] and you rush to the window -- this is our parking lot [note: BEB/RISD parking lot], it's where we've had picnics and is a part of the BEB and you don't even think about it until someone starts to excavate it. Our boundary is not what we are typically used to. Is this an example of the banal? It is what exists until /that/ happens? Now that would be the case of something being invasive. And you haven't mentioned it that way yet. You mentioned it more like things that have already become dug up, or demolished or something, that has already become part of the banal. So it's kind of a process of renewal. How do you find these things that are going to be new enough, to change rhythm enough, these spectaculars that we even notice them? Does that make sense?
LN: And you might have to pursue some line like that, in order to find out what you have to say about it, and then you decide that isn't really so important as /this/ direction. Or I've got the vocabulary now, or the point of view now that now this is more important. I think you have to be willing to put your criteria down and that's what's missing. You want that criteria but it isn't in here yet. And you don't have it as a student because everything is academic. You're asked to answer questions on a test, you go to a lecture one evening, and well, that made a lot of sense so you go back to your routine. But you have to imagine something about it. Would you want to write a letter to an editor at a publication and make it a routine? I think it involves conjecture and you won't get it right -- the first time, not immediately.
LN: I think I understand where this is coming from. When we were talking with some of the [accreditation] team downstairs, they were commenting on living in Providence -- how is it different than living in another city like Boston or New York? And the question came up about real serious threats to people in the street, because, sometimes, students get beat up. Often, houses get broken into. So there's a predatory aspect out there that's just waiting for an opening [laughs]. But we tend to think that's part of the banal, as long as it isn't close to you. But you're asking for something more about our environment, our way of living in terms of how we walk through landscape, how we shape the values of it, the beauty of it, the threat of it.
JB: ...Then you ask about advertising?
LN: ' There is an incessant design concern, even mandate for overabundant communication that forces us to retreat from it by replacing that which we do not want with another form of communication. Challenging this idea suggests that we design for the individual...' So, do you feel that with the things that are published, with what you call a mandate, those things are important to everyone except they don't make sense to you?
JB: I think they're important on a societal level but I think there's an overexposure of certain types of communication. I didn't define that [the types of communication] so I'm being very broad again, but --
LN: No, I think you're getting closer than what this says right now.
JB: It was, in part, a reflection of the current studio [Advanced Studio Elective: Manufacturing Neighborhood] and last year's Emily and David's [Core Studio: Constructed Landscapes] in which [there was a focus on] some kind of a community center. In terms of Emily and David's studio it was the YMCA, in terms of Nadine's studio [Manufacturing Neighborhood] it's the idea that every neighborhood wants its own community center. I think that community centers are a spontaneous condition. There was never really a focus on the individual -- granted, there is such a focus on those who inhabit the landscapes [summary: you are designing for a group of inhabitants and /almost/ never a sole inhabitant] ... How does the landscape differ when you are by yourself? When you do perspectives, let's say photoshop perspectives, you always have lots of people in there. There is seldom the [image] of one person's perspective as opposed as seen from a group -- I don't even know if that's important but the point I was getting to is that rites of passage, or a ritual happens on an individual scale rather than a group scale. There are certain ceremonies of course, but, the one who is initiating this rite of passage, a change to someone's narrative existence, it is your [own initiative]. You know, individual scale which can be shared as a group, as a society, but you're still doing it on your own. And, how does a landscape act as a catalyst or container for that?
LN: A container for which? For which the individual receives some sort of a direct feeling?
JB: I think it can be both the individual receiving or creating an epiphany for themselves, or it is a setting for such an activity. I don't want to say that /this/ landscape would be something where people cannot inhabit, it is definitely something plausible, but in such a way that if you consider it a stage, that you have your actors (the individuals transcending their own existence) and the spectators are there but they are not the subject of this dialog with yourself, or with your experience in the landscape... Does that make sense?
LN: An epiphany can occur only to you, only if you haven't encountered it before. It's always new, unanticipated. I would think.
LN: It doesn't have relevance. Okay. So. It's hard to set up that for yourself because you are already very familiar with the tools by which you set it up or the materials by which you set it up. You can't construct something for yourself that will have novelty to it, something new, because you are making it all from some experience, talents, craft that you already possess. /Except/ that the design process is like that in the sense that you don't really understand your topic until you have invested something in it and found that this is productive and this is not. So, it's a kind of /test/ that goes back and forth. But, an epiphany, and I'm not speaking of religious epiphany, I think in your sense it is something unanticipated and of a certain magnitude that the scope changes.
LN: It's a difficult question because you're asking something in, say, landscape, even though it's alive, it's relatively inert, in terms of your social life and your ability to sustain your own life and your own business and you want somehow an environment to have a feedback on the level of character that you cannot anticipate. Is that it?
JB: Possibly. In terms of how it is designed?
LN: What effect would it have?
JB: There may be a certain truth to that. If you say that epiphany's are related to prior experience, how can that happen in a space that is not anticipated but shouldn't there be something there that is familiar to you? ... Okay, let's say that you are in this abandoned landscape and it is familiar to you because it has been occupied by humans before, even though the original history of it is gone. But you also don't know what to expect because you've never been there, yes, but then people haven't been there recently either, and it's been overgrown with material, which I briefly describe there, does that set up the conditions for a transcendence of thought?
LN: There's been a lot of talk about the other side of the Seekonk River about these industrial plants in abandonment and they've been used many times by studios to see what could be put there and they have toxic soils, they're very difficult, they would involve a large budget to work with. And so they're very attractive [not to my thesis] because the student wants to regain something on the level of the magnitude of what this was. Suppose it was a big manufacturing plant and it once served a lot of people and it gave them sustenance by working there, and all of a sudden it's abandoned, no longer usable. But, it's made into something new and the potential is there to want not to just let that be ignored but because of what it once was. There's a desire to bring back a level of importance of what that once was, but then it's a question of
[note] Time stamp at 21:30. I'll transcribe the rest when I get to it... [/note]