The word debate possesses many connotations and forms. Inherent within the logic of all forms of the debate, however, is a binary structure or duality. In order for a debate to occur, two voices must exist. A provocation cannot occur without a response. What happens when one voice is silenced, or never even acknowledged? Within the architectural community, words like “post-anthropocentrism” and “object-oriented ontology” have recently been tossed around between the various pedagogical and theoretical debates within the discipline. But, what do these phrases and ideas mean in a world increasingly dominated by capitalist consumerism and globalized development?
This project is about debate, but not between established voices within the architectural discipline, but rather it is a project in defense of the voiceless, in defense of territories, sites, and spaces that do not have a voice or representative. These spaces can be understood as counter-spaces.
The modern American city is organized into a multitude of spaces based upon function and use. These organized spaces dictate a prescribed behavior and social awareness resulting in a landscape of ill-fitting and awkward territories existing in opposition to one another. An unintended byproduct of these collisions is the counter-space. Akin to slag, sludge, and waste resulting from modern industrial processes, the counter-space is the leftover and neglected space of the city resulting from the ever-increasing hegemony of society.1 Each of these sites has been abused, molded, smashed, and punished at the whims of society’s expansions and contractions in the name of development. Hidden within plain site, abandoned and unused, these spaces exist everywhere.
In contrast to the booming bellows of capitalism and production, these spaces have no voice or representative. Due to neglect and abandonment, these spaces also appeal to populations neglected by society. Through various acts of appropriation, the counter-spaces of many cities play host to a number of uses and unprescribed behaviors. Furthermore, within the context of the surrounding city, these spaces present opposing temporalities.
Iain Borden analyzes the use of public spaces by skateboarding counterculture in his article titled “Skateboarding and the Performative Critique of Architecture.”2 Borden notes multiple instances of appropriation of space by skateboarders throughout London. An inherent aspect of this appropriation and subsequent breaking of specified patterns of usage involves temporality. Borden documents the manner in which skaters use privatized public spaces, programmed and designed for a very specific use and user, in the hours and times in which office workers are absent. Furthermore, Borden describes the skateboarders as “interweave[ing] their own composition of time into that of regular temporal patterns, such as waging a fast assault on a handrail outside a bank, adding a speeding skateboard to the slower pattern of those walking on the sidewalk…or staying longer in an urban plaza as others hurry through.”3 This aspect of temporality, oppositions, and variations on lived experience in the city is described by Borden as “micro experience… the relation of the self to the city’s physical minutiae that are not always obvious to, or considered by, the dominant visualization of the city on which we most commonly depend.”4 The production of counter-spaces within the city allows not only spatial appropriation but temporal appropriation and collision. Stark contrasts can be drawn between temporalities within counter-spaces.
Borden further analyzes the temporalities of the city through the use of a term coined by Henri Lefebvre: rhythmanalysis. This term refers to the daily routines, patterns, and habits of city dwellers.5 Within modern design practice and zoning, spaces of the city are designated precisely for these patterns. For instance the interstate is not only a space for the car, but it is the space of the daily commute, a space for the ushering in an end of the work day, a space of production and efficiency. As noted above, the temporalities of space can come into sharp contrast against one another through the appropriation of architectural elements using a skateboard. These juxtapositions, contrasts and varying “micro experiences” occur in many differing and often hidden ways throughout the city daily.6
The existence of the counter-space within the homogenized grid of the American city begins to present the potential for disturbance within this field.7 More important than simply understanding the counter-spaces’ existence however, is developing an understanding of their associated character and voice. Within a counter-space, an unknown life occurs and acts of appropriation, resulting from neglect begin to occur within the absence of an overseeing eye or gaze.8 These acts begin to present the opportunity for further disturbance of the field of the city, producing temporal effects capable of producing new and previously unseen structures within the homogenization of society.
John Latartara refers to John Cage’s use of “temporal layers” existing simultaneously within two compositions dating from 1943 and 1983. Latartara defines these temporal layers as “musical material that has a distinct temporal identity, created through rhythm, meter, repetition, or accent … regularity of pattern is often deemphasized and irregularity emphasized through both the superimposition of multiple temporal layers and anomalies within each layer.”9 In a sense, a temporal layer may be compared to the multiple temporal realities within a counter-space. Interestingly, Cage assigned temporal layers to individual experience.10 Cage’s use of assignment begins to not only address different experiences, but to give them agency and meaning in the production of new musical structures. As in the city, many experiences, groups of people, and places are ostracized or forgotten in the homogenization of society. Like Cage’s use of temporal layers, the designer possesses the responsibility to give the people and places ostracized by modern society a voice.
In order to reveal and channel these voices, a new form and process of notation must be developed. Within the framework of modern architectural and urban design practice, the counter-space and its associated break from societally prescribed behavior is ill understood or ignored. A major reason for this can be attributed to issues of representation and notation. Architectural notation often ignores time, event, and movement in favor of formalist visions of the near future. While ignoring an understanding of the present and existing, architects and urbanists also ignore present conditions in favor of a clean slate of destruction.
This project involves the design and production of three Vocalization Machines, designed in response to three sites chosen within the city of Atlanta. Each of the Vocalization Machines was designed in response to one of these respective sites. Responding to various temporal and spatial stimuli endemic and specific to each site, these machines give rise to notations and drawings that directly translate the voice of each site, creating cartographies and records of events. Previously lying silent, the voice of the individual site has now been exposed, giving birth to the possibility for new debates between the voices of existing spaces and histories and the booming voice developmental capitalism.
Machine 1: Temporograph
Site Location: Median of I-75/85, I-20, I-285, and various on and off-ramps in Downtown Atlanta
The Temporograph gives voice to a site that has been divided, molded, and carved by the intersection of multiple interstates. The site itself provides shelter to multiple individuals of Atlanta’s homeless and transient community. Seeking the only shelter available in a city that has closed many of its homeless shelters in the last several years, many people utilize the isolation the median provides, acting as an island in a sea of traffic. The Temporograph reacts to the temporal juxtaposition existing at the site; five pendulums correspond to one of five stimuli: the movement of car traffic on all four sides of the site and the movement of human traffic on a human footpath within the center of the site. Five sensors are placed within range of each path of movement and register the average flow of traffic existing at the site throughout the day. Weights on the pendulums correspond to the rate and are moved up or down throughout the day in order to register the change in average flow of traffic. The notation that occurs resembles the pulse of an electrocardiogram. The machine registers the cyclic activity of the four paths of interstate traffic and juxtaposes this with the slow, irregular movement that occurs on the human footpath.
Machine 2: Stratograph
Site Location: The location of the former GM Lakewood Assembling Plant in Southeast Atlanta
The Stratograph is a machine that allows the past to be vocalized. The site utilized for this ma- chine exists at the edge of several major thoroughfares of the previously busy industrial activity of Atlanta. It also sits in the shadow of the US Federal Penitentiary. Existing next to one penal colony, the site previously housed another form of penal colony: an automotive assembling plant. As white flight and the move to suburbia drained the city, the factory was eventually closed in the late 1980s and eventually torn down in the mid-1990s, leaving a massive concrete plinth within its wake. The site has since developed a patina of plant life and pollution on top of its concrete shell. The Stratograph utilized microscope slides depicting images from the pre-civilized era of the city, the period of growth in which the railroad tracks were built, the beginnings of industrialization and the GM Plant, the plant’s destruction and the subsequent decay of the site. These slides are mounted upon the machine using three adjustable arms; these arms possess several axes of movement. An image of the slides is then projected upon photographic paper, allowing combinatoric plans from various stages in the site’s life to form. The movement of the arms of the machine allows anamorphic projection as well, thus manipulating the angle of the slides and creating new and unique images.
Machine 3: Displacement-graph
Site Location: The abandoned Alonzo Herndon Stadium at Morris Brown College
The Displacement-graph acts as a timekeeper for its respective site. The site is the abandoned stadium at Morris Brown College, a historically African American college located in west Atlanta. Beginning in the early 2000s, Morris Brown developed a large debt it still owes, eventually losing its accreditation. The college today has around thirty full-time students. As a result of its decline, the college lost its football team and thus closed its stadium in the mid-2000s. Sitting in stillness within a half-mile of the Georgia Dome and the future Atlanta Falcons Stadium, the site slowly decays as the years pass. Running beneath and through parts of the stadium, the MARTA east/west commute line disrupts the stillness of decay several times an hour throughout the day. Responding to this juxtaposition of temporalities, the Displacement-graph drips a combination of water and ink onto a canvas regularly throughout a 24-hour period. Every time a train passes through the site on the MARTA line, a small motor vibrates the plate upon which the canvas sits, thus giving voice to the stillness and movement that occurs throughout the day as this once popular and busy stadium slowly decays to dust.
This work is an expansion of Christina Shivers’s graduate thesis work began at the Georgia Institute of Technology.