SEBASTIAN FATHI / MPHIL IN ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN DESIGN 2020-22
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
I’m planning on travelling to southwest USA for fieldwork integral to my MPhil in Architecture and Urban Design (both the thesis and design proposal project). I will essentially be bringing architectural models and subjects (designed in the studio) to very specific desert environments (Joshua Tree, Mojave and Death Valley), and photographing them versus very specific shot lists. The desert environments are the proposed sites for the design project I am developing. I will be recording how the photography of such models compares to their alternative photographic realities found within the studio environment, and thus the persuasions and influences of optical design tools to design development. The photographic methods borrow from astro-imaging techniques, a similar field to architectural optics, selected for its commitment to an explicit understanding of optics on the construction of reality. The wider thesis questions how optical design tools are implicitly persuasive to the design development workflows found within ocularcentric contemporary architectural practice.
The contemporary architect primarily uses optical tools to design, which implicitly become proxies for the worlds in which they attempt to represent. How do these tools command their own perceptual influence on design output? The core of the fieldwork questions how site photography’s proxy optics (models, sites, cameras, render engines) influence and persuade designers to make design decisions, and how these implicit practices can be understood versus astro-imaging’s similar, but crucially explicit, optical practices. Both fields deal with the construction of reality. Despite my thesis and design proposal work centring around the Very large Telescope in Chile, this site will not be possible to visit for fieldwork due to the pandemic (as discussed with the VLT operations manager). Therefore, I will be using Death Valley USA, Joshua Tree USA, and the Mojave USA as site proxies, identified using an AI tool that detects similar geographies using satellite optics. I will spend two weeks in total over these sites, deploying physical studio models and photographing them versus shot lists comparable to astro-imaging survey methods. The collected photographs will record the aberrations and mistranslations between model and site, eventually resulting in design persuasions between model, site, camera and designer. The specific optical conditions of the proxy site and its photography are key versus the Cambridge studio environment. Multiple sites aim to generate a more reliable range of variables to the Chilean site, and the length of time over the sites balances the depth of photographic studies with budget. One further week will be spent photographing and writing on built architecture within these sites that have, by virtue of being built, transcended optics into the realm of kinaesthesia and physical site relationships, to reveal the possible kinaesthetic reality of my optical studies for my own proposal. Costa Rica is a required 14-day necessity for travel to the US, where I will remotely be conducting interviews with the building and astronomy industry in Chile within similar time zones. One night in New York will be to interview and see the work of a visual artist who explores these thesis themes.
Despite the design project being sited by the VLT, we will spend no time in Chile at the VLT. From correspondence/interview with the operations manager at the VLT, there are institutional blocks due to COVID, health risks due to the extreme environment over long periods of time, poor access, lack of accommodation, and the language barrier. Also, Chile is no longer admitting foreigners at the border (at least during fieldwork planning months at this time of writing) due to COVID.
Therefore, fieldwork will be conducted in three proxy sites, found in SW USA:
- The idea of site proxy is a major condition of architectural workflows. Conventional architectural proxies include site models, site photography, scaled site drawings, and the studio environment more generally. By using a 1:1 site proxy I am able to directly engage this further condition of architectural optical workflows. The benefits include a study into proxy translations that should become key to my design brief.
- It is important to note that, as mentioned, the backbone to this research depends on an understanding and simulation of astro-imaging workflows. One specific component of this workflow is that of site detection. Astro-imaging uses smaller survey telescopes (to the primary observation telescopes) that survey the sky, looking for celestial subjects similar to the parameters of the scientist’s request. The collected data is filtered through an automated software that identifies and presents these subjects to scientists for further study with larger telescopes.
- As my goal is to learn from these methods, I will be adopting a similar method. I’m using a simple piece of AI that can identify areas of land using Google Maps data that are similar (in pixel complexion) to a specified target piece of land.
- This proxy workflow is essentialRly a form of optical subject analysis found in astro-imaging, for the sake of gathering a range of data and information on similar subjects that can be informative to the research goal. Survey telescopes detect a range of celestial subjects with similar software methods.
- These proxy sites are on average 1000m altitude, as opposed to 3000m at the VLT.
- Less of a cultural/language barrier.
- Greater accessibility to general resources such as food, water, supplies, emergency services, etc.
- Allows for longer term site work.
WIDER THESIS RESEARCH QUESTIONS
- To what extent do optical design tools persuade architects to make design decisions outside of the kinaesthetic context of architectural space, and to what extent are these persuasions implicit or explicit?
- How does optical architectural design compare to the explicit optical tools, proxies and methods used in the similar field of astro-imaging?
- What can this comparison to astro-imaging infer regarding the persuasive nature of optical tools on architectural design?
- If there is a gap between optical design tool persuasions and kinaesthetic experience, how can these tools become consciously generative and integral to the design of the spaces they attempt to investigate and represent?
FIELDWORK RESEARCH QUESTIONS (FWQ)
- How do versions of architectural site photography compare, in terms of their attempt to be proxies of their subjects?
- To what extent can explicitly objective methods of site photography in astro-imaging transfer to architectural site photography?
- What can be revealed regarding the persuasive nature of site photography on an architectural proposal’s reality(ies), by practicing explicitly objective astro-imaging site-survey techniques in architectural site photography?
FIELDWORK METHODS OVERVIEW
|QUESTION (FWQ)||METHOD OVERVIEW (SEE TIMETABLE FOR DETAILS)||TIMING|
|1||-ARCHITECT INTERVIEWS TO UNDERSTAND THE PROCESSES ARCHITECTS USE TO CONDUCT SITE PHOTOGRAPHY|
– LITERATURE REVIEWS FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXT TO THE ABOVE.
– IDENTIFICATION OF SITE REALITIES FOUND WITHIN BOTH STUDIO PROXIES AND THE GEOGRAPHICAL SITE BY EXPLORING SIMULATION TECHNIQUES IN RENDER ENGINE, MODEL PHOTOGRAPHY AND DRAWING REPRESENTATION OF THE SITE.
– RECORD DESCRIPTIONS OF THE SITE (TEMPERATURE, WIND, INSTABILITIES, TIME, ETC) TO GIVE CONTEXT TO THE LIMITS OF SITE PHOTOGRAPHY/SIMULATION AS A SITE REALITY IN TERMS OF GEOGRAPHIC CONDITIONS.
-INTERVIEWS WITH THE RESEARCHERS AND LOCALS WHO HAVE SPENT LONG PERIODS OF TIME AT THE VLT/AREA, TO GIVE CONTEXT TO THE LIMITS OF SITE PHOTOGRAPHY/SIMULATION AS A SITE REALITY IN TERMS OF SOCIAL/KINAESTHETIC CONDITIONS.
|AUTUMN 2020 – AUTUMN 2021|
|2||– ASTRONOMER INTERVIEWS TO UNDERSTAND THE PROCESSES ASTRONOMERS USE TO CONDUCT SITE PHOTOGRAPHY|
-LITERATURE REVIEWS FOR HISTORICAL CONTEXT TO THE ABOVE.
-REVIEW THESE PROCESSES VERSUS THE ARCHITECTURE INTERVIEWS IN FWQ:1
– RENDER ENGINE IN STUDIO TO SIMULATE TYPES OF OPTICAL TOOLS, PROXIES AND METHODS FROM ASTRO-IMAGING
– SITE PHOTOGRAPHY IN-SITU USING IDENTIFIED ASTRO-IMAGING SITE SURVEY TECHNIQUES (THIS WLL COMPRISE MOST OF THE FIELDWORK).
|WINTER 2020-WINTER 2021|
|3||– REVIEW AND COMPARISON OF SITE PHOTOGRAPHS IN STUDIO VERSUS THEIR COLLECTION METHODS|
– INSIGHTS ON OPTIC PERSUASIONS TO BE FED BACK INTO THE DESIGN DEVELOPMENT (METHOD NOT INCLUDED IN THIS FIELDWORK REPORT, AS IT IS A STUDIO BASED ANALYSIS THAT BUILDS ON FIELDWORK FINDINGS).
– REVIEW SHOULD BE UNDERTAKEN AS AN ASTRONOMER WOULD.
|AUTUMN 2021-SUMMER 2022|
FIELDWORK TIMETABLE AND LOCATION OF METHODS
Click here the timetable dates. This is the most up to date timetable. Below’s dates may be more outdated but are a good guide/estimate in terms of time spent in certain areas.
Fieldwork method drawings (used to describe instructions and record the methods visually) are in progress.
Terminology: PM = Physical Model, MP = Model Photography, RR = Render Rig, RRO = Render Rig Output
|WHERE||AIM||METHOD||STRUCTURE OF DAYS, PER TIMETABLE|
|COSTA RICA||WIDER DESIGN/THESIS AIMS WHILE COVID ISOLATING. (NOT PERTINENT TO FWQs PER SE -AS THIS IS AN EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUMSTANCE).||– REQUIRED 14 DAY VISIT FOR TRAVEL TO USA, CONDUCTING INTERVIEWS WITH THOSE IN THE SAME CENTRAL/SOUTH AMERICAN TIME ZONE (CHILE) AS PART OF BROADER THESIS AIMS |
– REMOTE INTERVIEWS WITH PLANNING AUTHORITIES OF ATACAMA REGION
– REMOTE INTERVIEWS WITH LOCALS OF VLT REGION (WIVES OF PINOCHET ERA AND THEIR DESERT EXPERIENCE)
– REMOTE INTERVIEWS WITH BUILDERS OF ATACAMA REGION (INSIGHTS INTO LOCAL SEISMIC STRATEGIES, RAMMED EARTH CONSTRUCTION, GC WORKS IN REMOTE REGIONS).
|– INTERVIEWS WITH PLANNERS FIRST FOUR DAYS|
– INTERVIEWS WITH LOCALS NEXT FOUR DAYS
– INTERVIEWS WITH BUILDERS LAST FOUR DAYS
– (THE ABOVE INTERVIEWS WILL CENTRE AROUND THE PLANNERS, BUILDERS AND LOCALS ASSOCIATED WITH THE RESIDENCIA 1998 PROJECT AT THE VLT, A COMPARABLE PROGRAM TO MY PROPOSAL IN A SIMILAR LOCATION)
– WRITE UPS IN BETWEEN
– TWO DAYS BUFFER FOR TRAVEL
|LOS ANGELES||PICK UP CAMPERVAN||N/A||ONE NIGHT|
|TO EMPIRICALLY EXPLORE HOW DIFFERENT TYPES OF OPTICAL DOCUMENTATION IMPART DIFFERENT VERSIONS OF REALITY ONTO PHYSICAL MODELS (PM), USING ASTRO’S CONCEPT OF ‘THE SIGNATURE OF THE INSTRUMENT’, ‘LASER GUIDE STARS’ AND ‘SIMULATED SURVEYS’ (FWQ:2).||1.500 MODEL|
1- COMPARE SIMULATED RENDERED 1.500 PHYSICAL MODEL (PM) TO THE DIGITAL 1:1 IN ALL FOUR ELEVATIONS (SEE FIGURE 2). THIS IS PRELIMINARY WORK TO IDENTIFY WHERE THE CAMERA AND MODEL SHOULD BE POSITIONED (AND KEPT IN IDENTICAL POSITION FOR ENTIRE METHOD VS GPS AND DRAWINGS) IN THE FIELD AS PER THE SIMULATIONS, BUT ALSO AIMS TO UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE RENDERED PM AND THE DESIGN 1:1 PROPOSAL.
2- SET UP THE PMs IN SITU AND PHOTOGRAPH ALL FOUR ELEVATIONS, AS PER THE INSTRUCTIONAL PLAN DRAWINGS DESCRIBING PHOTOGRAPHIC METHOD.
3- ANAMORPHICALLY MARK THE DATUMS OF THE MODELS ON THE GROUND (THESE DATUM POINTS SHOULD MATCH THE DATUM POINTS IN THE 5-).
4- PHOTOGRAPH IDENTICALLY TO 2-, BUT WITHOUT THE PMs, JUST SHOWING THE DATUMS OF 3- AS MARKED ON THE GROUND
5- MARK THE DATUM POINTS OF THE PROPOSAL PLAN ONTO THE SITE VERSUS THE LOCATIONS IN THE INSTRUCTIONAL PLAN DRAWINGS. THIS WILL BE THE PROPOSAL PLAN AS UNDERSTOOD BY THE SIMULATED SATELLITE IN PRIOR DESKTOP STUDIES
6- PHOTOGRAPH IDENTICALLY TO 2-, BUT WITHOUT THE PMs, JUST SHOWING THE DATUMS OF 5- AS MARKED ON THE GROUND
7- PHOTOGRAPH GENERALLY THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE DATUMS, CLOSE UP, AND MEASURE THE DIFFERENCES/PLOT ONTO THE INSTRUCTIONAL PLANS
6-REPEAT FOR FURTHER 1:50 MODELS OF INTERIOR SPACES
|TO BE CONDUCTED OVER ONE WEEK. 1.500 MODEL METHOD IN THE FIRST 3 DAYS, REPEAT FOR THE 1.20/50/100 MODEL METHOD IN THE LAST THREE DAYS. TRAVEL ON DAY 6/7 TO NEXT SITE. PHOTOGRAPHS TO BE TAKEN DURING DAYLIGHT HOURS, AND WHERE POSSIBLE, REPEATED DURING DAWN/DUSK HOURS FOR LIGHT STUDIES.|
|REPEAT JOSHUA TREE||REPEAT POINT 5- OF JOSHUA TREE ONLY||THIS WILL BE A ONE DAY VISIT FOR TIME EFFICIENCY.|
|REPEAT JOSHUA TREE||REPEAT JOSHUA TREE||REPEAT JOSHUA TREE|
|PRECEDENT VISITS: |
THREE RESOLUTION TARGETS 35.273040, -117.511934
|TO UNDERSTAND THE 1:1 RELATIONSHIP OF OCCUPANT TO CAMERA TO BUILDING TO SITE, AND THUS INFER (BACKWARDS) THE SPECULATIVE RELATIONSHIP OF MY OWN PROPOSAL TO ITS OWN SITE AND OCCUPANT, VIA THE CAMERA (FWQ:3). A STUDY IN THE KINAESTHETIC.||PHOTOGRAPHY OF 1:1 SATELLITE RES TARGETS WITH A SIMILAR RELATIONSHIPS TO SITE CONTEXT AS THE PROPOSAL|
PHOTOGRAPHY OF MY OWN MODELS OVERLAYED ONTO RES TARGET PHOTOGRAPHY (METHOD BORROWED FROM ASTRO/SATELLITE CALIBRATION TECHNIQUES).
THE MODELS WILL INCLUDE A DSLR RESOLUTION TARGET, AN ISO 12233 TEST CHART (IN BOTH REGULAR 2D AND ADAPTED 3D FORM), AS WELL AS THE MODELS, APPROPRIATELY SCALED TO ANAMORPHICALLY MATCH THE 1:1 SCALE OF THE PRECEDENT SUBJECT.
AS THIS IS A MORE SUBJECTIVE UNDERSTANDING OF THE REALM OF THE KINAESTHETIC, EACH PHOTOGRAPH/SET-UP WILL BE JOURNALISTICALLY WRITTEN UPON IN PROSE IN-SITU, TO GAIN A PHENOMENOLOGICALLY DESCRIPTIVE INSIGHT INTO THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OCCUPANT TO CAMERA TO BUILDING TO SITE.
|THREE DAYS OF PHOTOGRAPHY/WRITING, A-Z VISITED DURING JT VISIT, VISITED IN ORDER AS LISTED AFTER DEATH VALLEY|
|UOA TEXAS, AUSTIN – SARAH OPPENHEIMER’S BRIDGE INSTALLATION OPENING||TO UNDERSTAND THE 1:1 RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INSTALLATION TO SITE TO OCCUPANT IN THE CONTEXT OF AN EXPLICITLY OPTICALLY DESIGNED SPACE/INSTALLATION. PRIOR PRECEDENTS WERE NOT DESIGNED IN THIS WAY. SO’S WORK IS EXPLICITLY PERTINENT TO THESIS AND COMPRISES A CONTEXT OF SIMILAR/CONTEMPORARY THESIS THEMES.||REPEAT PRECEDENT VISITS. THIS WORK WILL BE CONSOLIDATED VERSUS INTERVIEWS WITH THE ARTIST TO FOLLOW.||ONE DAY OF PHOTOGRAPHY/WRITING|
|NYC – SARAH OPPENHEIMER’S STUDIO IN LONG ISLAND CITY||REPEAT UT TEXAS VISIT, TO UNDERSTAND THE OPTICAL DESIGN METHODS/PROXIES OF THE ARTIST||INTERVIEW, TOUR OF STUDIO, WRITE-UP OF TOUR AND FINDINGS||BOOKABLE SLOT (APPROX 1HR) OVER ONE DAY|
FIG. 11: As FIG. 10
- Transporting these tools/resources to sites
- These tools will be able to fit into one backpack and one hard suitcase for easy transport.
- Being able to repair/maintain these tools
- These optical test subjects and models will be made from laser-cut plastics, greyboard, and 3D printed PLA plastics. They will be designed with endurance in mind, however, repairs to them can be made with glue and tape. As a backup, they can be somewhat reconstructed from card and craft supplies. Drawings will be made to ensure this, prior to my departure.
- Not damaging the environment with these tools
- The only contact these tools will make with the ground will be via a tripod. These are low impact tools that require no damage mitigation.
- Not disturbing areas associated with the indigenous/natives/private.
- Maps of such land will be made before arrival to any site, for the sake of avoidance.
- Risk assessment not included in this fieldwork description (only included in Cambridge’s Leave-to-work-away forms). Can be sent on request.
- Budget not included in this fieldwork description (only included in funding applcations). Can be sent on request.