SEBASTIAN FATHI / MPHIL IN ARCHITECTURE AND URBAN DESIGN 2020-22
UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
BLOG UPDATES (MOST RECENT FIRST)
November 01, 2021
-Arrived in NYC, campervan has been returned. Flying back to the UK on 03/11.
-Here to interview Sarah Oppenheimer- a visual artist whose work deals with themes relating to the overall thesis.
-The original intention was to visit one of her new installations in Texas and then interview her on that, but apparently there are some scheduling issues. Unable to visit. We went to the Sun Tunnels instead.
-My interview with Sarah aims to probe her workflows in an attempt to understand how her design toolsets (ocularcentric) implicitly persuade the design of her built projects. This is an overall thesis point, fairly distinct from my desert surveys which could be considered design surveys. Perhaps this interview could be given to any designer as the thesis posits that ocularcentrism is a universal issue in design fields, but Sarah is an interesting interviewee as she is crucially aware of ocularcentric design persuasions, and thus frequently questions the relationship between the optical and kinaesthetic, intention and construction. I’d like to know more about two orders. The first order being the ocularcentric world of her built work in tension with the kinaesthetic world, and the second order (more specific to my thesis) being the ocularcentric design tools in tension with the first order.
-Her studio space/set-up is a physical manifestation of the above and so it will documented photographically.
October 26, 2021
-Made it North to Nancy Holt’s Sun Tunnels, Utah.
-As per my fieldwork plan, the point of this visit was to understand a precedent of ocularcentric design in a kinesthetic context. Ie, where does ocularcentrism end and experience begin.
-I adopted my fieldwork methods from my previous desert visits to bring this understanding into my own project work. Photos tbd, not included here. Was actually far more rewarding than anticipated.
-Also did some reflective writing on the method and findings. Tbd.
-Only stayed one night as I think there were a few dodgy meth labs/trailers quite close.
-Was very cold and windy, and amazingly no sun (for one of the driest places in the US…!)
Death Valley Day 4
October 23, 2021
-Last few days in Death Valley.
-Finished up the smaller models. Starting taking more photos of Alex’s landing positions themselves as I’ve realised they can be useful for drawing over as backdrops for further model photography/rendering/drawing when back in the studio (now that I know where these models land).
-Realising that this kind of pre-determined model photography could only be done with prior render simulations (custom render rigs), and that the render rigs (see fieldwork plan) are the innovation component. Otherwise these models would have to be paced out. Render rigs allow for immediate and accurate placement. Trying to explore the ‘innovation’ side of this workflow, as opposed to the purely photo-generative side.
-I find the slippages between the landing points over different sites the most interesting as it speaks to the kinaesthetic worlds that counter ocularcentricm.
-See below for a photo of the campsite at night in Mesquite Springs.
October 22, 2021
Death Valley Day 3
-Much like a sheet of paper, or the grey surface of a Rhino viewport’s construction plane, the desert surface is still, delicate and undisturbed. It crunches heavily under the foot. It’s hard to tell how long it has been undisturbed for, especially when walking out from the road by a few kilometres. Every now and then you may find a rusty can that could quite well have been there for 60 years, blown in from the road. Even the rusty cans crunch under your foot, like they’re made of vellum. That is not to say that the desert surface isn’t full of life. It’s full of holes, often filled with desert kangaroo rats, and vegetation shifting around slowly in tiny breezes.
-The soundscape is motionless too. So much so that the background ringing in your ears is the only thing audible aside from the crunches. Very odd experience, especially when so much of the world is in view to your eyes in the same moments. You’d think the soundscape could be undisturbed by a shout, but when Alex attempted to shout to me from the site datum, around 800m away, I just heard the usual ringing in my ears, and a soft whisper.
-I’m from Devon. Devon has lots of ancient settlements. You walk around Devon, and it can appear quite ancient. This is a whole new ball game of ancient. You walk around here, glancing at strata in cliff faces forged from millions of years ago, untouched by settlements from perhaps thousands of years ago. This place is so old that it’s impossible to image that in this dry heat there were ever glaciers, forming the joints and valleys.
-I am orienting my models using bearing degrees, predetermined from maps done prior to fieldwork. The bearings use true north, which is necessary for alignment/consistency to the maps. To get a true north bearing, you have to use a gadget like an iPhone. iPhones do not have perfect GPS capabilities, so true north is sometimes +/- a few degrees. Enough to move your proposal into a mountain or something. Therefore I am using what is visually comprehensible to me to sometimes help with alignment (like anamorphic ally aligning the model datum to the site datum).
October 20, 2021
Death Valley Day 2
-Managed to get a good amount done since there was decent cloud cover, oddly.
-You can hear a pin drop a mile away, and nobody is around. So it was even more strange when a single Canadian goose slowly flew over to me from the horizon and stopped down for a chat. Good moment.
-The site allows for myself and Alex to coordinate over greater distances, closer to the actuality of the Chilean site. Alex can walk out further, and to more accurate locations, defining the boundary of the proposal envelope.
-The cloud cover lends a more ‘realistic’ blend between model and surroundings. The anamorphism may work better like this. Fewer highlights on the model.
-Drivers sometimes stop by on the road to ask if we are ok, as we look quite clearly like we have broken down (especially when Alex is waiving his high vis wind sock at me from a mile away).
October 19, 2021
Death Valley Day 1
-It is HOT. It is also very cold at night.
-Repeating the method from Joshua Tree. Must remember to remove the model from the tripod and take the shot, as a final shot, in order to gather maximum visual data over the photo sets.
-Work hours have to be limited to the morning only as it is too hot to be out in the afternoon.
-DV is massive. Far bigger than the valley at Joshua Tree. You can see everything within a 10 mile radius more or less. The campervan (which sits at the site datum, where Alex hangs out until I radio him) is just a tiny spec on the road, signifying the site datum (origin center of building).
-I am getting better at angling the models, which means there may be some discrepancy between DV and JT but that is to be encouraged. These things should get more accurate as time goes on.
-This site is I think closer to the Chilean site in scale and topography, but the topography still isn’t identical so I still get a floaty building not quite landing perfectly anamorphically in some shots. All good though, all part of the findings.
October 17, 2021
Mojave Desert – one day only
-Have travelled from JT north to a fairly nondescript spot in the desert.
-We are here because there is an accessible satellite resolution target (see fieldwork plan foir details). It is very windy indeed; writing this from a campervan rocking about in the dark. We are actually sleeping next to the res target because it’s located along our route North. Nobody around for miles.
-These are optical subjects that satellites use to calibrate their optics (they are the extents of a satellites visual capability). The only ones you can access are defunct, and therefore in rough condition. These ones were used with analogue film sat cameras. Film has been replaced with digital, and so these subjects have also been replaced with other, inaccessible targets found in military bases. They have been forgotten about and the desert is eating them up.
-I am using them to understand what is visible to satellites, how this relates to my own models and DSLR when placed over such targets, and to understand the scale/presence of my models kinaesthetically versus a definable/measurable optical target. This is a study in nested optical devices. The photographs are not included in this blog since this blog acts as a document of method. They will be in the thesis/portfolio, with all my other fieldwork data/photographs.
October 15, 2021
Day 4 in Joshua Tree NP.
-Smaller models today (1.100 and 1.20). They don’t require you to walk that far away from the site datum for them to anamorphically resolve at the correct scale in front of you. Therefore they are a little easier to use.
-They also require Alex, my fieldwork assistant, to walk smaller distances to pace out where they ‘land’ on the site. See images of him holding a high vis wind sock up below, marking out the extents of the models and recording in plan where the extents are (via GPS). Therefore it is easier to visualise the extents (see an image of red string/line marking the distance between the extents as they landed on the site).
October 14, 2021
Day 3 in Joshua Tree NP. Some notes:
-Quite a few small dust devils today (small whirlwinds). They’re quite ghostly. One minute you’re working in a totally still environment, km’s from anybody, no noise, and then a rustle starts approaching. It’s odd hearing the sound of wind and seeing bushes move in the dust, but not feeling it at all.
-The shots in JT are all around one particular datum, predefined from studies in Cambridge. I had to shift that datum today, just for one of the shots, as the camera/shot location for the original datum location would have had me climb a mountain. Insights like this are important for the general thesis, but the photograph would have not been worth taking. It is easy to adjust for things like this, as my shot lists are defined in meter distances from a single GPS datum location (not multiple GPS locations for individual shots).
-Tomorrow I shall be starting on my smaller models.
October 13, 2021
Day 2 in Joshua Tree NP. Some notes:
-Since these sites were selected by an AI tool that uses satellite imagery to find similar proxy sites to the VLT site, it does not account for elevation data, just what is presented to the sat. JT is actually quite topographic vs the VLT site. It means the model gets anamorphically projected also in the vertical axis.
-Since I am at the start of this fieldwork I’m still a little green and therefore sometimes forget to take all the right photos despite having all sorts of method lists. No problem though, I still have a lot of data and I am remembering more and more.
-It is fortunate that there is a big layby for the campervan/base right in the middle of the site.
-I am making slight edits to shot locations if there are shrubs in the way of certain important sightlines. Important in the distinction between the physical world and the ocular world.
-The road that the satellite picked (this site) is actually not as straight as I imagined which makes the model overlay quite offset vs the road in some cases. This could be due to a difference in ‘bend perception’ between my eyes and the sat’s.
-Despite using f.22 on a 35mm lens, there is still a good deal of bokeh/blur on the model. Therefore when finding where the model lands (where it is projected to) there is a sort-of bokeh tolerance. Blurry model equals indeterminate model location within about 20m.
October 12, 2021
We are now in Joshua Tree where we will stay for one week (see timetable in the Fieldwork Plan). The desert is amazingly strange. It’s exactly what I’ve anticipated from planning, but on paper it’s absurdity was never quite graspable. It seems totally static, unchanging. The astonomers at the VLT require such connditions for their observations, and their data gathering techniques therefore remain static. The stasis is abundantly clear, even in these proxy desert environments that simulate the VLT environment. It’s also clear how the stasis comes all the way through to the design world- the desert is much like a render engine, drawing board or CAD space. Architect’s also require these spaces for their design development techniques. There is a desert-like thread that weaves through the ocularcentric world of astro-imaging and architecture that becomes ever more apparent. However, unlike a drawing board, the desert is habitable and therefore perceivably present. It is actually quite cold, especially in the shadows. The sunlight is not affected by clouds, but it is very hot if lingers on your skin and easily burns. It is windy – my survey gear gets blown a little but it’s no problem. There are snakes, scorpions, etc and therefore footing is important to get right. It gets dark in minutes and requires you to keep a close eye on the time, always. Moisture escapes quickly, despite regular drinking. The desert may be perfect for fields such as astro-imagine which require stasis, and this may reflect directly to the static worlds of architectural design spaces/tools, but the desert is a force, and proprioceptively impactful. It’s very beautiful. Below are some images from day one in JT.
September 25, 2021
Made it to Costa Rica where I will be staying for at least 14 days in order to legally enter the US on October 10 (UK ban). Will be finishing Essay 4 and conducting relevant thesis interviews during this time.
September 13, 2021
Last of the fieldwork method drawings have been made. These can be found on the Fieldwork Plan page. Essay 4 (Implementation) has been largely finalized and awaits further information that can be gathered during the away portion of fieldwork. LTWA and travel insurance have been received.
August 17, 2021
Everything, from Costa Rica to the US has been booked. Leave to work away applications submitted. We leave on Sept 24 2021. Until then, in terms of fieldwork, I’m organizing a few interviews for my time away, making drawings for my methods (for use on site, recording information etc), and dealing with Essay 4 (project implementation) which will draw on fieldwork. Since my fieldwork is late in the year (due to COVID vaccines and letting the deserts cool down), this essay is being templated in advance and will have relevant fieldwork information inserted just prior to its submission. Images will begin on this blog as soon as I’m on the plane.
June 25, 2021
The campervan has been booked. This will be our car/accommodation while in the US (with a few hostel stops). See here: https://www.escapecampervans.com/campervans/mavericks/. Flights and other accommodation is TBD, but will be booked within a few weeks. Final fieldwork documents (Leave to work away, etc) will be completed within a month. First round of funding has come through (Kettle’s Yard and Faculty Fieldwork Fund). Waiting on Darwin funding.
June 18, 2021
Fieldwork was originally scheduled for August 25 2021. My COVID vaccine second dose is scheduled for late August (as is my fieldwork assistant’s), and so fieldwork has been pushed back to September 25 2021. Full vaccination (according to the CDC) is required in order to skip a 7 day quarantine on arrival in the US.