Video as Urban Condition
Symposium held at the Austrian Cultural Forum London, 2 July 2004
The aim of the symposium was to open the field of enquiry by examining
the implications and applications of video against the background
of the myriad forms in which it appears in urban spaces. Both aspects
of the topic — video and the city — are understood as
interdisciplinary and public. The invited speakers draw on experiences
— from architecture to activism — touching on a wide
range of practices, interests and locations within the field. What
they have in common is what we all share in modern urban life. They
do not regard video as an art-specialism, media-sector or single-purpose
Anthony Auerbach, chair
Am I audible? Good. So, welcome and I should first thank everybody
who has come here today to discuss our topic and I thank all the
artists who have contributed to the Video-pool downstairs which
is an archive of works that we wanted to put into a kind of pool
of knowledge as a basis for developing this project, Video as Urban
Condition. Our aim is to use this day to bring the subject into
focus and to expand our field of enquiry. In the future we want
to develop a touring exhibition of newly commissioned works. I think
it will become clear why, as we have been thinking through the possibility
of this exhibition, we’d like to introduce some of those works
into public space. So that’s our future project. Today is
about laying some practical grounds for all that and opening the
subject to input for several directions and a critical discussion.
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Anna McCarthy, New York University
Before video there was television, which in the United States and
in many other countries began as an urban phenomenon. Stations were
located in cities, and urban audiences got to see the Friday night
fights and daily children’s programs like Captain Video
several years before rural ones.
Early commentators on television’s arrival in the late forties
noted that it had changed the urban landscape. Aerials had started
sprouting on top of buildings, and this was taken as a major change
in the look and feel of city space. It’s interesting to compare
this to the present day, when the same kinds of commentary surround
the installation of satellite dishes. Cultural studies has not overlooked
the class implications of this phenomenon. Charlotte Brunsdon has
done an interesting ethnography of the ways that the cultural forms
of the British class system manifest themselves in the discourses
about, and the practices of, satellite dish placement. And in Sweden,
ethnographic photographer and Karin Becker has documented the different
modes of placement of satellite dishes across a range of ethnic
Back to the history: Another early urban phenomenon was the way
television served as a form of collective urban amusement comparative
to going to the baseball game or the movie theatre. Most Americans
first saw television sets in bars, often as part of a crowd viewing
a sports game. This potential of the tavern to provide all the excitement
of collective sports viewing without the expense of a stadium ticket
made sports promoters very uneasy, and they tried to get laws passed
that prevented bars from showing baseball games. Cinema owners tried
to do the same thing. Neither succeeded.
This idea of television as a technology for collective viewing is
apparent in the medium’s early history in other countries
too. In Germany in the 1930s television was viewed collectively,
in government sponsored television halls. In this instance, collective
viewing embodied a fascist ideal of masses united by a centralised
technological apparatus capable of transmitting national ideology
immediately and seemingly transparently. Sport again figured prominently—most
television halls were established on the occasion of the Berlin
Olympics. This was despite the fact that this was a period prior
to the cathode ray tube and electron scanning beams—television
was a mechanical apparatus, with very few lines of resolution, images
flickering on a tiny screen.
Early television in Sweden was, interestingly, a public, urban phenomenon
for one week, when the government and department stores collaborated
to introduce TV to the public. But afterwards, television was state
sponsored and commercial free for many years.
In other countries collective viewing merely reflects standards
of living in a world dominated by the dollar—not everyone
can afford a TV set, so the community video room is a public necessity.
Or else certain kinds of programming dominate people’s everyday
itineraries to such a degree that public viewing becomes a standard
form. In Brazil, for example, the nightly telenovelas are enjoyed
by everybody, so we see public television sets everywhere, and people
gather to see wherever they may be.
Another aspect of video’s early history as a technology
intertwined with post-war models of urban living is the fact that
in the United States early network programs were obsessed with the
visual idea of simultaneity achieved through networking. Programme
after programme would show live broadcasts of other cities, usually
focused on landmarks, simply for the curiosity of being able to
see a distant place.
This idea recurred in early video art, in which artists like Nam
June Paik celebrated the possibility of simultaneous transmissions
With the rise of videotape and portable video recorders in the 1960s
and 1970s, video became a medium fully intertwined with the very
idea of the urban condition. From the very first it was used to
document and criminalise urban populations, particularly those in
a state of unrest, by news organizations and by law enforcement.
And at the same time, independent filmmakers like the radical documentary
group Top Value Television tried to challenge these top-down representations
through grassroots, eyelevel visual analyses of police activity,
poverty and other urban conditions.
This brings me to the point I want to make about the historical
emergence of video within the space of the city. Video is used for
many things and by many people. If one concept can unify what it
does in urban life—if only partially, and incompletely—it
is the idea that it is a tool for the production of knowledge about
Think about the history of TV in bars. When Satellite technology
was introduced, bars immediately got satellite dishes so that they
could receive network broadcasts of sports games directly, bypassing
local TV stations and also avoiding local advertising. This caused
a big problem for local advertisers, who claimed that bars were
stealing a portion of the audience that was rightfully theirs, an
audience they had purchased when they purchased time for their ads
during the show. The bar audience was uncounted, and thus ‘unknowable’
within the framework of advertising, and something had to be done.
This is related to a larger way that video creates knowledge in
urban space—in addition to the most obvious one, which is
surveillance, and which I’d like to hear the others speak
about. Through its very presence, the television monitor creates
audiences, and for advertisers this means that urban spaces become
vessels holding value—they assemble viewers, who can then
be counted and turned into what Marxists call the ‘audience
commodity’. An abstract representation of viewers that can
be sold to advertisers. And because urban spaces have particular
functions, they can create very valuable audience commodities, ones
about which we know something very particular and can thus target
very accurately with advertising. Doctors offices are a good example.
There is a TV network in the US specifically for waiting rooms,
and medical advertisers love it because they have a captive and
supposedly engaged audience.
But I don’t mean to suggest that the only kinds of knowledge
video produces are top-down forms of institutional control. Indeed,
it’s suggestive that Anthony calls the Video Pool a pool of
knowledge. Think about low-power TV stations like the one represented
in the Superflex video in the Pool here. These uses of the technology,
like—ideally—cable access television in the United States,
provide a voice and a means of visibility for people who generally
are treated as objects of sociological knowledge by corporate television.
It’s an opportunity to challenge dominant representations,
or even go beyond the binary understanding of power as dominance
vs. oppression, through the creations of new kinds of visual and
Another example of a challenge to the top down construction of knowledge
through video would be something like the Surveillance Camera Players,
whose public performances call attention to the all-pervasive video
cameras in New York. And uses of video as a technology of live,
improvisatory performance, as in the VJ movement or culture jamming,
create experiences based on liveness and immediacy that resist archiving
and definitions imposed through conventional art-making categories.
A form of knowledge that insists on embodiment—on being there—rather
than recording and replaying, as video is conventionally treated.
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Manu Luksch, AmbientTV.net
[written text replacing lost audio recording]
My background is in the arts and tactical media, I’ve worked
in film and net culture, trying to find a way of bringing their
media-specific characteristics together in hybrid works.
In the last few years most of my projects have been collaborations
with other artists or people from fields other than the arts, under
the banner of ambientTV.NET. As the name indicates, our works are
concerned with the combination of television—seeing over distance—,network
architectures, and a dramaturgy that has spatial qualities in the
sense that it functions without a beginning or an end—ambient
is when you can step in and step out at any point of the experience.
One good example would be Broadbandit Highway, an endless
road movie which consists of a collage of live traffic surveillance
cameras. At the time—around four years ago—when the
possibilities of live webcam streaming emerged, I got interested
in how people would make use of this opportunity to run your their
broadcast channel, finally independently of curatorial filters and
commercial pressure as excercised by TV networks.
For a few months I observed which live cams are maintained over
a longer stretch of time. You can probably guess content number
one, yes, sex and pornography. Secondly, live cams were used to
show traffic situations, apparently so office workers can check
which route to take before they leave the office, for example, in
Hong Kong the city highways have lots of bottlenecks where the one
needs to cross a tunnel, and once you are in there, it’s too
late to change direction.
And thirdly—this surprised me even more—there was an
enormous amount of live cams showing the waves of the Californian
shore. Someone explained to me that this is for Californians who
like to surf. Well, in Austria they show skiing resorts on morning
TV in winter, I guess that compares.
For Broadbandit Highway, we wrote a script that would
isolate the stream on a website from its surrounding content and
resize it into TV ratio. Every forty seconds, the next web address
on the list was loaded automatically, and the images were re-channelled
onto the hotel TV network in London where this project was launched.
By now, this road movie is three years long.
Currently, I am working on a new film production, called Faceless,
which consists entirely from surveillance camera footage. London,
and UK generally, are boasting the highest density of surveillance
cams in the world. I could throw around some figures, but they are
pretty meaningless since they include only registered CCTV systems.
Even so, the estimate of 1 camera for every 50 people is telling.
Politicians come to London to see ‘how it works’. The
Austrian minister for interior affairs paid a visit recently and
he was not the only one. The technology gets propagated abroad,
but the discourse around is left behind. The latest evaluation report
of the Home Office itself even states that CCTV did not reduce crime,
only car theft in some cases.
Anyway, since the whole of London, streets, shops, sports facilities,
foyers, schools etc are covered by CCTV, I thought that’s
great, I don’t need a film team, it’s all in place,
I only need to act underneath the cameras. Of course, the Surveillance
Camera Players, based in New York, have done such stunts before,
I really like their work, but when Paul told me that the law changed
here in UK, and one can actually acquire footage by applying for
it under the Data Protection Act (DPA), I started to file some test
requests. Data controllers are not only obliged to provide you with
the footage under the DPA, but they must also take the Human Rights
Act Article 8 into account and protect the privacy of others who
might appear on the video, usually by rendering their faces unrecognisable.
Therefore, in the movie, all people around me are faceless. The
story of the movie plays in a London of the future, where the built
environment looks pretty much the same as today, but its inhabitants
are faceless and they don’t even remember the times when people
still had faces. I will show you a trailer of the film which introduces
Firstly I show you some of my favourite snap shots:
This a picture showing two security systems on top of each other:
the camera for the safety of Underground passengers, and its spiky
‘hair style’ for its protection against pigeons.
A sign in Finnish and Swedish
The Police Scientific Development Branch developed a method to
test the functionality of cameras, by using this ‘Rotakin’
test which is self explicatory.
‘Watching the watchers’ in Vienna, in an underground
London’s Mayor proudly presents the 700 new number-plate-reading
surveillance cameras which were installed around the inner 21 square
miles of London in order to enforce the Congestion Charge.
The Panopticon by Bentham, the most referred to model of the current
‘surveillance culture’ since Foucault’s ‘Discipline
Orwellian poster in London
[photos: Manu Luksch except, London Congestion Charge control room from Evening Standard, 6 Feb 2003: ĎMinister and Mayor open £1.2M hi-tech nerve centre for capitalís traffic: mission control for tollí]
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Paul O’Connor, Undercurrents News Network
[part of the audio recording lost]
... From day one, we said, ‘How do you use video for social
change?’ A lot of people said, ‘Well, I just want to
make a film.’ And we thought, ‘Well, who’s your
audience?’ and it seemed that most people didn’t actually
think who the audience was. They just thought everybody is the audience.
And we started working out, who can actually bring about change.
And if we made a video, who is the person, who is the one person
who could see it, that could probably change that situation. That’s
probably the hardest thing to find, but it has been successful over
the years in different ways. It’s been an interesting journey
trying to find out who has that power to change things. So, a lot
of our films are aimed at one person, sometimes they are aimed at
a mass audience, sometimes they’re aimed at twenty people,
fifty people. But that is a great journey to do.
I also wanted to talk about the police: how the police use video.
It is quite interesting. The police originally started using video
against football supporters by filming people going to football
matches. The whole idea was, they had this strategy called ‘In
Your Face’ where they would stick a video camera in your face
and say, ‘Right. We know who you are, if you cause any trouble
we have you on video tape.’ It was a few years later—I
think it was around 1998-99—they started using it against
protests. So they would turn up at protests, stick a camera into
peoples faces. Same sort of strategy: ‘We know who you are,
if you cause problems we’ll pick you up later.’ And
that went on for a few years. It was just terrible: the surveillance
of every protest, whether it was grandmothers against traffic in
the communities, or whether it was a carnival against capitalism
like there was in London.
So we figured, well how do we challenge these guys? They’re
using it to disempower people, but we’re using it to empower
people. So it was sort of a clash of ideologies I suppose. So we
had some fun with remote controls on video cameras. We’d turn
up with remote controls and we’d figure out what cameras the
police were using and we’d stand there behind the police and
switch their cameras off. Of course they’d be sitting there
wondering why their cameras are switched off. And it was great.
But what we saw there with Manu’s presentation, the Data Protection
Act has really changed the situation a lot now and now we’ve
been training activists to go up to police officers and say, ‘Under
the Data Protection Act I’m entitled to a copy of that footage,’
and it really makes a difference. Most activists say that it’s
really changed how they view it. Even if they never get the footage,
it’s changed their point of view by actually empowering them
to go out and just ask for the video. The police don’t have
the power anymore when it comes to video.
That’s really what we’re trying to do: just use video
to empower people in whatever ways we possibly can. Because we all
know the problems of this world. It’s just a case of how are
we going to change it?
I have a five-minute video here which shows how the mainstream video
reflects at what we do. We just cut up some bits and pieces and
stuck them into one tape.
For the first time most people, almost everyone has access to the
audio visual medium, to get across their message to bring about
awareness, to bring about change. The image is shaky sometimes fuzzy,
but it’s also very immediate. This is news from the protesters
point of view. It’s from a series of underground news videos,
shot and distributed from active members of Britain’s so-called
Protesters are using another increasingly important weapon in the
political activist’s armoury: the camcorder. We’re witnessing
the birth of the video activist.
Kevin and his colleagues are so frustrated by the mainstream television
news agenda that they also produce themselves their own news video,
Their video called Undercurrents is selling surprisingly well. Activists
say forty thousand people may see this second edition.
... and it showed us the average age of our viewers is from 28 to
35 and it’s a lot of media people, teachers, educators, a
lot of environmentalists that are working, that don’t have
the time to get out there, but want to see what’s going on.
The main reason I’m here is because when the cameras are gone,
the police move in. It happened at Islington when the mainstream
media left, the police came in and just chased and beat the people
and we recorded that. We ended up getting all the action.
People who have had no experience in the media, suddenly they were
out there taking video material and finding that the very same day,
the material could go out on the national news networks. And for
them as individuals that is an incredibly empowering experience.
Suddenly they realised that the media isn’t something to bow
down to, that it isn’t some great God over which you have
no control. You can do something and it will go on the national
One of the biggest problems we had with activists sending these
tapes was that the footage was bobbing all over the place. So, what
we’ve done with activists, is we’ve trained them how
to shoot properly, we’ve trained them how to hold a camera
steady, we’ve taught them about focus and exposure, just the
fact that we teach people how to shoot properly has been one of
our best success stories. Because then we’ve demonstrated
that anyone who can use a camcorder effectively, anyone who can
use a camcorder properly, can actually shoot footage which is just
as good as, if not better than any news crew.
Armed with to this new knowledge, he’ll be able to join the
many other groups around the country who use Undercurrents to tell
their stories. In fact, he’s straight out on his first assignment.
The street protest against traffic congestion in Oxford.
What we found was that we actually presented a different perspective
on a lot of issues. And where normal news stations might find themselves
very much removed from the subject—usually they’ve been
to the police briefing and they are trapped behind the police lines—we’re
actually on the other side of the fence. We were in with the people,
with the activists, with the protesters. That’s actually demystified
what it’s actually like to be an activist. So probably for
the first time, people have actually seen what it’s like to
be in a tree, when the bailiffs are trying to evict you, or what
it’s like living as an activist.
As J18 approached, the web pages began advertising for ‘video
activists’, Liz Thomas responded to an email and came to Backspace
a little nest of computer activism on the river. The idea was to
use the internet to bypass the editorial controls of the mainstream
When I’d finished the tape, I would go and find a courier
at one of the pick-up points—a person on a bicycle—and
send the footage back and that would go out instantly, unedited,
over the internet.
In February this year, environmental activists targeted offices
of Shell UK in London, armed with just a computer, a mobile phone
and a video camera.
We are in the Shell building on the Embankment. My colleagues are
now barricading the door and we’re shortly going to transmit
live to the internet from inside the Shell building.
And that is exactly what they did. A live video stream meant that
supporters could log on and watch as police came and realised what
was happening. The power of phone lines were cut but so long as
batteries lasted, the protesters could conduct email interviews
and broadcast pictures of their sit-in, even the moment when police
finally stormed the building was seen live on the internet.
It shows how people are bringing about change. It shows why they
want to bring about change. So it’s really providing some
kind of message of hope that you don’t see in the mainstream
[end of video tape]
Anna, is there a comment that you would like to make on what we’ve
just seen? What interested me was, as you have said in connection
with in early television, there is a will from the top down to own
the ‘audience commodity’. And somehow this audience
commodity in public space is actually quite elusive, however much
research advertisers had done, the audience in public space is something
that is quite hard to grasp. So it’s been in the interests
of television broadcasters, advertisers and sponsors to get television
back in the home where you know who people are, where they are and
what they are doing. So the action of TV, or video generally, in
public space is much more open than was anticipated by the first
networks. We’ve seen in both in Manu’s and Paul’s
projects that there is a potential for exploiting the reversibility
of the networks. The channel isn’t only a one-way street.
I think it speaks to the point about video as a tool for creating
knowledge in urban environments. What is really encouraging about
Undercurrents and AmbientTV is that they’re creating knowledge
from eye level rather than from the top down, like mainstream media.
I have a question for Paul. From the late 1960s and early 70s, video,
in the United States in particular had that kind of alternative
history with people like TV-TV, who were working from the ground
up, who radically changed the style of the TV documentary. TV-TV
in particular ended up being recuperated into mainstream TV to the
extent that, I think, one of the guys who founded it is a mainstream
Hollywood producer these days. How come you’ve held out for
so long? Or have there been blandishments, has there been an idea
that you could take this try to get it into niches like a 3 to 5
am slot on Channel 4?
Yes, or MTV.
Yes, it’s always been an interesting one. Because in a way
we’ve always seen that if we’re successful, we have
been gobbled up by the mainstream. That’s how we see it: the
sort of stuff we’re doing has to go into the mainstream. But
we haven’t managed it really. We have worked in the mainstream,
we’ve done separate programs and stuff. And yes, that’s
what happens, they put it on in the middle of the night. So, as
far as television is concerned, we’ve looked at it and figured:
television is useful for money. That’s really the main purpose
that we’ve used television for: selling our archive footage
to keep going with the sort of stuff we’re doing. For distribution,
we haven’t found any better way than video cassettes: selling
video cassettes and getting them out and about. It has proved the
most effective way of distribution for us. How we’ve held
out? We started out with four people originally. One of them was
an ex-BBC producer. Now he’s left us too. He’s given
up all sorts of media. He is working in ethical property, setting
up for campaign groups. One went off to set up Oxford Channel which
was a restricted service licence. He wanted to set up his own TV
channel. That went bust after two years. Another partner went off
and did a lot of stuff for Channel 4 —undercover work and
stuff like that. And then there’s me left of the original
four who is still here. Don’t know, maybe there is a reason
Do you feel that the mainstream which would be a measure of your
success is not actually effective in conveying your message? Is
your message somehow compromised by the mainstream?
Yes, if we get our message onto mainstream.
You were saying, for example, that your audience is there, that
the best distribution is through the VHS system and that it goes
back to the collective viewing of your childhood you described earlier.
And this is effective because you have, in a way, an ‘audience
commodity’ that is quite well known to you. But what happens
when for example you borrow from mainstream TV representations?
You use music, you use fast cutting, there is a deliberate engagement
with a particular audience there—with certain conventions
of understanding. With this kind of reversibility of channels we’ve
been discussing, you could get re-swallowed again by the mainstream
and you can probably turn on MTV and watch a pop video which is
acting out some kind of street demo or the activist ‘lifestyle’.
Do you feel that there is something in the medium in this process
that is actually cutting off the kind of political possibilities
you were looking for in the medium?
Yes, absolutely. And time and time again we are seeing where these
advertisements or pop videos take all the meaning out of it. Were
seeing the street protest culture being reduced to nothing.
Do you think that brings the people out onto the streets? Or does
it convince people of protest as just a style, the ripped jeans
I’d love to know what brings people out into the street.
I think the difference is, Paul doesn’t appropriate the kind
of classic media story structure namely, good or bad, black and
white. All journalistic coverage is framed in those terms, it’s
I was at a workshop this morning and there were two BBC reporters
there and they kept talking about community—creating communities
with technology. They were talking for ages and they kept saying,
well we tried and we tried. Well, the reason you failed is because
you’re just talking of getting hold of people individually
with technology. Have you ever tried getting twenty people in a
room and showing them a video? And then they can talk to each other.
That, to us, is community. Forget about this buzzword ‘community’
you hear in the television industry. They just have no idea really.
They are working in these ivory towers up there and they’re
not interacting. If you make something for television, you don’t
get face to face with your audience. So it must be really disconcerting
making television if you don’t see an audience.
Can you say a bit more about the training you do? You were implying
you train people to use cameras properly. Can you say a bit more
about what that means? Practically what your training activities
Yes. Most people we deal with have never used a video camera before.
So we’re basically saying, work out what you want to use a
camera for. And most of them have a strategic use for it, they want
to use it to record evidence or make a documentary about what they
want to campaign for, or whatever use. So basically it’s just
how to use a video camera. The basics of holding the camera, the
focusing, the manual focusing, how to get a good image and how to
get seriously good images and then how to build a story from those
images. So the first workshop is very basic and it just empowers
people. We’ll do editing workshops as well and train people
how to edit, how to use the software. And then after that it’s
just sticking with them all the way through to a finished video.
And hopefully they will have learnt everything they need to know
to take it onwards.
Just a moment ago you were wondering what gets people out onto the
street. I can’t help remembering the Rodney King incident
in Los Angeles. There was an incident of an amateur video that definitely
got people out onto the streets. Have there been incidents where
your footage had that kind of effect? Because you were out on the
streets with the video camera. Are there instances where things
have happened because of video that would not have happened otherwise?
Yes, there are a few cases, not as dramatic as Rodney King but there
have been small cases, for example, where we worked with pensioners
in Wrexham. We showed evidence to the pensioners living around this
aluminium factory and once they saw the evidence, they all came
out onto the street. They all blockaded the gates of this factory
because of this video. That was quite empowering to see. That was
a direct result of video.
I would like to bring the conversation back to CCTV. There’s
a kind of appropriation of networks in AmbientTV’s Broadbandit
Highway and Manu’s CCTV movie, a kind of infiltration: following
the channels that are there as part of an infrastructure—an
information infrastructure—re-inhabiting them and turning
them inside out. But with the Faceless, Manu, in a way, you offer
it back to the mainstream through the sci-fi genre. How do you feel
about these kind of relationships: channelling yourself up and then
coming back down again?
On a practical level I was choosing a science fiction form because
people will watch the film and the story which seems to be in the
future, but they see all the spaces where they walk and go to shop
and get the bus and then realise that the same footage exists of
them as well. There is this old argument, if you don’t do
anything wrong then you have nothing to hide. But people just can’t
deny it, it nags on their dignity constantly.
Do you feel that there is a campaigning motive behind the film?
Is it there to remind people of just how their every action could
be followed? The faces being blocked out, to some extent highlights
this, but could also be alienating. Everything else is completely
normal including the surveillance. But somehow when you display
the footage you recover with the blank faces it has this weirdness
about it. I would be interested from the audience whether the suggestion
made by Faceless is one that just seems familiar and is an amusing
concept for science fiction or whether it makes you think again
about your own movement through urban space. Would anyone like to
comment on that?
I would just like to add the question: Where do you want to stop
this development? Because now CCTV in this form is being exported
to Europe and other countries. I read constantly how interior ministers
come to London to get inspiration. But that’s not the end
of it. There are biometric systems, tracking systems where another
camera picks up a person when one looses the subject. There is the
connecting of different data bases. for example the congestion charge
database is connected to the vehicle licensing database and so on.
Up till now it is not yet allowed to record sound, but I why not?
Hey, you have nothing to hide.
There are more and more sophisticated means to control in the urban
space that are mediated by video. I would like to ask Ole Scheeren,
how far the traditional means of control, of influencing people’s
behaviour in a building or a public space are being displaced by
new means . How far do you consider video as part of the repertoire
of means of giving something to the passers-by, or on behalf of
a client, controlling behaviour within a certain space. How much
has video become part of your brief?
Ole Scheeren, Office of Metropolitan Architecture
Obviously the whole starting point is a different one. I think the
situation of working as an architect implies a set-up that is fundamentally
different because it is a set-up in the first place within the establishment
and not against the establishment. So often enough we have also
called ourselves ‘prostitutes’ in precisely this sense:
obviously you’re providing a service. You’re there fulfil
the need of a client and in some ways you have to satisfy that.
So it’s a completely different starting point—which
doesn’t mean that it’s all where it ends—but it
comes from the other side, not from the side of disturbance.
If we look at projects we’ve done, maybe Prada would be the
most interesting one in this context. We’ve designed stores
but also advertising and media content for a fashion house that
is more of a fashion empire at now than a house. We’ve actually
suggested to use media or use video and screens not primarily in
an overpowering way. There had been examples in retail and the most
extreme one was Nike Town, I think where the video was used to overpower
the customer. In the mid 1990s when Nike Town came up, that was
the first time that a big screen in a retail environment was really
implemented. The screen was almost as big as the store, the music
was loud, every ten or fifteen minutes the screen came down for
18 minutes ... loud music ... and it was combined with an understanding
of what an audience or a target group or a customer base essentially
would be. There was a very concise message delivered on the screens.
It was all about the performance, the athlete, ‘just do it’,
‘you can do it’, whatever. So when we worked on Prada,
we were still producing architecture. Obviously there is a certain
limitation you encounter to physical space. Physical space is in
many ways more inscribed with regulatory systems than virtual space,
or at least that’s what you’d expect as an architect.
That’s one of the things to discuss because I think this is
also exactly where we were wrong.
We started with the premise of saying we are creating a space for
a company that is primarily physical but we wanted to try to enlarge
this space and therefore also undermine the space that we ourselves
had created and we wanted to do this in a way in which we were interested
in broadening the perspective on the company, and also on a potential
customer basis, rather than narrowing it down. Just to give one
or two examples: within the imagery that we used, which we produced
for the screens, one part was related to the company, their production
facilities and all the things you might not see but that were still
interesting: how much research they did, the testing they did on
materials and so on. You could say that this is still a directly
promotional part but then we also displayed. for example, maps showing
where all the Prada items were produced in the world and how they
were distributed and where all the fakes were produced and how they
were distributed. We proposed advertising to Prada that actually
took pictures of street vendors selling the fake stuff and to actually
acknowledged a counter-reality within the system. The really interesting
part was that Prada actually wanted to do it, but the legal systems
in the United States completely prohibited it. Since all the stores
have CCTV cameras, we also wanted to directly loop them and bring
them on the screens in the stores, so that you could step into a
small peep show room where you had a lot of little screens and where
you could watch all the other customers, and eventually also yourself—watch
yourself go through the store and observe that behaviour. But this
did not happen in the end because of the regulatory systems.
I was quite delighted with the changing rooms in the stores. I’m
mentioning this because it’s an instance where you have to
work with a lot of constraints because you have to work for your
client and yet the medium that is used for control, for adjusting
behaviour, for adjusting perception and so on is actually offered
back to the customer, as something quite fresh, as something generous.
There’s a of delight in the delay in the CCTV which is in
the changing room itself. You can see yourself from behind and you
turn around to look and you watch yourself do a beautiful model
pirouette. It was just beautifully orchestrated. But then I left
the changing room thinking, ‘But was I being recorded?’
This ambiguity is always there. The other thing that is quite interesting,
that maybe you can comment on later, is that this big screen is
a kind of spectacle in itself. If I remember correctly in the ZKM
project, the proposal was for a wall-sized screen that would be
a constantly moving image. These crop up everywhere as a screen
literally to hide architecture. I was in Rome the other day and
they have big screens so you can see the Pope, but they completely
obliterated parts of the arcade which was built in a different era
to encompass a public. So it’s quite interesting how the same
urban space and a particular idea of a collectivity is formed firstly
through architecture and now through video which has to obliterate
at least parts of the architecture.
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I want to talk in this part of the symposium about video’s
relationship to geographical and cartographic categories, in particular
the concept of scale. Video is often understood as a technology
of space-binding, bringing different places together in what Michel
Foucault called heterotopias—places capable of containing
and representing other places. TV contains other places, putting
them in a box in the corner of the room. When I documented its uses
in immigrant shops and cafes in New York, San Francisco, and other
cities I noticed that it was often used as part of a decorative
assemblage that represented the homeland, an impression that was
furthered when the TV set showed something which came from the place
where the people came from: Bollywood movies, or European Cup soccer
games or other visual material that served as a connection to the
place from which people originate. In the case of one Russian delicatessen,
a post-perestroika Russian delicatessen in San Francisco, the were
watching variety shows fro Soviet-era Russia on videotape, which
as strange, early example of this phenomenon of the nostalgia for
totalitarianism, which you often find now in Russia. So TV was a
way of connecting people back to the places they had come from.
In its space-binding capacity, video serves as a tool for what Heidegger
called ‘the abolition of all possibility of remoteness.’
In collapsing together the global and the local, as I would argue
these émigré installations do, video transmissions
disrupts conventional hierarchies of scale from local to global.
They make it impossible to say that there is a specific, and bounded
local place and, in the giant elsewhere of the rest of the world,
a large and unbounded spatial imaginary. Video in this sense affirms
what the anthropologist Bruno Latour sees as the fictional nature
of the global and local distinction. As he notes in his groundbreaking
and difficult book We Have Never Been Modern, the terms global and
local don’t represent categories of spatial experience—you
can’t actually experience the global— they are merely
points of view we adopt towards networks that are more or less long
and more or less connected. A global network, he points out, is
local at every point.
In terms of video, we can say that control of the ability to network
places—control of the means of networking, we could say—is
a kind of power we are very familiar with. I’m interested
in the different ways that has been used by artists. If you look
in the Video-pool downstairs, Blast Theory uses video and positioning
technologies to create networked games in urban space. It’s
interesting both as a creative use of the technology, but also something
a little bit darker—though perhaps this is my idiosyncratic
opinion as a depressed and despairing resident of the United States—for
the fact that it is doing essentially what the department of defence
does when it runs covert simulations of urban warfare in cities
like san Francisco. They have been running almost identical kinds
of surveillance and simulation games, using the same technology.
In contrast, AmbientTV’s Triptychon rewrites these kinds of
militarised technologies of control and surveillance as narratives
by introducing parallel representational systems—dance, writing,
video projection—to defamiliarise the mapping projects that
are going on in these Defence Department surveillance systems.
I want to turn to the etymology of the word scale now, as a way
of thinking about what video does. I think this in the end will
speak to the point I want to make about video can do as an object
of knowledge in urban cultures. The word scale is a complex and
highly abstract noun that expresses a number of different kinds
of proportional relations, from the comparative size of physical
phenomena to the mathematically calculable relationship between
an object and its representation. In proportional representation,
relations between the referent and the sign are exact and quantified.
The sign is a faithful reproduction of some key aspects of the referent
(its proportions) and thus may be treated as identical to the referent
in certain circumstances. This is the principle of scale in cartography.
Relations of scale, this definition proposes, are relations that
can be relied on because they are mathematically derived, thus guaranteeing
a stable relationship between the representation and the real. However,
early modern usages of the concept of scale extend beyond the mathematic
application and into the subjective realm of judgment and analysis,
addressing the conditions under which reason can move from the particular
to the universal. The OED offer as an example of such usage a statement
about methodology from Francis Bacon: ‘Definite Axiomes are
to be drawn out of Measured Instances; And so Assent to be made
to the more Generall Axiomes, by scale.’ Here, the concept
of scale helps stabilise a necessarily obscure dichotomy: the relationship
between physical observation and mental speculation in inductive
reasoning. Bacon uses the concept of scale to explain how theory
and theoretical propositions are derived, showing them to be large-scale
syntheses of smaller, discrete empirical phenomena. To earlier uses
of scale as an expression of orders of hierarchy (the ladder of
being) and relations of proportion (the map) this proposition adds
the far more complicated idea of scale as an expression of relations
between physical specificity and theoretical generality, in other
words, as degrees on a conceptual continuum spanning from materiality
on one end to abstraction on the other. In constructing a thread
between the two, scale regularises the process of knowledge production
by implying that there is a proportional relation between the datum,
the definite axiom, and the general axiom. The concept of scale,
in short, provides a conceptual pathway between the physical and
What does this all have to do with video, you might ask?
Well if you look at a number of the videos in the pool, you see
how people are using the camera in a sense to reflect on generalisable,
sociological imagery. One video by Ursula Damm that tracks people’s
movements in space and turns them into CGI images—flight paths
on a grid, or points on a map. Videos in this vein make me think
of the classic 1960s sociology textbooks covers. If the cover wasn’t
simply a series of different coloured icons and arrows representing
human society, it was likely to be some kind of long-lens overhead
shot of a city square, with people arranged neatly on benches like
birds on a wire. I’ve always regarded this image as an encapsulation
of one problem with sociology as a discipline—the fact that
it emerged, and is often used, for the abstraction of human beings
into populations to be managed, governed, and in some cases disposed
of.—To be fair, it’s now a discipline more identified
with the left than most, although this does not necessarily extend
to reflections on the nature of the knowledge it produces as a discipline.—I
think video’s urban uses often work to render people as sociological
bits, and I think a lot of the artists in the show are aware of
this reduction of scale from the human to the datum, and the effects
this can have in people’s lives. The structure of the Video-pool
itself, as a miniature city we can view from overhead via CCTV,
further calls our attention to this use of the technology. I’m
reminded in the last instance of the TV coverage of the Rodney King
uprising as they were packaged in the days following the initial
violence. What would happen was that ABC news would start with a
satellite image of LA, with a soundtrack reminiscent of the opening
scene of Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Conversation, then
dissolve to the overhead shots taken by TV news cameras on helicopters
as they patrolled the city looking for signs of violence to increase
their ratings. So you went from this abstraction of mapping and
cartographic imaging, satellite imaging to the abstraction of news
broadcasting and it suggested, I think, a parallel or a comparison
between them. This is the way video works to render humans on a
scale other than the immediate experience of the body, of oppression,
of emotion, of pain that is physical and, often, ultimately, social.
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Hello everyone, can you hear me ok? Good. My name is Juha Huuskonen
and I’ll talk about different sub-cultures and creativity
on quite a small scale that then grows to larger scale communities.
I don’t know if I’ll surprise Anthony with my direction
but we’ll see. I’ll try to keep it short. I’ll
show you quite a lot of images.
Basically what I do, I wear all these hats in different times but
mainly I see myself as an organiser of different events. These are
the organisations that I am currently involved in: Katastro media
collective, Piknik Frequency media culture organisation, Pixelache
electronic art festival and Olento production company.
These are the topics that I will talk about: do-it-yourself, electronic
art networks, cross-disciplinarity, mass materialisation and creative
misuse of technology. Many of these topics came up with Paul’s
and Manu’s presentations. I’ll mostly give you a few
examples of this kind of activity, some concrete projects and then
propose a few ideas surrounding them.
The first example is demoscene. How many of you know about demoscene?
Raise up your hands. I’m seeing two hands. I always ask this
question and it is usually only two hands. In Finland it’s
more because I have given this presentation so often. demoscene
is something that started in the late 1980s, early 90s, with early
home computers, Commodore 64, Atari, early PCs and so on. A lot
of young people started creating things called demos which showed
audio visual presentations. Where someone does the software, someone
does the music, someone the sound. This whole activity was based
around people sending discs in the mail. This was before the internet.
I used to send 50 discs to 50 people all over Europe every two weeks
with the latest piece of software that I had and they did the same.
They sent the latest pieces of software that they had to me. So
it was a very random but efficient network of people exchanging
software. The most important thing about demoscene were the parties.
They were first called ‘copy parties’ because the idea
was that a lot of people would get together and copy all the software
to one another. Nowadays they are called parties.
This is a recent image, this is from something called a gathering
in Norway. All these little dots are screens. There are a few thousand
young individuals spending a weekend on an ice hockey rink. I can
show you some more. The main thing is the way demoscene is nowadays
co-ordinated through websites and these are some of the biggest
ones. This is scene.org and there was a question there recently
about the ages of people and it’s mostly twenty-somethings
who are following this website—as you can see from these images.
These are from Assembly. Those attract much younger audiences as
Are they all boys?
It’s, like, 1% girls, I think.
The name demoscene comes from this idea of a demo and that was what
the scene was revolving around. People creating these demonstrations
and in these events there was a competition. On the last night there
was always a competition for who had done the best graphics, who
had done the best sound and who had done the best demo. Nowadays
the demos are still there but it is also about networking and a
lot of other cultures have become part of this activity.
The basic activity is still the same. Few times a year you travel
to these big events and then you create demos yourself and you participate
in this creative activity. Another example is the VJ community,
in the same way, it is guided by a few websites and discussion forums
and these are some examples. In the same way as demoscene—demoscene
started from the fact that many people had these home computers
and after they got bored of playing computer games with them they
wanted to do something else with them. And this something became
the demoscene activity. The VJ scene already started in the 70s.
To be mixing video in a club is an old thing. There is nothing new
about that, but what is new right now is that there are thousands
of people involved in that because nowadays you can do that with
your home computer. That gives a lot of new possibilities for creativity.
Here are some photos of a recent event, put together by a group
called Share in New York. This attracts a very diverse audience.
It’s mostly the idea that you bring your gear, either your
laptop or some other gear and you plug it into the sound or video
system. And then it basically becomes this cacophonic environment
where people perform together. But it’s very localised, so
we can see these miniature performances around the space.
The last example is the Placard Festival. This festival started
in Paris seven years ago. I wanted to show this as an example of
a concept that is easily transported to venues and locations. This
is the first Placard event in Finland. This took place in my friend’s
apartment a month ago. It’s a headphone festival. The audience
and performer are all wearing headphones and you bring your own
headphones to the event. This whole thing started when someone wanted
to put together an electronic festival but there was no venue. So
they did it as a headphone event. This is now the seventh edition
of Placard and it’s now a 95-day-long event. There is a server
in Paris and anyone can host a Placard session. You sign in and
send an email and there is a web forum where people can sign in
and play. Then different people can sign in to be the listening
stations. And this is what happens. At the same time when we did
the Helsinki event, there was one in Amsterdam and one in northern
Italy somewhere. So we switched sessions. At times we were listening
to stuff from Amsterdam and at times they we were listening to our
stuff and so on. As an experience it was really interesting. It
was a 24-hour-long thing. It started on Saturday at noon and ended
on Sunday at noon. To spend this time silently in this space and
to only communicate by gestures and sign language—and later
in the night there was stage diving and all sorts of activity was
taking place—it was really nice, a nice way to do it.
In the same way as this has now spread to different locations, there
is another example that Anna mentioned, the Surveillance Camera
Players. The group that does these little plays for surveillance
cameras also presented it as a concept and now it is in Bologna,
Stockholm, wherever. I think this type of concept that can easily
be spread, with no money, with existing simple technologies—these
I think are really powerful.
I will now propose some ideas of what all these things have in common.
It might be interesting in relation to some other things that were
mentioned before. First thing is that these are self-organised,
self-sufficient communities. They have their own awards, their own
systems to decide who is the best, they have their own history—for
example, who started the first demo scene, who was the first to
do this kind of effect and so on. It is mostly based on peer respect.
Your peers evaluate whether you are good or not. Most of these are
on the fringe of art, commercial and the academic world. They are
not outside that, there are definitely interfaces to all these environments.
A lot of people involved in VJ or demoscene also have a commercial
vehicle, they work as artists or they do research, or some jump
to those areas as well. The interesting thing is that people are
at the same time amateurs and experts, in the sense that they have
a very high level of knowledge. For example, demoscene is the backbone
of a lot of game companies in Europe. A lot of people came from
the demoscene experience. They learnt to do real time graphics efficiently.
These things are based on open source. The idea is that everything
should be available for free and so non-commercial, non-structured,
that is the ideology. But even in these informal networks you still
need to be friends with somebody to get some knowledge. It is organised
in a very sociable way. The key interesting point for me is that
these networks, communities, are creating new tools and technology
at an amazing rate. For example, around the VJ community there have
been more than a 100 tools that have come out in the last three
or four years. All of them give a different idea of what a live
video performance should be: what aspect you should be able to control,
what you should be able to do in a performance situation and so
on. And the other aspect is that these are often more based on performance,
or on a certain situation where something takes place, people meet
and something is presented, something is experienced. That is the
key thing and not a product.
The idea is that creativity is based on very short time spans. Someone
gives an idea, another one comments on it, and another one comments
on it and so on. Usually, sampling and hijacking others’ work
is the basic idea. You take something, you do something with it
and then you put it back into the community. So copyright and protecting
the value of an art piece is not really the backbone of this activity.
Creative Commons is one recent example of an alternative to copyright
and patent. How many of you have heard of Creative Commons? Quite
a few, that’s good. I think there are already a few million
works licensed under Creative Commons. The idea is that on top of
the existing copyright laws there is a set of legal documents that
are created to allow more relaxed copyright arrangements. You can
say that instead of 95 years, which is the current default time,
it can be only 28 years or 14 years, which it used to be. Or you
can say that you can use this for non-commercial purposes if you
mention my name, and so on. It’s to make the work more available
and used. I think those were my main points.
These kind of points are also true to other related communities,
the open source community, media activism, video activism, tactical
media, indymedia, blogging, sort of ‘do it yourself’
creativity and the communities build around that.
If I have time I can show you some photos of certain projects. I
will show you something from the Pixelache Festival this year and
last year. This is maybe an idea of how this kind of project can
jump to the urban environment, club and city space and so on. This
is Pixelache this year. The theme was ‘audiovisual architecture’
and these are some photos of the locative media workshop that took
place in the railway station. The idea was to remap the activity
taking place in the railway station. Here is a project of creating
little zones. And this is people walking around with colourful faces.
Here are little notes that were added to the environment. And this
is Manu, Mukul and the others: this is the Triptychon performance.
Manu would be best person to talk about this project, but it’s
basically using GPS technology, the performers are outside and inside
the museum. The audience was surrounded by the material. Here are
some photos from 2003, the theme was ‘Videojukka’ which
is Finish for VJ. The word doesn’t really exist. We invented
the word. It is not very fashionable, it sounds kind of clunky but
we wanted to use this term to emphasise that we should maybe have
a Finnish word for this kind of activity and maybe look at this
culture from our own perspective and not import the VJ idea. We
organised a VJ jam, we had groups performing simultaneously and
there was a total of 35 groups who performed within two and a half
With one music source?
With one music source and three competing groups. Half an hour slots
and then another group comes in. And this is Light Searchers’
from the UK. And this New York. We also travelled to New York and
we put together this event on the roof top of the Gershwin Hotel.
We also did an event together with Share, I showed this earlier
about Share. And this is group Galapagos. This is interactive cinema.
And this is from Montreal, I think. And here are some examples of
work that will be shown next Spring at Pixelache 2005. The theme
is ‘dot org boom’. The idea is to look at the dot org
sector but to take a positive approach—in the same way as
we had the dot com we have the dot org as something exciting, a
development. These are a couple of examples of work that I thought
might be interesting in this context. This is a project called ‘light
bricks’. These bricks basically correspond to touch. The idea
is to make walls where people can leave traces and messages. Here
is another example. This is a light installation that visualises
the noise in the city, around this area. And here is a project about
pollution. It’s a recycled plant. This is a proposed project.
The idea is that the colour of the smoke would change based on how
good people are at recycling in that area. This is a Julie Andreve
and her work is based on vehicles. These are photos of a project
that she did last year where there were a few fancy cars travelling
around the city and people could send in videos and those were downloaded
via a mobile phone interface plus a wireless network where it was
available. They were mobile cinemas travelling around the city.
She also does these performances where she records everything she
can about the car, the experience of travelling around the city.
Like the movement, the engine, the sound and the visuals and then
recreating that in a different way to give different plots through
There are quite a lot of links related to all this stuff that I
presented and we’ll add those to the video-as dot org website
– very soon.
Thanks very much. I think what I want to do now is rush straight
on to Ole. I think what you are suggesting here is provocative for
Ole in so far as the kind of structures that you’re using
in this activity are ones that are recognised as part of urban processes
and how cities actually developed. One of the things that architects
occasionally point out is how little they can actually influence
this kind of activity. So the self-organised, the DIY and the making-it-happen
are things that it is possible architects could feel a little envious
of to some extent. In a way there is a meeting point and a contrast
in terms of practice but I think Ole is the one to comment properly
on those issues.
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Ole Scheeren, Office of Metropolitan Architecture
In a way, I could probably have made the gap between what I will
be talking about and what the others talked about slightly smaller.
There have been more similar involvements with video in my work,
or rather in my own work, not the office’s work. There are
a number of projects: for example, the participation in Media City
Seoul 2000, an exhibition held in Korea that was located in a museum,
on subway stations and on big digital screens throughout the city.
Seoul had, at the time, seventy-two of these screens. They were
more than 10 x 15m large electronic billboards. I showed a very
short film that I did together with Dominique Gonzales-Förster.
It was a piece that focused on questioning how much video could
draw together local and global. It was running on these screens
between advertising in a fairly abstract context. Maybe I can show
that to you later. It was also about the game—this was before
the World Championship soccer games in Korea and Japan. It dealt
with split screen arrangement and the creational tool of 3-D reality
shifted into an actual video production.
Another project that we could maybe talk about later is Cities on
the Move. An exhibition that maybe some of you saw when it was here
in London at the Hayward Gallery, curated by Hans-Ulrich Obrist
and Hou Hanru. I did the scenography here in London together with
Rem Koolhaas. Later the show went to Bangkok and I co-curated and
organised the whole show there. As part of the exhibition there,
some artists had taken sub-curatorial roles so their art work was
not only their own work but they were actually assembling other
works and introducing them into the show as their own work. Dominique
had done a kind of mini cinema festival, so she had invited or taken
a number of young film makers’ works and introduced them to
the show. When we went to Bangkok the whole show exploded in many
ways because here it was hosted by the Hayward in a proper contemporary
art museum with all the logistical structures it had and the space
it had. In Bangkok until today there is still no museum for contemporary
art and there was absolutely no structure to introduce and organise
this thing. More than a hundred architects and artists were part
of it, so it was a huge logistical enterprise, everything was completely
improvised. There were a few people running private galleries and
these galleries were the main base for the show, but then the show
started to spread out and cannibalised the entire city, traffic
networks, media etc. What I wanted to say was that, as part of all
of this, we had a little film festival organised and in a way a
proper film festival. The whole point of this was that we would
mix and shift sources of production and also places of consumption.
So we selected a whole range of films, from feature films, down
to semi-professional films, artist films and home movies and home
videos. Then arranged a programme out of those and then this was
shown partly in the galleries, partly in the super commercial cinema
in a shopping mall, partly in the city in front of the city hall,
in the main railway station etc. So this was really dealing with
how to shift and cross the boundaries of these different parts.
Another project that that I was involved in which also very much
relied on video and comes closest to some of other things we’ve
discussed today was—we were working on an alternative local
government structure for London before London ever had a mayor.
So it was before Ken Livingston when nobody knew yet what would
happen. There was just the White Paper which had been issued and
there was this moment of eventually implementing a government structure
and building a city hall. I guess all of you know rather well what
happened. The project was essentially thought to be an architectural
project, to think of a city hall, what a city hall could be. But
our project ended up being a much more heterogenic structure of
different elements that would not only include physical space but
a set of tools through which a local government could operate—could
be both analytical or implementational at the same time—and
video did play an important role. Direct action also played an important
role in that we actually went out for almost a year through London
interviewing people, filming people and by accident also meeting
Ken Livingston before he was ever mayor. So we proposed film and
video actually as an institutional structure to allow what many
of you described in a different context, either used to suppress
or counter suppression. We suggested video more as a tool that,
if well organised, could eventually allow people to generate narratives
that would make it possible to generate a completely different understanding
of a city—of the relationship between the small-scale of a
city, the inhabitants and the concrete issues and problems, every
day things—and transcribe that in relation to an institutional
structure that then needed to understand and analyze these things
and eventually translate them into policies. These are things that
maybe I should have talked about that but Anthony was so into CCTV
Perhaps we have time for both. I admit to being fascinated by it.
This is going to be a more architectural presentation. I’ll
talk quite a bit about architecture and in some ways it might not
have so much to do with what you talked about before but maybe it
CCTV today is already—CCTV, I have to clarify: because we
were all very confused when we first heard CCTV, we think of closed
circuit television but CCTV is China Central Television Station.
It is already one of the biggest television stations in the world.
They currently produce and broadcast fourteen channels. It is an
organisation which, as a state broadcaster, is obviously engulfed
in—or involved in a whole set of issues in relation to the
state but also in relation to an extremely rapidly changing society
Building a TV station makes it inevitable to look at other TV stations.
This one you might know since it is in London, the BBC. This one
is NHK, NBC, CNN and you can see that you have hardly ever seen
more generic and inert buildings than those. So, the media organisations
that are supposed to be the most contemporary, technologically-spirited
and sophisticated organisations and right at the brink of time,
all inhabit these beige and grey monsters. At their best, they can
do a kind of Channel 4, slightly-rounded-glass-atrium-corner-prelude,
and then what?
When we were invited to participate in the competition for CCTV
in early 2002 there was obviously another event that had re-written
many things in the world and interestingly enough it was a moment
when we were all of a sudden invited to two competitions at the
same time. There was the rebuilding of the World Trade Center on
the one hand. Ground Zero at this point still glowing red underground—and
also, interestingly enough, the engineers that we work on CCTV were
also involved in the actual unbuilding of this red glowing lump
of steel. We were invited to these two competitions and there was
obviously a question of what to do. We maybe could have done both
but we thought we had to take a decision. While Beijing and CCTV
clearly stands in history—in the very recent history, or still
in the present of a regime that has a very complicated past, at
the same time it also stands at a moment of time where one competition
was associated not only with that event, but also to the whole reaction
to 9/11 and a political scenario that would inevitably collapse
your position between either associating yourself with the post-regime
of that, or with the pre-regime of that or with the actual act.
In many ways, I think it is an impossible position to take, so we
had a real dilemma because WTC was maybe one of the most prestigious
projects one could have worked on in the world, but, I think ,at
the same time so fucked up to begin with that there was nothing
to gain, nothing to win. If you look at what has happened today
and I’m sure some of you have followed the architectural side
of things, then it speaks completely for itself. Instead, we decided
to work for a project that clearly stood in a context in many ways
of a new beginning—with the Olympics coming to Beijing, the
enormous energy unleashed through that event, but also a country
that has started—even since we started the project many things
have happened, a change of government happened, the 16th congress
of the Communist Party—but in the context of the Olympics
and the ambition of CCTV by 2008 to have completed the new headquarters
and television station and to have the whole world look at Beijing
and to be able to broadcast from a new building and to launch a
new era, both in their general history and in their media history.
Working in China, obviously, one confronts the issue of numbers
and with the issue of quantities. A country that is so large, it
has not only the fastest growing cities in the entire world with
Beijing and Shanghai, but that also has basically outgrown the entire
European Community in terms of inhabitants. Also Beijing itself,
within China, is constantly catching up with Shanghai and more and
more moving towards becoming the dominant place in the country economically.
Shanghai was always the commercial centre and Beijing rather the
ideological and intellectual centre of the country.
The question of the competition in some ways—not even explicitly
stated, but very clear—was how to create a building that could
somehow symbolise this new beginning of the country and symbolise
this moment of turning and opening up. As an architect, beyond being
given a site, there is a context that obviously poses a series of
questions: the idea of a coherence of a political regime, the old
substance of the city (the Hutong, the courtyard houses) threatened
with disappearance through all the new construction and the modernisation.
This is what the ring roads around the city look like, acting as
circular growth engines for the city. This is what the recent architectural
past looks like. This is five years old: the Ministry of Agriculture.
And this is what the architectural future looks like Paul Andreu’s,
National Theatre right next to TiananMen Square, almost completed
but now, thanks the accident at Charles de Gaulle Airport, in a
troubled period of re-evaluation. The façade is almost completed.
This is a map of Beijing: you can see the centre, the Forbidden
City and this axis QianMen Avenue east to west and the ring roads.
The second ring road—the first black line you see—is
basically the old city. And Beijing is growing out concentrically.
CCTV is moving from the west to the east into the central business
district, into an area that is rendered as the future vision of
Beijing’s planners to look like this. When I first came to
Beijing for this project almost two and half years ago, three of
the towers existed. Today there are almost ten there, but by 2008
they anticipate almost 200 skyscrapers to have grown in this central
business district. Currently it looks like more what you see at
the top edge of the image: a fairly non-descript structure, partly
of housing, partly of factories. This really classical example of
tabula rasa: a disappearance of everything that is there, of all
the structures that are there. The only certainty that we were given
was this eccentric vision of a skyscraper city.
How to build or how to react to that? This is an image from Delirious
New York. Obviously Rem Koolhaas, who had founded the office with
a book about the skyscraper, had never built a skyscraper in his
whole life and actually not even a vertical building. We actually
realised that at the moment we did this that everything had always
been basically horizontal. A big discussion was unleashed what to
do at this point, on if it was still possible to build a sky scraper
the way this typology had developed. This is a map showing the historical
development of the skyscraper. Obviously born in the United States,
with its high time during the 1930s, then slowly moving eastwards,
towards Europe. It is only a few months ago that Asia, for the first
time, has more skyscrapers than the United States. So there is an
enormous shift in this typology towards the east. At the same time
if you look at the history of theory and of conceptualisation of
architecture, one realises that probably the last important books
on urbanism and on what architecture does to a city were written
in the 1970s or towards the end of the 70s. Since then the west
had essentially stopped thinking about the city and this was precisely
the moment when the east started to adopt the western model. So
the west left the east with a completely unreflected further existence
of its own invention.
Then its worth going back and looking at a vision like this that
essentially illustrates exactly that. The skyscraper as a typology
is entirely focused on verticality, on the commercial exploitation
of a little piece of land: repeat it as often as possible into the
sky and maximise profit. It was a typology created in Manhattan
in a grid of enormous urban density that allowed for proximities
of very distinct and different programs to happen. It has now become
a commercial environment of completely undifferentiated use: they
are all generic offices, it’s all nondescript, and it’s
all people without faces if you want—in your sense also, Manu.
The users have disappeared. There is no more specificity to a building.
There is no more character, no more identity. All that the architect
has left to do is to add something on the top, either pagoda-style,
flower-shaped, a bit of a more modernistic composition, to compensate
for the entire lack of interaction with the urban environment both
spatially and programmatically.
We wanted to think of something that could re-engage space, that
would not leave the skyscraper in its inert verticality, but that
could also start to re-engage space and define a program in a different
Television in China is relatively young. The first broadcast was
in 1958. Together with the ten Great Projects that Mao commissioned,
which were designed and completed in a single year in Beijing, television
went on air for the first time. Since then, it has undergone a fairly
radical and rapid development with important moments in its own
history. Obviously, it is a propaganda machine and censorship organ
of the state. But the whole company is run by a group of people
in their early thirties to mid-forties, which is essentially half
the age of the equivalent people in power in the United States,
if you look at any larger network or organisation there. So there
is an enormous process of a new generation actually taking over
and formulating visions and goals. For example, CCTV has formulated
that they want, with the completion of the new building, to become
more like the BBC for China. In other words, to move away from the
state and engage in a process of opening up towards a public. This
diagram is now already four years old and shows a relationship between
CCTV and the state. As the state broadcaster they receive large
subsidies and are in theory under direct control of the state, but
in reality, they already pay taxes in a multiple quantity of what
they receive in subsidies, which also shows that thanks to this
strange hybrid that is still developing in this country between
market economy and state control, that there are independencies
that by far outgrow the purely political systems. I’m not
even sure if I am allowed to say this, but the advertising revenues,
the deals that CCTV made for this year alone would make it possible
to pay for this entire project and building. CCTV when it started
in the mid-1980s doubled in size and with the new building will
almost quadruple again. The station now that broadcasts fourteen
channels will be capable of broadcasting 250 channels when this
building is completed. Obviously this kind of jump in scale is enormous,
if not frightening in many ways. At the same time, it is a fairly
complex network there of the central station there with many local
networks that currently exist in China. China is obviously very
big with many different regions and all of this will be fed and
redistributed through this main building. Via satellite, it will
be capable of reaching all these areas that are still uncovered.
How many languages does it broadcast?
There are, I think over forty dialects. Although, on the one hand,
what we see first is a kind of propaganda-like layer of certain,
there is an extremely delicate balance that they have to strike
between all these ethnic groups they have and to represent them
correctly. The programme for the competition itself is a sign of
the process I was describing. Currently, the CCTV building is entirely
gated, fenced off with barbed wire and completely inaccessible to
the public. The new building contains more than 20% public programme.
There is a clear ambition of CCTV to open up and to engage with
the public much more strongly and be accountable to the public.
We took the programme and split it into two parts—CCTV, the
main building that contains all the elements of television making,
and TVCC, the Television Cultural Centre, the public mirror image
of the main building—to allow both parts to operate without
potentially compromising each other. Since this path is still unclear,
how fast these paths will open up and develop, we propose to split
those two programmes to allow them both to operate fully and efficiently.
It’s a site of almost twenty hectares in the centre of Beijing.
You can see up there the two buildings and the circle is a service
centre and an energy centre that feeds the other two on the main
site. You can see the central axis of the main business district,
a green belt that we propose to continue on the site and, by actually
compressing the entire program into two main structures; we were
actually able to liberate a large part of the ground that we are
developing as a park—in part as a media park and as a public
park—so that CCTV does not occupy a large part of the city
but also renders large areas accessible.
The chance of actually doing what we are doing is, I think, quite
unique at this point in the world. If you were to build a television
station anywhere in the west or in any market-driven economy, you
would be forced to completely isolate and to disperse the organisation.
The studios, large empty volumes, would need to go to the industrial
part of town where it is cheap. The business guys sit in the central
business district in a tower. The hip people probably still go to
Shoreditch here, right? Or Farringdon—Farringdon is over isn't
it? I haven’t been here for a while now. The givens of the
market essentially imply a stronger and stronger segmentation of
production and a fragmentation of production processes. I think
it was probably only possible in this hybrid of emerging market
economy and state control that we could propose a project that would
unite all the elements that are part of actual television making
and propose a structure that would unite the different entities.
Administration, broadcasting, teaching, research, offices etc. are
all combined in a single building that allows the people not only
to be represented as a whole but also to act as a whole, where eventually
the brains will know what the hands are doing and vice versa. This
is a diagram of all the specific functions inside this building.
The building has 500,000 square metres in a single structure. This
is one of the largest buildings in the world, larger than the Sears
towers in its surface. But it is not an empty building; it is full
of very specific functions, mostly very technical, but also social.
You can see a network of all these elements and it looks much more
like an anatomy book where a body is cut open where you see heart,
lungs and veins. It is a complex organic system that is completely
interdependent. It is essentially a loop folded through space: this
circular arrangement that connects all these different entities
of the company and allows for each worker to interface and to relate
to each one of those. Along a circular structure and actual circulation
through the building, there is a whole series of communal spaces
that allow all the workers in different departments to meet at every
point. For example, the very top of the building is not occupied
by senior management but actually by a staff forum and entirely
accessible to all the 10,000 people working in this building.
This is a model that we made to actually understand how many people
actually work in this building. It’s 10,000. It’s hard
to understand and anyway, working on a project like this makes it
very hard to understand scale—scale as a sheer sense of quantity.
What does it mean to design a building of this size? What does it
mean to accommodate this amount of people involved in the production
process of a media organisation? Architecturally this has enormous
repercussions. It means that you have to design an entrance lobby
that can process 10 to 20,000 people daily because of all the visitors
that are coming etc. You can see here on the left a section that
is the main tower and to the right a kind of extension of the lobby
with two levels to enter, elevators, a B3 connection directly to
the subway—with separate paths for staff, visitors and the
public—simply to be able to process this amount of people.
Following the idea of the loop—the loop became, in a way,
the driving concept as it not only represents a sense of community
but actually allows a very specific way of functioning of the community.
Although having first separated a public building, through the back
door we reintroduced the public into this building and proposed
a kind of visitors path along which anyone can get into the building,
which obviously CCTV can use to represent itself as a media organisation
on the rise but which also allows people to have views into the
different areas of the building: the basement and the guts, the
production studios, the main control room but then also rise to
the top of this overhang that cantilevers out 70m, 80m high—and
have views of the city—and eventually get to the roof top.
The structure itself really doesn’t belong to this discussion,
but is a crucial aspect since it also follows the loop. It is actually
a cage folded in space, something that doesn't work with horizontals
and verticals like normal buildings do. They are obviously also
in there, but the primary structure is one where forces travel around
and the final design is actually an analysis of the exact forces
in the structure—Also, Beijing is earthquake zone 8, so one
of the most difficult areas in the world to build—It reflects
all the forces travelling around and all surfaces of the building
work in the same way: roof, underside and walls. They all perform
with a similar logic, supporting the whole thing. We translated
that into an actual façade that starts to break down the
overall mass of the building into smaller entities, so the façade
is not an addition but a bondage-like dissection of this large form.
Beyond its iconographic character and the different effects, obviously
the spatial relation between the two buildings as you move around
them and the diversity in which they define and engage space in
this environment is quite important—this sense of a window
that CCTV creates and the way in which it manifests itself, not
through height but through different iconographic qualities.
Yes there are many more aspects of the building we could go into,
certainly, although we have to watch the time. I'm interested in
how TV and media then become architectural metaphors that you can
begin to work with—something that hasn’t been done before.
If you look at the traditional TV tower, then this was a kind of
monument to a particular centralised technology and partly a kind
of baton of command and authority. The suggestion is that this TV
station on the brink of a social change and adapting to new communications
technologies requires a different way of representing itself in
I think the more digital everything gets the less central it gets
and the more non-spatial it gets and, paradoxically, the more important
the actual locale or the manifestation of the local can become.
An interesting question is also how far networks allow for—or
essentially are decentralised systems and then how much do relate
back to a place of accountability. In politics this has always been
a very important question—accountability. Public space is
in a way a place of accountability, but then there are more specific
points of accountability like a city hall where a city government
is at least supposed to render itself accountable. I think these
are places between virtual and physical space that are quite important
to observe where video can play a very important role.
So, in a way CCTV is central television trying to make itself out
of date as such—judging from the way you described the management.
We’ll have to see if the government agrees to that. What we
have seen in the earlier presentations—and perhaps you anticipated
this in the emphasis on networks, opening etc.—is what I called
the reversibility of channels. Is that understood as a reality by
your television executives in Beijing or is that something that
is going to surprise them? They are interested in adopting new,
networked forms for propagating their activity and these are then
ready to be re-appropriated from the bottom-up, and this is likely
to happen. And once the ball starts rolling with political change
in China and certainly the advent of much more freely available
video technology on a consumer basis—do you think there is
an anticipation of that—we could call it the return of the
repressed—or this is something that will surprise people in
I think they are certainly very aware of these things. One of the
things that I have continuously encountered is whenever you go to
places that you know nothing about, that they know much more about
you than you know about them. Already what is happening in China
is largely confronted with the way communications can be used to
circumvent state control. A few years ago when there was this explosion
in a school, somewhere in the middle of the country, all this was
actually eventually uncovered through the internet—ways of
using media in a bottom-up way to eventually get round limitations
that had been imposed on a higher level so far as communication
of the actual events was concerned. I think they are very well aware
of that and the way things are being dealt with there—this
is a long discussion but maybe we cannot have it today, but maybe
we should—It’s all very difficult to be precise about
and very difficult to be truly analytical about because there is
no precedent we can draw on. The regime, what is happening there,
also politically is something that is fundamentally different to
what most of the other socialist states have gone through—East
Germany with a complete surrender and just an immediate disappearance,
Russia etc. What is happening there now is this parallel, much more
gradual process—a parallel meshing of two things that to our
minds don’t make sense together or don't seem to work together.
There is a huge amount of conflict between the two. I have also
encountered more and more a kind of ability on their side to live
with and make these apparent contradictions work in a way in which
in the end will allow for a much more powerful change and process.
In a way, I feel it is a much more promising process than some of
the other countries have gone through, where it was simply abolishing
one system and going for the next. If you look at any of these ex-socialist
countries now, five to ten years later, it looks quite grim in most
cases. It's like that also because change wasn't gradual and the
values that existed before weren’t maintained. This goes not
only on the positive social level but also goes on the negative
sides of the political organisation that maintains a greater power
of control. Google is still compromised in China. It’s not
so easy, although, actually, now, since mobile technology, I can
get onto any American or Dutch, whatever Google site and all of
a sudden it’s not limited. So the first things are happening
already that start to circumvent all these layers of control.
So you can imagine inadvertent results of the meshing of economic,
political and technological shifts that are happening in China?
Yes, I think so because China at the same time is also incredibly
fast on many levels—things like mobile phones or computer
or any other technology. They are engaging rapidly and massively—
—piracy is given—and that is quite interesting. So it
works on a commercial level. People make shit loads of money with
all that stuff, but piracy is so big, bigger than anywhere else
and that also works, in parallel, while everywhere else people say:
‘Piracy destroys my profits.’ So all these things happen.
It is obviously very hard to predict what will eventually happen,
but it’s an interesting condition, I think.
The project must be so controversial, I imagine. What has the local
reaction been through alternative, non-official media?
Something very interesting is that, yes, I think it is very controversial,
and, I think, interestingly enough, there is also a real interest
in controversy and discussion there. There is a network of Chinese
websites on which mostly architects but also the general public
discuss these projects. You have to realise what it means when there
is an actual community of almost 200,000 people discussing a project
like that on a website. It means obviously there are a lot of people
there, but still, there is also a lot of interest and a lot of debate
and discussion there. And yes, the project has been debated massively
and that both on the more informal level, for example, on these
websites but also on the political level.
Has it affected the design?
It has actually not affected the design. This has partly to do with
the fact that it was a competition and obviously during a competition
you work in a sort of vacuum, disconnected from other people’s
comments or other processes. You have to make up your own mind and
formulate an analysis and statement eventually. The fact that we
won this competition was very surprising because all the other projects
done by the other world-leading architects, many of them from the
United States and Asia, looked all exactly like the central business
district image I just showed you. They were all beautiful, vertical
glass towers with a campus-like arrangement of the studio volumes.
Moreover, the structural system of the building is so complicated
that it would not have been possible more than five years ago to
engineer this building. It is probably the most precisely engineered
building ever in the world. We know each single steel member and
there are not only 10,000 people working there but there are 10,097
steel sections in this building. We know of each member how it will
deform under certain load conditions. There has been such a precision
in terms of engineering that it was impossible to match on the side
of the Chinese authorities, but because they are interested in making
these things happen, they invented a whole new legal process to
actually deal with the project. Their authorities cannot evaluate
the project because there is nobody qualified enough. For this reason,
they put in place an expert panel of the thirteen most senior structural
engineers of the entire country—all the guys that had written
the codes etc. They came together regularly to evaluate the design,
set design parameters and eventually approve the building. So there
are discussions, even big movements that make things happen. These
are things that in other parts of the world would maybe not be so
One of the interesting things is that when you compare your solution
with the imagination of the planners—and this is this something
you see being put into effect in the extremely rapid urbanisation
that is happening in China in an economic vacuum—is that they
represent different approaches to realising a vision of a city.
How far you think that it’s moving images—movies, TV
and so on—that mediate that vision of the desirable city,
for example, the look they think the central business district ought
to have, even though they don’t necessarily have all that
business. I'm thinking about how skyscrapers have been transformed
from a real estate solution to an icon of a city's aspirations.
How do you think urban imagination is informed?
Well, maybe there could at least be hope that this could reintroduce
another dimension of myth. There was probably a much stronger mythical
dimension in places before a certain type of urbanisation happened.
I think there might also have been at a period of urbanisation—that
is precisely the image drawn by such a central business district
and by the simple adoption or import-export relationship to architecture
but also to many other things. Obviously architecture is what I
am talking about now but there are many other commodities and issues
or principles even that function on a similar level. This is maybe
also what we can see in all the other things shown today. I think
all of them work on reintroducing a hypothetical, mythical or eventually
real dimension against certain realities, so that the simultaneity
offered by the media not only leads to an eventual copying of situations
or repetition of situations but also to distortion of them.
I think there was a moment when it was fashionable in architectural
criticism to say that the city is just like television and the architecture
is influenced by TV—you can think of firms like Architectonica.
I don’t know if you have read the last chapter of my book—there
is this whole discussion of a famous mall in Atlanta that used video
installation as part of the design. Eventually the mall failed and
got knocked down. It was this emblem of televisual architecture,
but it couldn’t, in the end change, the economic situation
of Atlanta in which people didn’t come down town to go shopping.
They went out to the suburbs. So, without minimising the ideological
power of media and the way they support existing relations of power—in
the end, I don’t think that architecture is primarily emerging
from a notion of the 'society of the spectacle'. I think it’s
a more complicated set of negotiations and situations than just
The architect is traditionally seen as the form-giver of public
space. These public spaces were practical to some extent if you
needed to assemble people, but principally symbolic or as Ole might
say, mythic. There is a different kind of symbiosis, a different
complicity now between how public space is constructed through the
media and how it is constructed through actual urban construction.
So, in a sense, CCTV here is proposing quite an interesting representation
of that meshing of media and city as a kind of political network.
Why is it that the traditional structures in architecture of public
space—what accounts for their persistence, despite this kind
of infiltration and the cross-currents of media and moving images
that surround us?
What do you mean by persistence of public spaces? Essentially if
you look at it, they all disappear. There is less and less public
space; there is more and more privatised space, regulated space,
The basic symbols have changed much less than you would expect.
You mentioned that nearly all the other competition entries for
CCTV were on a standard model. There is still an idea of the city
and of how it should look and a sort of symbolisation of power and/or
community that is constantly being eroded by these other forms of
representation but somehow—
What we seem to be avoiding is the fact that what's going on in this
building—CCTV—is completely opposed, in terms of values,
to what's going on in Undercurrents. Surely we have to admit there
is a huge kind of gap, for example, in the use of computer technology,
between the way your amazingly complex engineering solution gets
to alter the building regulations and the way the communities like
Juha described use technology, or the way Undercurrents uses technology
for social communication.
I don’t want to answer for Ole, but what seems to me interesting
about the proposal of OMA is a kind of non-resistance to exactly
this infiltration and the spreading of different networks into something
that inevitably has to be a fixed, engineered design for a building.
It is somehow less opposed than say a traditional tower would have
been. Do you think that is something that influences your approach
as an architect?
I think it is amazing that you can say that the CCTV building is
not a spectacle, is not a product spectacle just like the others.
So you reject completely that notion that an architect in the position
that OMA is in now, working for CCTV under the Chinese regime, is
actually capable of creating the kind of forum they say they are.
Is that your point? That you just don’t buy it?
Openness is obviously a political thing of China and that that building
there is trying to deal with a celebration of openness. It wasn’t
openness in terms of the actual creation of it, was it?
I would actually like to ask you a question. First
of all, though, in my introduction I said on purpose that I could
have talked about projects that fit much more in with the other
things we've heard about today, but maybe it is more interesting
then to challenge that. What you’re talking about is a communal
design process: do you have an idea about that? Because what you’re
saying is that the forum status was not part of the actual creation
of it. So are you asking for a more open creating process or a more
participatory process—is that what you mean?
I am just saying that there are two different worlds going on here
in terms of relationships to culture.
OK, that’s comparing Juha’s networked, DIY, self-made
tools kind of thing to the one-sidedness of architectural projects.
Yes, they are completely different. And again, that is also what
I said before: as an architect you have a completely different starting
point because you are on the part of the establishment. You have
a client, there is a huge sum of money. It all has to work to some
extent according to these parameters. That is very different in
the other cases.
A good example is the new World Trade Center. It is a project where
the officials, wanted to engage people in the designing project
but I don’t think that really happened much in the end. There
was at least a notion—'Let's look at these proposals together.'
I didn’t follow it in detail but I don't think it got anywhere.
I think it’s a good point.
These 'different worlds' are opposed, but what we’ve seen
here are a lot of different pathways between these worlds. A lot
of culture jammers could theoretically become Bill Gates—I
mean not that they necessarily would, but they could invent the
next tool that will become of corporate tool. So there is—
—uuuh! that makes me feel sick! That is so sickly.
Why do you say that?
Because if the whole point of open-source networks, Undercurrents
and the whole counter-culture thing is to produce some new fucking
Bill Gates to fuck up the world—if that’s the whole
point of any sort of revolutionary thinking, to produce some capitalist
innovation—then let’s all fuck off immediately. What’s
I’m not saying that it should do, I’m just saying that
it might happen. What’s-his-name from the Electronic Frontiers
Foundation is also a Microsoft consultant, you know.
Paul, how do you react to this long story about CCTV which in some
ways is a rather troubling proposal all together because you have
this huge totalitarian government that has decided to adopt capitalism
on its own terms and creates these weird urban fantasies for itself
where they build skyscrapers just like this with nothing in them
beyond the second storey, but they've gotta have a skyline, so party
bosses order one and then they broadcast that through CCTV to the
rest of the country and to the world. How do you interpret that
situation? What strikes you—
Ole, you are obviously very skilful, you’ve got an amazing
mind to design something like that and to be involved in something
like that. I just wonder, do all the ethics just go out the window?
Do you look at it as one of the most oppressive regimes of the world?
What makes you do something like that, rather than trying to create
a better world and working with groups who are actually trying to
create a better world instead of someone who will use it for state
propaganda which is something that CCTV will do.
Obviously it is a very legitimate question. Nonetheless as an architect
there is a certain amount of free choice that you have in what you
do and maybe I will talk about that a little bit more. There is
also a limitation in choice. There are certain commissions that
you are given or not. So for us there was a clear choice between
the World Trade Center and this thing and I am fully convinced that
we made the right choice and that comparing between these two, I
can much more stand behind what we are doing at CCTV than I believe
anyone could stand truly behind rebuilding a monument for everything
that has happened, that is happening there in the US. That is one
point. But there are two parts. On the one hand, you might sometimes
have limited choices within, for example, a commercial environment—and
obviously architecture is subject to a commercial environment—but
there are also other things. Let me describe a little bit the context
of the project. For example, because we were trying not to make
it a kind of import product. Already during the stage of the competition
we worked with a lot of Chinese people, half of our office was eventually
Chinese people during the project. Thirteen architects from our
partner office based in Shanghai lived with us for a whole year
in Rotterdam so that there could be a real dialogue between local
knowledge and also cultures, cultures of thinking, designing etc.
It has gone far beyond this project that we are actually working
with or having very close contact to many of these people not so
much because we are doing projects with them but to in principal
try to support certain activities and scenarios there. While we
got engaged with CCTV we also contacted the city of Beijing the
planning department and proposed a collaboration and preservation
of the city because we felt it was equally important to deal with
not only the inherent or the implied destruction through building
and building always means—architecture always means something
disappears because something new comes. To broaden the spectrum
of looking at the city and eventually dealing with it not only through
building new things but also through looking at what is there and
how one can try to maintain certain values while at the same time
being involved in shifting values.
As I said, it remains a very controversial and complicated issue
because you are working for a media organisation that is a propaganda
tool and that is used as such but what I find is a very big difference
is that first of all here is one organisation in a state of gradual
change towards something that I actually believe is better, or is
progress. Again, comparing it to the other example, I would describe
that as a massive regression—and then look what you associate
yourself with. Obviously you also have to take risks. If you want—you
know you are taking risks in one way we might be taking risks in
another way. For example, working in China is still an enormously
difficult enterprise. Fee levels are a small percentage of what
they are here or certainly in the States. There are many risks in
that and in making yourself subject to that and to still commit
to saying that maybe it can be not only interesting but also a really
important contribution you can make to something. Obviously it can
go wrong, but a lot of things can go wrong and I think we are anyway
living in a society that does not take so much risk. You are maybe
speaking from a position where you do say you take a lot of concrete
risks and you go out there and fight with the guys, but there are
many different levels of risk-taking. But if you are also looking
at some of things we were looking at today there is also not so
much risk-taking at the same time. How do you define that? It’s
a very complicated question—and also on which level in the
end do you define 'political' activity and on which level would
you define 'political' architecture or 'political' position within
Would you say what you are doing will decrease suffering in the
world by designing that building?
I don’t think we should personalise it.
I was not attacking you earlier. What I was attacking was the silence
on this huge difference between the uses of similar technologies.
The sort of question that I would like to see develop out of this
situation—out of a polarisation which is quite nice to have
in a single room— is: Could a demoscene generate its own architecture
or its own city?
But it does.
The tools we are using are in many ways shockingly similar. If you
look at the workshops we have, the way we email stuff around, the
way we communicate, it is very similar in many ways and enables
this kind of collaboration.
That is precisely the point: that the channels used by Undercurrents,
'bottom-up' are the same channels as are used 'top-down' and there
is this very awkward competition between things when they get tangled
in the middle. Paul, you said earlier that the mainstream is the
measure of your success, but still it fails you. But the mainstream
really wants to know how you work because you create audiences and
you actually make a difference, you change people’s minds
and people want to know how to do that. So there is a constant weird
kind of pirouetting between what we call the mainstream and what
we call the undercurrents. I think it is really the topic of today
which I’m going, unfortunately, to have to bring to a sort
We’ve talked about networks and this self-organised activity and
we have seen this supposed top-down activity that is jealous of
that kind of self-organisation because that is exactly how things
happen. This relationship between architecture and the city is exactly
the one between the designer in command and the population that
is sharing and building and constructing something that is unpredictable.
Into that context is where I wanted to insert what video does, and
we’ve touched on various practices and various histories and
so on. Of course it is an unfinished story and I would have to very
quickly wind up and thank everybody for contributing all these various
positions. I know that we have strayed from looking at television
as a kind of history, through to self-organised audio-visual games,
through to undercurrent political activism and a kind of political
construction in progress in the CCTV building, not to mention the
other CCTV which fictionalises our daily lives in an alarming way,
and probably other things that I have already forgotten. So, luckily,
we will have a transcript soon so we can post that on the website
and hopefully there is more discussion that can take place there.
Thank you all for coming and being so patient and we really want
to hear your feedback in this process of gathering our knowledge
pool for the project as it continues. So thank you all very much.
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