Inhabitation of Bodies and Toys
Marcos Cruz - I have been observing you and your toys for a while now.
What still seems to me very intriguing is the way they work as the trigger
for new ideas about inhabitation of space. Which aspects of your work
Marjan Colletti - I may have to specify what kind of toys I mean. Generally,
one could differentiate two different categories: throw away toys
and keep forever toys. The first group has very short life
expectancy and a high transience index, as psychologist Alvin
Toffler calls it. These toys are a product of the throwaway society and
its high rate of turnover of things, ideas and places.
Soft toys belong to the latter group, and are called transitional
objects, which means they serve the child to transit from the childhood
to the adult stage. Psychologists imply separation from those elements.
Why? I think that the act of playing with these toys reveals itself as
an incredible demonstration of inventiveness, responsiveness and control
over the environment and objects. And that is not much different to what
I expect from the professional architect.
Marcos Cruz - I understand that as a principle or analogy, but you also
take them literally into your design as physical inhabitants of two, and
Marjan Colletti - First unconsciously, then consciously, my friends constantly
appear and re-appear in my designs, inhabiting the space and filling it
with secondary layers of architectural information. If I say inventiveness,
responsiveness and control, I mean it in internal, psychological terms.
The playful, professional architect can re-create spaces and shapes of
a secondary layer which are triggered by ones emotions and mood.
I still stick to the toys, and they turned out to be helpful designers...
They show up for example in the project Besking (a hybrid between a BEd,
deSK and intelligent thING) that re-introduces the toys softness
and reveals their shapes in plans, sections and details. Every (technical)
drawing has a secondary (private) story to tell. Since then, they re-appeared
in other designs. For instance, in the interior design project for the
refurbishment of a flat in Bozen, Italy, where they permanently inhabit
empty space, thus, reacting to the Aristotelian and Freudian horror
vacui. Aristotles horror vacui argued the impossibility
of nothingness and influenced the pragmatism of Renaissance
perspective realism, while Freuds horror vacui influenced
Secessionist Gustav Klimt to fill the canvas with symbols, shapes and
ornaments, representing an atmosphere of cosmic peace. I need ornaments
and friends. That is what the toys are all about; shapes are not just
shapes, they are friendly shapes and talk to me as friends. Its
my way to somehow escape my horror vacui.
Marcos Cruz - Wasnt that the case when I saw you for the first time
with the toys sticking on your head?
Marjan Colletti - The toys, wrapped in a blanket and velcroed onto my
shaved head, represented my vision of the professional, imaginative, and
playful architect. It was a very obvious way to introduce my friends into
architecture. Maybe that is why we both shaved our heads when we had to
present ourselves at the Bartlett: I did it for the toys and you did it
to put yourself into a sticky, slimy latex wall, isnt it? And that
before the Matrix!
Marcos Cruz - That was about the Deviant Bodies and In-wall
Creatures, ideas, which later reappeared into the project of Hyperdermis.
The proposition was that inhabitants would incorporate their body in a
flexible, and living architectural dermis: a biological tissue
with several service-devices, such as Storage Capillaries,
In-wall Seats, Relaxing Cocoons, and Communication
Suits. It was a hypothetical scenario. The Inhabitable Walls
were surfaces punctured by pores, and bulging scars, and reactive tentacles,
in which people crept into wall chambers through stretchable orifices.
I was somehow annoyed that the traditional architectural discourse was
just concerned with the use of empty space. My interest was
focused on what was potentially in-corporated behind our physical surrounding,
in this case trans-lucent walls and membranes. It triggered in fact the
existence of a new inhabitable in-lucent reality. These ideas
were related with William J. Mitchells comments on inhabitation
in City of Bits, in which he observed a change of meaning,
one that has less to do with parking your bones in architecturally
defined space and more with connecting your nervous system to nearby electronic
organs. As he continued, your room and your home will become
part of you and you will become part of them.
Similar ideas came back during the NEB competition proposal. I saw the
300 scientists specified in the programme as our Deviant Bodies,
suggesting that their spatial constraint in the proposed inhabitable lab-cones
was standing in opposition to their visual freedom when popping out of
the roof in their office-capsules.
Marjan Colletti - So is architecture the extension of the body?
Marcos Cruz - In this sense, yes. We are living in an era, in which anti-flesh
Puritanism is gradually disappearing, at the same time, that the contemporary
body is affected by a technical upgrading towards anatomical and sensorial
perfection. There is a belief in the technologised body as
capable to interface with its increasingly changeable and responsive environment.
It is a time of Cyborgs (A. Clarke/ D. Haraway) and Biomechanoids (H.R.Giger),
but also of Robosapiens (P. Wenzel/ F. DAluisio)4 and
with more and more Extropians.
Marjan Colletti - I always asked myself whether your deviant bodies were
sort of neglected grandsons of Le Corbusiers Modulor and Neuferts
Is Man still the measure of all things? As Volker Giencke once told me,
the measure must be the intellect, and not the body of Man.
Marcos Cruz - The contemporary body-machine is not at all an average character.
On the contrary it looks by any means for an individual identity in terms
of mind and physical appearance; it also looks for the potentials of its
extension towards its physical dilution in real and virtual space. Describing
Extropianism, Rachel Armstrong assumed a new generation of people that
has a desire for science and technology in order to improve their
internal character, radically transforming both the internal and external
conditions of existence. The Extropians regard technology as a natural
extension and expression of human intellect, creativity, curiosity, and
imagination, encouraging the development of evermore flexible, smart,
responsive technologies. As the wish for an artificially differentiated
physical identity progresses, the more it carries with it the human body
understood as manipulable object. And it is a result of the vanishing
classic norms of beauty and function, expressed in the sacred
integrity of the bodys natural seal. The contemporary body
cant anymore be understood without the sophisticated apparatus that
triggers its healthy permanence, deliberate re-design
and, as a consequence, the materialisation of a newly inhabited biotectural
chimera. It is the re-application of this scientific knowledge into
a future architectural bio-machinery that interests me.
Aesthetics of cuteness and disgust
Marjan Colletti - Many wonder how we can work together at all, you being
engaged with aesthetics of disgust and the grotesque, and myself with
aesthetics of cuteness, softness and blurness. Are these aesthetics actually
that different? Or do extremes equal each other?
Marcos Cruz - Contemporary architecture is still (Although some might
say not) very much structured upon a tradition of Platonic prejudices
in favour of the noble senses, such as vision and hearing,
and also upon Kantian aesthetics of the pure taste, which
consider the abstract and the intellectual of
a higher rank than the material and the visceral.
Both our drives towards the disgusting and the cute wish to break that
Pierre Bourdieu wrote that, pure taste and the aesthetic, which
provides its theory, are founded on a refusal of impure taste
and of aisthesis (sensation), the simple, primitive form of pleasure reduced
to a pleasure of the sense (
). Thats what characterises
the predominant taste in contemporary architecture for minimal objects
Marjan Colletti - Isnt that related to a certain aesthetic of cleanliness,
even in the (contemporary) cyber architecture? I always wondered where
this hegemony of glassy, glossy rendering came from. Now I am starting
to understand that it may be this need for hygiene, which found the ideal
environment in the digital realm.
Marcos Cruz - Of course. Since the middle of the 19th century and in particular
at the beginning of the last century, hygiene became a dominant preoccupation
in cities and in particular in the domestic realm. That had an immense
influence upon design and upon our values of taste and beauty. Adrian
Forty has a chapter in Objects of Desire dedicated to this
matter. He describes that dirt and disorder became labelled as unhygienic
and therefore the source of disease, suggesting that this phenomenon
brought up an intensifying anxiety about levels of cleanliness. Thus,
an increasing demand for simplicity, and purity in design; a design of
Marjan Colletti - And in particular cyberspace has been the ideal environment
for the materialisation of such preoccupations. Actually, Kevin Rhowbotham
comes right to my mind. He argues that in architecture, this proleptical
vision has produced a glassy (and I add glossy!) Urbanity;
cities of the net, (...) cities of insinuated transparencies, (...) in
which territories of difference (...) are smoothened and flattened (...).
But for him smooth means clean. Rather like old Sci-fi movies, everything
is tidy, everything is in-place.
Marcos Cruz -
here one can establish a parallelism to Mary Douglass
theory of matter out of place!
Marjan Colletti - Rhowbotham continues, Clean not dirty, imagined
not dirty-real. But isnt clean always and already a prevarication?
At least when it is projected as a permanent vision. Clean is the absolute
presence of a territorializing stratagem. The unadulterated idea. The
lie. This sort of answers my question about the similarities of
our arguments: our disagreement with the cleanliness of mainstream
Marcos Cruz - I think that the conditions of disgust and cuteness which
we are referring to, definitely exist in a marginal territory. Interestingly
enough, the terminology we use does not belong to the traditional architectural
vocabulary. The implications of their aesthetic want to shake the discourse
that still follows the pure and clean, the abstract
and elegant, and the purely visual.
My interest in disgust stands in straight relationship with the touch
sense, and that is where I like to experiment with matter that implies
viscid, sticky, slimy, squishy, or slithering properties. Although disgusting
this matter has for me an enormous capacity to allure. As William Ian
Miller describes, it brings with it affects that can work one closer
again to what one just backed away from. These affects range from
feelings such as curiosity, fascination, or even a wish to touch. I like
that! A materiality with intrinsically haptic and tactile attributes.
But the whole excursion into the disgusting has also to do with my study
about artificial skin growth, and the proposition to use this as living
tissue in architecture. That brings with it an unpleasant aesthetic, which
many related to the ugly and dirty. But I think that is exactly one of
its fascinations. I believe that our standards of perception and taste
are changing with the increasing medicalisation of our environment.
Architects will have to look in the future into territories that might
be quite contradictory with the aesthetic parameters of contemporary mainstream
Marjan Colletti - Can you give examples that you consider of particular
Marcos Cruz - In architecture? Not really! Well, there is an experiment
I can think of, done by Gaetano Pesce in 1975. Le comparse del tempo
(Omaggio a Mies van der Rohe), a weird model for a tower build out
of pieces of flesh and metal. A very unique experiment.
Marjan Colletti - Ironically, Pesce is a quite isolated source of reference
for the figurative approach in architecture, too. The Counter-Project
for Les Halles in Paris of 1979 and the Maison des Enfants of 1985-86 i.e. are in fact interesting
Marcos Cruz - But there are examples in art that seem to me of particular
relevance. Max Aguilera-Hellweg is a photographer who pierced into the
priesthood of surgical theatres in a simultaneously beautiful and
cruel way. The visual grammar of the dissected bodies raises
questions about newest surgical techniques, and the way they have extended
themselves into territories of ethic, moral, philosophical, and religious
Further, Louise Bourgeois is a fascinating artist in this matter. In the
1960s she came across with a lot of, for that time, disturbing,
near repellent latex sculptures, which strongly transformed the predominantly
minimalist art scenery. Her two main projects of that time, The Destruction
of the Father, 1974, and Confrontation, 1978 became, I would say, a liberating
icon for the aesthetics of art
Following a similar tendency, the English artist Helen Chadwick combined
a whole plethora of unusual, organic and visceral materials. As she said, a vital relation of incompatible elements. She mixed very
weird, yet exquisite textures and sensations transforming them into installations
that implicated people into a complex sensorial pleasure, of both seduction
and nauseous revulsion. These are qualities that interest me when applied
Marcos Cruz - You are doing a research, in which you establish an interesting
relationship between soft toys and computers. What is the importance of
the line in all that, considering that the line is an agent
of separation and differentiation of boundaries and territories, is getting
problematic when confronted with the contemporary conditions of dilution
and diffusion of these boundaries.
Marjan Colletti - I am keen on challenging the relevance of the line,
since it is perhaps getting a new meaning. The line is used in order to
represent material or immaterial boundaries, living or dead matter, static
or dynamic conditions, precise or unexpected situations etc. The line
has been accepted as translation medium from idea to drawing.
In that sense the furry softness of the toys was a great challenge to
the line, since elegance and cleanliness were not part of the information,
which had to be translated. Thus, initially, I thought I was going to
declare the death of the line. But we are not quite there yet. I therefore
had to reconsider the black ink line, and move towards written lines and
other sorts of possibilities with soft lines, such as carefully manipulated
CAD lines and curvilinear lines.
The Gestalt psychology, founded in Germany in the 1920s, defined
the whole as being more that just the sum of the parts. Some of their
various laws, which are not really scientific, but ironically
have been taken up in programming software for recognition of patterns
and objects, are Closure (the tendency to group single objects to
a whole), Common fate (the tendency to see single parts moving together
as an object), Contiguity of close-together features and a preference
for smooth lines. Cartoonists depend on these principles, and so
does the figurative approach I mentioned before.
Marcos Cruz - And how do you apply that to your drawings?
Marjan Colletti - Since I am drawing with a computer, I cannot rely completely
on the talented hand. I had to investigate the mathematical,
geometrical and informational properties of lines, splines and polylines
in different software. It was a rather dry investigation, but I needed
it to widen my understanding of the computer-space and to escape average
skills. John Maeda argued that this is important to understand the
underlying principles of how the digital material is composed and behaves,
and that this allows to predict the behaviour of existing software
and how those elements might interrelate. (
) People all over the
world create average things because they use exactly same tools, (
). I realised how poor and almost dead the black ink line actually was. Instead,
I began to play with the computer to create distinctive soft, furry, feathery,
fluffy lines - or better: spaces.
Marcos Cruz - In that sense I found interesting how you used digital effects
to make the screen become literally three-dimensional.
Marjan Colletti - These drawings, which you call patterns,
are in my eyes more than just abstract images. They are some kind of reaction
to Nick Barhams vision of contemporary intelligence and reality.
A layering of multiple, conflicting, confusing, colliding realities
on screens, through music, [and] via urban brightness. I wanted
my drawings to be a representation of these layered realities. In fact,
although being two-dimensional vector drawings, the amount of layers the
software needs to build them up is immense. Also the spatial depth of
the drawings is given by their precision. You can zoom in and out in the
range from 3,13% up to 6400%, without loosing any resolution or detail,
but gaining a gaze into this flat deep space.
Marcos Cruz - In a curios way, it reminds me Michel Foucaults definition
of the clinical gaze5, which describes processes of unveiling
the visible invisible of the body. Our eye has a limited capacity
to apprehend the real porosity and depth of the opaque envelope
that covers our environment, body, or building, ...or the computer space.
Therefore, yours seems to me a sort of digital gaze.
Marjan Colletti - Seeing the software building up the drawing element
by element, layer by layer is fascinating, and shows the spatial complexity
of the drawing. In the flat in Bozen project the sandblasted glass behaves
like the blurred computer drawings, creating a perception of three-dimensionality
on a flat surface. Body and distances are blurred, light and space penetrates
the walls, which can be considered three-dimensional versions of the blurred,
Your skin studies imply a similar research of two-dimensional surfaces.
Yet you promote model making; and looking at you doing them reminds me
more the process of a fine artist rather than that of an architect
Marcos Cruz - I like to work in an intuitive way with models and materials,
because model making is in itself a quite rational process of transformation.
By using different flexible materials, each model is a sort of pluri-sensorial
experience that is based on a negative-positive logic of casting, moulding
and pouring techniques. In a sense I believe that challenges in architecture
are changing according to advances in material engineering. While the
seventies were the era of polymers, today much of the research is concentrated
on the development of elastomer phenomenology: latex, silicones,
But in my opinion the real interest lies in the
mix of material sciences and biology, which develop histo-compatible and
engineered compounds, that can be infiltrated and co-inhabited with living
tissue. We are getting closer to the era of what I call growingmers.
Marjan Colletti - That is where your skin research comes in.
Marcos Cruz - Artificially grown skin is a territory that is increasingly
becoming important. What interests me on that is the fact that it is increasingly
been produced in laboratories. And in fact, it is a kind of artificial
living surface that, although right now not available in bigger portions
than 10 by 10 cm, will, I presume, be produced in huge industrial sizes
shortly. Imagine new leather factories producing artificial grown skin
without killing one single animal
Also relevant is its hypersensitivity to exterior and interior vicissitudes.
The skin is our biggest organ and at the same time the most important
sense agent, since it integrates in its surface all the other sense organs.
But to create it artificially we are increasingly hybridising it with
a sophisticated electronic-digital apparatus and biomaterials.
Marjan Colletti - In that sense, how much did these ideas influence a
project like the Palos Verdes Art Centre?
Marcos Cruz - The competition entry for the Palos Verdes Art Centre was
strongly influenced by this idea that body is building and building is
body. Which means that the building borrowed from the human body and skin
principles of locomotion and sensitivity, without necessarily imitating
its form. It was designed as a serious of gallery spaces surrounded by
a tensegrity skeleton that was embedded in a continuous skin of moulded
silicon. The inlucent and malleable silicon filtered even
light to the galleries and incorporated a variety of inter-active devices
on its roof. The hairy roof was a field of ventilation hairs that colonised
the outside surface. These gestural hairs bent smoothly according to wind
pressure, but simultaneously twitching when censoring external movement.
There was a cause-effect reaction between the inhabitants and the building.
Marjan Colletti - As marcos&marjan we are trying to bridge the eternal
gap between theory and practice, researching in architecture by design.
Marcos Cruz - Well, that is the basic principle of the PhD we are doing
at the Bartlett. But with marcos&marjan everything started in November
2000 with the idea of redesigning our tiny studio in to a scale 1:1. We
wanted to build a soft table that could be pushed against
the wall in order to gain space in the studio. The table was to be built
out of a resin compound, which was gradually becoming flexible on its
edges, enabling those areas to slide up the wall. The table embedded in
its soft-inlucent mass drawers, plugs, light sources, water
tubes, electrical equipment, responsive structures, secret enclosures,
etc., which were protruding irregularly from its underneath belly, yet
keeping the upper surface deeply flat. It became a beautifully
moulded, chunky plate...
Marjan Colletti -
well, in the NEB competition for instance, the
functional program seemed to fit ideally your research topic: laboratories
and clinical environments, proteins research etc. It was very clear that
we were trying to combine our obsessions: intelligent skins
and soft toys. The site for the NEB competition looked like
a duck to me, and the Tomihiro site like a polar bear. And my responses
to all your ideas about where to site the building were very figurative.
Marcos Cruz - I remember that later we were sketching a lot. We were filling
dozens of pages in search for a possible scheme. It was exciting, because
you ended up doing a funny croquis, which summarised a lot of thoughts
into one idea. I saw you drawing the king and his (new) robe and also
a Santa Klaus with his Christmas bag. And, yes, that was our scheme!
Marjan Colletti - The amount of input was rather stunning, and although
we were talking about completely different things and interests, apparently,
at the end our visions were not that distant.
Marcos Cruz - My interest in the fusion of biological and architectural
phenomena triggered my immediate attention as we saw the announcement
of the competition programme on the Internet. It was an opportunity to
deal with spaces, in which molecular biology production and bodies could
be able to interface with architecture in an intriguing way. At that time
I was quite involved in discussions with Orlando de Jesus about the project Fabric Epithelia, an installation for an exhibition at the
Textile Museum in Toronto.
Marjan Colletti - Simultaneously, we tried to develop the scheme further
with many experiments. I remember you started with the first small wax-model,
while I sat in front of the computer and started playing around with an
oil layer over a digital surface. I put oil pills onto the screen re-considering
a holographic system for the roof.
Marcos Cruz - Simultaneously my concerns were focused on three-dimensional
matter, on aspects of plasticity and inlucent materiality.
We speculated with a continuous surface of a varying resin compound, embedding
structural and technical appliances in it.
Marjan Colletti - Yes, we split for a while in fact. While you were pursuing
this soft inlucency, I tried to get similar results in the
drawings re-working them on different software.
Marcos Cruz - The 150.000 S.F. proposal was our former m&m table
inserted into the landscape. The building submerged its massive volume
in the topography letting its huge colonised office roof appear as a new
artificial garden in the site. The winter garden separated the interior
laboratory area from the outside bucolic landscape with a double-layered
transparent wall, presenting an enigmatic green façade.
The trigger of the project was the re-interpretation of the programme.
It located the private office areas in the roof and the wet lab areas
in various cones, integrating in between all circulation and mechanical
support spaces. The upper offices allowed each scientist to sit in the
roof touching site and sky.
The skeleton of the building was embedded in the mass of lightly coloured
resin, which filtered a variety of different light levels through its
Marcos: And the resin could also be host for a variety of inter-active
devices. The performance specification of the membrane varied continuously
along the surface, from the properties of a rigid, opaque screen to those
of a flexible, transparent skin.
Marjan Colletti - The notion of this membrane re-appeared in the design
proposal for the New Tomihiro Museum in Shi-Ga, Japan, in December 2001.
The idea of the bagpipe (played by the polar bear, the site
up pretty soon, and has served as Leitmotiv through different
stages. We both liked the combination of soft and hard components (the
bag and the pipes) and of skin and face (the fur and the head of the goat).
The walk through the New Tomihiro Museum was like a discovery trough an
artificial landscape. A landscape of numerous and varying exhibition vessels
hanging along a meandering, suspended path. Specific paths provided connections
to the forest above and the lake below beyond the physical boundaries
of the Museum.
And the climatic and seasonal changes were visible within the museum in an internalised garden, separating the exhibition spaces
from its rest.
Similarly to the NEB laboratories, the external transparent and occasionally
translucent screen blurred the internal spatial volumes and the primary
structure of laminated timber to a soft whole. The exhibition vessels
consisted of a double-layered skin, which hosted services and other technical
appliances in the inhabitable spaces in between. The opaque internal layer
controlled intensity of light and amount of humidity. Thus, the outside
was about the bagpipe, and the inside about the artificial garden. The
metaphorical assemblage of the 8 elements of traditional Japanese gardens
created a reinterpretation of landscape.
Dialogues between Marcos Cruz and Marjan Colletti
(Transcribed from the publication Actions re Form, Bartlett School of Architecture, February 2002)