flatinstitution.org

COURTYARD FRAGMENT: CUTAWAY WORMS EYE VIEW.
A TRAVELLING MUSEUM FOR THE COLLECTIVE EXPERIENCE OF LANDSCAPE IMAGES.
PROGRESS (THE ADVANCE OF CIVILIZATION).
AN ALTERNATIVE FORM OF TOGETHERNESS.
FRAMES AND FRAGMENTS OF THE NEW METROPOLIS.
PLANS: MIDWESTERN COURTHOUSE TOWNS.
FRONT ELEVATION: COLLAPSE OF FOREGROUND AND BACKGROUND.
MOCKUP: REAR ELEVATION.
MOCKUP: FRONT ELEVATION.
MOCKUP: OBLIQUE.
OBLIQUE VIEW THROUGH CORRIDORS.
SOFTWARE: PLAN GENERATOR (A MUSEUM FOR MOUNT AYR, IA).

Primary Author

  • Cyrus Dochow

Institution

  • Princeton University

Professor

  • Michael Meredith (Advisor)

Dean

  • Monica Ponce de Leon

Assignment

The conditions of screen urbanism—scaleless repetition and portability—constitute a metropolis of diminishing corporeal density. In contrast to the centralizing, messy, and complicated reality of the metropolis, screen urbanism is decentralized, neat, and easy.  This project constructs an alternative notion of the metropolis which takes as its starting point the distributed towns of the landscape survey and the conventions of nineteenth-century American landscape painting. The gridded, repetitive forms of small towns, initially conceived as easy expansionist reproductions, mirror the repetitive, decentered world of screens—provoking a new notion of the metropolis as provisional, disparate arrangements of images and people. Contemporaneous with the expansion of the Land Ordinance and representative of similar ambitions of national unity, nineteenth-century American landscape painting brought together competing, and often geographically disparate, realities within a single system. Like the US Survey, painting was a crucial mediator in the formation of social and political ties. Today, a Google image search of Asher Durand’s Progress (The Advance of Civilization) (1853) reveals none such synthesis. The single frame has been expanded to present many possible sizes, colors, and locations of the same painting. Coherence is found not in the image but rather in its digital containment and distribution. The social formations set in motion by images exist independently of their spatial coordinates. Without recourse to artifacts, this project mobilizes architecture to assemble a new type of metropolis organized around images across the real sites of the landscape survey. 

Project Statement

Over the past decade, the production, circulation, and reception of images on screens has changed the ways in which people form social relationships. The spatial aspects of group formation have been increasingly replaced by the flattened displays which occupy our pockets, sit on our tables, or hang from our walls. Today the metropolis is multiple, distributed and assembled through images—a distinct departure from its origins in ancient colonial empire and twentieth-century notions of estrangement. Collective governance and individual experience have collapsed into the two-dimensions of the computer screen. Architecture has a long, shared history with images in the formation and disciplining of public audiences. Since their emergence in the eighteenth century, public art museums and their attendant practices have been designed to produce citizens and to consolidate objects, archives, and equipment. As the habits of the museum-goer shift from moving through spaces to viewing screens, the physical experience of the gallery has been flattened. Despite continued efforts to address the purpose of art museums in the context of modern media, there is still an absence of institutions that mediate between the two-dimensions of the screen and the three-dimensions of the metropolis. The frayed relationship between images and embodied experience highlights the withering relevance of architecture in the digital age. Without reverting to the ideality of the past, how can architecture make meaningful links between images and people—and, in so doing, constitute an alternative to metropolitan life as we know it?

Project Description

The Flat Institution is a traveling museum of nineteenth-century American landscape painting reproductions. Its purpose is to produce an experience halfway between the computer screen and the museum gallery toward the formation of new social relationships. The design of the project spans across the scale of the detail to that of the territory. Each assembly of the museum system is similar but unique, occupying the prototypical courthouse sites found at the centers of many Midwestern towns. Organized as a series of broad corridors containing images and frames, the museum’s specific arrangements are planned by custom-built software to conform to found conditions. Large and small voids index particular features of the site, interrupting the spaces and interactions structured by the corridors. The walls consist of modular aluminum panels, designed to be assembled and transported easily. Altogether, the parts pack flat onto four semi-trucks, comparable in scale to a small circus. At the intermediary scale, tested by a full-scale mockup of plywood and aluminum, the museum attends to the differences between viewing images found in space against those found onscreen by foregrounding three conditions: size, lighting, and people. Each exhibited image is an enlargement of a canonical landscape painting framed by an opposing opening which references the size of the original. The separation of image and frame allows visitors to pass in and out of scenes as they circulate through the museum, collapsing picture and context, and temporarily joining images and people in a shared perceptual space.

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COURTYARD FRAGMENT: CUTAWAY WORMS EYE VIEW.