Objects of Uncertain Purpose

Confronting the enigmatic, language is doomed to fall short. The moment one attempts to point at an enigma, it evades us. Indirect expression, however, is extremely powerful for encircling the enigmatic while at the same time leaving it very much open to interpretation. How can spaces, objects, sites and architecture acquire and begin to speak in this indirect language; utilizing negation, metaphor, withdrawn, interobjectivity, cancellations, hauntings and so forth? In what unexpected ways might indirect speech place architecture into a dialogic dialogue straddling preservation–development, remembrance–forgetting, history–future, old–new, familiar–strange, phenomenal–ontological, origins–possibilities, mythos–logos, to ultimately forge new surprising meanings and understandings of the construction of self and collective identity within new equilibriums past, present and future?

We cannot hear the wind alone; we can only hear its howl through the trees. We cannot see the dinosaur in reality; we can only perceive, imagine, speculate it through its traces, footprints and fossils. This withdrawn quality is the way in which we never experience anything directly. This transference, relay, or deferral, occurs on a material level, or said another way; through the touching of objects – the wind moves the trees, the dinosaur presses into the earth. The interaction of more than one object challenges the categorical distinction and hierarchy between them. It reveals the fragility of our system of naming, and thereby reveals the withdrawn aspect (the essence) of the object to us. Setting out to investigate this unconcealing transference as an architectural language, the following studies seek to open-up the possibility of describing the indescribable. Where language and conceptualization fails, confronted by the enigma that is a priori to both language and concept, the process of casting serves as a vehicle for encircling the enigmatic through inversion, reciprocal forms, contact and trace, utilizing the material process of casting and its inherent material transferring properties.

Beginning with the process of porcelain slip casting, the selected subjects of study are buildings in Berlin which have gone missing, but continue to remain partially in the city in one way or another — be it as a ruin, a conservation, or newly reconstruction segment. At a scale of 1:200, a fragmented corner of each building is cast in plaster.This plaster cast becomes the mold for the porcelain slip cast, whose process works through the direct contact of the liquid ceramic slip and the water absorbent plaster. Along its surfaces of contact, the plaster mold sucks out water, leaving behind a solidified layer of clay.However, with each cast the plaster mold starts to decay. Every iteration communicates less information than the last.In that sense, each cast can be compared to a photograph; capturing the life and decay of the mold over time. The total summation of all the unconcealing casts, seeks to express the originary appearance and essence of these lost buildings and sites of Berlin.

Through these cast, the project explores the role of architecture in the production of urban heritage in face of the increasing global phenomena of sameness and non-place due to ubiquitous neoliberal forces from displacement to the commodification of cultural heritage and memory. Making a case for the importance of the preservation of communities and social ties in the inevitable future development, the project asks the questions: Through which architectural representation methods can we produce urban memory and how do we curate or select which histories to remember? How can we commemorate the past without petrifying the built environment into frozen and lifeless museum? How can alternative histories open-up new modes of grieving, bereavement and authenticity, so that all that is lost is not forgotten and to remain a living memory? Through statements of alternative histories, material process based design as a new form of critical memory production, iterative testing and conceptual reflection, the initial research builds a taxonomy of methods to indirectly encircle subjects through material processes that inherently brush upon memory, history and essence. The taxonomy aims to cast doubt on our preconceived notions and categorizations of authenticity versus copy, monument versus spectre, trauma versus melancholy, estrangement versus homely, redevelopment versus reconstruction and, past present versus future present.