A YouTube Theater (That Docks With Your Phone)
May 6, 2011
Last night, as I sat in the Great Hall of the Cooper Union listening to an assembly of bold names speak on “The Networked City,” I realized that no one really knew what the phrase meant. Architects, for all their enthusiasm about mobile technology, have had a hell of a time trying to utilize it as a design element. I’m hard pressed to think of a single project that integrates emergent mobile platforms, unless it’s for a specific client-introduced program or tech-friendly sponsor. I wondered: When will designers make the jump from the 3D to the 4D (the fourth dimension being the digital), and why is it taking so long?
Then Aaron Jones, architect, friend, and Cranbrook Masters student, shared his thesis project with us, and it’s a perfect example how to approach design in a networked world. It’s also a bubblegum-pink machine for watching your favorite Maru video with your friends.
Designers working with wireless technologies are usually catering to affluent, already-wired urban areas and early adopters. Jones’ thesis project at Cranbrook, which is outside of Detroit, suggests that wireless internet and mobile technologies offer a method of engaging discounted or forgotten geographies. The Theater’s posits that technological infrastructure can reengage the people and neighborhoods left behind by the de-industrialization, the housing crisis, and urban shrinkage that have drastically altered the average American city.
While formally and functionally experimental (more on that below), the project seems to ultimately address Detroit, and the challenges surrounding its future. Plug your phone in, and you’ve got a space connected to the rest of the world. Introducing a dynamic user-controlled eventspace made possible by WiFi, a failing neighborhood, an overlooked space, can be engaged by “the event.” Indeed, the Theater will eventually will find its home in a decrepit wooden garage, but for now, sits on the Saarinen-designed campus at Cranbrook.
Aaron, whom I first met as an intern back in 2008, is a licensed architect who decided to return for a Masters at Cranbrook Academy of Art’s architecture department, a storied (and deeply experimental) program. He’s a rare breed of designer that’s unabashedly critical of the established architecture world while still remaining engaged in it — an architect calling bullshit on Architecture with a capital A. (Watch this video, made as an introduction to a school-wide presentation, to see what I mean.)
Some of his comments on the project, below:
A Youtube theater! Oxymoronic! Which is why it works, spatially, right? Tell us how you settled on the idea, and why.
This project is based on the assumption that the internet (WiFi) can potentially deliver entertainment and information into any place, even a neighborhood that may be overlooked or discounted. With the injection of this media comes the anticipation of event based scenarios, and in turn architecture.
This initial installation (Cranbrook Academy of Art) exploits the existing condition of campus WiFi and its ability to be accessed through current smartphone technology. The user docks their hand-held device into the theater which in turn allows one to both surf online media, and have it projected through an integration of basic a/v equipment. Be it Jennifer Black, Danny Brown, or The White Stripes the event runs off of your personal phone / whims.
You bent all of the tubes yourself. Can you describe the fabrication process to our readers, who might not realize how long it took, and just what it entailed?
The structure itself is comprised of post processed chain link fence pipe selected for its inherent ability to form an interlocking system that erects in about a day. The physical manipulation of the material was achieved with a manual pipe bender and an ability to replicate effect through “pumps” of the equipment. When all conditions remain constant, a specific number of pumps will consistently produce a specific angle within the part. This consistency allows for an informed input into a design software that could produce a predictable output for fabrication of a system / architecture. The ability of the system to form wall, structure, and also conceal component (audio + video) wiring evokes a “plug and play” operation that requires little to no education for the user.
What is the future of the theater? What are your plans for it?
The final destination is also the initial programmatic driver; a Detroit garage. A measuring of the physical building and its existing circumstance determined both the shape and orientation of the “to be” inserted theater (see section). The existing firewall becomes projection surface, the existing egress orients circulation (see plan). The pink is only really to stand in contrast to the dilapidated state of the existing structure and hopefully convey PARTY / OPTIMISM and though unintentional, the thing also sort of looks like GUTS which I dig.
A lot of your past work has dealt with Detroit – as a city and as a case study. Is the theater addresses the city, in a way?
I hope that by inserting a progressive program linked to infrastructures (WiFi) beyond the city, via this theater, that events can emerge that help us think of adaptive reuse beyond material salvage.
You’re done at Cranbrook this spring. What’s next?
Install this thing, a BBQ or two, and see what turns up.
Go check out Aaron’s website here.