The modern human subject whose life is based on work/leisure/sleep divisions, has been conditioned to think of the modern ‘house’ as an apparatus for providing its well-being—so as to increase productivity. The classic private/public divide that considers the house as personal free space for self-expression can be read as a socio-political construct. Its design, based on standardization, function-specificity, separation and consumerist patterns, could be seen as a push of the holy image of domesticity into a constructed opposition to the wildness of the ‘outside’.
In this context the visionary architecture groups Archizoom and Superstudio, who stemmed from the Radical Design movement in the 1960s in Italy, had a desire to restructure their society in ways that were opposed to the trends of their time. Speaking out against the wholesale embrace of technological advancement and consumerist cultures, they argued that, “If design is merely an inducement to consume, then we must reject design.”1 Archizoom and Superstudio aimed to abandon capital exploitation by proposing a world (seemingly) devoid of any (instrumentalized) architecture.
Their famous visionary grid-proposals looked into the future of living conditions and were against the compartmentalization of social units, envisioning an ever-expanding and inclusive arrangement of human subjects.2 Utilised as an abstract frame rather than a physical entity, their grid is a rational(izing) system of identical units that create the possibility for both separation and liberation. It’s structure proposed an “in-progress” state of living that encompassed the vision of a boundary-less totality, a condition eliminating the possibility of any “outside”; an artificially lit and air-conditioned ecosystem, an indoor environment in which the concepts of interior and exterior, home and outside, collapse into one.
Their proposal provided a context that extended beyond the existing capital; a system that is so inclusive and homological that it itself is excess. It was one that constituted possibilities to go forward or backward to barbarism; a tabula rasa over-imposed onto all existing socio-political structures to make, “A society freed from its own alienation, emancipated from the rhetorical forms of humanitarian socialism and rhetorical progressivism.”3 It stretched itself beyond the planetary. The macro grid was laid across the landscape. Entire continents would become circuit board layouts; programmable units for living. As in “Twelve Ideal Cities” the project goes beyond the ideology of their age through megalomaniac concepts, it was inclusive to the point of complete absolution, dissolution of all material parts of the world and a merging of human and non-human into one architectonic state of being.4
At a time when body and mind were the objects of governance, and everyday objects had become a matter of science and design, these studios had a penchant to conceive of forms to merge every aspect into one egalitarian motion, from spoon to tower. They created a foundation of rules and principles of order, to be trusted as constants to account for the unknown.
Today, now that the most domestic aspects of life have to go through the mechanisms of subjectivation and image production (and circulation), the spectrum becomes inclusive of all bodies and minds of the masses; not only the system but also lives are expanding, amplifying and augmenting themselves to the widest limits. Today we experience a similar condition to that of the ironic futuristic proposals of the 60s; the condition of nomadic precarious forms of living in which our life/work spaces merge into one. While the majority of metropolitan inhabitants that play a major role in profit systems are precarious (students, commuters, immigrants, freelancers, etc) and require temporary minimum rent-based spaces, the available space once made to compartmentalise the society into units of nuclear families ceases to profit from them. The grid projects, in fact, looked very deep into the future, into our very today. When adapting to all forms of scarcity (of space, land, finance, etc) is the very basis of our ‘condition’ today that our lives have to augment in excess. We minimize our time and belongings, and tools of self-representation mirror the overriding infrastructures of control. Our excessive augmentation allows us to attach ourselves to the central database, which we are granted access to based on our proximity to its core.
Today extremely large manmade objects in space or on earth, products of megascale or astro engineering, remain largely hypothetical. The Dyson sphere is theorized to completely encapsulate a star and harvest its energy, a survivalist rather than revivalist entity, it proposes itself as a logical consequence of technological advancement and a necessary step to sustain human life in the universe. We can envision concepts for constructed needs far beyond our current state of being. Strange patterns of light emitting from star KIC 8462852 raised speculation about an extraterrestrial Dyson sphere. The most mysterious star in the galaxy, flagged by the citizen-scientist community, it differs from any other star out there in the universe.5 The unusual star’s light pattern is consistent with a “swarm of megastructures,” perhaps stellar-light collectors, designed to catch its energy.
While ‘the student’ is living in his 6 m2 living space, technological advancement is going further and further beyond, reaching for more and more to exploit. While the worker adapts to excessive scarcities on an everyday basis, technology aims to reach more excessive worlds to save its world; and the visionary ironic paper-proposals of the 60s seem more and more relevant to our condition today. The extent of our reach is so far that everything has become reduced to frames of abstraction: to catch (energy from) the stars, to “save the planet”, to work (in front of computers), or even just to sleep.