• chahaleden

Fedora is one of Italo Calvino’s 55 invisible cities, part of the Cities and Desire “chapters” or classification.

In a short narration (the story is only one page long), Calvino sets a powerful and sensitive scenery of an imaginary city. A grey metropolis of stone, with at its center a metal palace. In each of the rooms of what he calls a museum, there is a cristal globe holding a blue model of Fedora. It is not a reproduction of the city as it is, but of what at a point in time, it could have become “for one reason or another”. Each of the inhabitants visits the museum and chooses their favorite version of the city, the one upon which they can project their own desires.

Fedora, illustration by Karina Puente Frantzen

“In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had been until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe”.

Calvino draws on the question of Utopia, by introducing the notion of an “ideal” city, and the intrinsic reason for failure in building a perfect system. Drawing a thin line between a “possible future” and remaining a “toy in a glass globe”. The Fedoras that didn’t come to be can recall islands, as in the original Utopia of Thomas Moore, a necessary condition being an enclosed, controlled system. Temporality is central in this passage of the text. The reason of the failure is that the city, and by extension society is a dynamic body, that by the time it is defined has already changed, it cannot be grasped, nor captured. Nevertheless the urge of defining an ideal has remained a constant at “every age”.

Relying on this sentence we can start questioning who has been defining those ideals. “Someone”, an individual rather than a collective vision, “looking” at the city from above and seeing it “as it is”, suggesting a supposed objective truth.

“(...) there must be room both for the big, stone Fedora and the little Fedoras in glass globes. Not because they are all equally real, but because all are only assumptions. The ones contain what is accepted as necessary when is not yet so; the others, what is imagined as possible and, a moment later, is possible no longer.”

The story ends with an advice from Marco Polo, the narrator (and inventor) of the cities, to Kublai Khan, the emperor ordering this exchange to learn about each of the places of his empire and better control it. If in the previous abstract he seemed to hold little regard to the little Fedoras, comparing each of them to “only a toy in a glass globe”, Calvino concludes by placing them at equal importance with the built city. The physicality of the latter, made of stone, doesn’t make it more “real” than the imagined ones. The unbuilt Fedoras are to be represented on the map of the Empire along with the stone one. There is no opposition between built and unbuilt to define reality, but different reasons for both to be equally subjective truths.

  • chahaleden

Ian Cheng’s methodology, and how to tackle Artificial Intelligence in a smart way.

The method used by Ian Cheng that he describes in the interview “A portal to infinity” is of great help for the research I will intend to produce for this course.

My project has widely to do with Augmented Reality (architecture and the city as interfaces to AR), which ideally would be done involving AI, possibly as a further development for the final project. The way I.Cheng presents his research method clearly stating the limitations of access to high end technologies shows how alternative, more modest ways of engaging with research can lead to relevant and satisfying approaches. Instead of aiming at building a perfect AI for his game, that might be an ambition for big tech companies like Google, he chose to focus on building a collage of different models of the brain based on different references. The strength could come from the way those models come together, what is relevant in each field when borrowing concepts as much from philosophy than from video games?

One model is based on how the Sims build a model on in one hand slightly urgent behaviours, and a narrative model, of more immediate sense of the world.

The evolutions come from what agent is taking the control over the others at a particular time.

He explains how this became a strength of the project by bringing in innovative aspects to the experience : “When you are hungry you are also hangry, (...) this is true to nature, but hasn't been seen in video games or more academic studies of artificial intelligence”.

Fiction as a research tool

Another aspect that I found very interesting in his description of the work Emissary in the Squat of Gods is how he doesn’t have full control over the narration that he is writing. By setting up parameters and guidelines, rather than building a total world and narration, you might also be learning from what happens with the parameters you set, and when you modify them. This is a novel way of approaching the design of fiction, and might be a particularly relevant one when used in research.

It could be seen as simulations of fiction, with an infinite possibility of observations of possible human behaviours.

The aesthetics of the experiences.

The visual choices made in those games relates to the discussion that were brought about during the week on Virtual Reality. The aesthetics of the pieces is far from being photorealistic, and yet, to many extents, it might have more to do with the physical world properties. Each object is unique, I.Chang worked on procedural methods to have all the elements of his universe have a set of common traits, but never being an exact replica. The non deterministic aspect of things is also inspired by how nature works, as opposed to cities or architectures, that are millimetric, determined objects.

  • chahaleden

Dernière mise à jour : 17 mars 2021

This week's lecture, and especially the text The Force of Things by Bennett made me think of two distinctive references.

Exhausting spaces

The first one that struck me when reading the chapter Things-Power I - Debris, is the use of an identical methodology and focus that the one of the french writer, and part of the Oulipo collective George Perec. A few of his books could relate directly, such as Espèce d’Espaces (Species of Spaces), or Les Choses (The things), but one short essay appears as very directly related.

Over the fall of 1974, Perec sat for three days in a square in Paris - Place Saint Sulpice. He recorded every detail that he would encounter, every object, every move, placing them all at the same level. He compiled these observations of what he calls The Infraordinary in the short essay “Tentative d'épuisement d’un lieu Parisien” - “An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris”.

This kind of inventory process resembles the ones that Bennett uses as a starting point to a reflection on “Debris”, things that we are supposed to ignore, on the materiality of the objects encountered in a street of Baltimore : the glove, the rat, the pollen, the bottle cap, and the stick.

Abstract from An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris, George Perec 1974


Date: October 18, 1974

Time: 10:30

Place: Tabac Saint-Sulpice

Weather: dry, cold. Grey sky. Minor flashes of sun.

Sketch of an inventory of some things strictly visible:

-Letters of the alphabet, words: “KLM” (on someone's carrying bag), a capital “P” designating “parking”, “Hotel Recamier”, “St Raphael”, “money adrift”, “taxis arriving at the station”, “Rue du Vieux-Colombier”, “La Fontaine Saint Sulpice brewery and bar”, “P ELF”, “Saint-Sulpice Park”.

-Conventional symbols: signs under the “P” of parking lots, one slightly angled toward the ground, the other, towards rue Bonaparte (on the Luxembourg side), at least four signboards seeming to speak, that is, interjecting (a fifth reflected in the café window).

-Numbers: 86 (at the crest of a bus of class 86, indicating its place of origin: Saint-Germain-des-Pres), 1 (name plate no. 1 of rue Vieux-Colombier), 6 (here to indicate that we are in the 6th Paris arrondissement).

-Fleeting slogans: “From the bus, I spy Paris”

-On the ground: a pile of gravel and sand

-Stone: sidewalk edging, a fountain, a church, houses...


-Trees: (leafy, yellowing)

-Quite a large piece of sky (perhaps 1/6th my visual field)

-A cloud of pigeons suddenly pounding the central platform between church and fountain

-Vehicles (their inventory remains to be taken)

-Human beings

-A type of basset hound

-Bread (A baguette)

-Lettuce (wilted?) protruding from the top edge of a shopping bag.

Dunne and Raby - from The Secret Life of Electronic Objects to Speculative Everything

Dunne and Raby from the essay The Secret Life of Electronic Objects

Another reference that resonates with the lecture is the speculative work on design of the duo Dunne and Raby.

Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects is one of their early work, published in 2001. They explore how the systems of objects transform people’s experience of their environment. This seemed like an interesting shift of focus, putting objects that are merging into our daily lives at the center of sociological research.

Without being directly connected to the readings, one aspect of their work is nevertheless interesting in terms of methodology, and related to the way we are invited to tackle research.

The theoretical work they pursue on design is experimental, and practice based. They build projects, and experiment with them, that are the basis of reflections. For them “Writing is to reflect on the practical side and share it”.

The design they did for what they called a “risk watch” is a good example of this method. The watch is meant to experiment with the user's perception of reality when wearing it and walking around. Does your reality change when you wear their Risk Watch? Do you feel differently about your environment, and how you view the world? It is an object that was unlikely to be mass produced, especially at the time of its conception, but it did exist, and it's from the elaboration of the object, until its full functionality that the reflection on it happened.

Dunne and Raby's Risk Watch