AN EXPANDED TAKE ON MEDIA PRACTICES (originally published in AArchitecture 27)Profile

by Mark Campbell, Director of the MPhil in Media Practices

14 January 2016
Architectural Association, London

 

The new MPhil in Media Practices launches in the coming academic year. Director Mark Campbell explains how the course will push students to test the architectural through contemporary media practice.

 

The MPhil in Media Practices is scheduled to launch in 2015–16. The course aims to look beyond conventional modes of making and understanding architecture to focus on other media-based practices, such as photography, film, documentary and sound recording. While writing, drawing and talking – the tenets of architectural education – are still fundamental, the course is premised on the possibility of exploring what might arise through the use of static and time-based media practices as vehicles for considering the discipline.

 

Screenshot of Abraham Zapruder, Frame Z365 of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1963)

Screenshot of Abraham Zapruder, Frame Z365
of the Assassination of President John F. Kennedy (1963)

As an architect you hope to acquire enough of a working knowledge of various specialist practices – such as structural engineering or exhibition design – to inform all of the decisions that go into producing architecture. Media is no different. One of the ambitions of the course is to explore the potential of a given media – film, for example – not as an expert practitioner, but instead, as an architect who can develop a considered knowledge of the practice to ultimately open up new ways of collaborating with experts, or even becoming fluent in the practice itself.

 

Central to the course is an appreciation of media’s capacity to interrogate and reinvent architecture. For example, the Zapruder film of the assassination of President John F Kennedy in Dealey Plaza (illustrated) – essentially a home movie – not only reconfigured the architectural space of a place previously deemed too mundane for TV camera crews to cover at the time, but also generated new modes of chaos, ambiguity and conspiracy. In turn, this inaugurated a new type of representative political space – one that was rife with contradictions. Quite an impact for a 26.5-second film.

 

Each kind of media has its own logic and its own absurdities. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), though frequently referenced, is a germane example of this dualism precisely because it deals with a particular spatiality – a circuitous hotel interior – that is entirely illogical outside the parameters of the film (wrapping around itself). However, within the film this irrational trajectory of movement takes on a new kind of logic which is based on the amount of time it takes to show a small boy on a tricycle cycling around the interior. Perhaps the possibilities inherent in these contradictions are best expressed by one critic’s take on the Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño, through whom ‘we have come to accept the disruptions of linearity’. Such disruptions open up the space for other fragmentary, oneiric or even provisional accounts. If we accept this statement then the potential lies in exploring these fragments and contingencies. If this is possible in photography, or film, is it not also possible in architecture? After all, in terms of actual building, architecture is usually painfully slow.

We can begin to break away from considering architecture in terms of built time by seeing it through media. In One Way Boogie Woogie (1977), for example, the filmmaker James Benning examines post-industrial Milwaukee through 60 one-minute static shots – an approach that aligns with the idea put forward by Paul Virilio and others that the contemporary world is measured less in spatial terms than in increments of time. Such a renegotiation of the speed of architectural production informs the pedagogical approach of the course.

 

Screenshot from James Benning, One Way Boogie Woogie (1977)

Screenshot from James Benning,
One Way Boogie Woogie (1977)

The course combines seminars, workshops and research projects before culminating in a final thesis project. Seminars are aimed at unpacking the histories and precedents of these media practices, discussing their mechanics, operations, usage and architectural histories. Workshops and research projects help students develop an understanding of these types of media through conversations with different media practitioners including the documentary photographer Thomas Haywood and Polly Braden, whose work China Between (2005–09) involved making photographs while walking across China for four years. The course also intends to take conversations beyond the academic environment and into a more public realm – like the recent discussion with the photographer Nadav Kander, or an upcoming talk with the writer Tom McCarthy – in order to allow students and participants to explore the possibilities of an expanded media practice of architecture.

 

For more information:

MPhil in Media Practices

AArchitecture 27

Nadav Kander in conversation with Mark Campbell

Tom McCarthy lecture on Critical Paranoia and the Great Report

Research Cluster: Paradise Lost by Mark Campbell

All Work and No Play (originally published in AArchitecture 21) by Mark Campbell