Unit Leaders: Sarah de Villiers & Dr. Huda Tayob
“Power can be invisible, it can be fantastic, it can be dull and routine. It can be obvious, it can reach you by the baton of the police, it can speak the language of your thoughts and desires. It can feel like remote control, it can exhilarate like liberation, it can travel through time, and it can drown you in the present. It is dense and superficial, it can cause bodily injury, and it can harm you without seeming ever to touch you… It causes dreams to live and dreams to die.”
- Avery Gordon 2008,3
Unit 18 takes on the haunting presence of power through the Hyperreal Prototypes. In the age of the 4th Industrial Revolution, things are moving faster than ever. Political dissent, wars and economic crashes rise and fall with the same planetary crunching of time and space, across media and image, as fast as a new hairstyle emerges from Beyonce. This post-modern, late-capitalist, post-colonial, and neo-colonial world represses and projects its ghosts and phantoms with similar intensities, if not entirely in the same forms as the older worlds did. We live with the horrors and nightmares of past-violences, struggles for liberation, dreams of freedom and hopes of future worlds yet to come (Gordon 2008). The hyperreal and supernatural is indistinguishable from the real and authentic. Artificial Intelligence has infiltrated every semblance of our life: we are all cyborgs, all part-human, all reliant on robotic and prosthetic parts (Haraway 1985).
“The territory no longer precedes the map, nor does it survive it. It is nevertheless the map that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra - that engenders the territory” (Baudrillard, 1994).
The word prototype derives from the Greek πρωτότυπον prototypon, "primitive form", neutral of πρωτότυπος prototypos, "original, primitive", from πρῶτος protos, "first" and τύπος typos, "impression”. Architecture has thrived on the presence of the ghostly prototype: from phantom cities to model cities, prototypes that were never built, to mass-produced, globalised models. The architectural prototype is the ideal example, perfect copy, dream that was never built, tool of the revolution yet to come, sign of a lost civilisation, simulacra and seat of power. The line between the model and the real, pharaoh and robot, authentic and copy is blurred and haunted by history.
In its first year Unit 18 was meant to travel to Egypt as the fulcrum of a globalized ancient world for centuries. In its place, in the first week of the Nation-wide lock-down, on 2 April we organised a 12-hour quarantine marathon, to foster the beginning of an engagement with site conditions in Egypt. In the absence of being able to travel, projects engage with Egypt/ Cairo in dialogue, many adopting a trans-national approach to understanding history, flows and movement. Egypt continues to haunt architectural production in the replicas of pyramids, sphinxes and obelisks -- transported and rebuilt worldwide. Looking at both very old, and rapidly emerging phenomena, we will explore the spaces of the Arab Spring, Valley of the Gods, histories of paper and writing, the Rosetta Stone, Suez Canal, Silk Road and New Silk Road, Cairo and New Cairo, Library of Alexandria, Genizah documents and Fustat. Our research will focus on the haunting presence of the supernatural in its otherworldly, digital, analogue dusty and ghostly forms. The unit is interested in an architecture that responds to the deep-pasts of haunted histories and, importantly a cognizance of planetary futures, drawing on the ambiguous and murky line between man-made and natural (Haraway 1985).
The project will be a Hyperreal Prototype: a building, typology, process, policy or set of events which institutionalise or will into being a widely-held perception and emergent spatial practice of replication or hauntings as powerful architectural forces. We will use the prototype as a research methodology: a device that is sited between the real, surreal, authentic, model and copy. We encourage time-based representational techniques, large-scale model-making and engagement with the ‘super’, ‘hyper’ and ‘natural’. As Avery Gordon suggests, “we need to know where we live in order to imagine living elsewhere. We need to imagine living elsewhere before we can live there” (Gordon 2008, 5).