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The Architecture Of Performance

Author(s): Alex McDowell


Source: Log, No. 10 (Summer/Fall 2007), pp. 65-69, 37
Published by: Anyone Corporation
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41765161
Accessed: 10-01-2016 22:33 UTC

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AlexMcDowell
The
Of

Architecture
Performance

The production
designerhas thetaskof creatingthearchitectureof a film.Althoughthisis somewhatsimilarto thepracticeof "realworld"architecture
of spacesand structures,
the
architecture
of filmworksonlywiththeraw materialof
time,narrative,
history,
light,and context;theseare the
blocks
of
film
building
design.Alltheseelementsof design
a
frame
for
the
director's
visionand thescript,and
provide
serveas a visualsupportfortheactors'performances.
The connectivetissuebetweentheelementsthatdrive
characterand thefilm'saudienceis narrativeand environmentalcontext.The productiondesignerchannelscultural
references
thatallow theaudienceto inhabitthespaceof the
filmbyintroducing
a layeredand contagiousviewpoint.
Productiondesignneedsto be infectedbyculture,history,
economicconditions,
science,and artin orderto resonate
withitsusersand theaudience.Not onlyis it impossibleto
create"pure"designoutsideof influence,
it is essentialto the
to
throw
oneself
into
harm's
designprocess
way and to
embracevariouscontaminants.
Usinga fewexamplesfrom
variousfilmsI havedesigned,I will tryto illustratethe
notionthatfilmdesignersrevelin theimpure.
In TheTerminal
, whatappearsto be theemulationof
realarchitecture
is actuallya disguiseforthecreationof a
fictionalspace,of thesettingfora fantasy.
In thenarrative,
a
centralcharacter,
Tom
comes
to
America
as
Hanks,
playedby
a touristand,due to a specificsetofpoliticalmisadventures,
is forcedto spend11monthslivingin an airportterminal,
wherehe notonlycomesto termswitha worldaliento him,
butalso bringstogether
itsdisparateinhabitants.The storyis a fairy-tale,
butwithina realisticsettingthattheaudience
can identify
with.Althoughwe werebuildingit fromthe
groundup as an originaldesign,we decidedthattheterminal
shouldbe a synthesis
of highlyfamiliararchitectural
airport
to
design, thepointof cliche.So we tooktheformallanguage
of airplanearchitecture,
likethewingsand overheadbagand
gagecompartments, theretaildesignof contemporary
and mashedit all together.
Wecreateda
airportarchitecture,
in
and
spacethat, itstruepurpose,was lessarchitecture
morea containerof thefairy-tale
a giganticlight
narrative,
65

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SetforTheTerminal
All
,2005.
IMAGES
COURTESY
THEAUTHOR.

box designedto holda thousandextrasperdayand to sustainthreemonthsof shooting,and then,onceitsimagewas


embeddedin thesilvernitrate,be destroyed.
I am workingon a filmaboutbeesthatare
Currently
drivecars,and livein a hivein CentralPark,
four-legged,
and who,as it turnsout,havea moresophisticated
society
thanours.It is a digitalanimationcalledBeeMovie[colorplate $],writtenand producedbyJerrySeinfeld.How does
one designa beehivethatcontainsa town,a honeyfactory,
suburbs,and a stratified
societythatmustappearneither
futuristic
nor
based
on humanarchitecture,
but
entirely
couldbe thebasiclanguageof thisfictionalbeeworld?I
lookedto artand architecture
thatdrewfromtheorganic,
and foundit in a combination
ofArtNouveau,thearchitectureof ErichMendelsohnand UshidaFindlay,thephotograand thesculptureof Lee Bontecou.
phyof Karl Blossfeldt,
of
Combinedwiththetransmissive
and materialproperties
wax and honey,thesesourcesdrivea new approachto the
and "believable,"becauseit
apiarythatis bothfantastic
drawsfromknown,ifdiverse,references.
The otherprojectI am workingon now is a futuristic,
basedat theMIT
roboticoperacalledDeathandthePowers,
Media Lab. It is a brandnew opera,withmusicbyavantgardecomposerTod Machover,who is theheadoftheHyperinstruments
Groupat theMedia Lab; librettobyRobert
the
former
Pinsky,
poetlaureate;and robotsbyCynthia
the
PersonalRobotsGroupat theMedia
head
of
Breazeal,
SimonPowers,is a sortof
Lab. The centralcharacter,
HowardHughesfigurewho has spenthislifeand fortune
creatingthemeansto thenextstageof humanevolution
"The System"- whichwill allow him(and humankindafter
into
him) to implanthisbeingintoa virtualstate,a transition
66

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BeeMovie
Stillfrom
,2007.

The stagesetof Simon


and immortality.
immateriality
of memory;thespace
Powers'librarysuggestsa repository
his
thecharacter,
also represents
thatcontainstheartifacts
The
set
has
to
and
the
future
physically
"System."
history,
evolveintoa cellularsystem.The walls thatfirstappearas a
intoa kindofgiantmainframe
computer,
librarytransform
theopera.
whichabsorbseach of theperformers
throughout
Wetooka mix of meaningsand sources,fromLouise
as well as layersof scientific,
Nevelsonto RachelWhiteread,
to createthesense
mechanical,and culturaliconography,
thatthoseformscan becomebothmetaphorical
performers
and musicalimplements.
Wefaceda similar"future"designproblemwithSteven
DC in 2054,in an
setin Washington
Minority
Reporty
Spielberg's
to
thetelepathic
even
world.
Due
apparently
Utopian
benign,
of
three
DC
is
the
focus
of
an
powers
experiment
by
"precogs,"
a newpolicedivisioncalled"precrime,"
whichusestheprecogs
to eradicatemurderand seriouscrime.Asa resulttherehas
beena populationspikein thecapital,anda massivevertical
radiusoftheprecogs,
cityhas sprungup withinthetelepathic
butoutsideDC anditsstrictzoninglaws.
Precrimeis a transparent
spaceto housethepoliceof the
in thisUtopiansociety.But
who
have
to
hide
future,
nothing
thereis actuallyan opaquecoreat itscenter,whichcontains
theprecogs,who floatwithinan egglikeformhiddenfrom
setrepresents
thenarrative
plainsight.The precrime/precog
- the
the
film
of
whole
bomb
explodesin the
design
precog
centerof thispoliticalsituationand theripplesoscillate
theentirestory.The chancemeetingbetween
throughout
GregLynn'sextremedesignprocessand IsseyMiyake'spleated architectural
hautecouturehad a powerfulinfluence
on
thedesignof thechamberthatcontainedtheprescient
precogs.Gregalso inspiredus to use Maya,and itsanimation
takethenarrative
mixofwomband soundchamcapabilities
berto thelevelof physicalstructure.
WesenttheMaya
modelto San Francisco,wherea manufacturer
cutall of the
curved
and
carved
CNC
and
then
unique
panels
shippedthem
backto theLos Angelesstage,wheretheywereassembled
froma computer-created
kitofparts.Wetookthenotionof
threeintersecting
as ifcreatedby
(Tbrainwave)
ripple
patterns
theprecogs,and thenadjustedthewavelength
to makehighly
surfaces
created
mathematics.
complex
entirely
by
To createa convincingfutureworldof greaterWashingtonDC, we had to tuneintothenoiseof todayand extract
certainthreadsto weavea new,resonantnarrative.
Wecreated a stratified
urbanplanthatestablished
thehistorical
cityas
67

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Minority
Scenesfrom
Report,
2002.

old money,whileon theothersideof thePotomaca vertical


city Mall City wouldriseto accommodatethegrowing
it startedconnecting
population.Asthiscitygrewvertically
in
the
malls
into
sky,reducingtheamount
horizontally giant
to thelowerlevels,and creatinga
oflightthatpenetrates
lowersocialstratawithlessvaluein termsof corporatemarbecomesa placeof escape.Webuilta
keting.This therefore
with
its
own interiorlogic,withinwhichthe
world
complete
couldfinditsthread.Onceyouhavea
linearfilmnarrative
verticalcity,how do yougetaround?Wecameup witha car
calledtheMaglev,whichwas themainelementofa transand horiportationsystemthatcouldtravelbothvertically
likea comand
would
in
the
operatesomething
city,
zontally
binedelevatorand taxicab.This transportation
systemwas a
how
to
of
our
attempt investigate spacecould
by-product
fromour research,we created
workin thisworld.Stemming
withintheconbe
that
could
narrative
a
appropriated
space
textof thestory,and theescapeof thecharacterplayedby
Tom Cruise.
we lookedat today's
To considerculturalpossibilities,
thatin our "future,"theinformaInternetand extrapolated
takeplacein ourprivate
tional"assault"will increasingly
For example,whenyouvisitAmazon.com,it
environments.
will knowwho you are,whatbooksyou like,whatmusic
you like,whatfoodyou like,and virtuallywhatyouwill do
next.Wetookthatnotionintoconsumerretailspace:all of
and individually
and able to identify
Mall Cityis intelligent
marketproductsto theindividualstraveling
throughit.
world
are actually
in
this
The police
benign
apparently
68

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Precogcorefrom
Minority
2002.
RePORTj

civillibertiesbyarresting
people
engagedin undermining
beforetheyhavecommitted
a crime.Theyhaveappropriated
corporatesystemsso thattheycan use consumertracking.
Tom Cruisemustgo downintotheinnercity,wherethereis
in orderto escapethatnet.
no intelligent
marketing,
Aspartof theearlyresearchforMinority
we visReport,
at theMIT Media Lab. ThereI metJohn
itedthescientists
who soonafterworkedwithour artdepartUnderkoffler,
mentto helpdevelopa gestureinterface
languagein thespirit of our attemptto achievescientific
and culturalaccuracy
in portraying
thefuture.This was something
Underkoffler
had alreadybeendevelopingat theMedia Lab, and he was
able to convinceTom Cruiseand StevenSpielbergto accept
thegesturesystem.He thencontinuedto workalongsidethe
designersto createthefuturescienceformanyof thefilm's
setpieces,fromthescrubbingof theprecogbrainsto the
transportation
systems.
Minority
Reportendedup as a modelof thepotential
betweenpop cultureand reality.Not only
crosspollination
didwe feedthefilmwithscience,butthefilmalso sparked
in theidea of gesturerecognition
thatJohn
AlexMcDowellisa production enoughinterest
Underkoffler
was motivatedto developthegesturesystemin
DESIGNER
SPECIALIZING
INTHE
INTEGRATION
OFDIGITAL
TECHNOLwhereit now performs
reality,
dailyin his OblongIndustries
OGY
AND
TRADITIONAL
DESIGN
lab in downtownLos Angeles.
HEISAFOUNDER
OF
TECHNIQUE.
a netMatterArt& Science,
AND
worked
GROUP
OFARTISTS
SCIENTISTS
THAT
EXPLORES
NEW
CONAND
VERGENCES
OFDESIGN
ENGIHewasvisiting
NEERING.
artistat
theMITMediaLabin2006.
69

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DREAMWORKS.
FOR
BEEMOVIE
COURTESY
ARCHITECTURAL
STUDIES
COLORPLATE
$.ALEX
,2007.
MCDOWELL,

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