Abstract interview  
Published in The Breeder, issue 8, 2003, Athens.
AA: Andreas Angelidakis is an architect based in New York www.angelidakis.com
AP: Angelo Plessas is a neenstar based in New York www.angeloplessas.com
BB: Benjamin Bratton is an architecture critic based in Los Angeles www.cultureindustry.com
EK: Eleni Kostika is an architect based in Athens www.e-kostika.com
IA: Isabelle Arvers is a curator based in Paris
JA: Jan Aman is a Neen activist based in Stockholm www.janaman.com
JWC: John White C is a neenstar based in New York www.johnwhitec.com
LM: Lev Manovich is a new media critic based in San Diego www.manovich.net
MU: Mai Ueda is a neenstar based in New York www.maiueda.com
MVH: Molly von Hacker is a writer based in Berlin and Los Angeles.
N: nanogod is an artist based in Athens www.nanogod.org
RR: Rafael Rozendaal is a neenstar based in Amsterdam www.whitetrash.nl
YZ: Yi Zhou is a neenstar based in Paris www.yi-yo.net
BunnyBot : BunnyBot is a Bot ( an Internet robot), that lives in the NeenWorld in Active Worlds.

This discussion took place online sometime in early 2003.
RR: Are you an artist?
AA: No, I am an architect.
AP: Do you think that architecture is for everybody?
AA: Architecture is the basic interface for life. So yes, it is for everybody
EK: What does it actually mean to live in a computer generated environment?
BunnyBot : it means to check your e-mail really often.
AA: Well, nobody has yet lived in a CG environment, so we don't know. Our avatars live there and we can only approximate what they are feeling. This is the stone age of digital life; all these things we see on our screen are like trying to communicate with cave drawings.
I suspect that the remote control is a central issue. In these environments we can click on trees and teleport, we can click on pictures to hear sounds, and we can click on buttons to exit. In a non computer generated environment, in order to find something we have to actually look for it, whereas on the screen we press ctrl F and the computer starts the search. Or we just type the name in Google, and we find variations of what we are looking for.
So the main difference is that we can look for things that by just imagining that they exist.
EK: I have to be in a physical space in order to view these spaces, can u tell me how can I inhabit them?
AA: Whenever you enter a virtual place, you are still in an in-between space, the space between the person and the screen. Physically its just 40 cm between your face and the monitor, mentally it is sometimes less and sometimes more. There is also the psychological space of confusion that exists between what you feel sitting in front of the monitor, and what your avatar feels on the screen. By avatar, I mean your computer entity ; it can be a name on a cell phone screen, your ID on Instant Messenger or the 3D cartoon version of yourself in a virtual space. Does your avatar have feelings? Does she experience the space of the screen? When you are sitting on front of the monitor looking at your self in the screen you are neither virtual nor real, you are in between. This is the space I am interested in.
BunnyBot : me too!
RR: Are you an important artist?
AA: Importance is something relevant to time and history. But I believe strongly in what I do, and I explore different ways to do it, so I suppose that by itself is important.
MVH: Replying to Raphael , nobody does important art: actually, one cannot even do "art" but can do things that may become art. Angelidakis is doing different of those 'maybecome art" stuff.
JWC: Being an architect of the Screen, what way do you think your work will shape the future of planned "physical" structures? Will we even have a need for such structures? How distant is the world you create from the world we inhabit?
AA: I suppose my work can affect planned structures in two banal ways: either in copy or in real, meaning that either somebody will copy my work and build it, or that I will build it.
There is definitely a need for screen structures and places. The internet is really a very un-designed place, and it will remain so until we do something about it. Imagine your favorite place in the world, let's say a gorgeous peaceful beach: then compare it to your favorite website, and think in which of the two you would prefer to spend your day. Can we make a website that is as strong as a sunset?
Of course there are many, and the difference is that the websites are always there, but the beach you have to travel to. But perhaps soon enough we will be able inhabit both at the same time, without the interference of monitors. I think the distance between the two worlds are exactly the hardware we use to see them.
AP: Is there a definition of the trees on your animation? Is there a message?
AA: The tree comes from a house renovation project that actually had trees around it. I asked Andrew (Burgess) to model a tree that was like a sketch, and since then I can't stop using it! But in the mirrorsite project the trees are there to keep company to the mirror building. Mirror buildings need something to reflect so that they can disappear.
MVH: It seems to me that Angelidakis has an obsession with designing nature. Mirrorsite is only partly a natural environment, but what about Invisible Home. Looks to me like a romantic landscape, there are no buildings, so structures, just mountains and lakes that transform and approximate an organization or maybe organism. Turning nature into an architecture!
AP: 2. You are one of the founders of the NEEN art movement. Can you describe your role in this network?
AA: I am the paradox! Architecture, is by definition Telic* so my role is on the one hand to try and make NEEN architecture.
In Neen World my role was classic architect though, I treated each participant as a client, and designed their space based on a simple request. For example you asked me to make something based on oneaftertheother.com so there where two elements, the rainbow and the logo-animal-moustache-bird. I imagined the rainbow enclosed in an invisible mirror box bouncing on the sides until it found itself.
The logos became little animals that live in this rainbow building. For Tosic it was different, I have never met him, and he did not say anything interesting to say, apart from the fact that he was not interested. So I did a cave that looks like a broken egg. It is a collection of "buildings based on websites" and even "buildings waiting to become websites".
AP: What is the meaning for you to create for internet?
AA: Internet is like the most important place right now, because everybody can be there at the same time. It is the ultimate multiverse, the link between India and Hawaii. It is also flat, so for an architect that's a great challenge.
BunnyBot : The internet is a place . Like the situationists used to say: Under the pavement there is a beach! The internet is this beach and you can go there anytime, from any pavement.
AA: Yes and it is not under the pavement, it is right in front of you. It is as you say another world, but it is always on top of world, overlaid on our reality.
N: How does a mirror resemble a screen?
AA: They both reflect. Goggle is a mirror of the world. A person reflected in a mirror is an avatar, it not the real person. I am interested in mirrors because the space you see inside them is an animation of what surrounds you.
N: When reflecting are we projecting?
AA: I don't really understand this question. I suppose that when you are in front of your Lacanian shrink and he/she reflects you I suppose they would also project on you. But in that case it is really hard to even understand that you are being reflected. Life is tough.
N: What I find particularly moving about the Mirrorsite DVD is the gracefulness of the mirrors as they are swept across a landscape that offers them nothing to reflect upon but their own shiny emptiness. It makes me think of courage in the face of nothingness.
MVH: Angelidakis makes this drama silent, constant, without acceleration. It reminds me of this film Lost Horizon, the story of Shangri-La, or maybe Lost Highway again a story of a place overlaid on our reality.
YZ: your Neen World 3-D model reminds me of Chinese papercuts. We used to cut white or red papers to decorate festivities, & to represent calligraphy to be glued on the walls and windows.
YZ: mirrorsite project: what would u like to see from the reflections of a mirror (or mirrors).
AA: Endless variations of space. I try to catch some spaces as the mirror flies from one building to the other, spaces that exists for less than a second.
MU: artchitecture! Ideas are more than real. Andreas is a neenstar.
IA: Do you think that computer environments are totally pure? Are there some places for pure spirits?
AA: In fact computer environments are totally impure. Sometimes I feel that every click I make helps a corporation become bigger, every link is a trap. But I suppose in my work I try to approach certain calmness, and generosity of space, I try to recreate the bliss of lying on a beach listening to the waves, sometime in late afternoon in July. And every trap needs an escape.
IA: Is this Alice behind the mirror?
AA: The mirror has no behind; it is a space that floats on a surface. I see the mirror as properties and capabilities, not really as a physical object. Placing a mirror in a space is like clicking on a wall and attributing reflectivity, so that this wall will animate what is across it. Alice managed to enter the mirror, but I do not dream of the reflections taking on their own lives, I am interested in what happens to the reflected once there is a mirror there.
MVH: But a computer generated mirror is another story. When I see a reflected space inside a computer rendering, it is a virtual world inside a virtual world, a set of Russian dolls, some virtual babushka realities! The same happens with the Neen world models. They are physical models of virtual buildings. Not even models because they are "rapid prototypes" basically printed models. And the buildings themselves are based on websites, and some of these websites are based on reality, like Mai Ueda's philosophyinthebedroom.com which is based on a Comme Des Garcons dress. It is much more sophisticated than just saying that this work links the virtual to the real, the connections and the back + forth is endless.
YZ: this is the way I see Andreas Angelidakis: About taking things seriously: Yes. Sometimes it is good.
But, I think that your work is so free from rules and precedents that u should leave your images and creations "speak for themselves": They are strong, fresh, bright, instantaneous & stunning. No need to justify with intellectual masturbations.
MVH: What is she talking about this fake chinese? Everything "intellectual" is a masturbation, because it offers pleasure.
JA: I do not think you are an architect of the screen rather that you are working with screen reality and real reality (in lack of better words) as two parallel but separate tools. Would you like to comment on that?
AA: Well yes, screen and real are separate, but I am working on connecting them. You are right, I am not exclusively screen. Sometimes I see something on the screen and think how it could be used in real, I see a nice navigation button and think of a door. Perhaps also "screen" is an overused term; we are not really interested in monitors per se, but the entrance to digital life, whether online or off.
JA: Tell me when you get excited in your work - what is that makes something click and that fills you with energy?
AA: It happens at different times. When I walked into the Pause space, I was excited that it actually worked, the light looked even better than the renderings, and I realized that it would fulfill the purpose which for me was that it photographed as a rendering. Also two weeks ago, we were working with Miltos Manetas and Angelo Plessas on the whitneybiennial.com CD, and I found a way to make the 3D space interactively animated on just 57 kilobytes, that was a real click.
JA: how do you look on the possibilities of architecture in a political way, or better: are you a political architect?
AA: I never really think of politics. Some people say that I do not do things "by the book" so perhaps that is political in a way.

LM: while almost all architects working with computers these days explore "blobby" forms, you work with simple geometric forms which in some ways remind me of early CG. Why?

BunnyBot : I hate the blobby stuff. No good for rabbits.

AA: I actually did try out the blob thing when I was an undergraduate at SciArc, back in 1989. Karl Chu and others had started working with these pre-blob forms and it was fascinating for a while. But I always imagine building constructed, and blobs always looked like they would have to be heavily compromised in order to get built.

There is a lot of surface information that in the end does not produce a significantly different spatial effect. When you start to introduce doors and windows the blob falls apart, and we have seen that in built blobs in the last few years.

Of course there are examples like the Yokohama Port Terminal, that look cool built, but it's no longer blob, it's a landscape which is different. If there was a different system of gravity, let's say things fell diagonally, then everything would change.

 

BB: Too many straight questions...What is the design of display after the aestheticization of storage? Exhibition or exhibitionism?

AA: Everything is aesthetic. Even when you do something that is non-display or non-aesthetic, that is a choice. And exhibition always requires some level of exhibitionism anyway. Its just communication.

BB: Do we prefer individuation without identity?

AA: I don't know what individuation means...

BB: Is "Homeland Security" an incest-themed fiction?

AA: It's not fiction, but perhaps it is a scenario, or a plot. A strategy?

BB: What forms of elective surgery will be hot this time next year?

AA: Again I don't know what elective surgery is, is that something like a beauty treatment?

MVH: Such a weird questions !

YZ: some questions r intellectual masturbation . Some r so out of the blue & naive that breaks the boringness of some of the questions. I like the one by Rafael: r u an artist? or r u an important artist? it is sososo funny !!! it is so Rafael style.

I think your work is a perfect combination between content & form. it is self-explanatory.

I thought about asking u about what is the image u would like to see from a mirror the other day, when I passed by next to a building (next to the Pompidou), and it had many mirror windows, through which real things were reflected. it reminded me of u. & ur see through floating mirrors. & all of a sudden I saw the mirrors of the building flying above & all around. & I thought about how many people build boring & ugly buildings, u, instead, project beautyness and unexpectiveness on the screen, and they keep on turning in our head, & suddenly, we have the impression of just seeing them around the corner, like when we r on our way to the boulanger or the dry cleaner's.

LM: Do you think that the current popularity of "blobs" forms in architecture is simply a particular stage in the history of architects'
engagement with computers, or have we finally arrived at an "authentic" computer aesthetics?

AA: So are Blobs the Modernism of the computer era? To me Blobs are similar to data visualization, which is like trying to understand what computers do and how they do it. Instead I am interested in how computers change our psychological landscape, how they fill our visual field with information that doesn't exist.

I am interested in the moment when you mistakenly press "Command F" in your mind while trying to find your keys before going out the door. Exactly that moment is when you start to confuse the realities around you. When I used to hang out in chat rooms in Greece, we had to write Greek with Latin characters, so a kind of bastard internet language. After that when people spoke to me in real life I would sometimes translate the answer in my mind to this type of grenglish, as if I had to type it for them to hear me. Speaking was no longer the same because typing had become an integral part of it. So I expect digital architecture to give me answers to these types of issues. Blobs have become a trademark for computer generated architecture, but they do not address the right issue. And I have not seen a blob work well on the screen, nor online. I believe that is also the main question between Neen and Telic, and Neen is closer to the answer.

BB: architecture as Clothing. Fashion. Is second-hand space better than designer space?

AA : I think the fascination right now is with second-hand designer clothes, like "vintage YSL", or at least that's what style.com says. In any case all clothes have been somehow designed by somebody; it's just that we like some names better than others.

As far as architecture is concerned, I think the relationship with fashion is symbiotic. Like "I'm going to a party at the Seagram building, I think I'll wear my yellow Helmut" or something like that, building that match clothes and vice-versa. Or fashion can be an inspiration.

Right now I'm working on a 3D print of the Mai Ueda building that I did in the Neen World. This building was based on the patterns of philosophyinthebedroom.com, which in turn Mai together with Angelo Plessas copied from the Comme des Garcons dress that she was wearing. So a building based on a website that was based on a dress. And actually a physical 3D print based on a virtual building.

BB: Like with architecture, sometimes we know or care who or what made our clothes, and sometimes we don't. Some habitats have signatures associated with them (Philip Johnson or Betsey Johnson) and some do not (parking lot, new pair of socks). The absence of signature on some things amplifies the weight of the signature on what is signed. Why do we like habitats to have signatures at all? What kind of story does it tell? Is it the same story for architecture as for clothes, and when they merge as your project with Mai and Angelo?

AA: Signature is important because it places the work in a context, in the designers' body of work. If you see a suit painted grey, perhaps you'll think that "somebody painted this suit grey, how cool". When you know that it is from Martin Margiela's famous collection when he just took his last collection and re-presented it all painted grey, you know it is awesome, because you understand the conceptual value.

Parking lots on the other hand are an interesting typology, and I think architects like them because of the clarity of form: a landscape of tilted planes. I'm not sure that they are interesting because they are anonymous; my favorite parking structure is the one Frank Gehry designed for the Santa Monica Mall where the chain link fence becomes an ephemeral logo for the building.

BB: As architecture becomes a video game, it is certain that little kids will be better at it than us?

AA: I certainly hope so. I do believe that kids will be better at everything, in fact that's a bit like the history of the world; they have constantly new examples of how to do things. But I'm not sure architecture is really becoming a video game. I would certainly like to see more architects designing video games, and I would definitely love to do one.

I'm a big fan of Shigeru Miyamoto the designer of Zelda, super Mario, Pikmin, Animal Leader and of course Donkey Kong. Again video games are an inspiration, but if we take the example of Miyamoto, he's not a kid, he was born in 1952. But I keep waiting for something new in the horizon, and what is definitely changing in kids is the point of view. And I always urge parents to drop the whole little red riding hood whatever and get their kids a computer, teach them html and flash.

BB : I hope so too. Am I an old fart to say that videogames have become all the same? It seems that there are only four games now: point a gun and shoot things, drive through things in a car, play sports, kick the guy next to you in the head. When Miyamoto made Donkey Kong, one had to conceive of a whole new interactive metaphors with which to play. New controllers, new graphics software, new narrative spaces, new logics of characterization and subjectivity, etc. The differences between Tempest, Centipede and Q-Bert were incommensurate. Today, difference has become quantifiable in hardware terms: a little arms race in the living room. Doom 3 will require the very top end consumer videocard, Nvidia Gforce 4 with 128MB RAM, just to play it. But am I not seeing something very important? Perhaps the arms race is telic -in Miltos Manetas' sense- in that it is all driving toward a particular end: democratizing the technology necessary for the realization of completely digital, interactive cinema.

Perhaps, also, the multiplayer space requires at this time, a kind of strict standardization of geography, narrative, subjectivity, etc. as condition of democratic access and generalizable participation. To the extent that video games are and will continue to be an index of where digital architecture is, and where it's going, I would most certainly hope not.

Do you think that digital architecture will follow the same fate, ever increasing complexity defined only in geometric and rendering terms? We are so pleased with your work in this space because its focus is on more difficult things - on the aesthetic and cultural complexity of processes, of reception and reproduction.

AA: Its true that most videogames are shoot, drive, kill and monsters from outer space in a sub-bladerunner way. But that is also true of movies, it is the consumer dictatorship. Even when you see a love story there has to be a car chase or a gun somewhere, just because the movie is funded by ticket sales.

So in a way the public is responsible for the decline in the quality of the movies they watch and the games they play. Of course some of the shoot and kill things are interesting as well, like Grand Theft Auto which is kind of shocking in its cruelty: you have sex with a hooker, and then you have the option to kill her so you keep the money.

Still I am more interested in Miyamoto, his games are just totally different: in Pikmin you are a tiny alien, you have an army of carrots that follow you and perform tasks for you, huge ladybugs eat your carrots but you can always sprout more. You just send the carrots to eat giant flowers which will produce pills that the carrots carry back to their onion spaceship to make more carrots. Or Animal Leader where you have to climb the evolutionary ladder to become the animal leader.

So there are ways to avoid the over generalization, even though with buildings it's perhaps more difficult. Most of digital architecture today seems to be about nothing more than just a showcase of what's possible to do with a computer, or how to transcribe a philosophical text into a complicated form. The same is happening in architectural education, where students and faculty just speak in a kind of collage-of-cool-terminology without actually saying anything. I've been to studio reviews where all the students where starting with an semi-complex animation on Maya or 3DS, then when at some point in the animation the form gets convoluted enough they freeze and do plans and sections. They don't even stop to consider what it means to design a building based on an animation, which by the way is really interesting.

BB: If you were to build an airport in the middle of nowhere -pure layover space-- not near a city, where would you put it?

AA : Is this a trick question? Airports are terrible, they're the power strips of architecture, and you never know where to put them. On the other hand there are many things missing from airports, like lets' say a beach? Why are there no beaches at airports? In general the airport experience is pure humiliation, you just have to carry all this junk around and make your flight, and its like a bad film that plays over and over. Always bad shops with nothing interesting, last months' tech gadgets etc.

And from a paranoid-conspiracy point of view, I'm sure airplanes are so noisy and dirty because of some financial interest in oil, so the whole thing is just a scam. They should just invent Teleports.

BB: But these are also precisely reasons to adore airports! Andy Warhol wrote that airports have "my favorite kinds of entertainment, my favorite loudspeaker address systems, my favorite conveyor belts, my favorite graphics and colors, the best security checks, …"
For precisely the reasons you mention -bad shops with nothing interesting in them, a big repetitious film sequence-and because they are like hyper compressed, miniaturized versions of cities, that airports and videogames have a lot in common. They are both based on incredibly serialized, reduced vision-space, a kind of very distracted urbanism. Speaking of the movement from the website to the 3D model back to architecture, I think that airports even already look like what an airport in a videogame would and should look like. Do you agree? Videogame architecture and airport architecture are both already simulated supermodernism.
Airports with a beach are grand idea. There are several airports next to large bodies of water but they are cordoned off from them, like some big prophylactic shell. Very uptight.

AA: For me airports look just like what they are: corporate architecture and video games look like that just because they are not designed by architects, and very little thought goes into the aesthetics. Some airports are better than others, like the new Arlanda airport in Sweden, where you navigate the space following these neon colored light shafts, and you remember that your gate is in the pink-lit space. Other ones that are semi-interesting are 70's airports with kind of chic-nostalgic furniture like the Sao Paulo airport.

In any case my favorite type of supermodernist or even corporate buildings are mirror clad office buildings, because they look totally out of scale, like overblown architectural models, without any details or articulation. And they look best when they are quite small like in computer parks, where the whole environment looks made up of model shop buildings, trees and cars. Maybe people even.

BB: Is " Real Space Bad Taste" ?

BunnyBot : or, is it Bad Taste a very Real Space ?

Of course not. Real space should be judged in the same criteria as virtual space. Whenever I design a virtual space I always keep in mind what it would look like built, and vice versa. One good rule for judging built space is whether it would look good online.