1990 | The Open Volume | Wiederhall 12

Cover Wiederhall 12 | The Open Volume | 1990


In a microscopical sense the object is fully transparent, in a microscopical sense the visible empty space is tangible like matter. Depending on the imaginary position we like to take on the scale of -infinite to +infinite, a section from this total space, whether very large or very small, may be represented as ‘matter (visually and physically impermeable) or as ‘void’ (intangible). Or in architectural terms, as ‘objects’ or as ‘space. What we call objects in our everyday life is related to the biological body structure. Our body is a delicate spacious and temporary balance of cells, atoms, quarks, etc. Our perception is implicitly related to this fragile balance and thus our direct perception enables us to perceive only similar balances as dead or living) matter In daily life we are fixed on a certain place and a certain moment in time-space. But in our imagination time and place are free. We are able to think ourselves in different positions, microscopically small or macroscopically large, we may compress time as we choose, or stretch it infinitely, which makes it possible after all to visualize a non-observable coherence between elementary (apparently elementary) particles on a much smaller or much larger scale Right now science is working on the theory of unification, which aims at linking the theory of relativity of time-space with the quantum theory of the small particles. An important new hypothesis is the string theory. The smallest particles one can think of right now are seen in this theory both as points, but also as a vibrating string. One should see these strings as 10 to the power of 20 smaller than protons, showing (in this century even!) the divisibility of the indivisible atoms. It is remarkable that the visual image of the small particles (metrical measurement of 10 m to the power of-30) which move according to the string theory bears resemblance to the superclusters of galaxies with a cross-section of 10 m to the power of 25. Both extremes, measured from our arbitrary zero, show a comparable amorphous image, splatters in space. The representation of the superclusters has been made by assigning a value to a given extent of density (for instance the number of galaxies per million light-years) and feeding the parameters into a supercomputer. The picture alternately shows formless, i.e., not primarily geometrical matter and empty space. From this point of view space is relatively empty or relatively tangible, space or object.

Hourglass of spacetime | Looping the macroverse and the microverse| Humans live in a temporal and local narrowing of spacetime

Hourglass of the universe

Our consciousness enables us to leave our anthropocentric perspective. Just like we are no longer the center of the universe, we must be able to forget about the zero of the scale of the powers of 10. It is a continuous scale, which has no zero state, and hence is either towards -infinite or +infinite. If we mark off the powers of 10 on a circle, we can put ourselves at any point we like. We no longer judge from the zero perspective, but from a spatially and temporally imaginary situation relating to the continuous scale. One of the possible consequences of this construction is that the external space of the universe and the internal space of the atom might be in direct line, one might travel through the universe straight to the atom! The journey around the world becomes a journey through matter. One might imagine our everyday reality compared to this imaginary reality as a large hourglass, in which we find ourselves at the narrowest point. An hour glass with open ends, which meet again by means of a large curve The wall of the spatial hourglass represents our three-dimensional perception, stretched to the extremes of the universe and the atom, by means of technical protheses. Time slips through our hands, even accelerated by the narrow passage of the hourglass. Our physical reality and physical mortality keeps Us prisoners at the unstable borderline between internal and external space. But our imagination enables us to take up a different position. There is a zero depending on the time-space position one takes, the narrowest point in the hourglass, whether in the macro- or micro-range. ln the essence of the macrocosmos and the micro-cosmos the division between both by  means of a zero has become totally artificial and irrelevant. They flow into each other constantly in a continuous movement. We live our lives in an unstable borderline field at an arbitrary position on the continuous scale of the powers of 10.

Open container

Making concepts (architecture, urban development, planning and even furniture) calls for movability along the continuous scale, and choosing a spatial and temporal zero-point. Each scale level has its own reality. The concept (which is imaginary per definition), creates its own reality, its own borderline between a much smaller and a much larger space. Analogous to the physical laws the structure of the large scale is not a multiplication of the structure of the smaller entities, and the smaller entities are no divisions of the total structure In the larger concept there may be smaller ‘sub-symmetries’, each with their own patterns. Sub-symmetries formed by spatial and temporal arguments, which are only valid within a certain time-space area. Planning and urban development may be looked upon as an object in space which leaves large areas of this space completely untouched. The planning is a kind of open container, transporting the content and being transported itself. Depending on the position in time and space we take, we experience something as object or empty space. We inevitably tend to classify the things which are related to us in scale and material as objects. Household appliances, cars, etc. But when one uses one’s imagination and moves along the scale, even road systems and air routes become objects. The anthropocentric object has disappeared from sight, it is no more than a non-identifiable point in a sea of other points, it is not until one leaves the anthropocentric perspective that one may construct a fully-fledged and viable concept which is not based on our ‘domestic scales, that planning and urban development may function like for instance a car or a tea-pot. One still thinks too much that one scale can be deduced from another scale level, one is still too process-oriented, too inductive. It is only the conceptual deductive method which may set us free from the physical imprisonment of the arbitrary zero-point. With each (self-appointed) assignment one has to determine a new point in time-space to be able to design in other scales than the ones we are so used to.

computational visualization of superclusters of galaxies in the universe

Rock hard air

When we are swimming slowly in the water, we experience hardly any drag, as if we float about in an almost empty space. But if we swim ten times as fast, the drag increases proportionally and the water already seems to be quite solid. The taster we go, the more the liquid resembles solid matter. Conversely, when the fluid is going fast as compared to the surrounding matter, water may be terribly hard and sharp. With a concentrated powerful jet of water one can even cut through metal. The emptiness oft air is something we experience even more clearly than the viscosity of water. When we do not move there seems to be no air at all. But when we move forward very fast, like a plane in the atmosphere, the drag phenomenon cannot be ignored. The plane bumps along the turbulences, is shaken about by the clouds, sinks down into an air-pocket like it is plummeting and  returns to its regular position with a lot of bumping and thumping. The air seems to be as solid as the soil that we stand on. Air becomes matter. Under certain circumstances liquid or air is harder than solid matter. Whether a material should be seen as liquid or as matter, as hard or soft, depends on the positions it fakes in space and time. From our point of view these positions seem to be unquestionable. From a position on a different scale level and from a different temporal perspective air can be harder than steel. When we compare air and steel at microscopical level, the differences in density are not that large. The volume of both materials is very much related, both materials have a relatively small atom nucleus in a sea of space. But since the volume of air has expanded more than the volume of steel because of its difference in chemical make-up, we experience it as an extreme contrast between hard and soft material, between matter and space, between the object and the void. When we move along the scale of the powers of 10 and look at the universe from very far or take a look at the atom from a very close distance, we give ourselves a size which makes the elements have a familiar relation- ship. We imagine ourselves to be hundred times as large as the Milky Way, tor instance, so that it becomes tangible like a piece of spume. When we blow ourselves up to 10 to the power of 20, and speed up time proportionally, the Milky Way seems to be solid matter, maybe a sort of atom or a molecule of an object with a different zero on the continuous scale. We can stretch the edges of our imagination and move the boundaries permanently to get a better insight into the environment we made up ourselves with the artificial systems and techniques of which we are an integral ecological part.


Speed-ups of 10 to the power of 20 may have a utopic ring about them. Though we hardly notice it, we are confronted regularly with increases related to the speed of light. The transfer of images through satellite, television and computer revolves around the speed of light, the speed of radiation. We are constantly being bombarded with a large doses of coded radiation, which can only be understood in the form of images and sound. And slowly (in the time span of evolution very quickly) collective consciousness rises to the new level of speed, at which instant information is a natural thing. We are constantly confronted with speed increases and speed reductions. Transportation by car gives an increase of about 3 x 10 as compared to walking. The images whizz by to the driver of the car, who totally surrenders to the rules of the traffic game like a fully-qualified invalid. And at the same time his perception slows down. In a five hour journey from Rotterdam to Paris nothing really happens. The traffic game is being played and the kilometers tick away. The consciousness is stretched in both directions. Transportation by plane yields an increase of about 7x 10 to the second power. When landing or taking oft, the increase or reduction of speed is quite noticeable. In the air, however, the plane almost seems to stand still. Deep down the landscape crawls by irritatingly slow. One goes faster and slower at the same time. Tempo-alienation is also reached by remaining steady oneself and running events at increased speed. Such an increase brings structures to the fore which would have remained unnoticed at regular speed. We have almost grown accustomed to pictures of the metropolis, in which the streets turn into pulsating energy courses with white and red light-strings, while in the skyscrapers lights flash on and of. Day is followed by night and night is followed by day in a pulsating rhythm. A hypnotizing picture of a seemingly solid and reliable image, thought up by ourselves, but never designed like this. The speed of the cuts between the pictures introduces a whole new aestheticism, rendering spatial and temporal lite invisible. If we speed up the image a few powers of 10 more and count the years in a few seconds, the rise and tall of the city, the external image of the system of the metropolis becomes clearly visible. What was a hard, stable nucleus one minute ago in no time becomes a strong magnet gathering a number of times its own size of particles floating about. The metropolis has been given a charge, which it uses to suck out its environment. It feeds on the helpless plankton to swell up into a shapeless agglomeration. By speeding up the picture the movement of traffic, people and materials looks like liquid or even solid matter. A road gets the viscosity of a lava stream, the movement is halted until it has the solidity of a linear building. Just because the picture is accelerated, speed is halted. The car is a small messenger in the overall traffic system, the system itself is quite different from the local experience of the driver himself. The traffic system has its own patterns, its own scale level.

Obstacles in the flow

It is fascinating to speed up the events on the earth in a film. All that is built, all volume increases, all movements in a quick succession, the numerous beams which are sent into the atmosphere: making the surface of the earth seem to glow and even slightly rise. Planes, satellites and space-shuttles shoot off the heated earth like popcorn. It is tempting to call this artificial growth, which we thought up ourselves, the next step in evolution, man evolving as part of an artificial ecology rather than an isolated human being. The system as a system develops itself, we are only the fuel. The designer can only influence this scale level, the image, if he can enter into this level consciously, and has the means to effectuate his concept. In extrema, this means that every political and economical decision at legal abstraction level should be visualized. The faster the film is run, the less meaning it seems to convey to us. For it is here and gone in a split second, our personal influence seems to be nil. But some insight into the way in which these ‘home-made’ structures may behave at the macro-level of the superfast film, being able to predict the visual quality they will have at larger level, is essential to draw up planning concepts for the artificial ecological system we are working on right now. Even on the scale of the object tempo-alienation may increase the insight into its functioning and its image. It is inherent in their function that moving objects (like cars, surfboards, frisbees) are subjected to the laws of drag caused by the speed of the object or water. The outward appearance of the object, its design, is closely related to the nature of the matter it enters and the speed with which it moves along. Inherent in moving objects is the tact that they challenge technology to make the movements as effective as possible. Thus moving objects are topical per definition. Which is not at all like the static objects, whose design seems to be dominated much more by literary reasoning. The design of a chair or a building seems to be contradictory rather than self-evident, it seems to be ante-dated rather than topical. In this way the building puts a brake on social developments instead of contributing to a concept for the new ecological structures. However, tempo-alienation may have an elucidating effect on the concept of the building. Even with only a slight acceleration, the building is turned into a steady rock in the middle of meteorological changes and traffic movements. The building seems to be under a low woolly surface of clouds drifting by. The building seems to attract the loose elements from its environment and suck them in, to repel and let them flow away again a few moments later. During the day, which takes only a few minutes, the interior is buzzing with activity. The building becomes a container with a variable content in a turbulent environment. The building is an object, more solid and stable than its surroundings. An object, which stands up rather than gives in to meteorological circumstances. An obstacle rather than an object. The accelerated life of the building will influence the designer’s concept. The time-lapse video is changed drastically for instance by simply changing the position of the entrance. The dynamics scheme of the accelerated environment is changed drastically by the shape of the building, by the interior. It is up to the designer to decide where to put the obstacles, what the dynamic scheme should look like and even whether or not there should be any barriers at all. Conscious manipulation of the accelerated or slowed down picture gives more insight into the position of the building as part of a larger strategy than that of creating the building itself. The building is a constructive part of the artificial ecological system.

Temporal and local center of the world

Whenever a building is being created, the building-site is the spatial and temporal center of activities. This is where the building team meets, this is the final destination of the transportation of the materials and half-finished products which are used in the building process. The materials are transported from everywhere, from very close and very far, but they all get together on the same building-site with a precision which seems to be almost unreal. The building team gathers knowledge through specialist journals, meetings with colleagues and this knowledge condensates in situ at the building site. It is not as obvious as it may seem at first sight. Apparently the building has an irresistible attraction to a number of elements and persons. When charted, the building is the center of a star-shaped network with branches even abroad. And each producer and supplier is in its turn a center for the producers of the basic materials. Each end of a star-shaped center becomes the center of another new star. There are also links between the sub-centers (e.g. consultation between building partners). And finally the whole world is working on this one building. Each new building assignment is a point at which the global network contracts for a moment, at which local capital condensates in the form of a tangible object and socializes in the form of meetings between persons. In its acceleration the assembling of the building looks like an implosion at a time and place in the future which have been carefully calculated. It is a construction designed for the future and effectuated as live-performance’ in the present.

Design is implosive

According to the theory of probability an implosion is the most improbable of all possible events. In essence, all the loose parts, which later on implode into the building, are tree to choose any direction they like. This destination, this particular building is just one of the innumerable possibilities. It is for instance immeasurably more probable for a cup to tall apart into pieces, to explode, than tor the pieces to jump together to form a cup, to implode. In he genesis of a product is a chain-reaction of implosions. A chain-reaction of a very improbably concurrence of circumstances leading to an artificial thing like a building. Inherent in the implosion is the use of energy to be able to effectuate the action. As a consequence of the second main law of thermodynamics, the amount of ordered energy, stored in the product, is smaller than the energy needed to make the product. By the use of electricity, the consumption of food for the building team, the combustion of petrol and gas for the production and transportation of the materials, the amount of energy that is dissolved into a less ordered state is larger than the amount of energy involved in the implosion of the building bringing about a more intricately ordered state of energy. The triggering of new implosions of knowledge and material just adds to disorder in the universe. The artificial production (which we control ourselves) of the artificial world, of which we are both creators and prisoners, dissolves the matter that is surrounding us. We produce complicated artificial organisms, which give more and more form to the further evolution of the universe.


The impulse to innovation is apparent from the determination to create concepts and objects, yielding (quantitatively) more and qualitatively) more complex activities. First, the point in the future is being defined, which is to function like a magnet for all further activities of the team. Then, there is the control of the process, the cybernetics, to give this point in the future its form. The more open and daring the concept, the more international the project, the larger the contribution to the evolution of our artificial ecological system will be, the more apt the definition of modernity and progress. The modernity of a design is not on the surface of the sketch, but deep down in the quality of the process triggered by the concept. In a mathematical sense the line is an infinite number of points, even the finite line contains an infinite number of points. The line has no volume, the point no mass. The mathematical notion is immaterial. In its turn, the line is a section of the plane. The plane has no volume, it is a collection of an infinite number of lines or points in two directions, the direction of the X- and the direction of the Y-co-ordinate. The plane in its turn is a section of the volume. The volume is a homogeneous collection of points (lines, planes) in the three directions of the XYZ coordinate system. The points, lines and planes of architecture are in fact variations on the notion of volume. The point is a very small compact volume, the line is a very slender, stretched volume, while the plane is a very flat volume. An architectural volume is an envelope, a shell round an empty space, rather than a homogeneous mixture of identical material. But comparisons remain useful instruments to investigate the architectural notion of space and the tension between the dimensions. The point that is caught in the line will never be able to experience this line as a tangible element. For the line sets the boundaries to its freedom of movement, the point cannot step outside the line to look at it from a distance. Thus the “flatland people” (Lewis Carroll) can never leave the planar surface to observe something like a volume. Communication between several elements is only possible in a two-dimensional space, next to each other, never across, never right through, always alongside. It is not until the plane multiplies that stratification, so essential to the communicative network, appears.


The development of computer memories is in this first stage of development right now. In a very elementary form this is demonstrated by the integrated circuits, prints and chips in electronical equipment. The essence of the chip, apart from its miniaturization, is its stratification. Even a computer sketch is built up in layers, each layer containing specific sub-information. All layers taken together contain a comprehensive graphical and alpha-numerical description of the object. Thanks to the computer there is now a general reorientation of the structure and composition of the data which yield (might yield) the artificial building. But the chip is developing even further. In a truly three dimensional chip, a miniature volume, a “chunk”, the integration of circuits might even be raised dramatically. Gradually the number of circuits to be applied to this spatial design will equal the number present in the human brain. This complex artificial intelligence means a giant leap in our own evolution. We can never know what a volume is like if we stay on the plane. Analysis of flat data never renders a picture of the spatial element of which it is part. Analysis of plans give insufficient insight into the building. It is the built-in tragedy of architecture to try and create space on the basis of a flat sketch. The sketch is a trick to flatten the space, so that it can be coded and decoded with simple two-dimensional means. The sketch, the drawing, is a cultivated handicap. Truly three-dimensional architecture can only be created when the creative tools start functioning three-dimensionally too. At first by a basic stratification, later on by a “natural” three-dimensional interactive manipulation of data. In planning and architectural philosophies the third dimension, the Z-axis, is still very much underdeveloped. Right now architecture seldom rises beyond the two-and-a-half-dimensional stage (a plan with height). In fact the designers still behave like the flatland people, with the same limitations. They cannot get rid of the plane.

Tension between the dimensions

Mass or volume might be perceived as an incident in time. What we call mass is in fact very temporal, if the dimension of time is conceived as a space-encompassing entity. Then volume consists of a spatial section of time. We simply cannot experience time as a dimension, because we are caught in the volume, like the point is caught in the line. We perceive time as a moment, as a series of incidents. Our life compulsively follows the lines of time. We cannot choose the direction of time ourselves. This dimension comprises both past and future of the history of the universe, in the imperative order of past through present to future. Ever since the acceptance of the theory of relativity time has become a personal notion, the notion of time depends on the position and speed of its perceiver. Time has become a flexible notion. Only our imagination may help us escape from the physical stranglehold of space in time. In our imagination we are able to choose a different scale in space, to accelerate in time. This gives us insight into the dimension of time and time may become the subject of design. The concept of the designer becomes the new temporal and spatial zero of the continuous scale of the powers of 10. As Stephen Hawkins suggested, time may be represented as the surface of a sphere on which people can move freely in time: forwards, backwards or sideways. The greatest amount of tension is created when dimensions are stretched from the self-evident, common, fixed image to some imaginary situation. What one tries to do is transfer oneself from one dimension to the next (or previous one). Artificial tension is created between the dimensions, insights are deepened. When the imaginary situation is concretized, is realized, the t\frozen tension remains present in the object. It seems to belong to a different world, because it has been constructed according to its own particular patterns, which are as yet unknown. The tension between the dimensions may be introduced into the concept as a consciously manipulated element, just like a flat cut-out holds the promise of the volume, like the flat, almost line-shaped fly-overs interweave in the vacuum of space and like a two-dimensional projection betrays the depth of what is being projected. As far as architecture is concerned, it is very important to see how the plane will be conquered back from the volume encompassing a conditioned space and what shape the factor of time will choose to fulfill its magnet function in the programmatical concept. The object, constructed in space, is in the field of tension between the plane and time. The tension between the dimensions can be made visible and tangible by stretching the dimensions almost physically, like a baby in irons. The spastic movement is fixed in time and space at an arbitrary (personal) moment, thus giving concrete form to the promise of movement of the plane in the object.