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Royal College of Art, 2017-18
Nicola Koller, Tom Greenall and Matteo Mastrandrea

Much of ADS4’s brief this year was written in our living room. It was written whilst eating food ordered via an app, from a restaurant recommended by an algorithm, delivered by a self-employed bicycle courier who we tracked using the location services enabled on his phone. We paid in advance using a “hot coral” coloured cash card produced by a “digital, mobile-only” bank that was founded in 2015, before eating on a table cut using a CNC milling machine, based on an open source design. And while not a single aspect of this situation would have been possible a decade ago, none of it will seem particularly remarkable to you today. This is simply the shape of the normal in our time.

We now stand at a juncture where there is no pursuit that cannot in principle be undertaken by an automated system. But the requisite integration of smart technologies into our devices, buildings, streets, and public spaces that makes this automation possible is consequently enabling the internet to leave the screen and manifest materially. It is essential that we critically assess what this might mean for the environment, the economy, our societies, and indeed our own psyches.

While the media warns us daily of the imminent arrival of a “post-production” world in which robots and algorithms have dutifully taken on all forms of work and human labour, reality itself is increasingly susceptible to other forms of postproduction. In 2016, the prevalence of political fact abuse gave rise to the spreading of fake news with such unprecedented impunity that the Oxford English Dictionary named “Post-Truth” its Word of the Year. Spread by algorithms and other non-human entities, these “alternative facts” have informed opinions, ignited prejudices, and swayed elections. In an age of filters, photoshop and social media, reality itself has become vulnerable to manipulation, editing, and distortion.

Under this contemporary condition, production (of goods, of capital, of design even) has morphed into postproduction. The associated tools—editing, colour correction, filtering, cutting, and so on—are no longer simply tools of representation; they become a means of creation. According to filmmaker and writer Hito Steyerl, reality itself has become postproduced and scripted—affect rendered as after-effect—meaning the world can be understood but also altered by these tools. Indeed, by better understanding the technologies that support our reality—including photography, video and cinema, as well as printing, 3-D modelling, and other digital processes—we can seize control of the tools of representation, changing the nature of an already “post-produced” reality by appropriating post-production methods ourselves. As Steyerl puts it, “if reality is postproduced, then it also means we can change reality through postproduction…”. As architects, we can “reverse photoshop” our world to create preferable, or at least alternative, realities.

ADS4’s ambition this year is to interrogate postproduction in architecture in two senses, both as process (a series of design tools and techniques) and as problem (an emergent context).

The Process (Postproduction): Software advances are providing architects with new digital tools (BIM, simulation softwares, VR, AR, etc.) that are arguably bringing them closer to the construction process than they have been in decades. Taking each of the techniques used by postproduction artists (dubbing, editing, remixing, subtitling) the studio has explored how these might be translated into tools for architectural design.

The Problem (Post-Production): The emergence of smart technologies and increasing levels of automation will inevitably create a number of challenges for architects and built environment specialists. Early forms of ‘soft’ artificial intelligence (AI), such as Apple’s Siri, along with infrastructural AI, such as high-speed algorithmic trading, smart vehicles and industrial robotics are increasingly a part of everyday life—part of how our tools work, how our cities move and how our economy builds and trades things. These forms of AI can outperform human beings at numerous specific tasks and are spreading to thousands of domains, eliminating jobs as they do so. The briefs developed by the students of ADS4 explore whether increasing levels of automation might lead to a new social landscape that is post-production—a future without work.

This year, the work of ADS4 focuses on issues of technology, evolutionary processes, digital imagery, and corporate aesthetics in order to develop a manifesto for Postproduction Architecture: a manual for redesigning reality. It is our critical position that only through understanding and exploiting these technologies will we be able to develop a means to test and critique their anticipated consequences, and to design alternative realities: An architecture of Postproduction as an antidote to our post-production future.

© Thomas Greenall