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So Close Far Away: On Drifting

Master Thesis studio, 2021/2022, Brussels
Promotor: Johan Nielsen

So Close Far Away.

So Close Far Away is the name of a studio dedicated to research on spaces that reside into conceptual and physical distances that separate people from each other. Starting from us as designers, as makers and as inhabitants of planet Earth, the studio explore our capacities to bring people closer together despite, or maybe thanks to, effective and imaginary distances. Thinking universally in post-universal world, the studio contributes to rethink both globalization and localization.

On drifting.

Our planet is constantly crossed by streams: migratory birds, storms, pollution clouds, cash flows, politics, viruses, friendships, magnetic fields, seeds, cultures and even families are moving around the world, at different paces, with different purposes and different implications. More and more, awareness of the importance of these streams is growing, as well as the understanding that they are not the ones promised the ideal globalisation as considered in the last 40 years. They are not steadily leading us to an infinite horizon that will disconnect human activities and the planet. Conversely, these streams recall us that a pullback on a fantasy locality has no sense neither.  In the New Climatic Regime we are experiencing, we realize that these streams are unavoidably affected by human activity. Through our politics, our industries and our very actions, we create them, we modify them, and we destroy them. They actually respond to our presence and our actions. The effects of climate change are forcing to remind us the importance of these streams in our unique and fragile planet.

It is urgent to consider the spatial consequences of these streams. Among these consequences, re-location, re-bordering and re-hosting deserve to be carefully observed, as well as shifting borders, jagged edges and emerging thresholds. In the framework of the studio So Close Far Away, we consider that the major effect of these streams is to induce a condition of drifting. Nature, habits, territories, buildings and even intimate attachments are slightly drifting on the planet. The studio explores these schizophrenic changes that put pressure on intimate and public structure and considers that phenomena that once damaged our planet could probably be turned into opportunities. It is time to acknowledge these drifting, to map them, to conceptualize them and to explore innovative aesthetics accordingly.

Guy Debord, The Naked City, 1957

Designing in drifting fields.

In his book Down to earth, Bruno Latour invites us to land somewhere in order to counter the contemporary lack of orientation due to climate change. It is certain that this landing will have to be negotiated. For architects, preparing this landing requires to test the ground, to profoundly reshuffle edges, envelopes and protections, and to seize the subtle attachments of the inhabitants across drifting territories. Hence the importance to tackle intimacy and collective spaces, and the negotiation in between. Latour urges us to orient ourselves, with a map of the positions imposed by the new landscape within which not only the affects of public life but also its stakes are being redefined. The production of knowledge held in the studio So Close Far Away can be considered as an exploration of this map. The challenges are substantial, from the design of territories across physical borders up to the modification of our intimate territories of affects. The implications are visible in the ecological, political, social and cultural fields, constantly drifting.

Model Bruneseau, Studio Muoto

The fruitful paradox underlined by the studio is to consider the drifting field as a critical condition for contextual design. Or to put a Bruno Latour: attaching oneself to a particular patch of soil on the one hand, having access to the global world on the other. Tackling this paradox today implies to explore new paths, alternatives to both globalization and the temptation of a pullback toward the local. This exploration requires to fully embrace human life, in its intimate and collective aspects.  Parallelly, the effects of the climate change, recent political events and global pandemics remind us that in a world where physical limits and freedom of movement take new meanings, the position of designing in drifting fields is crucial and must be framed. When it comes to architectural design process, this framing means to discuss the conceptual implications in terms of creativity and operationalization. The goals of the research is to carefully look at the whys and wherefores of these drifting, observing in detail at their implications and to learn from them in order to work on engaging aesthetics. The major question the studio is struggling to answer is: How to land on drifting fields?

Read the complete studio brief here.

Drifting Neighbourhood: Heyvaert district, Brussels

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Image: map of geomagnetic field with declination specifications, Weidmann, 1838

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