Professor Charles Rice and Urtzi Grau
The field of architecture has heavily explored the effects of the digital screen both in pedagogy and practice since 1990. The early 1990s marked a period where operations through the screen, specifically with the introduction of the computer in the Paperless Studios at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP), 1994, saw architects experiment with an unfamiliar tool. This experimentation became a defining moment for the field to re-consider its relationship with media. The screen was used as a device to explore the effects of the medium, precisely notions of liveness and mediation.
Explorations with the digital screen in architectural pedagogy and practice developed amid the media heavy context of the early 1990s. Marked by Cable News Network’s (CNN) 24-hour live coverage of the Gulf War in 1991, the mediation of conflict, through the digital screen, generated a resurgence of media theory in the 1990s, primarily through the theoretical work of Paul Virilio and Jean Baudrillard. CNN’s live coverage of the Gulf War saw the screen materialize the city of Baghdad through the language of pixels and resolution. Veiling the city with a grainy phosphor-green night-vision filter, the images possessed what The New Yorker described as an “eerie, remote control quality,” making it difficult to distinguish between reality and its simulated representation of the city.
In both CNN’s live coverage of the Gulf War and the Paperless Studio, the effects of “liveness” was being materialized on the screen but were also symptomatic of a reaction toward traditional forms of journalism and architectural practice. This dissertation proposes to unpack this epoch in history and evidence how the screen became a novel lens for speculation; speculation on the reportage of the city of Baghdad through CNN’s 24-hour coverage and on architecture’s relationship to media through the Paperless Studio. By situating the Paperless Studio in relation to CNN’s live coverage of the Gulf War, this dissertation is a speculation on the history of the digital in architecture relative to the broader media context of the early 1990s.