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Ghali Bouayad [In Discussion with] Ebrahim Poustinchi

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Abstract

Ghali Bouayad in discussion with Ebrahim Poustinchi on aesthetics, ornament, digital culture and media, the postdigital age, and man-machine collaboration.
[Discussion #03] between Ghali Bouayad and Ebrahim Poustinchi, July
2020.
Ghali Bouayad : Shall we dive in ?
Ebrahim Poustinchi : Sure ! I read the text you sent me, it is super cool.
Thank you very much ! And thank you for accepting to talk to me. I appreciate your work and have been
following you now for few years. Really impressive, working with mixed media from Robotics to music to
coding. Nicely done !
That is very nice of you. I mentioned it in the email, I appreciated the precision of your
language describing my work. It is exciting and refreshing. Again the topic is super
interesting, and reading your email I honestly never thought about my work being
ornamented necessarily, but it makes sense.
Well, as Olgiati said, architects think of something, build, and then critics, historians and users look at it
differently; they have a different interpretation.
Exactly.
Please discuss freely. As you know the notion of ornament has no specific definition. Architects have been
struggling to define what ornament is, what is not ornament, what is its function socially, economically,
politically, aesthetically and so on, how does it perform. I really would like to grasp and understand your
process, despite being difficult to do so in only one hour. The world you are living in, you are unique in
producing your shapes and objects. As you might have read it in my mail, currently my doctoral
investigation is titled Ornament in the Age of Postdigital architecture. I would like to first frame the word
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Postdigital as now everyone evolves in a personal digital world. One definition that I find interesting is the
one by Adam Fure published in Aesthetics equal politics…
Yes his text on digital materiality.
Exactly. He defines it as the digital transitioning from the extraordinary to the ordinary. When digital
technology becomes ubiquitous in our daily life. He is quoting Lev Manovich citing the Transcoding concept;
for instance in our practice, architects stopped using ultra realistic renderings to rather use gradients palettes
to communicate their intentions. First, could you please describe briefly what you are trying to achieve with
your students in the different studios you are teaching ? Methodology, visual aesthetics, if you are relying on
any kind of philosophy, I know you were a student of Greg Lynn many years ago, so perhaps the Fold ?
In the US currently the OOO is rising among academics.
Absolutely ! I will probably start since you brought it up, briefly the ideas of the postdigital.
I agree with you, I think it is such a loose topic at this point, loose and defined in an
interesting way. I am aware of text Adam wrote. That is one reading of it, questioning the
digitality and its ambiguity and how it is becoming a day to day thing. I think that is more
the question than the answer. All the readings of postdigital are looking into that. There are
different ways to look at it as you mentioned, to propose an alternative to it. Now that is
becoming the Normal, how can we again make it abnormal and create an intellectual take
on it. One is definitely Adam’s view, one is Matias Del Campo’s reading, one is Neil Leach’s
-We have never been Digital, maybe ?- One is Gilles and Manuel and the whole discrete
movement that push it even further in the digitality. There are several readings. Personally I
don’t like to categorize my work as postdigital, nor digital. As you said, I am interest in
perhaps not labeling the thing and leave it up to people to understand it and interpret it. It
is interesting actually to leave it up to the audience. Obviously I have categorization in my
mind and used to be loud about it, however now I am more interested in siting and
listening to different readings. Regardless of the work, how I define personally the
postdigital -and it shows the relationship to my work and the work of my students-, it is
somehow close to Leach and Del Campo. My reading and interests are more happening in
hybridization. For me, the postdigital happened when the digital and physical started to
merge into a third hybridized cyber-physical setup. That is more or less the core reading of
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the postdigital for me. Then we start to blend qualities and media into a third possible
medium. Some of the work with robots is looking in the same things, some of the work
with AR is very similar to that, and that is one of the reasons I am choosing robotics over
computation, I am choosing AR over VR, I am choosing some of the materiality
experiences over new trends. I think those trends just connect together to that reading of
the Postdigital. To answer your question more precisely about Studios, I care about
hybridization at large, and specifically cyber-physical hybridization, and that leads to
multiple readings at least. One is about digitalizing the physical, which is about bringing out
the digital qualities from the computer, that usually happens with the use of AR, the use
of robotics, some of my studios, some of the research are looking in the idea of bringing
the digital qualities out and applying them in physical contexts. And the other way around,
to take the physical environment qualities and then apply them in the digital one. That is
physicalization. If I remember the images you chose, some of the work from the
AnimoEmbryonic Solids studio, I think it is about using physics engines, in that sense
somehow it gets closer to Adam’s and Neil’s reading, but again theoretically I have some
sense with that movement in general, but I think just maybe in term of the result it gets a
little bit close by digitalizing the physical environment. I am living at the border in terms of
hybridization at large. I think I talked about it in the column I write for Archdaily, which is
less scientific and more casual observational writing, I am less interested in the thickness of
the screen, meaning the classic first movement of the digital, I am either interested in going
inside the screen or coming the other way around and take out those digital qualities
outside the computer. I am not interested in the flat sense of the digital. I don’t know if I
am answering your question.
Absolutely.
For this I use whatever I can. We have a lot of OOO conversations in the formal way, not
the philosophical way. I think I would accept that label on my self. I would say it loud I am
a formalist. OOO among others are serving the formal qualities. I appreciate that you
precised it in your email, the quality emerges out of the part to part, part to whole
relationships.
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Especially you are talking about the object within the object. You cited Retsin… he always bring this notion
of mereology. When I see your work, I always ask myself from where does the feeling of being highly
ornamented come from ? It is an open question, you are the author ! Do you think the fact of blending the
objects into each others, if we consider the embryonic project, the mechs-system projects, the Somebody’s house
project, we can see it in the title, it is using objects from two or multiple grammar worlds we are not
expecting to see them merge together. For instance taking the industrial/mechanical parts and then stacking
them up, sculpting them and turn them into architecture. Maybe the ornament quality comes from there.
Again I am really interested in your reading of the work, I think the way you are describing
it makes sense. It also depends on the definition of ornament as you said. I honestly can
not make a comment on that part, but I can translate it on my own and through your
readings. I think it is much similar to what you said but it is for me more a discussion about
qualities. About their projection and the curation of those qualities obviously through the
hybridization as you said as means of transition. In my readings of ornamentation in the
classical term, as means of transition from a surface to another, or an object to another.
The whole concept is structural, turning a square planning into a dome. It becomes means
or media of transition. My work conceptually does that. For example when I use hair,
somehow it is ornamentation because it does not have a direct relationship to the project, it
is overlaid. It is truly about transition, going from condition A to condition B, that hair
makes that transition. Same with the overuse of texture, is more or less doing the same.
The ones you mentioned, it is about blending two qualities at least and then transiting
from one to another, I think what you are reading as ornamentation and I actually agree is
those transitional elements. Maybe I can call myself part of the discrete conversation,
because it is all about separation of parts, clearly !, What I do is working on the line of
blending and discrete.
The Mech-Animal Sitelessness was also very appealing. The fact you are suggesting this possibility for a
building to relocate itself within the urban fabric, I think the movement ability is ornamental as we are not
expecting that characteristic.
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Exactly ! In that sense, I am really excited about your readings because that is literally not
ornamentation in my initial proposal, that is a a composition project ! The units that move
around become the building, if you see ornament in the work as means to mediate, it is
becoming another ornamental project through the edges. How it connects to the urban
context and the urban condition; how it blends the moving parts to the urban fabric.
I have few question, perhaps not directly oriented toward your projects. You have been working a lot with
digital craftsmanship, I can suspect you are using many sculpting softwares -ZBrush, Blender-….
We mostly use Maya as our main software, and then some ZBrush and then obviously
Rhino.
One of the questions I am raising in my PhD investigations is: who are the agents involved in the
production of ornament? If we go back a 100 years, we had the architect, artist, inventor, pattern maker,
and then you have the craftsmen. Now, it has all been relocated to the architect hand. The architect and
maybe the algorithm and the machine. This shift in the craft culture going digitally is interesting for me. In
your work you are augmenting ! Giving the ability to robots to blend the physical into the digital and vice
versa. Perhaps you haven’t thought about it, but how would you imagine your collaboration with robots, or
robots as independent agents would produce new hybrid objects and ornament.
I think that is an interesting question. I recently had a conversation in the Archeologist
Podcast about that. I don’t really know the exact answer, what is the balance between the
agents and crafts when you start doing co-design and collaborative projects in that sense
when working with a machine. I think It has two heavy sides, one is super technical : the
human machine interaction, it obviously has its own ethics, more like a computer science
oriented field. And then as you said it has all the other sides when it comes to crafts. I think
there are multiple readings. One that interesting is Jose Sanchez’s reading as communist way
of working, everyone as an author. I am not necessarily interested in that reading, but it is
interesting. What I am trying to push for is more a healthy cooperative setup. I think there
are two extreme readings, I can put Sanchez’s one in, the other one would be - and I
hesitate to use these words due to the historical context-, a relationship of robots seen as
slime-master relationship, between the technology and the user, the later taking all the
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authorship, the robots becoming workers, just service providers. My interest is in the setup
of celebrating the individuality of those elements, the robot, the machine, the software,
meaning of it doesn’t do what we don’t want, we don’t immediately turn down the project.
I am interested in seeing what is the proposal coming from the machine, and then
analyzing and bringing it back into the game, rather than shutting it down. I am treating the
machine as a collaborator. You become more like a director rather than a designer as you
are writing the operating algorithm, more than the other way around where you know what
you want and you make it happen. I am open to suggestions coming form the machine,
open to mistakes, the feedback loop coming from the machine or the design environment
and the operating system, I am a big fan of ongoing conceptual miscommunications in a
sense or misreadings or post-rationalization. Making a straight concept from the beginning
to the end is losing opportunity. Especially if you are dealing with other agents that may
have suggestions. A lot of good things happen through experimentation and suggestions
of the simulation, or sometimes things that are not supposed to happen and we improvise
based on it. For me that is the optimum healthy relationship, similar to a flat hierarchy
ontology type of reading. We are equally existing but not existing equally. Im quoting a
text about ooo between Graham Harman, Todd Gannon and David Ruy. It is not related
to this topic, but I am using as a definer for our discussion.
I would to jump to a word you used, the mistake or misreading of the machine. Sometimes when the
machine makes a mistake we are very attracted to it, like in an ornamental manner. I wonder why as
architects we are attracted to algorithmically generated mistakes. Would you care elaborating on that ?
We were having Hernan Diaz Alonso as guest for a lecture in Kent University, during the
dinner we had a conversation about his work and the control generally. I would answer
your questions through his reading. I 100% agree with what we he said: It is about the
difference between the interest for control and the interest for not having control, and why
we have them. He was bringing examples of Renaissance, where the idol is god and is
perfection, and the world is reflecting that ideology. Because they don’t have control over
things, the idol is having maximum possible control. Technically the work becomes as
realistic as possible as real life simulator as possible. And now because of digital
technologies, because of all the media, of everything we have, that becomes ambiguous in
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a sense. You pointed out about renderings to do hyper-realistic renderings, to do super
precise simulations, we are looking for another agent, that would be all this mistakes. Now
that everything is perfect, or conceptually perfect, then we are interested in imperfection.
Again the conversation was about something else, but I translate that to our conversation.
In my reading that is the reason. At the end, you are the one who decides if yes or no you
use the mistake in the design process. It is not disconnected after all. I am happy I live in
this era, where mistakes are accepted.
I enjoyed what you just said, having or not having control. The way I see it, the architect is perhaps a
masochist in the way, because having a lot of control, he is now looking for ways to loose it away.
I think It is applicable to other disciplines as well. If you look at the work of media artists,
or post-internet art in general, or even the pop-art movement. It is more like a social
movement in a sense.
I would like to react to the “We have never been digital” you are quoting often. Im my PhD I discuss
Retsin’s theory as he is as well referring to it by saying that currently we rationalize computer generated
forms, while he is proposing digital materials that are generated and already ready for assembly on site. I
am interested in Retsin’s discrete in the way it is bringing equity to young designers, as it is theoretically
cheap to assemble objects, but I am not a big fan of letting the machine completely generate the architecture.
I think there must be a space narrative behind.
I really like the work of Giles but…
Indeed, aesthetically, it is stunning.
I believe it is an honest statement, but I don’t think it works. Cheapening the parts, it is
theoretical still. It is still expensive as no one can afford it except galleries. That aside, I
agree I am not fan of taking the agency out of the designer. I leaned toward the designer as
director reading, I am much less now. Making the decision is important. And despite their
honest statement, I don’t think it works out the way they describe it. That discrete
architecture is not machine generated, all this Bartlett chairs, those installations, they are
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not machine generated, they have some logics embedded in them coming from the agents.
Again I refer to Leach saying there is a difference between computation and
computerisations. The latest happening much more, meaning we use the computer to
generate something.
Finally, there is one specific project I would like to ask you about: the Sunken Room of Venus.
Yeah ! That is a fun project ! I like it.
I read the text but it is highly abstracted. I couldn’t get it. All I can see is the plan object, where the Venus
is scaled to the size of the space.
I am heavily interested in bodies, and there are two kinds of them : physical bodies
(Statues, human body parts, or animal’s), and the topological reading of bodies in the
contemporary discourse. That is just a formal visual aesthetic interest of mine. This
project’s idea was about designing a room in instagram. That was the description of the
project. For me, if I want to bring to ornamentation, the ornament becomes the
architecture itself, grows into the room, it is a matter of hierarchy, ornament as important
as the interior object as important as the architecture itself. It has volumetric effect and I
think it applies actually to your text.
Just to be certain. I am really flattered. This was your conceptual approach before ? Or are you adapting the
discourse just because your read my paper ?
I adapted it into the ornament conversation ! But for me, it was an object that is scaled up,
contained by the room ! Statues are usually contained by the room.
I am looking at the axonometric drawing ! It is brilliant, and I couldn’t dream of a better answer because
it joins the heart of my writings. No more surface, we need objects-architectures ! That project is perfectly
depicting it ! A statue, once used as ornament, now scaled up and navigable ! Maybe I am over obsessed by
the topic !
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(laughs).
I am looking at my questions and I think I went through them all !
Awesome. It was a fun conversation ! We covered a lot of interesting topics. I appreciate all
the readings you had of my work, refreshing. Thank you so much.
No, thank you for being open to discuss new ideas !
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