What I mean when I talk about format.

What I mean when I talk about format, from the point of view of architecture.

I wanted to sort out my thesis a little. After model making later today, I will also try to think about my presentation and book chapter titles before Friday’s Interim Jury.

In order to design the Format Factory, I need to distinguish between different types of format and the spatial norms they entail.

  1. S – Format:

The small format, an interface and/or device, which we can read messages on and communicate messages with. It is both the instrument of advice (a plane consulted to access knowledge) information (an arrangement or sequence of facts). Thus the role of format can be defined from the point of view of content as well as from the point of view of format.

In Format Factory, the aim is to analyse the latter before the former, format before content, in order to define their degrees of difference and avoid equation. The interface is designed in correlation with the device which provides the technical process by which a certain type of content can be displayed. Please note, that this instrument has not yet been emphasized on in my instruction manual for the production of format. In short, the production process and production machine have not yet been designed.

As a starting point, I chose to think about the book, electronically reformatted, and the billboard, its blown up complice. Since format can reformat, physical properties can be readjusted in scale and proportion, a physical format can contain an electronic format. The incorporation of the one in the other, lets us read through a layering of bound and wired up material and structure: paper and ink; screen and electronically charged particles (which would require a technical study of the working principles of electroluminescence).

In Format Factory, there is a glitch in the system of communication and blurrs the content on the screen. Format is thus physically stripped of content. Format is regarded as an auxiliary prop* which serves the formation of our identity by providing the space to mediate messages (*For now, I use the word prop due to the common use of format templates and standards.). Subformats may be arranged in spatial formats, where they are accompanied by mobile elements, such as pieces of furniture, to enter to social domain.

  1. M – Format

The attribution of subformats to a place, such as the location on a shelf inside the British Library, is defined by the overall arrangement and organisation of programs through so-called functional architectural elements within a building. Format accomplishes its task of providing people with a sense of orientation once the black canvas, the blank page, the green screen or the void has been arranged in a compositional and formal language which is mutually understood. However reasoning (in relation to flat formats) and performing (in relation to three-dimensional formats) are two different types of activities. Both actions entail different consequences and thus shift the meaning of format.

Although it is questionable whether the relation of things placed in space can be read as a regulatory device for social interaction due to format or content at all, one cannot deny the fact that space is rendered through delineation. One may say that our spaces are carefully delineated, by accident or by will, for us to find our position. The organisation of space may thus be compared to a physical manifestation of our identity, individual or collective. In case of union the material and immaterial boundaries are mutually respected, in case of disagreement they may be subverted. As an initial understanding, the arrangement and spacing is dependent on function and use but can equally be a mirror of identity in space. In a highly speculative and manipulative context, the space is formatted to accomodate function to information.

In Format Factory, internal arrangement is unformatted. There are no internal walls and no hierarchy of movable elements such as furniture or machines, which people can interact around. The internal walls which end up hiding the formats it immures shouldn’t conceil or compartmentalize a potential relation to a larger set of formats. The furniture or machines currently repeat all over the factory floor. The drifter can thus navigate or enter between the elements but will not be able to identify an ultimate position. Although he can see each single element, the experience of a sequence of different places is undone. Like a mirage, the distance is dissolving infront of him. This is an initial attempt to provide directionality within the unoriented larger format.

  1. L – The Building

Since format provides us with a set of dimensional norms, the dissolving of traditional architectural formats (currently worked out in the building’s plan) may be achieved by blowing up the proportions and scales in relation to the human body (enabled by the powers of ten). The buildings perimeter may be altered to challenge the internal subdivision of space. The elliptical perimeter can open up to allow or deny access, to protect from or exposing the interior to exterior conditions. Pushed to an extreme, the plan may be enlarged up to the point that the perimeter disappears on the paper surface. After countless efforts in trying to find the edge of the building, the drifer gets either exhausted or lost. His focus shifts from the floor plan to the ceiling plan, where format is experienced in its purest form: a grey London sky cut out of white paper surface.

The traditional figure/groud relationship becomes inverted into a figure/sky relationship. It is a short moment of rest in which format is liberated from both form and content and defines itself merely through shape rendered identifiable by color. There are no Saints and Angels painted to suggest a subordination to content, no figures rendered to convey a sense of depth. This is the point at which I find myself in the crater of a volcano clearly distinguishing between the works of the land artist James Turrell and the work of Nancy Holt, Richard Fleischner and Mary Miss.

  1. XL – Questions:

Over Christmas, I intend to rethink my initial arguments about the Atlas of Images and The History of the Image of the Future. To respond to the notion of the factory, I want to think about my product and production cycle as an object or service by relating to Amazon, Ebay and other service-orientated industries and the material and immaterial things which they store, market and distribute. To respond to the notion of identity, I will dive into the zone of publishing and self-publishing as an instrument of formatting ideas. If the factory worker of the 19th century identified with or against the object he produced, does the man of the future identify with the idea, alledgedly the product of the future?


Note: Please comment on my argument/question: The more I think about format the more I come to the conclusion that, although relating to past architecture and life, I cannot see the word “format” used before modernism. I come to the conclusion that the word may be an invention of the recent past. Do you think that format became part of the architectural vocabulary through an increased engagement with a process of digitization or have I just been ignorant?

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