Merge Invisible Layers

"If we release the silicon mosquito from the silicon chip, it flies off and we cannot find it again, it's very small, like dust." [1]
- Hirofumi Miura, a professor of mechano-informatics at the University of Tokyo

I walk around the city streets for days on end. I have come to see the world in wire-frame, always from multiple points-of-view: from plan, elevation, section and sometimes from a birds-eye perspective. I calculate the number of polygons, the needed texture maps, and the radiosity factors required to construct and animate any given scene. I study the subtleties in light - its shimmering, almost hallucinatory mosaic refracting off intersecting planes of concrete, mirror, and glass, against the crush of urban landscape; amid the splinters of a broken sky.

I reside in the branch-shaped housing sector down on Werhner von Braun Boulevard. It's the one with the booleaned windows, the endless bezier curves, the multiple light extrusions, and the numerous means of escape. Some might call them entrances. Ramps like shoots, criss-crossing warped staircases, balconies pried open with spines extending out in all directions. It is a home, it is my home, of, and to, pure information. A cathedral of light, if you will, of prefabricated carbon-fiber and lightweight synthetic thermal resins; equipped with interior liquid crystal displays screens and motion sensors that respond via a bodynet to my ever shifting loci of desires and needs; continuously morphing by means of brainwave triggers into twisted algorithmic forms that are never in repose. It is a writhing psychic vessel of my disembodied senses and multiple hovering eyes. It is a taut mirror to both the inner and outer vectors.

My body is one and several. I change identity with a keystroke. Morphing from male to female, and back again - I put a spell on you. You download a virus. I download cyberfeminist cut-ups, as information travels at one trillion bits per second through optical fiber. Autonomous intelligence filters (bots) seek and replicate all the electrons fit to transmit via the datamesh called the Internet. My self-replicating agents return home like omnivorous Pac-Man's from an ever expanding digital killing field with the desired bytes and bits in tow. I have gone full-circle searching for some arcane piece of information - a piece to complete the fractal puzzle. The doubling, or interleaving of reality, is a squeamish electro-mechano affair between the virtual and the real. I experience a split. I'm looping the loop on a slippery thrill ride, incessantly riding on the in-between. The psychic spin: my spirit whirls. That real-time streaming of potentialities, which has thoroughly kicked butt, like a schism break mechanism or gaussian blur. That old hat "line of fright" has got me under its spell. Freeze frame. Instant replay. Cutting and pasting. Dragging and clicking. Forever coding in the margins. It's a feeding frenzy for virtual avatars. I sense that it's somehow too late, that I preach to the scan-converted.

The Gap (Not The Store)

At the beginning of his authoritative work A History of Civilizations, Fernand Braudel wrote that "Civilizations, vast or otherwise, can always be located on a discuss civilization is to discuss space, land and its contours." [2] Now there is no map, and any remaining geographical contours are significantly blurred or have officially collapsed. Multinational corporations (some significantly larger than many countries) have fabricated an accelerated space based solely around the transformation and flow of capital. Silently, the world has slipped out from under us as we dreamt our televised dreams, our souls shanghaied by a culture of greed that is adrift on a reality which has become severely over-exposed. We must now confront a reality which has become psychically overstuffed; a mad accumulation of reality which is bifurcating between the real as we know it, and the teleschizoid assemblages which we have yet to fully formulate.

To speak of, or to even attempt to visualize form now, one must contemplate its antithesis. Meta-attributes have replaced physical attributes: metaquery, metacontent and metaplace. Though the dream is seemingly at hand, this electronic reality exists remotely - in the netherworld of satellite links, communication servers, the Internet and Intranets. We have, in effect, fallen outside of ourselves, as the once hard distinction between remote and local stages become even further dispersed, and the exposure intervals between time and space, inside and outside, mind and body, imaginary and real are no longer quantifiable factors.

This current transitory condition floats on a heuristic logic of its own making, as the real becomes thoroughly interleaved with the artificial. We "surf" on the flows of a hyper-nothingness state; hemophiliacs in search of some image clotting machine, careening around the outer most edge of a slippery information vortex; like junkies in need of a quick sensory fix. Finally, we have arrived at the manifest destination: the eternal return-like a snake devouring its own tale. In topology, this is equivalent to a self-intersection on a non-orientable surface. A Klein bottle cannot be embedded in three-space, but it can me immersed there.

2:14.37 AM. Any representation of reality is tantamount to the ultimate user dungeon.

The virtual dimension has triggered a decisive cognitive rupture with the very notion and relevance of the Newtonian conception of space. It is a profoundly radicalized break. A break that in many respects is analogous to the space Brunelleschi and others of the Quattrocento opened up in the 15th century by developing the language of linear perspective. Perspectival law fixed the viewer in one place. Centuries later, perspective (a singular point of view) gave way to Analytical Cubism (multiple points of view), as developed by Picasso and Braque. Cubism was the first art movement that attempted to synthesize the multi-dimensionality which characterized the new scientific theories of relativity formulated by Einstein and Bohr. With the development of real immersive environments, we have reached a strange new plateau in the human project, as we rapidly transit from analog to digital modalities. These are nonspaces of pure simultaneity, absolute simulation, instability and instant electronic transmission. All representations of the physical, if desired, can be removed - no vanishing point and no horizon. The once stable laws of time and space have been effectively rendered null and void; entropic delirium slips across the curvatures of time. Space is no longer something one moves through - space now moves through us.

In other words, in case you've had your sensor buried deep within the bowels of the earth, we have gone virtual: the limits of the physical realm have been eclipsed by the digital. Advanced technologies have not only caught up with reality, they have surpassed it. We are inhabitants of the ether: the constellations of the visible world have merged with the screen. In a century immersed in the magic of technological acceleration, the very scaffoldings of perception have become transparent to our willful human gaze.

Active Matrix:

This progressive and continual derealization of nature is leading to a scientific deterritorializion of the world itself. Our bodies, from the cellular, to the subcellular, to the molecular level, are in effect becoming crystalline. Researchers at IBM can manipulate single atoms, various nanotechnology research teams have successfully bonded gold with DNA (an accomplishment that may lead to new forms of electrical conduction). Medical surgeons routinely wield remote-control scalpels and perform telepresence operations. When the Human Genome Project is completed in a decade or so, the genetic foundations of any biological question will be significantly decoded. Consequently, it has become increasingly impossible in our surveillance-ridden society to even get lost.

These are some of the misfortunes (or little miracles) of the present age. They exist as parameters of artifice, as mass dissolves into data in the boundless age of the MetaMillennium (TM).


Television and computer screens have become my replacement windows on the worlds. Their flickering visions do not offer me apertures of transcendence, or even escape; as ultimately, I'm led back to my monstrous and ever hyperaccelerating self, which floats in a digital ouroboros as information traveling at the speed of light devours itself as quickly as it can be produced. The post capitalist-schizo is an accumulating production machine that whirls in the 'real-time' digital casino of international exchange rates and profit margins. By adding I have eradicated function, as I participate in constructing a veritable electroMERZ. Stop in at the drive-thru McDonald's on the way to the Seremetyevo Airport 1, on the way to...

2:34:23 AM. I'm witness to some of the symptomatic signs of an adrenaline rush as I give up the ghost, as virtual rigor mortis kicks in, and digital ectoplasm spews from my carpal tunnel-ridden hands. [8]

[Section Deleted]


MetaModernity (TM) and the death of the future began in Hiroshima, on August 6, 1945, at exactly 8:15 in the morning. In a flash the temperature of the air reached 3,000-4,000 degrees Celsius. The shadows of the living were rayographed onto the surface of the earth by heat rays hotter than anything previously before imagined. The sheer incomprehensibility of this massive obliteration of human life set the hive mind reeling to this day. To move on from the psychic paralysis of that catastrophe is now the ultimate goal of any 'user-friendly' condition, post - 'Little Boy' blues.

Ground Control To Major Tom

When the first images of Earth taken by American astronauts were fed back to us, that vivid image of our planet as a lonely orb floating in the vastness of space reinforced our growing perception of human beings as a single distinct race. It gave us a narcissistic vision of wholeness and reinforced our belief in the utopian expansiveness of unlimited technological progress. Man on the moon: the looking glass effect. It was mankind's first global out-of-body experience. Reality itself was pulled inside out. It was a staggering accomplishment. This 'impossible event' coincided with tremendous social upheavals which were taking place back on spaceship earth: the drug and sexual revolutions, the Women's liberation movement, race riots in San Francisco and Detroit, student marches in Europe and the United States, the Vietnam War, and so forth. It was a time of swift and overwhelming change as chthonic fissures rippled through every strata of society.

Then, the utopian dreams of the Space Age collapsed in a mere 73 seconds, when the Challenger crew plummeted to their death in a fiery crash, as millions of school children looked on in disbelief. This stillborn disillusionment with 'getting off' spaceship earth has forced us to rechannel our desires. It is no longer possible to blast our problems into deep space.

But we our taking them into cyberspace. At AlphaWorld, one of the first virtual VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) communities, settlers have already formed the first gang, called The Order, a name taken from the neo-Nazi group in the race-war novel The Turner Diaries. "Its members have discovered how to use aliases on line and then, using other people's names, have cursed and taunted some settlers. Russ Freelander, who is one of the few AlphaWorld settlers with the power to destroy structures, has occasionally gone out to The Order's headquarters at coordinates 666 North, 0 West to erase profanity. The Order has fought back by erecting a castle and a wall on which they post insults against Freelander and demands for freedom of expression".[9]

It is no longer enough to venture into cyberspace with your own personality. You need to cultivate multiple you's, viable doubles and partial derivatives.

Developing An On-line Personality:

Have you ever wanted to develop an on-line personality? This seminar will give you the opportunity to take an approach for creating a character for the internet. You will learn how to successfully promote your character and what's believable or not. Topics include: historical overview, what is an on-line personality, what makes for a good on-line personality and for believable characters. [10]

[Cut to a slow-motion panning shot of some Germans selling chunks of the Berlin wall to Japanese tourists.] The Wall is gone, though its presence, its trace, still remains. Ask any German.

Use It Or Lose It: If Madonna Calls Tell Her I'm Not Home

A billion-dollar fitness industry now caters to our alienation and obsession with inertness and the art of staying in place: Stairmasters, treadmills, bicycling machines, rowing machines. As electrons replace the physical need for 'being there', and our bodies are required for less and less manual labor, it becomes readily apparent that the trend in our culture toward excessive exercise is not merely a passing fad. We unconsciously intuit the need to keep our bodies strong. As the strangle-hold of invisible technologies take grip, we are developing an even more obsessive appetite for sculpting and morphing our physical selves. Not just through exercise but through the indiscriminate use of plastic surgery as well. Perhaps it's not strictly narcissism at work, but a latent drive in the species to avoid utter extinction, a denial of our own mortality.

[I leave my home seduced by the horizon of the distant, but my body accelerates into obsolescence. I have no place - or - that place is everywhere. This absence of place has created binary encoded spaces of death. Not frozen, but seamlessly enfolded. An erosion of trajectories, like an ancient wound. Yet I feel no pain. I draw a thousand lines across the void.]

The Great Mother

The anarchic Internet, a bastion of antiquated cold-war era technology, has become our collective exo-nervous system, the perfect host organism as 'the network itself has become the computer', the 'Great Mother', capable of storing all the knowledge and information we can throw at it. It will eventually wrap spaceship earth like a vast immeasurable library of the absurd. A Dewey decimal system based on the binary reduction of 0's and 1's. "If you could only see what I've seen with your eyes." [11] We generate content now just to watch it die. We get off on the meta-morte in the sidereal space of the chronically fake, amid the illusion of community.

William Gibson, the writer who coined the term 'cyberspace', recently wrote: "Post-industrial creatures of an information economy, we increasingly sense that accessing media is what we do. We have become terminally self-conscious. There is no such thing as simple entertainment. We watch ourselves watching Beavis and Butt-head, who are watching rock video's." [12]

It should come as no surprise, that as the dawn of the MetaMillennium (TM) nears, "the more fluently we manage to reproduce ourselves, and our worlds, the more fleeting seems our embrace"? [13] Meta-scenes... duplicates of duplicates ad infinitum...we already don't really see, we scan, as the vortex-like datamesh delivers a mirage of information-as-knowledge to our retinas at warp speed.

Gimme A Virtual Jesus

In the summer of 1995, the first retail store selling VR equipment opened its doors in Indianapolis. Virtually Yours is wedged between a pizza parlor and a laundromat in a small shopping center on the city's northeast outskirts. A businessman who stumbled upon the store when he and his son went out for pizza, saw the potential for education...he asked Virtually Yours to supply expertise and equipment to Sunship Ministries as a marketing tool for getting developing countries to welcome them. "[We] could let people interact with a virtual Jesus."[14]

Holographic VR and haptic telepresence environments emerge as the inevitable extension of our screen driven selves. No longer content to experience the idea of nothingness, we now want to inhabit it, like a luminous presence spiraling out of thin air. In our increasingly artificial cocoons, we acclimate to the Hertzian light that replaces natural daylight. Our newly founded digital reflection is not merely a limit, but rather a rite of passage, a transition into what Hakim Bey has jokingly called "a temporary autonomous zone", as we shift seamlessly between 'the real' and ever more illusionary worlds. We suffer from a boundary loss that is screen-like by nature, amorphous, and hangs silently on a binary code that sublimely replicates death, slow death delivered by 0's and 1's on the Home Shopping Network simulator channel.

The gratifications and excitement of upward mobility threaten to abandoned us to the unraveling inner spaces of our own psychic rootlessness. Our 'culture of bits' threatens to absorb the space where we take place. And this disappearance for all intents and purposes, has already occured.

Technology has always evoked new representations of reality. Paul Virilio has asserted that the creation of virtual images is a crash site: "Cyberspace is an accident of the real. Virtual reality is the accident of reality itself...It no longer occurs in matter, but in light or in images...thus, the accident is in light, not in matter. The creation of a virtual image is a form of accident. This explains why virtual reality is a cosmic accident. It's the accident of the real". [15]

Perversely, the advent of the virtual, or "the accident of the real", comes just in time to prop up our sagging belief systems. Culturally imbedded protocols are endlessly being recycled with the hope that some overlooked freak mutation will somehow catch fire again. Elvis meets __, meets __.

Perhaps it is truly a nostalgia for the future, remotely past and ripley aged, that we so desperately yearn for. Because at present, there is simply no room for the once imagined future to take place. Even Disney World, former home to imageering the future, has thrown in the futurist towel. "The new Tomorrowland begins with Jules Verne and ends with Buck Rogers."[16] You can bet that Disney would have a hard time pitching a diorama with mom and mom and their cloned kids. So even at Tomorrowland, the future has sadly turned back in on itself-a kind of tomorrow yesterday approach is being developed. It is "a reflection of the ennui that many Americans, at century's end, feel about the chips and bits in which they are immersed." [17]

To this effect, VR offers up a lightscape, a mirror thrust up through our television screens, enabling a vision quest for our waking discontents and its burden of broken dreams. Telepresence and remote-sensing technologies allow us to become at once actors and spectators, the Janus face, and the double-crossed body.

What is the surround sound of one astral hand clapping in the frenzied aisles of consumerism? This is the tumultuous condition: the equivocal stare of chance upon transferring your consciousness to the ElectroMonad (TM).

Metaphoric Vessels And The Topologies Of Indifference: Adjust To New Parameters And Construct Directly

Architecture is now invisible. The interface is the architecture, suspended between silence and the virtual, an electronic inscription of our extended and blurred bodies, incised onto an event horizon of no escape. An epoch tossed into the black hole of the ether. The body long since forgotten dissolves into oblivion. A concentration of pure energy, an accumulation of sheer intentionality. Forever a gaze which is beyond identity, beyond body - that offers itself up as pure acceleration. Dilated organs without bodies perhaps, not bodies without organs. The distributed home bo(d)y.

Architecture must inevitably hemorrhage in this mix. It must flow out in other directions. New spatial aggregates will require multiple escape routes. A single door for entering and exiting will no longer suffice. "Riemannian spaces...amorphous collection of pieces that are juxtaposed but not attached to each other." [18] Pure patchwork with an infinite porosity of structure, like a sponge.

Formerly, architecture hoarded forms by creating variations of closure. Freezing the mobility of relations of the in-between by storing an energy that now can only circulate. Attempting to capture some sort of spatio temporal event within a formal framework, an anthropomorphic diagram, an envelope of recursive boundaries mirrors our conception of the cosmos, and our place within it.

The very development of architectural topologies can be likened to the spread of an image virus, memes (mime) that tend to explode out of an emergent set of embedded and acceptable codes or systems. In other words, they emerge out of a collectivist soup and are disseminated through various professional journals, style magazines and coffee table books. The mark of a star architect today is judged more by the loud thump their new book makes when it hits the boardroom table, then by their contributions to the betterment of society. Doesn't the product of architecture in our culture exist as yet another form of corporate branding, like the latest pair of Nike's stitched up in Indonesia? Architectural evolution seems to have no foresight, it gropes from one path of dependence to the next. Architecture moves with the velocity of a slug through its own waste matter. Will we soon have a trip hop architecture, an illbient-itecture, a gangsta-tecture, ad infinitum?

3:15:11 AM. The (phant_ms) of architecture haunt me, like an uninterrupted sequence of points projected onto the surface of some warped parabola. With no beginning and no end, a moebius strip which cannabilizes itself. An immutable feedback with a single razor-sharp edge. Spatial organizations which are all links and no thresholds. A space that aspires to death, yet anticipates nothing, constantly retreating. A space that is always becoming the paradoxical other, constantly superimposing itself on the whole, an organization that craves totality like a virus or a burst of lightening.

As the developmental logics of contemporary architecture are being conceived increasingly more for the display of audiovisual information than for the framed location of real bodies, a mode of built environments, as overwhelming as the datameshes that they seek to ground, is now being jettisoned globally.

What then is the fate which awaits architecture when it no longer requires a roof, structure, walls, windows, or staircases, and becomes merely a screen? When the reversal, doubling, or unfolding of an interior for an exterior takes place? When the former reflexive relationships between exterior and interior disclosures become severed, spaces where gravity itself has been abruptly dislocated, vast infinitely morphing fields/screens of the convulsive marvelous, as we point and click our way through spatial membranes like lab rats in an infinite hyper-Pavlovian maze?

Information as decoration? Karrie Jacobs has ironically observed: "Some would argue that screens, whether they show video images or computer data, are appearing on building walls because they dispense information. I suspect the screens (and their cousins, the news zippers) proliferate because they represent the look of information...TV sets adorn buildings all over town, and still there's nothing to watch".[19]

We are witness to the emergence of architecture and its 'chromed' double, an architecture that casts no shadows. An electro-shadowless architecture made by vampires for vampires, forever condemned to live a soulless immortality in front of the flickering phosphorescent glow of computer terminals as cities crumble around them. An architecture without the presence of angels in the global space of temporalized flows?

It is perhaps at this interval; where the sublimity of nature has been overwhelmed by the infinity of information, where information itself has become elevated to a new form of religion, that new kinds of spatial figures will begin to take into account tectonic strategies, whereby structures are conceived in a more profound way than mere collage, or the manipulation of historical fragments. Bed becomes chair becomes table becomes wall becomes room becomes building becomes infrastructure. Continuous like film, an architecture based on duration and flow, from the virtual to the actual, and from the actual to the virtual. Of projected and transmitted surfaces within surfaces-kernals within kernals that forever unravel and surprise. An approach to building and conceptualizing space that is in tandem to the hyperlink, metaballs, blobs, and your latest plug-in. I suggest exploring a geometry of the uncanny surface, of polymorphous porosity, of the topological configuration of the in-between. Take a bite out of time, push the simultaneous and the porous. Analog method-students take note: fabricate your next architectural model in poured latex (as a negative), and hang it out to dry. Stick your arm deep down into the malignancy of the thing-like those psychic surgeons in Manila, and pull it inside out like a sock. Pull the floors through the roof, the walls through the light apertures. Now start taking pictures of your ambitious creation from various angles, plans, elevations, etc. Have the photographs developed. Stack them neatly on top of one another. Next, slice an arch through them from one edge to the other. Place the sectioned images in sequence, in order of the directional cut. You now have a nice working diagram of simultaneity. Begin constructing your program from this new picture of space-time.

Alternatively, and by contrast, new digital methods for creating and programming space will be undoubtedly developed based upon advances in AI (artifical intelligence) research, such as neural net computers similar to the kind already in place at Nasa's Langley Research Center. Neural-nets consist of many control systems, or nodes, interconnected like neurons in the brain. Each node assigns a weight, or value, to inputs from the other nodes. By changing values, the neural net can change the way it responds. The Nasa project, being designed with the collaboration of Lockheed Martin and the Mississippi State University, is for the "Waverider" Mach 5 airplane. This prototype incorporates a radical solution - the plane can teach itself to fly.

This same sort of thinking it seems will be used to generate provocative new forms. Forms which will not rely upon the random ego-centric mutterings and musings of the designer. Building designs will in fact 'self-assemble'. You program in the variables (history, program, site, budget, style, etc.), render it in MetaSpace, and bingo! A resin model pops out like a piece of toast from a STL (Stereo Lithography) machine - you've got a slick little project. You could even program in a certain amount of indeterminacy, chaos, or Euler characteristics, if that's your trip, and push the topological envelope. Go ahead, make a name for yourself, you futurist!


1. Andrew Pollack, "Tiny Toyota Utilizes New Advances In Micro-machine Technology." New York Times. 18 November 1996.

2. Fernand Braudel, A History of Civilizations, trans. Richard Mayne. New York: Penguin Books,1995, p.9.

3. Rayco Securities website.

4. State of Illinois website.

5. Veritel Corp's speaker identification system.

6. Cornell Science website.

For general information on Nanotechnology, see Nanothinc.

7. Hakim Bey, T.A.Z.: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism. New York: Autonomedia, 1991.

8. Repetitive Strain Injury has emerged as the leading occupational injury in America, accounting for well over 300,000 new cases each year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statisitics.

9. "Evolution of Virtual Universe Echos Reality, Warts and All," New York Times, 7 February 1996.

10. From Pratt Institutes fall catalog. New York: 1997, p.19.

11. Dialogue from the film Strange Days.

12. William Gibson, "The Net is a Waste of Time," New York Times Magazine, 14 July 1996, 31.

13. Hillel Schwartz, The Culture of the Copy: Striking Likenesses, Unreasonable Facsimiles. New York: Zone Books, 1996, p.20.

14. Barnaby J Feder, "Selling Virtual Reality, in Indiana," New York Times, 7 August 1995.

15. Louise Wilson, "Cyberwar, God and Television: Interview with Paul Virilio," CTHEORY, 1995.

16. Seth Schiesel, "Once-Visionary Disney Calls the Future a Thing of the Past," 23 February 1997.

17. Ibid.

18. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1987) 485.

19. Karrie Jacobs. "Video Killed the Gargoyle," New York Magazine, 17 February, 1997: p. 24-27.

John Beckmann is a practicing architect and writer who lives in New York. He is the editor of The Virtual Dimension, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998.