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Issue 51 G
ISSN 2634-8578
Curated By:
Andrew Jiang
Biopower, Fictions
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Weird Flesh 
Antinormativity, Biopower, Production of Normativity, Queer Bodies
Pintian LIU, Fiona Zisch, Ava Aghakouchak
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The Production of Normativity 

Of Discipline 

I am sitting at the table, facing my computer, writing the first draft of the paper you are now reading. This paper is published in the Bartlett’s Prospectives Journal at University College London (UCL). UCL sets the disciplinary boundary within which this paper is enclosed. My body, my fingers to be specific, follow a certain trajectory on the keyboard, writing in between the lines that the University has produced. The University, in return, examines and performs edits on the paper that I am writing.     

As in the case above, the integration of my body into a disciplinary institution produces marks on the former, accompanied by certain aesthetic qualities. From the posture my body has taken to write this paper, to the format of this paper, my body is mechanically reproducing words; the journal is an encoded mechanical reproduction of an assembly of papers. The integration of machines as tools for exerting power on bodies, and the Body, which power itself manufactures, emerged in the first industrial revolution (Figure 1). Such integration has grown in intensity as industry and the system it produces become ever larger and more sophisticated. More bodies need to be compressed into the Body so that they can easily be placed under surveillance and control. Emerging from Foucauldian excavation, the shift from disciplinary power to biopower marks the first major expansion of power’s mechanism.[1] 

Figure 1 – Inserting the Body into Industrial Machinery (A. Lex-Nerlinger, Der Maschinist, 1930. Image from: Nouvelle Objective, Centre Pompidou, 2022).

Of Biopower 

Before landing in the UK to start my studies at UCL, I first had to take a tuberculosis medical exam to obtain a student visa. Then, upon landing in the UK, I was required to register with a general practitioner to access health care. The registration form requested categorical information such as gender, ethnicity, and exercise status. The form sought this information in order for my body to be “legible”, in the eyes of the system, to become part of the Species-Body invented by biopower itself: the population.  

“According to Foucault, the disciplinary mechanisms of the body and the regulatory mechanisms of the population constitute the modern incarnation of power relations, labeled as biopower.”[2] Categorising bodies based on biopower’s concept of “the population” produces a normative effect on these very bodies. Under disciplinary power, institutions are concerned with micro behaviours of the bodies held within their boundaries. Under biopower, bodies are no longer unregulated beyond disciplinary institutions’ doors. Medical experts manage how individuals live their lives, and compare them to the overall wellness of the population. The population’s fate hinges on birth and death rates; procreation depends on the nuclear family (Figure 2). The nuclear family becomes the model image that bodies are moulded upon and into. 

Figure 2 – Nuclear Family (H. Armstrong Roberts, Nuclear Family, 1950s., accessed 02 Sept. 2021).

Despite disciplinary power and biopower’s different aesthetic consequences, as the factory man (Figure 1) and the nuclear family man (Figure 2) suggest, they are not mutually exclusive but reinforcing means of control. Biopower, a cogent consequence of disciplinary power, is born in a colonial context to protect claims of inheritance and racial superiority of the bourgeoisie families.[3] Its logic is then instrumentalised to ensure the continued insertion of eligible bodies into the machine. For example, the 1890 census taker of the United States, Herman Hollerith, invented the mechanical manipulation of data and consequently founded the predecessor of IBM in 1911.[4] Disciplinary power and biopower both serve as mechanisms for the increasing integration of the Body and machine.  

This paper departs from an analysis of the forces that my body is subjected to. These forces are a product and reflection of the system which we – all bodies – coinhabit. Bodies are actively conditioned into the Body. The conditioning process has evolved over time, in episodes, each episode having its own aesthetic consequences. The self-analytical process of writing this paper follows Descartes’ method in Meditations, which famously creates a psychic doubling of “I” as an object of analysis to extend to the universal foundation of knowledge.[5] This paper, importantly, makes no universal claims. Instead, it uses the experience of “I” – and its extension – to narrate machine’s absorption of bodies, in order to illustrate how diverse bodies are situated within a hegemonic system and to celebrate these diverse bodies’ resistances towards being moulded into the Species-Body. 

Developed as a means of constructing and portraying knowledge through design praxis, the wearable device “Contiguity”, designed in unison with this paper, follows a comparable introspective process by bonding the wearer to a host of queer bodies populating the queer dating network, Grindr. In the eyes of systems of power, queer bodies are “weird” because of their oblique positioning in relation to the Species-Body. Queer bodies’ refusal to be – and become – straight marks a first episode of resistance. 

The Rise of Antinormativity 

Of Resistance: The Deviated Queer Bodies 

My desire for men is my subjectivity’s departure point of deviation. When I was fifteen, my own awareness of my queer sexuality led me to study abroad – a response to China’s heavily disciplinarian post-secondary education. Five years later, on a trip back to visit my family, the receptionist at the public notary office (a government agency in China) looked at my date of birth, then straight into my eyes, and said: “You are getting married too late.” My queer body failed – and fails – to reproduce the straight lines set out by and for the nuclear family. When I had the opportunity to leave, I did. 

The German origin of the word “queer” is “quer”, meaning “oblique” or “perverse”.[6] Quer specifies the spatial and temporal relationships of queer bodies to the world.[7] In this sense, queerness is always relational – the presence of a normative background makes queer bodies appear oblique (Figure 3). In turn, queerness resists normative effects in its ephemeral nature and rhizomatic organisation.[8] It enchants bodies based on local relationships without superimposed logic or structure, therefore resisting both disciplinary power and biopower’s monopolistic claim on the future:  

“The future is only the stuff for some kids. Racialized kids, queer kids, are not the sovereign princes of futurity… This monolithic figure of the child that is indeed always already white… It is important not to hand over futurity to normative white reproductive futurity.”[9] 

Figure 3 – Queer Visibility in the Public Sphere (D. Wojnarowicz, Arthur Rimbaud in New York (Tile floor, gun), 1978., accessed 02 Sept. 2021).

Queerness means a continued investment into alternatives to a white and heteronormative future.[10] It opens different definitions of what kind of life is worth living. Bodies gather based on desires instead of class. This mode of relating allows queerness to form a counterforce to the Species-Body fabricated by biopower. In the world of art, queerness conceptually establishes the counterforce that disrupts the Western canon of beauty in the form of the weird, making room for a multiplicity of beings through aesthetic means. 

From April 1950 to February 1951, Jean Dubuffet initiated a relentless attack on a traditional Western genre of beauty – the female nude. The genre of the Western female nude is composed of clear-cut contours and a pink tone that mimics northern European skin. From The Birth of Venus (Figure 4) to Olympia (Figure 5), the subject of representation shifted from a goddess to a prostitute. Yet, the continuity of monolithic beauty has remained intact. Images of beauty emit a normative effect on beauty standards set for the population. As the West attempted to move past the horrors of WWII, the genre of the female nude collapsed, its representation of the Body becoming less relevant. During this period, Dubuffet produced a collection of thirty oil paintings and seventy drawings called “Ladies’ Bodies”.[11] These bodies form a collective, a collective-like queerness, that challenges the Species-Body aesthetically. 

As part of this collection, The Tree of Fluids (Figure 6) presents a flattened female nude lying bare in front of its viewer. Different from its predecessors, this female nude is not represented as gentle but as monstrous. The pink that mimics a northern European skin tone can still be found, but shades of orange, red, even hints of purple, activate a violent deconstruction of ideal skin. In addition, the texture of sand mixed with paint creates a sense of flow that recalls erupting bodily fluids; the normative female nude run over by a car, leaving the figure flat on the ground, fluids splashing out from its reproductive – and sexualised – parts, spilling all over its body. 

Figure 6. It Girl No. 3 (J. Dubuffet, Tree of Fluids, 1950., accessed 02 Sept. 2021).

In relation to the Western canon of beauty, Dubuffet’s representation of female bodies is weird because of its radical opposition to what can be accounted as normatively beautiful. It challenges the normative notion of beauty similar to queerness’s challenge to heteronormativity’s monopoly of the future. Given queerness’s promises to open futures, capital has unsurprisingly attempted to valorise – and indeed capitalise on – queerness itself by inventing new means of control; one of its means is the queer dating network Grindr. Here, Grindr as a site marks a mutational response from power, attempting to force and secure a productive insertion of queer bodies into the machine, undermining their inherent resistance. 

Figure 7 – The Making of Contiguity (Image by Author, The Making of Contiguity, M. Arch Design for Performance and Interaction, The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, 2021).

Antinormative is Profitable: My Abstracted Body 

Of Control: We the Corporations 

Grindr profiles demonstrate the depth to which “societies of control” have penetrated social relations. Deleuze first coined the term “societies of control” in 1992 to describe the shift away from a disciplinary society – a shift enabled by informational technology.[12] An example of informational technology, Grindr pioneered the integration of geolocation into dating apps. Upon opening Grindr, profiles are presented in a grid layout, each profile occupying the same amount of virtual real estate on screen. This equalising effect is further reflected in profiles’ statistics that divide bodies into body types and categories. Body types, for example, are listed as: no response, average, large, muscular, slim, stocky, and toned (Figure 8). These body types are then divided further into categories called tribes (Figure 9). Each tribe reflects a male archetype, which can be used as a search term on porn search engines. These categories serve as entry points for bodies to access standardised desires: 

“… the beefcake flexing as if a cover model for Men’s Fitness; the bear doing his best Paul Bunyan impersonation; the twink posing like a supermodel; the tough guise appropriating hip hop gestures and styles; the jock/bro making certain to display his allegiance to whatever sports team; the boy-next-door, often admittedly an ‘average guy,’ devoid of any specifically gay cultural signifiers, fueling heteroerotic fantasies – all obviously borrowed, banal, willful reversions to types …”[13] 

This conscious construction of digital selves based on existing stereotypes erases the historical struggles of minorities and flattens them into purely aesthetic products. Racial bias and misogyny are deeply rooted in and, in turn, emerge from the development of these stereotypes. The problematic, ocular-centric construction of desires based on visual appearances and socio-cultural connotations relies heavily on the advertising industry. It defines our relationship with products and specifies our role as consumers. Through the lenses of these types, one can only measure the success or failure of their bodies by how they compare to ideal imagery – the Body reproduces sameness through serial repetition as if they were Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (Figure 10).[14] In essence, virtual cruising and shopping now have ever more similarities. Hoping to stand out from an endless grid of men (it is only “Unlimited” if you pay $19.99 a month), one must promote one’s body as “the body” of each category – what is my brand? For a connection to be made, continuous window shopping and constant comparison is required, mirroring behaviour in a shopping mall – what bodies are available; how does one calculate pleasure based on other listed statistics? 

Figure 10 – We the Soup Cans (A. Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962., accessed 02 Sept. 2021).

An obsession with personal brands and statistical comparisons brings the Body’s mode of being ever closer to corporations. The thinking “I” has increasing similarities with the calculating AI. Adopted in the late nineteenth century, the Fourteenth Amendment gives people in the United States fundamental human rights. However, it also gives corporations the status of being (a) human. Under the neoliberal regime, the Constitution has realised its full consequences. Can we still tell the difference between corporations and ourselves? As we the corporation, are we willing to trade our imperfect profile pictures with a singular image that perfectly conforms to an ideal type? 

Pertinently, the artist Lucy McRae explores the aesthetic potential of radical conformity, for example in her work Biometric Mirror.[15] Beauty brands are deploying increasingly algorithmic services to offer customers personal advice. McRae’s mirror provides viewers with analyses of their characters solely based on their faces. In return, the algorithm calculates a mathematically perfect version of a present face and returns it to its viewer. McRae pushes the concept of beauty advice services to its extreme to explore the aesthetic consequences of a body conforming to algorithmic perfection (Figure 11). The ideal representation is embedded in – and constructed from – a biased dataset that (re)affirms traditional beauty standards. These biases are presented as objective claims of truth by the virtue of their allegiance with “science”. However, compared to the imperfections of human bodies, the personalised ideal representation slips easily into the uncanny valley. Weirdness resides in the gap between bodies in their flesh and their unattainable virtual representation. For the expediency of pleasure, we turn away from the weird and become fungible modules, ready to be exchanged in the neoliberal marketplace of human capital. In this impasse of the present, what and where is the next frontier of resistance to corporations’ valorisation of queerness’ open futures? 

Figure 11 – The Algorithmic Perfect Face (L. Mcrae, Biometric Mirror, 2019, accessed 02 Sept. 2021).

Under and Out of Control 

Of Measurement 

From the invention of the disciplinary society to the formation of biopower, then to the creation of societies of control, each shift and mutation of power is enabled by – and creates – new means of measuring the Body. The panopticon established the absence or presence of bodies through spatial typology and abstract hierarchy.[16] Statisticians compile aggregate population data to theorise on general trends of wellness, in order to ensure stability of power.[17] Today, with the aid of ubiquitous computing and artificial intelligence, the resolution of the Body and the potential for data extraction is brought to unprecedented levels, placing it under even more comprehensive control. 

Wearables are a form of threshold, where the forces of power that seek to exercise control over bodies meet weird flesh. On the surface of the skin, wearables attempt to materialise the intentions of their creators. Nevertheless, where the Body may not, diverse bodies possess the disposition to resist these forces. Tailoring wearables to distinctive bodies requires the creation of detailed and unique mappings.  

A Creaform HandyScan 700 Scanner is deployed to obtain the map for Contiguity’s intervention. The scanner relies on scanning targets placed randomly on a body (Figure 12). The random pattern generates reference points for the scanner to register and construct local relationships. After the targets are placed, each scanning session takes around 20 minutes. During a scanning session, the body has to stay still, otherwise its movements would register new, or duplicate, parts due to changes in the local relationships of the scanning targets (Figures 13–16).  

Figure 12 – Body through the Eyes of a Handheld Scanner (Image by Author, Contiguity, M. Arch Design for Performance and Interaction, The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, 2021., accessed 02 May 2022).

The process of mapping diverse bodies into one virtual body is an objective method invented by power structures to exercise control; however, the duration of the scanning session made space for my subjected, yet subjective, will to resist its mapping. While lasers brushed against the surface of my skin, with my arms opened, eyes closed, I tried to keep my mind and my body as still as possible. As the scanning progressed, my arms became heavier and slowly dropped in the presence of gravity. My virtual body looked increasingly unfamiliar in the eyes of the scanner. Eventually, unfamiliarity turned into monstrosity – the body growing more and more limbs, the surface of the chest starting to peel off the neck to accommodate changes in breathing (Figures 13–15). This monstrous body lacks legibility for power to operate upon. Parts must be restitched together in post-production to return the virtual body to a state of familiarity. During the editing process, my personal, subjective assumptions about my own body manifested in its representation (Figure 16). The gap between the physical and the virtual was my body’s unconscious attempt to escape the order imposed from above, despite my voluntary submission to the scanner. My body was constantly adjusting to its surrounding forces and internal processes, leveraging its flexibility and adaptability to disrupt the power’s process of mapping. 

Of Contiguity 

Developed in conjunction with this paper, Contiguity is a wearable device that absorbs the closest 500 Grindr profiles and transforms them into haptic feedback (Figure 17). Each air chamber of Contiguity corresponds to one of the body type categories. As users around the wearer go online and offline, Contiguity creates weird and unpredictable haptic sensations for the wearer. In contrast to Contiguity’s haptic mapping of surrounding profiles, Grindr’s grid layout and categorisations compress users’ bodies into virtual avatars of the Species-Body. The compression makes bodies legible in the eyes of the machine. Contiguity aims to disrupt the logic of compression with the weird flesh. The flesh is weird in form, made out of silicone skin with inflatable thermoplastic polyurethane backings, and in its communication with surrounding users’ bodies. 

Figure 17 – Haptic Feedback (Image by Author, Contiguity, M. Arch Design for Performance and Interaction, The Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL, 2021., accessed 02 May 2022).

Contiguity is weird in its form because it is designed to transgress erogenous zones of the Body (Figure 18). The neck spills into the chest, and the chest spills into the upper abdomen (Figure 19). The transgressed boundaries make Contiguity’s touch oblique to biopower’s mapping of the Body, therefore challenging its monopolistic claim on pleasure. Who decides how we should be touched and what is seen as pleasurable? Contiguity’s conscious failure to approximate flesh amplifies its queering of the Body. Silicone is a popular material for the production of life-like masks, but the application of melted paint, food colouring and sand between silicone layers disrupt the visual field, creating monstrous bodies, much like in the aforementioned Dubuffet painting. Consequently, Contiguity recasts the representations of bodies and their definitions of intimacy, replacing a self-preserving definition with a world-building one. 

The gap between the flesh and its (virtual) representation is another instigator of weirdness. Compressed bits and bytes of data drawn from surrounding queer bodies are translated into haptic feedback, a sensation of “heartbeats” cast onto the surface of a wearer’s skin. The neoliberal Grindr “meat market” is no longer experienced through discrete encounters, each Body an abstracted, idealised visual product, but is collectively subsumed into pulsing heartbeats Contiguity impress onto the skin. The collective allows us to reexamine our individualistic experiences of consumer desires. In the same way that biopower fabricates the Species-Body to exercise control, Contiguity assembles this new collective to create a sense of togetherness – being together without erasing differences. This togetherness has the power to form new political bodies, to become a counterforce that confronts the violence and crisis brought about by the normative Body. 

Of Bodies and Togetherness 

The legibility of the Body is the normative force, the weird flesh is the departure point of antinormativity. The open futures of antinormativity reside in the gaps between the Body as an ideal representation and diverse bodies in their flesh. Disciplinary power launched the ambitious project of integrating bodies into the machine for the former’s obedience and the latter’s efficiency. The factory man was the perfect man. Following the invention of biopower, the heteronormative couple projected the ideal imagery of the Body. The perfect couple bears the social labour of carrying and raising children, extending the patriarchal lineage, and ensuring the conservation of class and order. To justify imposing control on desires, biopower invented the Species-Body of the population with the aid of statistics to maximise the productivity of bodies. Queerness challenges the Body that biopower has produced in the gaps between imposed desire and the desires of the flesh. Resistance stems from the flesh and spreads across social fields, opening up alternative futures that power structures have yet to come to regulate. In response, biopower mutates with the aid of information technology into societies of control. New categories of representations are invented so that queer bodies can be more productive to the economy. Here, Grindr valorises queerness through the use of body types. These types serve as ideal imagery that queer bodies are measured against – the more conformed one is to the Body and its representation, the more productive you are to the economy. New measuring instruments will always be invented to penetrate the bodies deeper, to open new markets of consumption.  

As Deleuze advises us, “there is no need to fear or hope, but only to look for new weapons”.[18] Contiguity demonstrates that a platform that seeks to partition and exercise control can be appropriated, subverted to build connections that escape the latest means of control. With the current global energy crisis, the all-encompassing system is showing its shortcomings in dealing with the even larger climate crisis. The current system is built to maximise (personal) interests, and can be exercised by an entity as small as a body aiming to fulfil its pleasure – as in the case of Grindr – or as large as a nation state aiming to profit from natural resources. Local disruptions can have undesirable global impacts since technology is deployed with a purpose of exclusion rather than inclusion. Forging a sense of togetherness is the first step to shifting our current technological and aesthetic development towards pluralistic and resilient futures. 


[1] VW. Cisney, N. Morar, “Introduction: Why Biopower? Why now?” Biopower: Foucault and Beyond (The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 3. 

[2] VW. Cisney, N. Morar, “Introduction: Why Biopower? Why now?” Biopower: Foucault and Beyond (The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 5. 

[3] M. Foucault, The History of Sexuality: The Will to Knowledge (Penguin Books, 1998). 

[4] I. Hacking, “Biopower and the Avalanche of Printed Numbers.”, VW. Cisney, N. Morar, ed., Biopower: Foucault and Beyond (The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 76. 

[5] L. Bersani, “Ardent Masturbation.”, Thoughts and Things (The University of Chicago Press, 2015). 

[6] Google’s English Dictionary [Internet], Oxford: Oxford Languages. (Accessed 02 Aug. 2021). 

[7] S. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology (Duke University Press, 2006), 161. 

[8] JE. Munoz, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity. (New York University Press, 2009), 65–82. 

[9] Ibid, 95. 

[10] S. Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology (Duke University Press, 2006), 46. 

[11] J. Nairne, Jean Dubuffet – Brutal Beauty (Barbican Art Gallery, 2021). 

[12] G. Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control”. October, Vol.59 (1992) (Accessed 02 Aug. 2021) 3–4. 

[13] T. Roach, Screen Love: Queer Intimacies in the Grindr Era (State University of New York Press, 2021), 88. 

[14] Ibid, 18. 

[15] L. McRae, Biometric Mirror (2019) (Accessed 02 Aug. 2021). 

[16] M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Penguin Classics, 2020). 

[17] I. Hacking, “Biopower and the Avalanche of Printed Numbers.”, VW. Cisney, N. Morar, ed., Biopower: Foucault and Beyond (The University of Chicago Press, 2016), 73. 

[18] G. Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control”. October, Vol.59 (1992) (Accessed 02 Aug. 2021), 4. 

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Fig. 1. The Geoscope within the Museum of the Future’s Observatory, Certain Measures, 2022.
Fig. 1. The Geoscope within the Museum of the Future’s Observatory, Certain Measures, 2022.
World Pictures and Room-Worlds
AI Diaries, Control Rooms, Fictions, Room Worlds
Andrew Witt
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Read Article: 3811 Words

On December 24, 1968, the three-person crew of lunar spacecraft Apollo 8 became the first humans to witness a shimmering Earth ascend over the barren surface of the moon with their own eyes. The photographs that they took of that “Earthrise” electrified humanity, activating a sense of collective destiny not only between human nations but with Earth itself.[1] This vivid new “world picture” was both more total and more visceral than earlier terrestrial abstractions like globes, atlases or maps. Earthrise was an eidetic portrait of a living, breathing world, an amalgam of the geologic, climatic and biologic, taken from outside the world itself. Historian Benjamin Lazier characterised this meta-Copernican moment as inaugurating an entire “Earthrise era”, a time when the image of a whole and delicate Earth could “organize a myriad of political, moral, scientific, and commercial imaginations”.[2]

In many ways, Apollo’s Earth image was a quintessential product of the space age. Not only did its achievement rely on modern space flight, it played out against the backdrop of global conflicts like the Cold War that exploited space as a proxy battleground. Of course, the space age coincided with the information age, and these two cultural tendencies arguably offered divergent ways to picture the world. If the Apollo photos captured a single static vision of a unified Earth, the information age countertendency was to federate disparate fragments of text, diagrams, images, and video into information-rich dynamic media experiences. Experimental media environments brought visitors inside a closed world of light and image projections, immersing the visitor in choreographed flows of electronic stimuli. The constructed worlds presented within such media environments might resemble, reflect, or subvert the world outside them. Projects like filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie Drome or architect Ken Isaacs’ Knowledge Box constructed total media spaces with the visitor at the centre, ensconced in walls saturated by film and slide projections.[3] They effectively constructed mediated worlds within the confines of a single room. Even earlier forays into the mediatic experience of information – notably the Eames Office’s Ovoid Theatre at New York’s 1964 World’s Fair – hinted that the information age would be experienced through choreographed matrices of endless and heterogenous image streams. The spatial array of multiple images induced a relational ordering and systemic framework among them. In these media environments, the world picture was not a single image but an overlapping and federated mosaic, a reality implied through juxtaposition and assembled in the technically-calibrated space of the room-world.

Figure 2 – The Earthrise photograph, taken by Bill Anders on December 1968, from Apollo 8. Image courtesy NASA.

To the extent that they conveyed not the static image of a world picture but rather the dynamic behaviour of a world system, information-age media spaces resembled behavioural models. In his influential lecture “World Pictures and World Models”, German philosopher Hans Blumenberg drew the distinction between world pictures and world models as the “difference between the total notion of nature on the one hand and the purpose assigned to the totality of understanding nature on the other”.[4] By “world picture”, Blumenberg does not exactly intend an Earthrise-like image but rather “that embodiment of reality through which and in which humans recognise themselves, orient their judgements and the goals of their actions, measure their possibilities and necessities, and devise their essential needs”.[5] The world picture thus becomes a metaphysical anchor and compass for the human species in relation to species and nature as a whole. The world model, then, is the end toward which the world might be oriented and perhaps the mechanism that effects its transformation.

This paper considers how the world picture, world model, and room-world interact and resonate in our own time, and how they are transcribed into architectural space. We explore these resonances through a specific project of our office, Certain Measures: The Observatory, an immersive environmental installation housed within Dubai’s new Museum of the Future that imagines a fictional centre for global bioremediation in the year 2071. By situating this project in a wider historical constellation of room-worlds and world pictures, Earth-scale architecture extends its purview to contemporary notions of bioengineering, data visualisation, and artificial intelligence. Moreover, in contrast to canonical room-worlds of the past, the Observatory presents its world picture as a fictional reflection on a possible Earth, rather than as a true image of our world today. In doing so, it orchestrates several overlapping and interlocking layers of worldbuilding: fictional species, fictional media content, and even the fictional bureaucracy in which the Observatory is housed. It diverts the nominally factual media of data visualisation and scientific modelling toward projective worldbuilding. The Observatory thus illustrates the role architects and designers can play as worldbuilders across media, including image, data, narrative, and space.

Room Worlds and Control Rooms

Built to transform the very perception of the future as we know it, Dubai’s new Museum of the Future houses a series of immersive environments that position visitors in an empowering version of tomorrow. The Observatory is one such environment, a fictional centre for planetary ecology staged as a physical and media experience. It is presented as an amalgam of control room, panorama, and incubator for newly designed species, developed to confront the challenges of the climate crisis in a future fiction. It is the culmination of the floor-wide exhibit introducing “the HEAL Institute”, a fictional NGO tasked with gathering the planet’s genetic material, engineering species capable of meeting the challenges of extreme climate, and redeploying these to regreen the world.

The Observatory drew inspiration from the sundry architectures of planetary visualisation of the past century and a half. From building-scale panoramic “great globes” to interactive games of planetary resource use, architectural projects at the scale of the world envisioned designerly ways of seeing, understanding, and shaping Earth. Many of these projects posited not only a particular world picture but a behavioural system for planetary interactions akin to Blumenberg’s world models. In this sense, the Observatory falls into a lineage of architecture that orients design toward a global scale. In surveying the range of world-scale architectural projects, Hashim Sarkis and Rio Salgueiro Barrio point out the “possibility of differentiating between totality and totalization”.[6] The implication is that in the Anthropocene, the systems presented by such world models are not necessarily controlling or coercive, but might be mutually constitutive with Earth itself.

Figure 3 – The Oval room of Teylers Museum as it appeared in the early nineteenth century. Wybrand Hendriks, De Ovale Zaal van Teylers Museum, c. 1800-1820. Image in the public domain.

Beyond the mutuality of system and planet, the form of the Observatory considers the codetermination between a collection of objects and the architecture that displays them. A particularly vivid example of collection-architecture co-determinacy are proto-modern cabinets such as the Oval Room of the Teylers Museum in Haarlem, Netherlands. Historian Geert-Jan Janse describes this singular space as “a room to hold the world”, not merely to house the miscellaneous contents of a world but to construct an architecture fitted to that world picture.[7] Opened in 1784, the Oval Room concentrated its collection into a single space that adopts the organisation of the collection itself, furnishing bespoke cabinetry for irregular objects and reflecting a specific collection taxonomy in its arrangement. The curved space presented no corners, its quasi-elliptical shape evoking the spherical contours of a planet. In this sense it resembled a panorama, a dramatic vista over a field of particulars in orchestrated and interconnected conversation.

Our aim for the Observatory was to extend the architectural type of a Teylers collection panorama with the informatic and multi-scalar view of simultaneous dimensions of planetary ecology. In this way, the historical type of the room world is set in dialogue with the contemporary rise of data science and artificial intelligence. The Observatory accomplishes this by making visible both newly engineered species and the network of human and machinic actors that collect, analyse and act to resuscitate Earth. It is a control room for bioremediation, showing and evolving a web-of-life datascape and the symbiotic interactions of ecosystems, plants, animals, bacteria, robots, and humans.

The Observatory space consists of two complimentary experiences: the Geoscope and the Nursery. The Geoscope is an information-rich global monitoring system that visualises the progress of bespoke species deployed to aid threatened biomes. It combines physical models of speculative species themselves with dynamic projection mapping to show symbiotic interconnections across scales, offering a trans-scalar view of the planet from global to microscopic. The Geoscope could be understood as a dynamic data panorama, or even an informatic world picture. But instead of presenting an instantaneous view of the world from a single perspective at a uniform scale, it presents a temporally unfolding and multi-scalar assemblage of imagery and data, stitched together into a unified sensorium.

Figure 4 – The data visualisations of the Geoscope, tracking the success of species across ecosystems. Certain Measures, 2022.

The Geoscope is not only a collection gallery but also a control room, a cockpit for the planet. As a control room, the Observatory sits adjacent to what anthropologist Shannon Mattern has called “urban dashboards”, or visualisations of real-time urban operations data.[8] When expanded to the room scale, they evolve into what she terms “immersive dashboards”: vast control rooms for city functions that resemble NASA’s Mission Control for spaceflight.[9] Mattern argues that the raison d’être for such rooms is “translating perception into performance, epistemology into ontology”.[10] Urban control rooms thus constitute and condition the subjects that interact with them, creating particular conventions of legibility and action. For Mattern, the “dashboard and its user had to evolve in response to one another”.[11] In the critical relationship between dashboard and intelligibility, a particular data organisation fosters a corresponding kind of intelligence in its observer.

Historian Andrew Toland argues that Mattern’s urban dashboards might naturally be extended to the scale of the planet.[12] “We can begin to imagine an enlargement from the real-time data and feedback loops of urban dashboards considered by Mattern towards a vast integrated and machine-directed system of environmental-sensing and response”.[13] He catalogs several initiatives, such as Microsoft’s “AI for Earth”, that fall comfortably within this genre of design. While he notes the aspiration for an “AI whole Earth dashboard”, Toland frames artificial intelligence in functional terms as a straightforward extrapolation of statistical data analysis. Yet in ethical terms, the idea of AI sentience or reflection – that an AI might come to its own conclusions about the state of the planet – is largely absent. The possibility that the dashboard could become an ethical agent in its own right remains an untested possibility.

Beyond Mattern’s urban dashboards and Toland’s AI for Earth, the Geoscope makes deliberate reference to Buckminster Fuller’s series of geoscopes or “mini-Earth” projects. Beginning from his first room-scale globe, constructed at Cornell University in 1952, through many variants into the 1970s, Fuller proposed augmented planetary models “wherewith humanity can see and read all the spherical data of the Earth’s geography … within the theater of local Universe events”.[14] In their most developed form, Fuller’s geoscopes were data-rich and mediatic portraits of planetary civilisation unfolding over time: “The Geoscope’s electronic computers will store all relevant inventories of world data arranged chronologically, in the order and spacing of discovery, as they have occurred throughout all known history”.[15] Fuller saw the geoscopes as a means to accelerate and intensify the viewing not only of natural phenomena like weather systems and geologic conditions but also of human activity like military deployments or mobility patterns. “With the Geoscope humanity would be able to recognize formerly invisible patterns and thereby to forecast and plan in vastly greater magnitude than before”.[16]

Curiously, Fuller ignored the living organisms within the biosphere except in their direct and extractive connection with agriculture. Thus, in deliberate riposte, our Geoscope sees the human technosphere in intimate dialogue with the biosphere, not as an extractive system but as a symbiotic relationship in which humans have a vital role. The Geoscope’s AI, which acts as an intermediary between technosphere and biospehere, scans specific locations – the Ganges River Delta, Antarctic Inland, the Empty Quarter of the Emirates, Canada’s Nunavut territory and so forth – for progress against climate catastrophe. As a central digital globe turns, it reveals new points of crisis, but also signs of hopeful recovery. It projects a protean and continuously changing view into the network of monitoring stations across the planet. The coordinating AI dynamically connects with a menagerie of human and nonhuman agents across biomes and nations – including drones, satellites and hybrid techno-biological sensors – which constantly collect samples, register progress, and meticulously rebuild the planet. This menagerie of agents complements the biological menagerie of newly-engineered species gestating within the Observatory. The coordinating AI slowly becomes more aware of human culpability for climate change – and its own fraught role in regreening. The Geoscope thus offers a glimpse into the expanding ethical consciousness of this AI.

Experientially, the Geoscope operates like closed-circuit television for the planet. It presents a cluster of video feeds that track the thriving species introduced by the HEAL institute on the one hand and the research of the scientists of the HEAL institute on the other. The myriad seeded species include, for example: a comb jelly super organism that signals danger by bioluminescent flashes; cryptobiotic wildflowers designed to hibernate in steppe and tundra regions; and fire-resistant trees with robust roots to resist infernal heat. At the same time, the Geoscope streams surveillance footage of scientists tirelessly working to enact the techniques of re-greening of the earth. These scientists engage with deployed species through forensic fieldwork and careful labwork. We even witness moments of painstaking analysis as they prepare samples for review of soil toxins, trace carbohydrates, and other critical biomarkers. In effect, this planetary CCTV invites visitors to join in the on-the-ground work of the HEAL institute.

Fig. 5. Examples of the species diorama presented in the Observatory. Certain Measures, 2022.

In the Nursery, the other half of the Observatory experience, visitors peer into incubators nurturing dozens of species that could revitalise a struggling planet. In collaboration with a geneticist, we designed over 80 species of plant, insect and animal, each with special characteristics designed to combat the environmental challenges of today and the future. Drawn from seven major ecosystems – desert, aquatic, arctic, forest, swamp, alpine and grassland – we imagined species such as nutrient jelly cacti, radiation-sequestering flowers, lipid-rich quinoa, and remediation coral designed to feed on microplastics and sequester heavy metals. To facilitate rapid repopulation of bird species, a portable multispecies egg incubator could be used to quickly reestablish biological diversity in previously inhospitable areas. At the microscopic scale, designer bacteria symbiotically support larger species and the broader biome. These bacteria include cancer-hunting and sunscreen-producing varieties, for instance. Enhanced with holographic data, profiles of each specimen reveal to visitors the details of the organism and its role in a remediated Earth.

Fig. 6. A biome incubator pod which combines several species. Certain Measures, 2022.

Like the Observatory itself, the model dioramas representing new species are in conscious dialogue with the dioramas and conventions of natural history museums: each cryptobiological species was meticulously researched, and is complete with a scientific name, specific climate-robust features, and estimated lifecycles. There is an encyclopedic impulse in their collection, an attempt to convey the variety and possibility of nature across its variegated climates. Some dioramas present assembled biomes, habitats in miniature that arrange numerous species in symbiotic constellation. In a sense, the dioramas are not only biological but agricultural: they display the implements and technology of cultivation and accelerated growth, and in this way also echo one of the earliest roles of museum dioramas, to educate on the process of machinic cultivation of nature.[17]

AI Diaries

The posthuman perspective of a sentient AI monitoring Earth in the Observatory raises strange questions about the subjectivity of the AI itself. Is this AI an overlord, servant, friend, or colleague? How would this agent come to terms with climate catastrophe and its role in the rebirth of the planet? How would its ethical consciousness unfold? What role would its human colleagues play in this awakening, and how might it perceive that role? What story would the AI tell about itself?

The logs of the AI’s interactions actually comprise an intimate journal of sorts, a glimpse into its ethical awakening. The AI communicates with the visitor and the network of remote agents through transmissions and messages akin to letters, and the AI is also receiving messages via its sensor network from myriad species – an interspecies communication between natural and artificial life. Taken collectively, these messages bear a surprising resemblance to the venerable literary form of epistolary fiction. An epistolary novel is a story that unfolds entirely through fictional letters, messages, or transmissions between its sundry characters, exposing their intimate thoughts and interpersonal connections. As a literary form, it was notably popular in the eighteenth century. The epistolary form has a particularly interesting connection to technology, science fiction and bioengineering, in that Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is an epistolary novel. The epistolary form could even extend to electronic and machine-readable messages, such as Carl Steadman’s Two Solitudes, a 1995 novella told entirely through email exchanges.

In keeping with the panoramic nature of the Observatory itself, we combined the content of the epistolary AI novel with the format of a panoramic book, drawing on precedents like Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip.[18] While Ruscha constructed a linear panorama of an urban streetscape, we propose a linear panorama of the sequential scan of the entire Earth, including every new bioengineered species introduced to it. The resulting text fuses AI diary and panorama into a journal of exchanges between this AI and its various human interlocutors. This yet-to-be published book, tentatively titled Dispatches from a Verdant Tomorrow, tells the story of climate remediation from a nonhuman perspective, as one continuous scan of Earth’s biosphere.

Fig. 7. A view of the Nursery within the Observatory. Certain Measures, 2022.

A Future Archive of Fictions

In his critique of the globe as an epistemic model, philosopher Peter Sloterdijk distinguishes between the epistemic ramifications of observing the globe from the outside or from the inside. Seeing the globe from the outside – as with the Apollo Earthriseprovides an “all-collecting awareness … the thinker feels and understands what it means to ‘know’ everything, to see everything visible, to recognize everything … the very epitome of objectivity”.[19] In contrast, the interior view places “oneself at the absolute center”, in “ecstatic-circumspective concentricity”: presumably an experience of complete subjectivity.[20] Yet between inside and outside lies the world itself, a moment at which globe and observer are coincident, one embedded in and inhabiting the other. It is that moment of coincidence and embeddedness that the Observatory aims to make tangible.

Historian Benjamin Lazier notes a similar polarity between environment and globe that illustrates how mutually defining they have become:

“The globalization of the world picture is perhaps easier to discern when we consider a parallel slippage – from ‘environment’ to ‘globe’ as it is inscribed in the phrase ‘global environment.’ The term has become a platitude, even a ritual incantation. It is in truth a Frankenstein phrase that sutures together words referring to horizons of incompatible scale and experience. Environments surround us. We live within them. Globes stand before us. We observe and act upon them from without. Globes are things that we make. They are artifacts. Environments, at least in theory and in part, are not.”[21]

The Observatory sits at that threshold between globe and environment, oscillating between the two but also introducing a third possibility: an experience of situated habitation and networked action. Through intersecting practices of speculative design, biofutures, fiction and data visualisation, the Observatory represents a comprehensive simulation of a connected biotechnical ecology.

In their analysis of urban data visualisation installations, Nanna Verhoeff and Karin van Es describe the city as a “navigable archive” and, indeed, one might make the same claim about Earth itself through the instrument of the Observatory.[22] The Observatory is a device not only for measuring and dimensioning a planetary biological archive but also for cultivating new specimens and Earth itself as an organism. It is a staging area for an active engagement between myriad human and nonhuman actors with each other and Earth itself. It is the terminus of a planetary-scale nervous system but also a sentient agent of action. It is a medium of communication with the planet, a telephone to Earth, a device for engaging in dialogue with it and its inhabitants. The Observatory is a proving ground for a more humane humanity, a tool through which we might take stock of the future of Earth and of design itself.


[1] R. Poole, Earthrise: How Man First Saw the Earth (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010).

[2] B. Lazier, “Earthrise; or, The Globalization of the World Picture,” American Historical Review, June 2011, 606.

[3] G. Sutton, The Experience Machine: Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome and Expanded Cinema (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015).

[4] H. Blumenberg, “World Pictures and World Models,” in History, Metaphors, Fables: A Hans Blumenberg Reader, Kroll, Joe Paul, Fuchs, Florian, Bajohr, Hannes, eds. (Ithica: Cornell University Press,2020), 43.

[5] Ibid., 43.

[6] H. Sarkis, Roi Salgueiro Barrio and Gabriel Kozlowski, The World as an Architectural Project (Cambridge: MIT Press), 8.

[7] G-J Janse, A Room to Hold the World. The Oval Room at Teylers Museum (Amsterdam: Teylers Museum, 2011)

[8] S. Mattern, “Mission Control: A History of the Urban Dashboard”, Places Journal, March 2015, <>, accessed 09 June 2022.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] A. Toland, The Learning Machine and the Spaceship in the Garden. AI and the design of planetary ‘nature’ RA. Revista de Arquitectura Núm. 20 (2018), 216–227

[13] Ibid., 225.

[14] R. Buckminster Fuller, The Critical Path (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981), 172.

[15] Ibid., 180.

[16] Ibid., 183.

[17] J. Insley, “Little Landscapes: Agriculture, Dioramas, and the Science Museum,” Icon, 12 (2006): 8.

[18] E. Ruscha, Every Building on the Sunset Strip (Los Angeles: E. Ruscha, 1966).

[19] P. Sloterdijk, Spheres Volume 2: Globes (Pasadena: Semiotext(e), 2014), 85.

[20] Ibid., 88.

[21] B. Lazier, “Earthrise; or, The Globalization of the World Picture,” American Historical Review, June 2011, 614-615.

[22] N. Verhoeff and K. van Es, “Situated Installations for Urban Data Visualization: Interfacing the Archive-City”, in Visualizing the Street: New Practices of Documenting, Navigating and Imagining the City, P. Dibazar and J. Naeff, eds (Amsterdam: Amsterdam UP, 2018).

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Figure 9 – Climate Squatters Community (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2)
Figure 9 – Climate Squatters Community (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2)
The Apparatus of Surveillance  
Algorithmic, Apparatus, Biopower, Climate Migrants, Necropolitical, Public Engagement in the Apparatus
Nora Aldughaither
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Climate Migrants in the Algorithmic Age 

Technological developments have induced the parallel discourse of the bond between ethics, exploitation and data. Advancements in technology have allowed for a contemporary form of resource extraction and appropriation, normalising the extractive practices of data resources from users, often without their knowledge. Through our increased dependence on technology and connected devices, we are faced with the ubiquitous effects of an algorithmic mode of governance operating on predictive processes that limit our options and control our choices. Indeed, data provides progress and development while simultaneously controlling, governing and abandoning. The algorithmic influence creates new concentrations of power in the hands of institutions and corporate entities that own and collect data.[1] 

“It is no longer enough to automate information flows about us; the goal now is to automate us.”[2] 

A planetary-scale disaster is looming, falling unevenly on the unprivileged of the world, displacing them due to its impacts on their territory. This catastrophic event will create large numbers of climate migrants who will simultaneously face the obstacles of our modern world’s algorithmic governance. Climate change is a planetary problem, but its consequences are felt differently around the world, creating a climate injustice, as some areas, especially in the global south, are more vulnerable than others (Figure 1). “We face the ugly reality of planetary scale ecological disaster, one that is falling unevenly on the world’s underprivileged and dispossessed populations.”[3] 

Today’s concern is about those who represent the margins of society, such as refugees and climate migrants, who struggle to function under this new mechanism of algorithmic domination. Since they are perceived as incalculable, it will place discriminatory impacts on their habitability by utilising methods of exclusion that are biased towards the system, creating controlled spaces based on an algorithm marked by segregation and surveillance. They have been exposed to extraction and predation but are later drained and excluded; reducing people who have been exhausted to mere data, as their behaviours, desires and dreams become predictable, thus making them expendable.[4] These governance technologies produce new power instruments that facilitate modes of prediction and calculation, which treat life as an object calculable by computers.[5] 

The research will explore the necropolitical impacts of an algorithmic governance on climate migrants. It will then investigate the notion of the apparatus and how digital technologies extend Michael Foucault’s idea of the apparatus as a tool for capturing and controlling. Since technology has the quality of being planetary, this research will speculate on the role of a participatory digital system in the lives of climate migrants, following the Fun Palace principles, which aim to operate on autonomous and non-extractive policies and the opposition to surveillance and control.  

Figure 1 – Dotdotdot, Planet Calls – Imaging Climate Change (2021), Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon. 

Necropolitical Effects on Climate Migrants 

Novel resource extraction and exploitation practices have emerged with technological acceleration, where data is considered a vital material to harness. Usman Haque asserts that the addiction of collecting more data to make the algorithm work better leaves behind a surplus of the population who are reduced to matter.[6] Data is often extracted from people and consumed by institutions to be utilised and commodified, “reducing all that exists to the category of objects and matter”, according to Achille Mbembe’s notion of Necropolitics.[7] The governance mode is shifting from humans to technology that can dehumanise people, turn them into data-producing tools, and reduce others who are deemed surplus into superfluous bodies, abdicating any responsibility towards them.[8] This is a mode of authority that leaves behind a portion of the population deemed useless, including climate migrants, who are incapable of being exploited under this mode of governance that is dependent on user-generated data. Threatened by climate-induced catastrophes, these climate migrants fled, as their part of the world has become inhospitable, occupying an in-between borderland space incapable of navigating the contemporary world of algorithmic governance. 

Ezekiel Dixon-Román states that algorithms examining our data shape and form our lives.[9] The raw data extracted is analysed by processes that are owned by companies and then relayed back to humans, making them passive receptors with minimal participation. This creates a system that breaks what we perceive as necessary, reduces our perspectives, and transforms humanity into the category of matter and objects, in what Mbembe defines as Brutalisme.[10] Mbembe draws this term from architecture to describe a process of transforming humanity and reducing it into matter and energy. As technology threatens to change people’s perceptions and turn them into artefacts through processes of exploitation, appropriation and Brutalisme, we confront the necropolitical consequence of what the algorithm deems as superfluous in the algorithmic age, which is reducing humans to a state where they are expendable. It is through Brutalisme that Necropolitics is being actualised. 

Haque argues that institutions have a growing tendency to abdicate responsibility for the sake of decisions generated by the algorithm,[11] but this poses a considerable concern when employed in necropolitical systems that decide who lives and who dies. As in the case of self-driving military drones, Rosi Baraidotti echoes the worry, stating that in the Netherlands military academy they are deeply concerned about the code of conduct of drone firing.[12] Humans are reduced to pixels on a screen, where missiles are fired to eliminate a pixel on a grid. What happens when Necropolitics is adopted in the digital world is what Ramon Amaro describes in the process of an algorithmic design; there will always be a contingency, indicating that something or someone will be left behind.[13] That occurs through a process of optimisation or the skilful removal of waste, whether that waste is time, effort or human.[14] The algorithmic process will mostly fail to consider climate migrants who have been displaced due to the calamities of anthropogenic climate change on their territory, thus making it uninhabitable.  

Biopower Tool 

This algorithmic governance is operated by digital devices, a form of apparatus of surveillance and control. Apparatus in this discourse references both Foucault’s definition and Giorgio Agamben’s interpretation – a translation of the French word dispositif, used by Foucault in 1970 to describe “a series of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, … that work as a technology of power and subjectivation”.[15] Agamben further describes apparatus as “anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine … the gestures, behaviours or discourses of living beings”.[16] He does not limit it to instruments whose connection with power is evident but also includes computers and cellular telephones, amongst others. 

Digital devices function as an apparatus by capturing our data and controlling our behaviours, operating as an instrument of power in the hands of the people who own this algorithmic mode of governance. In Foucauldian terms, they are a form of disciplinary tool and a biopolitical technique of “subjectivation” that appeared from the capitalist regime to place a novel model of governmentality on the people. Thus, a new form of capitalism appears, filled with control apparatuses in the hands of the powerful few, as the technologies of this capitalistic culture have the power to become embedded in our body, capturing our behaviours and controlling our actions. “Foucault claims that a dispositif creates its own new rationality and addresses urgent needs.”[17] These needs are apparent, as capitalist institutions aim to collect more data, monetising from people’s lives, with the excuse of providing a better service. 

Public Engagement in the Apparatus 

Data collection and extraction is a massive profit to data collectors that sometimes comes at the users’ expense; the power of algorithmic authority should be used to facilitate justice, autonomy and transparency. The focus is on exploring a participatory system, responding to the extractive technologies and how they progressively influence the lives of vulnerable individuals such as climate migrants. Adopting these practices would allow for co-designing future digital technologies that would otherwise stand in the way of mobility. Participation should be an extensive involvement and contribution – such as in the “Fun Palace” concept by architect Cedric Price, where the users became the designers. A similar approach could be utilised in a participatory system where climate migrants could be more involved in the systems that dictate their future. 

Exploring a Virtual Fun Palace 

The Fun Palace is a social experiment which opposes those forms of social control that inevitably influence the usage of public spaces. Exploring a participatory system that could ensure autonomy and flexibility by analysing the application of the Fun Palace’s principles virtually is required. Its fundamentals could permit autonomy, thus undermining current structures of power and control. Digital platforms could apply the same notion of accessibility, flexibility and autonomy to the user, and oppose control and surveillance. Technologies that underpin current forms of control could allow novel methods of cooperation if their use were to transform.[18] 

Price pioneered the integration of recent technologies to inform his architecture; however, in this case, the Fun Palace can be used to inform technology. Price’s concept aimed to use a bias-free technology that learns solely from its users, not for profit gain but for participation and transparency – creating a participatory architecture with the ability to respond to its users’ needs and desires: “His design for the Fun Palace would acknowledge the inevitability of change, chance and indeterminacy by incorporating uncertainties as integral to a continuously evolving process modelled after self-regulating organic processes and computer codes.”[19] 

Cybernetics and Indeterminacy 

Price enrolled Gordon Pask, an expert cybernetician, whose involvement in the Fun Palace allowed Price to achieve his goals of a new concept that integrated his interest in change and indeterminacy.[20] Pask was interested in underspecified and observer-constructed goals that oppose the goals of technologies of control. The Fun Palace program accommodated change, as it could anticipate unpredictable phenomena that did not rely on a determined program.[21] These methods of granting freedom, participation and sharing scientific knowledge to the users were meant to overrule authoritarian control for the sake of an autonomous one.  

Adaptability and flexibility in responding to users’ needs required cybernetics for participants to communicate with the building (Figure 2). Pask’s conversation theory was the essence of the program, moving a step closer to authentic autonomy in a genuinely collaborative system.[22] Underspecified goals oppose systems where the designer initially programs all parts and behaviours of a design, limiting the system’s functions to the designer’s prediction of deterministic goals. Predetermined systems keep the user under the control of the machine and its preconfigured system, since they can only respond to pre-programmed behaviour. These systems eliminate the slight control users have over their surroundings and necessitate that they instead put their trust in the assumptions of the system’s designers.[23] 

Currently, as Haque states, “Pask’s Conversation Theory seems particularly important because it suggests how, in the growing field of ubiquitous computing, humans, devices and their shared environments might coexist in a mutually constructive relationship”.[24] A model that ensures the collective goals of users are reached through their direct actions and behaviours – and that those goals are desired and approved by the users – is the kind of model that digital technologies should aim for. The program of the Fun Palace was autonomous in that there was no authoritative hierarchy that dictated the program and space usage.  

Transparency, Control and Participation 

Designed as a machine with an interactive and dynamic nature, the Fun Palace implemented novel user participation and control applications. Cybernetician Roy Ascott proposed the “Pillar of Information”, which was an accessible electronic kiosk placed at the entrance that could search for and reveal information. “This system was among the earliest proposals for public access to computers to store and retrieve information from a vast database.”[25] As implemented in the Fun Palace, “a cybernetic approach does not reject or invalidate the use of data; instead, it suggests that a different role for data needs to be perceived in the process of intervening in disadvantages and creating social change”.[26] 

Price’s concern related to the effect architecture had on its users. He was convinced that it should be more than a shelter containing users’ activities, being also a supporter of them, with the users’ emancipation and empowerment as its true objectives. The control is thus shifted from the architects to the users, allowing the users to be responsible for constructing the world around them. Digital technologies should not divert their objective of ensuring convenience and empowering the people for the sake of data extraction for profit, surveillance and control.  

Climate Migrants in a Participatory System  

A platform cooperative for climate migrants that aims to ensure the interest of all, and to increase transparency and democracy, would be a departure from the extractive and authoritative system. A participatory and open digital design would allow the freedom of climate migrants from the restraints of their preconceived, biased, incorrect digital profiles created by algorithms. This system would contribute to the rise of autonomy, privacy and freedom for climate migrants. It would be a cooperative, transparent and user-centred approach for seeking common objectives that minimises concerns about profiling, collection of personal data and surveillance. 

Climate Squatters 

The implementation of a virtual participatory platform for climate migrants was explored in the design project “Climate Squatters” by The Bartlett AD Research Cluster 1, 2021-22, Team 2. Climate migrants from the village of Happisburgh would utilise a participatory digital platform that enables them to travel intelligently as modern squatters, allowing them to be active agents in their relocation, habitation and migration process. A non-extractivist and autonomous communal unity without fixed habitation, the project forms around the idea of granting climate migrants autonomy, flexibility and empowerment in their continuous relocation process triggered by the existential threat of coastal erosion. Climate Squatters’ platform aims to address the issues of decreased ownership and control by reconceptualising the user’s roles, acting as an active contributor in the process.  

Happisburgh is a village on the eastern coast of the United Kingdom. It lies in one of the most dangerous areas of coastal erosion in the UK, where it is estimated that Happisburgh will lose around one hundred metres of its coastal land during the next twenty years (Figure 5). The erosion rate has significantly increased due to rising sea levels and climate change. The current governmental coastal management plan is No Active Intervention, which means no investment will be made in defending against flooding or erosion. This plan signifies that there is no sustainable option for coastal defences, due to current coastal processes, sea level rise and national policy, which fails to respond to the people’s needs and makes them feel disregarded.

Figure 5 – Happisburgh Coastal Erosion (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).

Using Climate Squatters’ platform would empower the climate migrants in the various aspects of the migration process. The platform allows autonomy by granting the users the option to participate in the process and vote on where they would like to relocate from a list of suitable land options. Placing a heavy value on the community, the platform starts by decoding the village’s typology, material and identity using machine learning. Happisburgh is “decommissioned” by disassembling what is salvageable from the houses into voxelised masses. The constant migration of the climate squatters requires a unique construction that optimises space and material and allows for easy assembly and disassembly. The recoding of the future habitat of climate migrants operates by utilising wave function collapse to generate their new typologies. The live platform will also sustain the community by analysing relevant incentives and taking advantage of them, giving the users a live view of their performance and future expectations to maintain or enhance their position. 

Figure 6 – Decoding with Heatmaps and Machine Learning (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).
Figure 7 – Beyond Voxels (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2)
Figure 7 – Beyond Voxels (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).
Figure 8 – Platform House Generation and Allocation (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).

The platform aims to instil trust in the user and grant them autonomy and flexibility by operating as a non-extractive tool, without predetermined goals, that will empower the user in their journey and ensure their secure habitation in a world of uncertainties. It also aims to learn from the users’ behaviours and to operate on a method of buildable knowledge, continuously evolving based on users’ objectives. By redistributing the roles between the users and the platform, the model ensures that the platform will function as an enabler and supporter of the user. Following Price’s model, the employment of uncertainty and indeterminacy would help climate migrants navigate a journey filled with unpredictable events, thus advancing the dialogue between users and the digital platform. Climate Squatters’ platform seeks to enhance autonomy, flexibility and freedom, and to create a community of climate squatters that represent a response to an ever-changing world due to the consequences of climate change. 

Figure 9 – Climate Squatters Community (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2)
Figure 9 – Climate Squatters Community (The Bartlett AD RC 1, 2021-22, Project: Climate Squatters, Team 2).

Digital technologies could challenge traditional models that place a dichotomy between designer and user. Instead, a method can be realised where the user can take a primary role within the system in which they participate, contrasting the prevailing approach of predefined and predetermined systems that restrict the users. “It is about designing tools that people themselves may use to construct – in the broadest sense of the word – their environments and, as a result, build their own sense of agency.”[27] The control is then transferred to the users, where the users are responsible for constructing the world around them. 

Utilising the Fun Palace principles in digital technologies will benefit climate migrants by delivering them a neutral and virtual space to navigate the world without the intrusion of biased algorithms. Non-extractive technologies will prove helpful for climate migrants as they aim to be mobile once climate change has rendered their current home unfit for habitation. Giving the users control of their data will create a transparent digital platform to counter the current extractive and control apparatus. 

A new platform cooperative for climate migrants should be considered to protect their future with transparency, empowerment and equality. Centred around bias elimination and avoiding the harvesting of personal data, this new system would prove more beneficial than capitalism’s current apparatus. This method could enable new modes of freedom, security and emancipation for climate migrants; a system that reduces data extraction, exploitation and bias, promoting a safe, flexible and autonomous approach. A participatory method could potentially alter the biased and surveillance-ridden systems that dominate the digital world. 


[1] A. Mbembe, Theory in Crisis Seminar “Notes on Brutalism” (online), 2020 (accessed 22 November 2021). Available from:

[2] S. Zuboff, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (London: Profile Books, 2019), 8. 

[3] L. Likavčan, Introduction to Comparative Planetology (Moscow: Strelka Press; 2019), 11. 

[4] J. Confavreux, “Long Read | Africa: Strength in reserve for Earth” (online), New Frame, 2020 (accessed 26 November 2021). Available from:

[5] A. Mbembe, Theory in Crisis Seminar “Notes on Brutalism” (online), 2020 (accessed 22 November 2021). Available from:

[6] U. Haque, “Big Bang Data: Who Controls Our Data?” (online), Somerset House, 2016 (accessed 25 November 2021). Available from:

[7] S. Bangstad, T.T. Nilsen, A. Eliseeva, “Thoughts on the planetary: An interview with Achille Mbembe” (online) New Frame. 2019 (accessed 26 November 2021). Available from:

[8] A. Mbembe, Necropolitics (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019), 97. 

[9] E. Dixon-Román, “Algo-Ritmo: More-Than-Human Performative Acts and the Racializing Assemblages of Algorithmic Architectures”, Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, 2016, 16 (5), 482-490. DOI:

[10] A. Mbembe, Theory in Crisis Seminar “Notes on Brutalism” (online), 2020 (accessed 22 November 2021). Available from:

[11] U. Haque, “Big Bang Data: Who Controls Our Data?” (online), Somerset House, 2016 (accessed 25 November 2021). Available from:

[12] R. Braidotti, “Posthuman Knowledge” (online), Harvard GSD, 2019 (accessed 24 November 2021). Available from:

[13] R. Amaro “Data Then and Now” (online), University of Washington, 2021 (accessed 29 November 2021). Available from:

[14] Ibid. 

[15] P. Preciado, Pornotopia (Zone Books, 2014). 

[16] G. Agamben, “What Is an Apparatus?” and Other Essays (Stanford University Press, 2009). 

[17] S. Lee, “Architecture in the Age of Apparatus-Centric Culture” (online) TU Delft, 2014 (accessed 2 February 2022). Available from:

[18] M. Lawrence, “Control under surveillance capitalism: from Bentham’s panopticon to Zuckerberg’s ‘Like’” (online), Political Economy Research Centre, 2018 (accessed 29 January 2022). Available from:

[19] S. Mathews, “The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture” (online), Journal of Architectural Education, 2006, 59 (3), (accessed 8 February 2022), 39-48, 40. 

[20] Ibid, 40. 

[21] Ibid, 44. 

[22] U. Haque, “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask”, Architectural Design, 2007, 77 (4), 54-61, 58. Available from:

[23] Ibid, 60. 

[24] Ibid, 55. 

[25] S. Mathews, “The Fun Palace as Virtual Architecture” (online), Journal of Architectural Education, 2006, 59 (3), (accessed 8 February 2022), 39-48, 45. 

[26] G. Bell, M. Gould, B. Martin, A. McLennan, E. O’Brien, “Do more data equal more truth? Toward a cybernetic approach to data,” Australian Journal of Social Issues, 2021, 56 (2), 213-222, 219. 

[27] U. Haque, “The Architectural Relevance of Gordon Pask”, Architectural Design, 2007, 77 (4), 54-61. Available from:

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