The ‘Unknown Fields Division’ of Diploma 6 is a nomadic design studio that takes annual treks to the to explore peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These landscapes – iconic, ignored, excavated, irradiated and pristine – are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives.
This year as the world of new-agers, mystics and psychonauts pilgrimage south, Unknown Fields journeyed with them to Central America to ponder the rise and fall of cities and civilisations, both ancient and modern, and to investigate the cultural and technological infrastructures that underpin them. These fallen empires leave infrastructural traces, evidence of their greatest dreams and fears. In this time of crisis, as the future again becomes a project and the Mayan long-count calendar starts anew, we have imagined what comes next.
As members of our Department of Irrational Logistics, Harry worked in the shadows of the megacity imagining the trail of a 3D-printed VW, from the raw material ports to the markets of inner-city Mexico, Stefan proposed an archipelago of season-free trade zones in landscape loopholes on the US-Mexican border, and Evan, as a consultant for Levis, suggested condensing the global supply chain of 501s into a single factory – the biggest building in human history. Tobias of our Finance and Speculations Division programmed an autonomous infrastructure of mobile server farms that drift along fibre optic cables and search for trading sites while Jack has rallied investors to fund a gold-plated residential tower that smuggles a social housing agenda into a skyline of wealth.
In our Laboratory for Instruments and Imagination, Artemis engineered a superstitious city of seismic instruments while Selim built a floating observatory to calibrate the edges of space. With our Simulated Botanies Group, Chapman subverted the cartel cocaine economy with a bioengineered coca seed, and Ling archived the DNA of an endangered Guatemalan rainforest in the digital landscapes of massive multiplayer games loaded on almost all the planet's machines.
Motion Designer Oliviu Lugojan-Ghenciu, Science Fiction Author Tim Maughan, Comic Illustrator Kristian Donaldson, Filmmaker Ilona Gaynor, Mexico Fixer Diego Trujillo, Photographer Carlos Alvarez Montero, Animator Jonathan Gales, Hacker Eleanor Saitta, the high-altitude research team at the Mexico Large Millimetre Telescope and the accommodating border guards at the Mexico, Guatemala and Belize border crossings.
Every major economic collapse since World War Two has been caused by property bubbles or urban development. We are also in the midst of the worst housing shortage in 70 years. Therefore, the stabilization of the housing market is an inherently architectural problem.
The Real Estates project is a powerful financial algorithm designed to produce high-quality, low-rental, social housing in the City of London. It takes the ideology that drove us to collapse, and uses it to combat property usury. This is speculation not denied, but subverted.
The last five years has been characterised by a bottomless well of frustration and discontent. People are angry about austerity, inflation, unemployment, debt and obscene social inequality. But it’s more than just anger, people are unhappy with a whole social order, one without options or opportunities. Today, the architect is the agent of a model that is morally, as well as actually, bankrupt.
The Real Estates project takes two forms: research and design, or critique and proposition. A Fulcrum white paper brings together a range of architects, academics, theorists and urbanists to analyze both how architecture embodies fictional values of debt, and to examine how to resolve debt through property and architecture ownership. It firmly rejects the neoliberal condition: there is always an alternative. It takes the ideology that drove us to collapse and uses it to become an agent in the remediation of debt conditions. This is speculation not denied, but subverted.