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August 16, 2005

The Crystalpunk Workshop for Soft Architecture


Evolved from Nothingness

September - December 2005, Utrecht, generated by socialfiction.org, hosted by impakt.nl: Hidden in the former utility area of a vacant 13 floor office in Utrecht, the Crystalpunk Workshop for Soft Architecture will evolve an empty room from nothingness into unknown states of technological enhancement. Unlike the alphabet that always knows where it is going, this workshop does not.

A Room of a Crystalpunk's Own: The Headmap manifesto, the Coleridgian masterpiece of independent software development for spaces and places, observed: "Every room has an accessible history, every place has emotional attachments you can open and save". New technologies can associate places with layers of free and editable content from which the past can be re-enacted, like a murder at the scene of the crime is re-enacted, to re-experience and stir vanished memories.

Little minds living in software can eat any piece of data, extract meaning from it and email it to you when the right criteria has been met. Our Crystalpunk Manifesto famously drew connections between disconnected fields of knowledge and explained to the world our intention to program minds and matter simultaneously. This workshop marshals these manifestos of inspiration into real practises with scars of happy absurdi(r)ty engraved on their souls.


Crystal: The inorganic strategies of the crystalpunk are both chemically and metaphorically informed by the lessons learned from the transformation from moleculline mayhem into crystalline order. Crystal growth is adaptive, particle-noise disrupts tessellation but the crystal works its way around it softly. Roomology as crystallography? The analogy with crystals finding form permeates every aspect of this workshop: the room is filled with latent possibility, the workshop seeds these powers laying dormant, what remains after 4 months is outward form pushed and moulded and beaten into shape by events and persons working inside the room with the material produced by their own every moves inside the room.

Punk: Despite appearances this workshop is not technology-driven but propelled forward by social interaction and a healthy disrespect for specialists of all kinds. Punk is not a style or a genre but a principle of self-education: taking up a technology (an electric guitar, a sensor, a programming language) ignoring all good practise, refusing to draw a line between student and teacher. Punks don't spend years practising: they immediately start a band with the intention to change the world.

Workshop: Knowledge is generated collectively, collectives generate their own special flavours of knowledge. This workshop creates a social situation by providing resources to those persons unknown curious enough to come round and actively encourage those people whose past work we like. Different interests, backgrounds, talents, skills will mix, seek alliances and run amok; rapidly the room enhanced starts to generate data, ad-hoc collaborations find challenging ways for this data to be interpreted. Within the workshop countless micro-workshops will focus on specific topics, introducing high-level ideas and technologies to the uninitiated or to keep everybody up to date on the workshop's output, helping each other to make sense of the magic properties of technology. This workshop is a sustained stream of consciousness you can wash your mind/sharpen your capabilities/empower your potential with.

Soft + Architecture: Buildings learn, rooms have memories, design does not need its designers, the language of time (piecemeal extensions, reinventions, rephrasings, accidents, entropy) rewrites their script. A room, by implication, refuses to be belittled into the function of a radio, it wants to be a broadcaster too. Continuous sending information to the world, a room can have a virtual identity and under this guise live a secret life. For instance: a crystalpunk moves his leg for comfort, a crystalpunk shakes her head in disagreement, sensors pick up on it, triggering a wide range of reactions known and unknown, local and faraway. To paraphrase Ezra Pound: in soft architecture each gesture creates content that has form as water poured into a vase has form. Content is recyclable, routed multiple times, finally ending up back where it initiated: causing a sound closing a door illuminating a cryxal on-screen. A crystalpunk walks through the room and, like in a crappy disco, the floor lights up underneath her feet, too bad he is not feeling very much like a dancing queen tonight. Soft Architecture is a home grown architectonic freak show: what the Elephant Man is to the Athletic Body, the Crystalpunk Room will be to the Smart House.

Now that we have found data, what are we going to do with it?!

Technologists have for decades been playing with the idea of the supposedly smart home: the entire house adaptive and responsive and proactive, providing conveniences like that resurfacing dystopian killer-app: the refrigerator that makes sure the milk never runs out. No matter how device-centric and profit-inspired these efforts are, and as such divided by a royal mile from the super-serendipity of Crystalpunk roomology, this workshop is moving in the same problem-space of obvious possibilities and unresolved puzzles of making sense from the surplus of automated data production. Everybody can generate a source of water by opening the tap, few are given to come up with conceptually stimulating ways to process the output.

On Being Soft

Knowledge, so it is said, is the agitator of economic growth, a good education the only insurance against unemployment. Self-education in this respect is a scrapyard challenge: without any experience you can master the use of a jet engine, but when announcing yourself at the job centre it will be back to washing plates or carrying big things if you know what I mean. But self-education is part not of the world of schools and jobs and financial solvency and mortgage opportunities, but an involuntary by-product of the personal creative urge of the kind that start with one innocent question: "what if....?".

What if I make a lot of noise?

From the small but liberating gesture of doing so, its miracle usually diminishing quickly, you may be inspired to find a way forward in a process easily labelled crystalline. Learning to control the machine that makes the noise proposes new questions that need further understanding to be answered. In a different context Sherry Turkle suggested that self-education is rooted in the curiosity in finding out if, by playing around with it, you can make things work for the sake of it. This way to deal with problems, she says, is at odds with the goal oriented alphabetic way of making things as taught at schools. This 'soft mastery' over problems relies in a very real sense on the fact that answers will come to you. A 'lazy' and very unprofessional approach, as you can never explain what you will do beforehand. The Crystalpunk Workshop for Soft Architecture is really entirely very splendidly softly unprofessional indeed.

On Participating

The Crystalpunk Workshop of Soft Architecture workshop lives in 2 distinct spheres: in the corner of a gigantic building in a tiny Dutch city and online where as much realtime roomness is broadcasted as possible. Participation is local, you are invited to bring your laptop and start making noise, to join a workshop or to come listen to a presentation. To those faraway we must mention that, apart from this workshop, there are very few reasons for visiting Utrecht and the more we admire you for doing so. From the deepest Africa you are encouraged to turn yourself into a soft architectonic bootlegger: to render on-line data into representations formal and fluid, in monotones or RGB, spatially exact or rolling like a wave. Or perhaps you are more philosophically inclined and prone to profound reflections, or perhaps breaking things only to rebuild them is the tea you drink: the social infrastructure will be in place to work and think along wherever you are.

We do not care if participants don't know anything useful, and likewise we will welcome you with as much enthusiasm if you do know something useful. We are not like an alphabet but we are neither a cheap bar: we do ask from our participants the desire to unwind their own what-if soft scenarios. If you only want free internet access Beelzebub will bite your head off and create content that has form as a main artery needing urgent medial attention has form.

For a workshop that wants to shake the language and experience of roomness, 4 months is little time, but like with every education, it is never finished A fact learned can reveal itself useful only years after. Come as you are: you can be crystalpunk too.

crystalpunk |at| socialfiction |dot| org

Posted by jo at August 16, 2005 09:43 AM