This is the 6398970699265370th image generated by the Babel Image Archive. Instead of letters and punctuation marks (as in the case of the Library of Babel), the Image Archives permute the 4096 colors, and rather than a page of 40 lines each with 80 characters, the images are pixel grids with 416 rows and 640 columns. This conveys the possibility of the Archive to hold every image that ever has been or could be created within these dimensional and chromatic constraints. Strangely, this includes every work of art ever created or yet to be created, it evokes past events as well as future ones, and, strangest of all, it includes images of every person who ever lived, including your own life, from birth to funeral. When unmoored, the Babel Image Archive contains 4096266240 (~10961755) unique images.
Library of Babel
Photo :The Babel Image Archive, Universal Slideshow
It is a bit selfish and naïve to consider that our probes will encounter worlds that are identical to ours, but we also considered, for some time, that we are the center of the universe. Probably we never truly got passed that phase.
Worlds found inside the Goldilocks zone (the circumstellar habitable zone – the zone that holds the potential for intelligent life) are subjected to an almost infinite set of combinatoric sequences that output the very same number of results. This generates a fluid set of attributes that each world (and its inhabitants) may, or may not, inherit. In the event of first contact, our golden records and the perception of their data, our heritage, are also subjected to this particular set of rules that govern the newly discovered spacefaring civilization. Thus, if the sun is too far, maybe their sense of sight is not that developed, if at all, rendering our images imperceivable. Or, if the atmospheric composition is not similar to ours, then Beethoven’s String Quartet will instead sound as either a ‘chipmunk’ version (thin atmosphere – sound propagates faster) or a ‘lo-fi’ one (dense atmosphere – sound propagates slower). It’s fair to assume that other such elements that we take for granted here on earth are, on other worlds, subjected to contorting forces that, by our conventions, falsify their familiarity.
Elements that stray from the familiar tend to become agents of anomaly, perturbing factors that corrupt the reference framework in which they are, or better said were, part of. Thus, considering the almost infinite number of reference frames (each world has its own), I suspect that the answer to the question of representation of space as a universal experience must lie in the existence and implications of an element that is infinitely familiar.
Hinting at this, Valerio Olgiati shared a moment of reflection at the 2018 Venice Biennale. To these dispossessed columns the Corderie offered the framework of a foreign world, one in which seemingly infinite galleries describe events of hastily, uninterrupted transition. Evoking the moment of first contact, the distortion of data by new constants, one might be puzzled by the uncanny apparition of this ghostly cluster of columns. Strange in their totality yet eerily familiar in their self-enclosed roundness, they offer a spatial riddle in which, similar to Bramante’s tree trunk corner column in the courtyard of Sant’Ambrogio, the apparent anomaly emphasizes the presence of all of the other columns.
The enigma lies in the cluster’s spatial center, its singularity. Passing towards it, one is amazed by the tightening effect around the white columns since, like objects with great mass, they also bend space. The center holds the most mass as the accretion of columns around it defines a clear order. This raises the suspicion that a massive phantom column resides in this center, a great attractor, a column of infinite density that ultimately becomes an element of infinite familiarity; as in the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences Hegel writes that all bodies seek a center outside themselves.
Therefore, the question of a universal experience of space is forever sealed within this totalizing phenomenon, giving architecture a sense of inevitability as it reveals its subservience to gravity (or more precise to the effects of mass). Yet, in our world, architecture developed the tools needed to bypass gravity’s infinite familiarity enabling us to gain access to a higher degree of presence. This is done through the virtual representations of the architectural project.
Much like the way maps allow us to gain simultaneous presence on all parts of the world at once, orthogonal projections make use of a dimensional ‘step back’, giving us concurrent access to all of the building’s rooms or levels at once. A simultaneous experience of space. More so, through symbols and diagrams, they allow us to make sense of hidden rules that govern our world, even gravity itself (diagram of forces). An analytical experience of space Being virtual slices of space itself, they also offer us the ability to experience space not only from within it, but also from outside it. This means that they enable us to conjure spaces that not only don not exist anymore, such as artefacts of old cultures, but even spaces that did not exist at all, such as the early intuitive instances of a new project. An archival experience of space.
As Valerio Olgiati speaks of the distortions caused by the cluster of columns as an oscillating condition between an emotional and intellectual reading of space, I suspect that he is in fact referencing the infinite familiarity of gravity seen from within this higher degree of presence. Thus, one can argue that the architectural project, through the virtues of its representations, holds a sort of universal validity.
Yet, by taunting our obsession with knowledge, it also reveals a very human condition in which, similar to the pious librarians that pursue divine enlightenment inside Jorge Luis Borges’ Library of Babel, we are disruptive in our eagerness to learn and vain in our desire to show what we learned, even if our conversational partner is in a galaxy far, far away.
Andrei Theodor Ionita is an architect currently working in Switzerland. He graduated from UAUIM Bucharest in 2015 where he was an invited teaching assistant at the studio led by Dan Dinoiu.
He is a co-founder of the prodigious architectural group Alt.Corp.