Liam Young, 09 05 11

From the Data Archaeology Lab in the Architectural Association’s Unknown Fields Division 09/10 Arctic Circle studio run by TTT’s Liam Young and Kate Davies comes Data Fossils by Tobias Jewson. Tobias has evolved his data fossils experiments from the intimate and personal attachments that calcify on our own bones into a vast digital geology of an internet archive cast into layers of volcanic glass across Iceland’s deserts. In the digital era our information no longer takes the form of the physical, but that of a electronic file stored in ‘the cloud’. Our collective history is quickly effaced from this fragile and ephemeral domain, a computer crashes, formats are quickly obsolete, a hard drive is lost and all is gone. With our attachment to physical objects and mementos becoming increasingly superseded by our relationship to information, what will we leave for future generations?

Our collective history can be deposited in columns and strata of earth – where once archivists trawled the library stacks, data geologists now roam the Icelandic landscape. Like climate records trapped in ice cores data archiving can also become a geological process. In southern Iceland the division found a ravaged landscape of eroding lava deserts- a desolate crust hiding beneath it extraordinary geothermal resources that now support huge investments in an emerging national industry of data storage and server farms. Data Geologies rehabilitate this damaged landscape by co opting these investments in technology and reimaging the Icelandic typology of data archives.

A suite of new software applications that subvert existing digital prototyping machines to encode the ephemera of the digital world into ever evolving architectural landscapes. Hoards of machines traverse the lava deserts, scraping loose sand from the surface, and under immense heat transforming it into elaborate glass like geometries, within which our recent internet activities are encased. Programs are developed to encode data inputs into structural building elements.

Simulation software is developed for the realtime growth of data geology from live twitter streams.

Informational topographies grow based and cluster on keyword inputs. The drugs keyword feed is especially active from late evening to early morning.

Topsoil blown by the harsh arctic winds soon gathers in the lee side of these immense structures, the grounded geological layer sprouting grass and moss. Over time, habitats will grow in the glimmering hollows as fields of data slowly reverse Icelandic soil erosion. Local Islanders read the growth of this landscape from afar, whilst archaeologists look close ,using advanced MRI scanners, searching for insights into our past. Information enthusiasts scan google earth sattelite images, deciphering geographies of data from across the globe.

People pilgrimage to this area known to hold the last data relating to flurry of internet activity from the day Michael Jackson died. It becomes an informational cathedral, a spatial obituary grown from a real time data feed.

And while tourists might flock to see history in the making archaeologists will read the dull fragments of frozen silica as records of our digital pasts.


Liam Young, 24 11 10

From the department of intangible technologies in the Architectural Association’s Unknown Fields Division 09/10 studio run by Liam Young and Kate Davies comes Scatterbrain Iceland by Jack Self. This is the first in a series of posts documenting the ongoing work of the division.

Scatterbrain Iceland is an architectural novella that proposes, through a narrative format, the construction of the Internet as an artefact, as a supercomputer server-farm. This is an excerpt:

“A crest of purple reflection wavered along the length of Songling’s bodysuit as her arm described the perfect parabola required to deliver the grenade to its target. As her hand attained the apogee of its circuit her front foot sunk into the spongy bundles of fibre-optics, which splayed under her shifting weight. Beneath her boots the crystal canopy quivered and flexed, and beneath that the halos of solid-state drives chimed like miniature bells in an informatic cathedral. The grenade now twisted along its arc, moving silently through the hibernal gloom across the fantastic billow of blue and red LEDs, across the floating sea of rhythmically pulsing information.

Fifty yards away the ventilation shutters of a server tower chattered and clicked, broadcasting thermal semaphore to electric storm clouds. A square hole in the curving basalt façade marked the liminal space leading to an open service hatch. As the grenade cleared the threshold of this short tunnel two yellow-suited figures appeared, Guardians of the Cloud. They each held a cordless neon tube powered by the immense electromagnetic field of the thousands of servers that filled the tower. The Guardian closest to the doorway also held a weapon, the barrel of which was already rising as he came into view. The vectors of these bodies – the grenade and the Guardian – shared an interstice both in time and space. Bouncing off the Guardian’s shoulder, the grenade would continue a new trajectory past the lift head, down the central column of the tower. It would pass eighty storeys of concentric server cores and detonate – immediately the ventilation shutters would snap closed, disrupting the chimney-effect that regulated the Web’s temperature. The immense heat generated by the computers would build up under the stack. Very soon the whole tower would combust, quickly setting fire to its neighbours.

But Songling would not live to see this. The fulcrum of the two bodies was precisely the same moment that the Guardian’s trigger-finger achieved critical pressure. The force of the bullet striking Songling’s shoulder caused her to turn as she fell, revealing a spinning panorama of towers, a landscape of computational infrastructure that extended out beyond the geothermal reactors to the limits of the valley. This was the New Internet, a machine that did much more than simply recollect the virtual lives of humanity. It inter-compared, analysed, synthesised, and generated abstractions. It constructed elaborate logical underpinnings and formulated its own languages to test the structure and consistency of our world. It had become an organism.

It produced idiosyncratically inconsistent and unpredictable opinions, like its creators. But what only Songling seemed to comprehend was that the Internet would not accept this grossly parasitic relationship with its parents for much longer.

For obvious reasons, the Web could not be allowed to survive.”


Liam Young, 21 05 09

During the course of the 07/08 academic year a new school of architecture was formed in London. It was not celebrated in the university guides, it was not visible as a player in the end of year exhibition circuit but it was there lurking below the surface.  In this year Liam Young from Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today taught a design studio in 4 separate universities, choosing each studio so that together they covered every year of architectural education from first year to final year.

Although wildly unqualified for such an administrative position Liam had in effect become the head or dean of a school, albeit a new school parasitically embedded in an array of host institutions.  The school has been titled ‘The Menagerie’.  Pictured is its own end of year catalogue made from the stitched together unit pages printed from the host universities own publications. It is planned to celebrate the end of the year with a graduation roller disco.

Perhaps this is a new model for the institution, one that is exploded into fragments, camouflaged within the fabric of the city, co ordinated through blogs, txt messages and the 140 character haikus of twitter.