New Aesthetic: The Digital / Physical Threshold

What would it look like if our digital world began to cross over into our physical world? What form would it take and what would it do? How would we interact with it? Would we even notice?

Pixel Pour 2.0
Artist: Kelly Goeller / Kneeon?
Photo: Benjamin Norman

Last week I wrote about social media and architecture as a way to begin to articulate what is happening all around us, without us even being aware, and how architects and designers are now faced with quite possibly one of the most daunting and intriguing design problems we have seen. Actually, I might not have gone that far last week, but I’m saying it now. But with the reality of an ever-increasing virtual presence in our physical world, what is actually physical about it?

The New Aesthetic asks these very same questions. By harnessing the power of open-source sharing of ideas, the New Aesthetic seeks to understand and discuss the threshold between the digital and physical worlds, what it looks like, and what it’s made of. Or, as the man responsible for coining the term New Aesthetic James Bridle explains, it’s about “giving the real world the grain of the virtual.” The imagery of that quote is quite striking. It has textural quality and physical significance, and seems to open a window into a new realm of material exploration. So, where does this exploration begin? A good bet would be to start at the threshold between the two worlds, but do we even know where that is? The thin line between is becoming increasingly pixelated.

Film Photo Film
by R. H. Holley

Cologne Cathedral
Gerhard Richter

Think about it. Right now, you’re sitting at the most likely threshold, eyes fixed on a screen displaying thoughts generated from a source that may or may not be human. These words are being transmitted through machines, translated from our language into theirs, and then back into ours again. Do you ever wonder what this looks like? What it’s material quality is?

In some very primitive way, it seems as though our machines are trying to tell us something, or as Metalab contributor Matthew Battles explains, “we’re learning to “wave at machines”—and that perhaps in their glitchy, buzzy, algorithmic ways, they’re beginning to wave back in earnest.”

Pixels or Farms?

Farms or Pixels?

Whenever we touch something physical on our “threshold” devices and screens, its translated into something digital. What’s rather intriguing about this is that through a finite number of these physical things, an infinite number of digital things are created. So in an effort to start imagining the ways in which architecture can start engaging with us at the social media or digital scale, why don’t we start thinking about materials this way?

Imagine if every time we came into contact with a certain physical material, it triggered digital interactions with our devices and ourselves. Or, when we come within digital range of something architectural, the physical materials are triggered to react to and interact with us. This is not an entirely new question, but our technologies now supersede our ability to achieve these ideas.  So does this new aesthetic hold any architectural possibilities?  Whether or not it does, It is up to us to begin exploring physically digital material strategies that compete with our intangibly physical virtual surrounding that have swayed our attention away from engaging with the world around us.  It’s our turn to control the threshold between these worlds.

It’s our job to answer in turn.

R. H. Holley


One response to “New Aesthetic: The Digital / Physical Threshold

  1. Pingback: Strange Materials: Collaborating with Technology | Material Strategies·

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