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EYEBEAM atelier with the Center for New Design at Parsons School of Design
Open Source Architecture: Building Eyebeam Symposium

Saturday, December 1, 2001 at the New School's Tishman Auditorium

Opening Remarks: Craig Newick

We began the process of uncovering the future architecture of Eyebeam more than a year ago with a series of conversations about the relative benefits and risks of finding an architect through the process of an architectural competition. Along the way, the goals of the process became broader and more fluid. The on-line forum that was run last July and August supported the discussion and critique of Eyebeam's mission as a new institution who's charge (interest) is to support the production and dissemination of new media art. The results of this process have been publicly displayed on two occasions at the end of what is known as Phase II, the first schematic design phase of the competition and at the end of Phase III, the complete picture of the work of the competition.

There have been a series of cards, brochures posters and catalogs produced that along with the work of the competition and the results of the forum will form the basis for a more complete compendium of the process.

This public symposium is the other prong of this process of discovery. Eyebeam's role is as a supporter and enabler of the discourse.

We find ourselves now in an ever changing landscape of thought, technology, politics, economics, power, safety, and hegemony. This process began in a moment of heroic celebration of the endless possibilities of new media and a substantive explosion of the capabilities of technology the ramifications of which we can only begin to speculate about. The landscape of our world is vastly changed now as we emerge from this first phase of development. Whatever one's area of interest, a new commonality has arisen, especially for the people of New York City, but around the country and the world as well. The borderless community of conversants exemplified by the web has found for the first time a facsimile representation in the spatial world. We have let down our guard a bit, and treated our presence in real space with a bit of the sanctity we had reserved for the perceived safety of our homes and web connections. There is a new environment to inhabit where a fusion of ideas and respect for people finds an authentic expression.

An "architecture" for Eyebeam is not just the organization of its building in three dimensional space. An architecture of Eyebeam encompasses the internal logic of the various departments; moving image, education, new media, in an overlapping matt of possibilities. These various activities are arrayed underneath the over-arching umbrella of the organization, but it will be their physical proximity inside a single building that promises to create the most surprising results.

Eyebeam's architecture of course also includes its electronic infrastructure and virtual presence. This is the "presence" that is always in flux, constantly evolving and moving on. If one tries to take a moment and fix on the "idea" of Eyebeam, at this time, it is quite hard to do-even for the staffers and the people who know it well. This is an institution that is riding a wave, surfing at the edge of an amplitude of activity that changes subtly each time its "noise" level rises to an appreciable levels. We use different vehicles along the way to "check the levels" of this activity, to maintain its balance and get reaction from our constituency and our peers.

Making a building's architecture under these circumstances can be quite challenging. Among the work of the thirteen original competitors is a body of work and ideas that represent quite a broad swath of the range of possibilities for ways that the building could be constituted.

The urgency here is to keep the process alive and fed. The moments of discovery are anticipated, but not pre-determined. This is perhaps the most difficult aspect of the project. Architecture by its very scale, complexity and cost is not very conducive to change. The idea of "open source architecture" as it is defined in the language (lexicon) of software development is quite difficult to apply (transfer) to the act of making buildings. There are numerous ideas here for building-in flexibility of systems and technology. There are ideas about how to make architecture "appear" fluid and viscous as if it could flow into the interstices of any situation; there are ideas for moveable floors and walls that can be rearranged when the institution changes. There are ideas of slow and fast degenerating technologies that are un-pluggable and mutable. But I think we have not yet hit upon an ideal structure for the anticipated growth that will be the Eyebeam signature. Remembering that growth does not always mean a change in size, but can also mean a change in capacity, speed, reach and complexity. This is what is ultimately the promise of Eyebeam.

This Symposium brings together a group of people who have been in and around the subject of new media for many years. They are artists, architects, curators, playwrights, teachers, theoreticians, and industrial designers. This broad collection of perspectives is indicative of the reason for new media's success. It is inclusive rather than exclusionary. It touches everyone in different ways based on the manner of interaction one engages in and individual experience and interest is directly applicable to other disciplines and modes of thinking. It simply is the most fluid and cohesive embodiment of the idea of a world community that has yet been expressed. This is the promise of Eyebeam - to bring together people from different areas of expertise and experience and put them together in physical proximity to allow for the rewards of cross-over interaction to occur. Some of this kind of thing can take place in web-based virtual environments, but the role of architecture remains in its ability to provide an intensification of interaction based on the ordering of proximity - of sharing space in a specific way. The building and its electronic personality will become a mecca for the
un-tethered wanderings of our imagination.