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Topographical Typologies and the Porcelain Future

Back in March, the renewed College of Art and Architecture at the University of Idaho presented a lecture series with a number of well-known architects as guest speakers. Of those architects, Ali Rahim seemed to inspire my students the most.

Students and faculty alike found Rahim's work to be the perfect symbol of progress and of technological possibility. Rahim's gift to architecture, I think, is his compartmentalization of structure. With the aid of the computer he creates forms that can be broken down into smaller components and manufactured offsite. The architects role, under the guidance of the machine, becomes one more akin to industrial designer. This often affords spectacular forms but what results in Rahim's work, I feel, is form that gives too much to the computer-aided process and manufacturing and not to the scale and human dimensions of good architectural space.

Rahim, at one point in the lecture, claimed that this methodological approach removes his work from existing architectural typologies but that is pure bunk. If anything Rahim is well entrenched in the language of computer-generated aesthetics. The work also references not only space-race high modernism and even the virtual architecture of the early 90s (see the earlier work of Marcos Novak for instance) but it also plays with the current visual dialogue of technological devices.

Rahim's use of white comes from the long history of shorthand for the technology-driven form that is often uber-sterile and, well, cold and inhuman. George Lucas' first sci-fi filmTHX 1138 uses white in this way but perhaps the best example is the iPod. The stainless, highly polished silver and porcelain-like white of the iPod speak of cleanliness by referencing, believe it or not, bathrooms. The tub, tiles, and fixtures - everything comes across as clean and somewhat sterile. Rahim takes this to exaggeration. The undulating forms of his spaces also read as bathroom fixtures that have grown to such a scale they have consumed the building.

What is more interesting perhaps is that the blob, arguably the preeminent form both referencing and derived from the technological apparatus, is now an obstacle and human memory and scale are sacrificed. The phenomenological aspects of being in space often overrule any system to derive form. But Rahim's work puts up a good fight. The vacuum molded forms create a bloblike topography that makes the spaces hard to personalize and even decorate. The topography also forces the space to be not about the persons within but about the building itself. It is techno-scenography. It is a technological topographical typology.
gregory turner-rahman