Indeed, given the temporary nature of the structures involved, the theme of time was inherent in the competition brief. But time also played a role of one sort or another in the purpose and operation of the proposed structures. At Archis’s request, four of the competition organizers appraised the 470 entries on their handling of time. Each employed a different perspective: ‘techniques of time’, ‘the passage of time’, ‘the materialization of time’ and ‘time-between’. On the following pages you gan read their general findings as well as specific comments on each of the selected works.
1. The competition ‘Design of Ephemeral Structures in the City of Athens’ was organized by the Hellenic Cultural Heritage SA in the context of the Cultural Olympiad 2001-2004. There were two sections: a competition with the prospect of realization for professional architects (P) and an ideas competition for students (S). Each section was subdivided into six categories: : 1. Events platform 2. Open air theatre 3. Creative activities spaces 4. Semi-open exhibition spaces 5. City–Leisure activities generators 6. Landmarks of Olympic activities. Category 5 attracted by far the most entries. In the professional section prizes were awarded in five categories (category 3 being the exception) and there were 16 honourable mentions. One student plan was premiated (category 5) and there were seven honourable mentions. See www.cultural-olympiad.gr/ephemeralcompetition/
Category 1: techniques of time
Ephemeral structures: eternal moments or monumental eternities?
As ‘Tempo’, a recent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York on the theme of time made clear, non-Western theories of time, as well as phenomenological, empirical, political and fictional interpretations of time, now seem equally valid in an era which takes a renewed interest in the mysteries of time. Reflecting advances in science and theory as well as a shift in our own way of experiencing life, time is now perceived as being fluid, subjective and non-linear, and theories of relativity and malleability challenge our already fragmented perceptions of reality.
In architecture too, the tools and methodologies we employ in addressing time have come a long way since S. Giedion’s treatise on duration, durability and change (Space, Time and Architecture, Harvard 1941).
Perhaps this is truly the dawn of time-sensitive and adjustable architecture, of a new world capable of offering infinite reconfigurations of time and space and of creating eternal moments rather than monumental eternities. In this context, the element of time is inherent in ephemeral structures not only because of their limited duration but also because of the process of assembly and disassembly and the impromptu or planned events they host. An ephemeral, foundation-less architecture seems better equipped to address our recurring obsession with time, since it may be designed so as to incorporate a daily cycle, to imitate an intelligent living organism’s functions, to open and close, to induce interaction and serendipity. If we understand time as a malleable substance, then such evanescent structures promise to become our ‘time machines’, in other words devices that manipulate time and our perception of it. In spatial investigations concerned with temporality, performance and a periodic and nomadic presence, architecture has the potential to become an instrument of time much more complex than a clock, a machine or a computer, fulfilling our desire to capture or produce time through the manipulation of spatial tools and geometries. The analytical diagrams architects are so fond of using to dissect the structure and concept of architecture, become exemplars of temporal folding and unfolding. A variety of techniques seem to be available for such time manipulation strategies, as demonstrated by the wide array of approaches apparent in the pool of competition entries.
Dissolving box (time instrument)
At a theoretical and formal level, this project’s relationship with time is perhaps closest to that of Edward Muybridge’s freeze-frame photography. The design uses the assembling and disassembling, the opening and closing of the box form to express the sequence from insignificant individual components to perfect platonic cube (and vice versa); but also in order to interact with the users as an inhabitable and operable device. The structure does not actually measure time as a sundial might, time here is implicit; likewise, the perfection of the platonic shape alludes to the precision of a Swiss watch.
Ubiqui (cyclical time)
In this project the focus is on the sequence of daily activities: getting up, living, interacting, eating, going to bed. Regularity meets serendipity.
Ninety pillars (sacred time)
An ephemeral sanctuary which uses conventional tools of space-making to produce a reversal of the eternal–ephemeral duality. Whereas the sacred (as personal and introspective experience) is usually linked to permanence, here it is evoked by the ephemeral. Architecture’s capacity to expand time is thus unexpectedly coupled to the ephemeral.
Stone-light (immaterial time)
Another ephemeral sanctuary, in which light is conceived as a tangible material on a par with the structural elements. Adjustability and mysticism are an unexpected combination for a space that is simultaneously ephemeral and publicly inhabitable. The space is capable of inducing all kinds of feelings and experiences, such as disorientation, contemplation and euphoria, in the midst of urban banality.
Fungal attack (effects of time)
The parasitical growth of fungi on a body becomes a metaphor for the destructive effects of time and age in the real world. Look at the urban environment of the installation with this in mind and you see the ravages of time all around you. In the design itself these effects are rendered in a sequence of ‘eroded’ walls. A bit literal perhaps, but the visitor can use movable components of the walls as table or chair: life and renewal in the midst of the process of decay.
In-scribe (time capsule)
An intricate vessel appears in cloned form all over the city, forming a network of spatial and temporal relationships between these ‘stations’, the users and the Olympic events. When visitors insert their admission card, the ‘vehicle’ issues a personalized spatial and temporal map detailing their itinerary and interests. This recorded scenario makes it possible to call up individual and collective memories, just as in a time capsule.
Memo.org (black hole in time)
A structure resembling Swiss cheese brings to mind the spaces and devices of the Ganzfeld ESP experiments, which invoke an altered state in the subject by means of perceptual deprivation, i.e. by eliminating all clues as to depth, time, space et cetera. Such environments are tools for the expansion of time in a world that suffers from saturation and over-stimulation.
Wandering through the city
During the hot summer days of 2004, thousands of people will crowd the streets of Athens, wandering about in intervals between the Olympic Games contests and events. It is during these moments that the ephemeral structures in the streets and on the squares of the city will come into their own.
Without any pressure of time, they provide an opportunity to kill some time. That element of time will probably be experienced quite differently by a tourist as opposed to a citizen of Athens. Tourists are exploring a terra incognita, whereas citizens already know their way about. For the former, the ephemeral structures in the city are just another sight among many in the city they are visiting. For the latter, these structures will in due time lose their initial element of surprise and become as familiar as all the other well-known parts of the city.
The tourists, armed with photo and video cameras, record everything in their vicinity. Monuments, buildings, open spaces and people become objects of a voyeuristic process. Many of the entries encourage this process and stimulate observation. Crevices, windows and passageways are turned into observation posts. Instead of facilitating interaction between the visitors and these structures, many proposals take the easy way out: spying on other people. Thus, the wanderer becomes a detective and develops forms of reaction which are in tune with the big city. Perhaps actual contact is in any case impossible. Perhaps observation is the only alternative.
Admission Free: Inhabiting Public Buildings (closing time)
Opening specific public buildings to random visitors changes their role as conveyors of the mechanisms of authority. The users of these buildings are no longer solely members of parliament, officials, secretaries and clerks, but whoever chooses to cross their threshold. Time suddenly ceases to matter, for these buildings will be accessible day and night, changing the overall perception of time in the city.
Masks, cloaks and spotlights: Everyday Athens as generator of urban drama (wandering)
The ambition here is to amplify the everyday drama of Athenian urban life using minimal, ephemeral devices such as lights, colour, moisture and motion. Armed with suitcases containing lights, pigments, misting equipment and other tools, local artists deploy these effects throughout the city’s public spaces. The spectacle is the act of deployment itself. The alternation temporarily shifts the perception of space and time while parasite becomes one with the host. The structures themselves start to wander and the wandering artists interact with them on an equal footing.
Stay cool (take a break)
Athens in August is often stifling. The main problem for the wanderer is the climate. This project seeks to cool specific public spaces using the elements of wind, fog, ice and water. Wind is produced by a wall of air blowers. Fog is generated by a low-hanging artificial cloud which creates a local climate through its ability to partially obstruct the sun’s rays and produce evaporative cooling. Ice takes the form of huge blocks of ice slowly melting on a public square. The resulting water transforms the plaza into a giant pool.
Pilgrimage to Airscreening (public barometer)
During the Olympic Games a screen registers the number of visitors on a public square via sensitive cables which cause airbags to inflate. Having reached their maximum volume the airbags deflate again, providing those present with the sensual experience of a blast of fresh air. The screen also shows the presence of the moving city, the problems, the open space, the backdrop of monuments, historic and modern architecture, streets, squares and everyday life, in short, naked reality. In this way the passage of time is registered numerically. Time ceases to be an abstraction.
Modular transparent pathway – urban jewellery (exalted banality) P5005
Transparent tunnels made of coloured polycarbonate elements are erected here and there throughout the city. They derive their meaning from their surroundings and their ability to generate interest. So this is no monumental sculpture, but a thin three-dimensional layer that transforms the banal, everyday image of the city. The effect is stronger for Athenians than for tourists but as playful elements they are attractive to the latter group as well.
The itinerant garden: a quiet adventure (sous le pavé…)
A container planted with a garden appears at unexpected places in the city, raising the question of the distinction between natural and artificial. Wherever the container turns up it influences the city and vice versa. The wanderer who encounters this natural microsystem is invited to participate in an interactive game in which the prize seems to be the re-evaluation of the natural and artificial in the urban environment.
Stable, unstable, virtual
Time is lived through space. Architecture’s material presence reflects duration or ephemerality, expansion or contraction of space and time. The competition entries are by definition of short duration. However, the degree of materiality and the experience of time they provoke differ from one project to the next.
Accentuating the size and unique presence of the object via materiality lends the structures greater stability in time. The emphasis is on duration, on the landmark aspect, as in ‘Pixel’.
When projects make themselves as small as possible, so as to become a second skin, the ephemeral character is stressed. The projects with ‘street furniture’ (‘Bar Mobile’, ‘Olympic Divan’) fall into the this category.
Finally, the immaterial character of some entries (‘Interactive Labyrinth’ and ‘Virtual Labyrinth’), or the reduction of physical dimensions to match those of the required equipment, bring out an intense material instability, where presence cannot be expressed in time.
Nevertheless, the proposed projects have a specific character: they are parasites within the urban sprawl, interventions. As such they create an ‘otherness’ of or in the public domain. Where the proposed spaces are enclosed and well defined, the ‘otherness’ becomes a physical presence that is accompanied by the expansion of time. But where scenes are enacted in non-enclosed spaces of reduced materiality, ‘otherness’ is like an aura that surrounds space with invisible walls, in contrast to the time-accelerated urban surroundings and stressful city life. Spaces of privacy ‘inserted’ into a public domain lead, despite their ephemeral character, to an expansion of and deceleration of time.
Pixel (manipulated perception)
When the visitor stands in this pavilion with perforated walls, the surroundings are perceived as a pixel landscape. The strong presence of this pavilion, together with the absence of any sense of scale and the manipulation of perception, have the effect of prolonging time.
Bar Mobile (spinning out time)
A bar unit combined with movable seating and various vending machines. The sitting area can become a meeting point or lunch spot or generate a moment of leisure. The various elements can rearranged into a long ‘zig-zag’ shape. This ‘private’ space encloses the human body and decelerates time.
Olympic Divan (material is place)
A rubber ‘urban carpet’ is designed so that people can relax in the shade of trees. It can assume the form of a chair or bench but can also be stretched out flat, in each case giving a different meaning to the place it occupies. The project offers tranquillity in the midst of the urban bustle.
Interactive labyrinth (material/immaterial)
The labyrinth consists of a visible, physical section and an invisible section that is accessible via information technology. Visitors are invited to solve the labyrinth. As they walk through it, they discover the thresholds and barriers in the labyrinth. The goal – to make the invisible visible – can only be achieved by working together.
Virtual labyrinth (immaterial)
The proposal consists of a platform made out of translucent photovoltaic panels covering an area of 361 m². Light projectors are installed below the platform. During the day, the panels accumulate solar energy which they release at night in the form of light. These constantly changing ‘light walls’ form a screen for video projections of cultural events from around the world. Communication via Internet creates simultaneity and space is not so much defined as extended.
Spinning out or eliminating time
Time spent waiting between activities and tasks, commuting from home to work, queuing for the bus (or to enter the Olympic stadium) can take up a substantial part of our lives. Can it be more than dead time?
Some of the entries treated ‘time-between’ either as a strategic zone where new activities can unfold and new spaces be developed or as a superfluity to be eliminated. In the first case, the time-between is extended, filled with surprises, gaining identity and form. In the latter, time-between is diminished; there is no waiting time, distant activities are brought together.
Slowtech (Public time)
Slowtech is a reinterpretation of the stoa, the roofed colonnade used for communication, study and lectures in Ancient Greece. The stoa forces the body to adopt different rhythms of movement; to stop for a chat instead of rushing from home to work and vice versa. The different forms that this generic idea can assume entail different forms of delay and pause.
Trip or Trap? (doubled time)
Scattered around the city are a number of info-boxes designed to help visitors find their way to their destination. Instead of reading a map and getting to know the city via a two-dimensional representation, the visitor watches a 10 minute video which shows the route to the next info box in real time. The visitor then sets off in real space, experiencing in a physical way what he has just seen and learned at the info box.
Codicil (substantial time)
On the central reservation of a six-lane highway stands an exhibition pavilion that is accessed via existing pedestrian crossings. Codicil is located on a spot intended for waiting (to cross the road). That waiting space becomes the location of a cultural element that functions through and independently of the existing infrastructure. Passersby can pop in for a visit and so change their waiting time from neutral (lost) time into substantial time.
Trace-pad (time traces)
A platform creates an artificial landscape in the city where the traces of human presence are recorded and transformed into light and sound. Sensors in the floor react to human movement by creating luminous lines and sounds of nature. The project underlines the importance of ‘intermediate time’, the time between activities, by recording it and revealing the traces of the everyday movements that are normally taken for granted. The distinction between free time and occupied time blurs.
Wanna be wall (shared time)
The starting point for Wanna be wall is the idea of the city as a political institution where people play a decisive role and where public outdoor spaces host cultural and political diversity. The proposal embodies a dynamic intervention, a game with transparency and opacity. A square is divided in two by a wall, torn apart as it were. Part of the wall is built out of chairs. The more people who remove chairs to sit on, the more transparent the wall becomes. Another part of the wall consists of… glass. The more time people spend on the square, the more transparent this section becomes, too. When everybody ‘takes part’, the square’s unity is restored.
No time for waiting (compressed time)
Two basic human conditions, hunger and the need to relax are the issues being addressed by this project which aims to provide an instant experience connecting past and present. Six people working as a team erect a field kitchen with seating, serve traditional Greek food and recite stories from Greek mythology. A catering service for cultural consumers only a phone call away. No need to waste time wondering what traditional food really looks like or where to find it.