Enter the Thick Space


»For too long, space has only been defined by its limits.
It is time that we also define space by its content.«

Thick Space is a joint project by Warsaw-based artist collective CENTRALA and Monnik, a studio for futures and fiction based in Amsterdam. Their research aims to part from the common architectural understanding of spaces which concentrates only on their shapes, boundaries, and defined lines. Instead, the focus is on the content of spaces: »We seek to explore the ways in which space is not an abstract and empty vacuum (a notion still dominant in the architectural imagination), but that it is teeming with life, dynamics, signals and today to a large extend the result of human action.«

Munari's flying paper – Photo Ugo Mulas © Ugo Mulas Heirs.
Homing carrier pigeon – from »Birds and the War,« 1919
Lucie Bigelow Rosen playing theremin – unknown source

Space is central to architectural imaginary. This mysterious, transparent, and ungraspable essence only becomes visible when framed by oblique, hard, and tangible surfaces. Although space slips through our fingers and eludes our vision, it does indeed have content. It moves, trembles, and saturates. Its electro-magnetic frequencies vibrate with information. Seeds, spores, and pollen travel on airstreams, seeking fertile destinations. Birds navigate by the stars or are guided by the earth’s magnetic field. We breathe the air to stay alive. Our desires are steered by pheromones. While gravity keeps us and everything around us grounded. Space – and first and foremost its content – is where we live. Our habitat is the thin sliver of gasses that is held close to the earth’s surface by gravity. This is the room in which humans live. A thick space, made by life itself, billions of years ago by capturing carbon from the atmosphere and excreting oxygen.

 

People flood the wifi zones, Cuba 2015 – by David Osit
Pollen – by Scott.zona (cc)
Schlieren photograph of a cough – Gary S. Settles

Today man-kind has become a significant contributor in unwittingly designing and planning thick space. We have industrialized the air and urbanized the electromagnetic spectrum. The artificial lights of progress have obscured the stars, a crust of concrete and asphalt heat up our cities, and the particles spewed out of chimneys, pipes, and tubes accumulate in our lungs. Today cities are producing thick space detrimental to life at large. The frontier of making better environments lies within the imagination of space itself. In the quest to improve the human condition we can no longer see ourselves as separate from the world out there. Culture and nature are not two neatly separate realms; they are deeply entangled. The idea of thick space embodies this worldview. The fate of mankind is not separate from the space he inhabits. With this project, we seek to open up the imagination and inspire the design of cities that literally produce, enrich, and reanimate the space around us. Cities could make thick space that reveals the glory of the Milky Way and hosts a symbiotic community of life in the city. Besides goods, culture, and commerce, cities could become biosphere producing entities. We need to break open the Cartesian mold of our thinking, and become equal members in what Bruno Latour calls, the »parliament of things.«