Time-capsule Transcripts An Experimental Taxonomy of Forms as a Vehicle for a Design Operation
Research stage: Collective research developed within the Ph.D. career
The perception of a contemporary era dominated by the looming threat of one or more catastrophes brings out the awareness of the need to preserve our existence traces, away from their probable disappearance: hence the need to question ourselves on how to address this issue in architectural terms.
Our research aims thus to investigate the concept of the "time-capsule" in its most disparate forms, highlighting how both in its principles of protection, conservation, and communication and in its spatial configurations, there are relationships of continuity and contiguity only apparently random.
Let us start with the proper notion of time-capsule: "a container used to store for posterity a selection of objects thought to be representative of life at a particular time" (A. Dehim's The Century Safe, Centennial Expo Philadelphia, 1876). Although this concept is purely modern, the idea of preserving and transmitting the physical traces of our temporal and spiritual passage is a recurring aspect in the history of humanity and, therefore, of architecture.
The purpose of establishing a genealogy of the formal relationships between different objects - such as an Etruscan tomb or a bunker from World War II - is to demonstrate how the diverse functional needs end up coinciding in the recurring use of some primary forms, sometimes even as a result of their assemblage. The aim is, therefore, to offer a formal repertoire as a tool for the design of a contemporary time-capsule that is in itself, in its architectural configuration, a sort of formal compendium or, more specifically, a "time-capsule of the time-capsules of history."
retracing a taxonomy
The taxonomy of time capsules traces an inhomogeneous and disconnected set of devices and architectures that differ from each other in dimensional and functional terms but which share the definition of a container object intended to protect its content and to transmit it to different space-time dimensions. Within this set of objects, six categories are recognizable: tomb, archive, bunker, time capsule proper, spaceship, and nuclear waste deposit. (fig.1)
The reduction of the devices analyzed into pure forms, or of their assemblage, therefore seems to suggest that the shape of the object considered a "time-capsule" must necessarily present itself as a recognizable element, even when this consists of a monolithic or a simple parallelepiped. Especially in some examples, distant in space and time, that share the same formal configuration, this defines a transversal and universal need for the symbolic recognition of the container that conveys the message. (fig.2-3)
The aim of transmitting the architectural message to a distant and uncertain future forces us to think about the container by referring to the taxonomy we have produced. If each "time-capsule" is often in itself an assembly that derives from other archetypal forms of further spatial configurations of different time capsules, our transcripts repeat this operation, declining the symbolic spatial repertoire of the taxonomy according to the different critical and paradoxical conditions of the places in which they are located.
The time-capsules offer a selection of specific or disparate objects of a specific civilization or illustrious person. We, as architects, have the idea of preserving architectural projects and theories that have been related, directly or indirectly, to crises and disasters to transmit their memory. The spatial organization of the archive is declined, within our sequence of transcripts, in an exploratory process through different spatial and performative qualities.
Having to hypothesize an object that can preserve its contents indefinitely and choose a significant material, each time-capsule is materially designed in concrete. Given the ability of concrete to assume the imprinted form, this lends itself to becoming not only the container of the archive but the material of the archive itself. Therefore, each archived element is not separated from the container but is an integral part of it, through its reproduction, partial or total, in real or reduced scale, in negative or positive. In this way, we set ourselves the goal of choosing a durable, purely architectural medium, but we also intend to sever the traditional separation between container and content, meaning and signifier. We are also aware of the fragility of materials defined as lasting: the idea of their degradation and slow and inexorable destruction, especially of the outer part of our time capsules, is an integral part of that inexorable process that involves all things. Therefore, the time capsules are also designed to turn into ruins for the archeology of the future.
Our time-capsule transcripts are located in symbolic and extremely different contexts. The choice of each of them derives from its peculiar condition of urban fragility or environmental disaster. In this way, we decline and explore the potentiality of our taxonomy within Venice (Death in Venice), Yucca Mountain (Sacred Toxicity), Mirny mine (Diamonds are a dead's best friend), China-Kazakhstan border (Hyporborea's gate), and Cujubim (Savage Hades). (figg. 4-7)