Neil Spiller is Dean, School of Architecture, Design & Construction at the University of Greenwich, Professor of Architecture and Digital Theory, Founding Director of the Advanced Virtual and Technological Architecture Research Group (AVATAR) and a practising architect. He was previously Vice Dean, the Graduate Director of Design, at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London. He is author of the book ‘Digital Dreams- Architecture and the New Alchemic Technologies’(1998). He is co-editor of AD ‘Architects in Cyberspace’ (1995), guest-editor of AD ‘Integrating Architecture’ (1996), AD’ Architects in Cyberspace II’ (1998) and AD ‘Young Blood’ (2001) and formally editor of ‘Building Design Interactive’ magazine. He is co-editor with Sir Peter Cook of ’The Power of Contemporary Architecture (1999) and the ‘Paradox of Contemporary Architecture’ (2001). His monograph ‘Maverick Deviations’ was published by Wiley in 2000 and his book ‘Lost Architecture’ about architectural projects of the last two decades of the twentieth Century was published by Wiley in 2001. He is also one of the ten international critics featured in the Phaidon book 10x10. He is also the Editor of ‘Cyberreader’ for Phaidon published in March 2002. Also he guest-edited a further edition of AD entitled ‘Reflexive Architecture’ published in May 2002. His book ‘Visionary Architecture- Blueprints of the Modern Imagination’ was published by Thames and Hudson in November 2006 and his ‘Digital Architecture NOW’ a compendium of contemporary digital architectural practice was published by Thames and Hudson in November 2008. His “Spiller’s Bits” articles appeared in every AD Magazine from January 2008 to January 2010. He was the 2002 John and Magda McHale Research Fellow at the State University of New York at Buffalo. His work has been exhibited around the world. Recently he co-edited ‘Protocell Architecture’ AD, Wiley March 2011 and is currently working on a book “Convulsive Beauty and Surrealist Architecture, Past, Present and Future” for Thames and Hudson. His articles and design work have been published in every major design and architecture magazine worldwide.
Reflexive Urbanism in the Forest of Signs
My work spans both theoretical ventures and real architectural practice. It is shaped by my interest in the work of architect Cedric Price and cyberneticist Gordon Pask and explores the friction between media and reality. It interrogates the oxymoron inherent in the notion of ‘virtual reality’ and how this divergent term informs the built environment. Also I find the re-evaluation of the spatial protocols of Surrealism are absolutely crucial to my explorations of the city of the future.
When I first started writing, the big buzz was full body immersion in cyberspace and Mondo2000. Since then, a lot of us have realized that our intelligence is embodied. Our intelligence is made out of virtual and real things, and the synthesis of the virtual and the real is where my explorations lie. Certainly, the idea of living in a pod with my bodily functions wired up to the sink is not a good thing. For me, architecture is embodied in a series of reflexive objects or narratives. I often say that architecture can exist from the microcosmic and the nanoscopic to the cosmographic. I’m interested in the blurred boundary between the virtual and actual as a space to speculate.
I spend a lot of time talking and thinking about Surrealism as a way of finding methods to expand aspirations and knowledge of the digital world. Specifically, the Paranoiac-critical method, as Salvador Dalí’s psycho-sexual approach, is how I re-interpret the world. People have described my drawings as a kind of myth-making, and certainly my work over the last ten years has become very mythic. So I try to link to the Surrealist body of work, which I think was brave for its time, and use it to question some of the assumptions we (architects) have about our role in the contemporary world. Soon we’ll be able to start to make spaces that aren’t dictated by the tyranny of the planner or the aesthetic tyranny of the architect- what happens then?
What has disappointed me is the way the architecture profession has taken to virtuality by one particular route, which has now been exploited to the point of ubiquity. There is a lot more about the virtual world and how it rubs up against architecture that needs exploring. I am interested in what I call architecture of the second aesthetic, which is essentially algorithmic. I think there is a place for algorithmic architecture, but to explore it properly we might have to leave the computer behind and evoke the biotechnical.