Above Ground Level: 18 km, 79 km, 408 km, 35 786 km

Vancouver (2019)                  

Sara Stevens
Fionn Byrne
Scott Sørli

See episodes here: 
18 km
79 km
408 km
35 786 km

Air Space is an increasingly commodified and militarized landscape that is heavily occupied by machines. Vertical territories are layered with complex infrastructures and ecologies which challenge environmental rights, privacy law, and spatial politics. Architecture has often interfaced with infrastructure, but rarely with the systems of technological supremacy which enable it. Above Ground Level seeks to decode supersurface natures and their real operation in order to engage with them critically.

This investigation began by creating a timeline of the commodification of air since the advent of kites used in military operations. A chronological analysis of strata in vertical space in conjunction with emerging airborne technologies revealed that this trajectory is heavily influenced by military operations. Prior to its wide dissemination, airborne technology is typically perfected and mass-produced by a state power during war times. This mass-production generally leads to reforms in property law which affect the ownership and operation of vertical space.

Additionally, this research presents a thorough review of architectural schemes designed for supersurface space; revealing that with few exceptions, schemes produced by Architects for air territories are utopian and ignore power dynamics and spatial politics present in these spaces. Notable exceptions include Superstudio’s Interplanetary Architecture, and Lebbeus Woods’ High Houses. 

Above Ground Level uses Paul Virilio’s analysis of dromological space as a conceptual framework to understand spatial politics in vertical space, and how private citizens might reclaim this territory in order to build agency within it. Paul Virilio refers to dromological space as space governed by the acceleration of technology—specifically tied to machinic advancements sustained by the military industrial complex. 

As Bruno Latour notes, our political systems are changing with the ‘new climactic regime.’ The spatial ramifications inherent in this shift represent new opportunities for the field of Architecture to explore and build agency within systems of power and technosupremacy.
This research offers four speculative episodes; tales told through architectural objects at 18 km, 79 km, 408 km, and 35 786 km above ground level. Using Virilio’s theoretical constructs, historical research, and studies of policy which affect each airborne landscape, these episodes question systems of power hidden above the clouds.

Canadian Architect Student Award of Excellence Nomination 
Abraham Rogatnick Book Prize Recipient
Faculty Project Selection, Graduate Thesis Show

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