UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The pool and the web : visuality and interface theory in the architecture of the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art Cunningham, Esme


Nearly two decades ago, Rosalind Krauss famously stated that the “industrialized museum” engendered a “technologized subject”—someone whose experience of the museum is intense, fragmented and spatial. Using this dictum as a starting point, this project looks at how the omnipresence of technology has affected the architecture of contemporary art museums, using the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, designed by the architectural firm of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, as the focal case study. By investigating the critical framework the studio uses to inform their practice, and by contextualizing that practice through the lens of visuality and the scholarship of Alexander Galloway on interface theory, this thesis argues that the architecture of the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art acts a valve which regulates the viewer’s experience of the space by navigating between two competing models: the exterior, in which the envelope of the building acts as an interface between the world and the institution, and the interior, in which the mediatheque room at the ICA then become an internal interface to this exterior. Furthermore, this allows visitors to reconsider what can be classified as a “digital” space by showing that the virtual must be accessed through the real. While the architecture does attempt to navigate between these ideological roles, it becomes clear that the building struggles with its potential slide into a totalizing system. The high degree of controlled choreography needed to make the ICA's programme ideologically coherent further enmeshes ancillary services into the visitor experience, and the building then begins to be less of a critical lens and more of an entertainment complex. Ultimately, the goals of the building do not succeed because of the architecture’s permanence in the face of the speed of technological change; the building is embedded in the specific socio-technological dialogue of its time and as a result, cannot anticipate what changes the rapid development cycle of technology will bring.

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