ACADEMIC MASTER THESIS WORK SUPERVISED BY
IAN A.S. NG
ANTI SURVEILLANCE AND THE FABRICATION OF ANONYMITY
Just when we thought that alternative exchanges – credit, information, the bit coin – had replaced gold, we are at the threshold of finding that, possibly, the next supreme currency is anonymity. The robbing and erosion of personal privacy have taken a treacherous path in our social experience. Typological and fictitious models form our legacy. Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon and George Orwell’s 1984 are both (un)inhabitable worlds of dystopic propositions where privacy is zero and surveillance – in all its imagined forms – a reality. Investigative journalism is, no less, an operation of this reality where princesses are hounded to death, and where our bodily nakedness might be viralled on cyberspace against our wish. Where can we go where we can be naked and unashamed? Post-Snowden, where can we be where we can know and be not known? How much are we willing to pay for this freedom/place? What might the architectural space of this free world look like?
Speculating on a phantasmagorical urban future, this design thesis imagines a conservatory world of private residential villas and sanctuary chalets with an internalized and shared system of movement, complemented with recreational space, integrated and forming a close-loop living environment. It cloaks itself with a filtering screen which protects as much as it modulates communication with the outer world. In locating this proposition – Sub-Rosa Wonderland – at an ex-mining lake in Malaysia, it resuscitates conversations on urban escapism in a locale which, not so long ago, witnessed the pursuit of the same vision. The Mines Wonderland theme park was a place of entertainment, fantasy and make-believe combining beautiful landscape, recreation and retreat. Now defunct, the spirit of escapism is given a new definition. Wonderland is not so much about mere entertainment anymore. It is a place where privacy , anonymity and the facility to roam free-from-surveillance is the priced possession.
Sub-rosa Wonderland takes a critical stance on disseminating the potentiality of uprising surveillance society had on our living environment when it challenges the very basic definition of sheltering and protection in architecture. While the project depicts a possible fantasy, it also communicates satirical value on our current social issue. What is freedom afterall? And what is the cost of it? Or are we just giving up more freedom to reclaim the freedom that we once had?
THREATS OF SURVEILLANCE
The practice of surveillance imposes detrimental affect of our living environment and questions fundamental question: What is the meaning of “escape” or “retreat” if no place is really out of sight from the gazing eye of drones? The once secluded resorts and even privacy-promised units above a tower no longer stand their positions. Also, the extended surveillance into cyberspace means that privacy intrusions had transcended over mere material world. As one of the prime purpose of architecture is to shelter the occupants, what if the walls is no longer a barrier of external infringement? How do we fabricate anonymity in this becomingly transparent world?
METHODS OF ANTI - SURVEILLANCE
The implementation of defense against surveillance opens to two possibilities: Fortification - utilizing the concepts of zoning, layering and journey by erecting physical or symbolic barriers to choreograph a hierarchical structure within a space in impeding potential intruders; Obfuscation - bridging the ideas of confusing, camouflaging and deceiving through spatial complexity to deter accurate interpretation from the outsiders, allowing occupants to secretly manouevre around and hide among the repetitive and profileless architecture.
CHALLENGES OF ANTI - SURVEILLANCE
The threats arises from surveillance society are subjected to new means of architecture defensive measures. However, a few challenges present which are crucial when rethinking anti-surveillance community. First, the surveillance world easily created daunting images that suggest maximum enclosure, which on the other hand could resulted in a hostile environment that is worse. Second, an easy solution of anti-surveillance design means detaching from the environment and making the living space as a protected whole, in which such polarity means the occupants have to give up the ownership of their own space to the surrounding, and is easily exploitable due to lack of control.
SPECULATING AN ANTI - SURVEILLANCE ENCLAVE
The project will take form by speculating an urban enclave at the lake bank of the Mines North Lake and extending out over the water body like a promontary. The site once stood the highly celebrated Mines Wonderland theme park in its prime days in the noughties – a place of entertainment and fantasy make-believe that combines beautiful landscape, recreation and retreat together. The eventual ran down of it in 2011 has now given new opportunity to rethink the idea of urban escapism through creating an anti-surveillance community, a true form of “wonderland” for the future. The new enclave imagined a conservatory world in the amalgamation of private residential villas and sanctuary chalets with internalized transport means and recreational space, forming a close-loop living environment integrating with dynamic landscape around for natural seclusion & tranquility.
TOWARDS A NEW MISSION
Set in the imagined future of everything surveyed: by the strangers walking around with hand-held camera; by the flying drones which no one knows who owns them; and by the internet of things so pervasive yet subtle people never know when are they being scrutinized, a phantasmagorical urban future is set to refabricate the lost value of anonymity amidst the dystopia. It is a new anti-surveillance wonderland that rises from the fall of a previous theme-park wonderland. While the idea of escapism is re-live, the definition had changed. The “Wonderland” now has a new mission.
BARRIER - BARRIER
NOT ALL WALLS
Living in a mass surveillance world is not all like a big prison, the only similar part being constantly watched, or least the fear of it. For one, people are not incarcerated here. Unlike the walls of a prison, the extended means of surveillance render a total enclosure obsolete, taking away the needs of complete fortified structure in exchange for a more effective hybrid barrier: solid wall against unwanted close-up passersby; porous fence against uncompromised beautiful landscape; and blurring foliage against flying eyes in open sky. To barricade, is no more necessary to wall. Here, battle is not won by force, but through understanding the threat.
WELCOME TO THE
Seen as an ambitious layer of green landscape protruding over the lake surface, the true “wonder” is what held in between - a hidden world for the occupants of the Wonderland. However, underneath the beautiful dream is a rather harsh truth. For its scarcity, privacy becomes a currency in the face of capitalist. In the rise of demanding privacy, it becomes a luxury that not everyone can afford - an opportunity of exploitation for the market: The rich will buy villas, while the poor has to sign for work with the Wonderland’s chalets for a rebate. It is afterall a monetization of privacy, and a self-sustaining supply and demand cycle.
LIVING IN THE
Despite the exorbitant cost, the villa, though it is so called, is nothing like the spacious house that the world once had. In a compact 3-bedrooms unit lines with radiation absorbent material hanging in the midair, it never feels as luxurious as it was: it feels rather congested thanks to the maze-like arrangement with lattices and plants coming in between as obstacles for surveillance. Views are disrupted, for the occupants and for the drones; and sky is partially covered by trees against the eyes from above. Also, forget about the luxurious cars now as the only means to commute within the Wonderland is by Faraday Gondola or Internet-Escape Paddle Boat that is untrackable.
“Play” - a word that is often irrelevant to dystopic environment, is somewhat allowable here at the multilevel recreational park along the perimeter. Facing the lake and encased within a cage-like wall, this restricted, vertical continuous space is the manifestation of “open wide field” for the future. Tagging on the “interactive” nature of such space, it was however primarily used as a barrier and a transition zone between external environment and internal world rather than pure fun. It is the threshold between one and the others, a place where people meets, and the line where one appears or disappears.
Once a while during summer, tree leaves are the lushest and foliage form a continuous later of canopy that completely cloaked the lake surface below, covering it from drones’ intrusion and surveillance’s detection. It is the time when everyone came out and greeted each other: some wearing masks and make ups to cover themselves, like a masquerade; some just do not care the extra effort as it is the one day that they can truly live being themselves. It is the “Festival of Anonymity” where freedom to roam free is restored, temporarily. The scarcity of privacy is now governed by nature.