Architectural laboratories of surveillance and unreality


The Panoptic Insanitarium

This thesis explores the modern issues of transparency, surveillance and synthetic reality in the context of Lower Downtown, Denver. Since the expansion of surveillance networks for the 2008 Democratic National Convention, Denver is considered to be one of the most heavily surveiled cities in America. The drive of the project is characterized by the desire: to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the site and the city caught between objectivity and ethereality; to take advantage of the opportunity embedded in a culture obsessed with the media image and synthetic realities; to understand how urbanism and culture respond to advancements in technology; and to understand how architecture can be used as a laboratory for culture and urbanism. The Panoptic Insanitarium uses technology to bridge the material and immaterial, object and ether.

This project was driven by several personal fascinations and carried out through a process of research, writing, experimentation, discussion, drawing, film making, and model making. After a year studying abroad in Copenhagen and traveling extensively around Europe, I developed an insatiable fascination for cities and urbanism. I chose Denver for the site of the project, because I think the city is full of potential and it is one of my top choices of places to live and work. During early research for the project, which was still undefined, I began to read more and more about surveillance, Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon Prison, binaries as discussed by Foucault in Discipline and Punish, our culture’s fascination of the media image and Rem Koolhaas’ Delirious New York. Through this research and concurrent writing and brainstorming, my project gained definition. I set out to develop a public research, media and culture center for downtown Denver, designed to explore the rise of surveillance networks in urban areas, the dominance of media technologies and synthetic realities in our daily lives, the cultural response to these factors, and the subsequent change of architecture and urbanism.

These diagrams examine two important observations of the project. The first is based on Delirious New York and Blue Monday and explores how our culture and cities transformed from an urbanism of objects to an urbanism of images. A large part of my research and explorations also involved consumerism and binary opposition. In the example of Delirious New York, Koolhaas writes that Coney Island always existed in binary opposition to Manhattan, and that the masses of visitors consumed these binaries, in particular an absurdity of urbanism and a new set of cultural rules and norms. These binaries were then transplanted back to Manhattan. In this way, Coney Island served as a laboratory for Manhattan.

The second diagram examines the rise of surveillance networks is Denver, largely due to the Democratic National Convention held in the city during August of 2008.



Film -

Link to film projects for site studies

Link to thesis books and other written work