Ghost Architecture: The Hybrid Spaces of Moving Image Projections

Maria Sieira
University of Missouri, USA


Abstract: Last summer MoMA's exhibition in New York "The Un-Private House" featured a number of projects that incorporated digital windows and walls. Whether projections of video artwork collected by the clients, or large digital screens that took the place of windows, the moving images were incorporated within the design of each house. The result was a space composed of both the physical delineation of rooms and the three-dimensional world implied by the projections and screens.

This exhibition is one recent indication that the spaces of architecture are no longer composed of just physical materials. As our experience of the world becomes increasingly mediated through the frame of a screen, developments in technology are facilitating the transformation of those screens into architectural elements. There is already a readily made connection between an architectural window onto a street or a landscape and its virtual counterpart accessing the internet, but to include full wall projections, or to place monitors or screens where previously there might have been windows, radically challenges what constitutes the confines a "room."

This hybrid space of physical architecture and film projections is a kind of "ghost architecture" because it exists only when the projector is turned on, the space depicted only a light illusion. Like film, these projections are simultaneously flat and three-dimensional, and as such, they offer possibilities for ambiguity in their collision with the physical architecture onto which they are projected. For example, wrapping a moving image projection around a corner might call attention to the two-dimensionality of the image and simultaneously vaporize what might have previously appeared as an opaque, physical corner, since now what is perceived is the three dimensional moving space of the projection. The physical layout of the room and the moving images projected onto it make up the spatial perception of the room.

This presentation examines how moving image projections, both filmed and digitally generated, affect one's perception of the physical architecture onto which they are cast. We will examine in particular the work of installation artists Bill Viola and Steve McQueen, and relate their work to other spatial phenomena in film and architecture. In installations, a film can be made to coincide with the physical architecture onto which it is projected, such as by bringing the film's edge to the room's floor and within it showing a filmed or even moving floor that appears to extend beyond the wall's surface. While watching a theatrical film means engaging its time and space by mentally placing ourselves within it, here it is as if the fiction is drawn out of the film's frame, transforming, in turn, the physical space. The most exciting new material in architecture is not a material at all, but rather a ghostly apparition that our mind's eye sees carving into the formerly opaque construction of the room.

About the Presenter: Maria Sieira has a B.A. in Architecture and Theater from Yale University and a Master of Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania; she has practiced in Philadelphia and Princeton. In 1997, she took a position at the University of Missouri, where she teaches design in a pre-architecture program and computer animation at both undergraduate and graduate levels. Her teaching and research focus on the junctures between film and architecture in the representation of space with moving images. She has made two short 16mm films and is currently writing a book on film, architecture, and digital media.