269_Gary Polk: Ambivalent Object VI: Gigantic

Gary Polk

2. Information about yourself

Gary Polk is a design architect currently interested in designing stories as well as emerging methods of establishing geometry and space particularly as it pertains to nonhuman agency, parafictions, narrative and cultural ergonomics. He is finishing his MArch at the University of Pennsylvania, and has worked for the likes of UNStudio in Amsterdam, Richard Meier in Los Angeles, Ibañez Kim in Cambridge and FJG Architects in Chicago.

3. Name of your project

Ambivalent Object VI: Gigantic

Instructor: Jason Payne

4. Statement/concept about your project

From Ptolemy to the Pixies, humans find both fascination and fear in the gigantic. Ironically, little attention has been paid to the form and shape of data centers, Iceland’s newest rapidly developing crop, which often combines geothermal dynamics with information architecture to be housed in gigantic volumes. Given the relative formlessness of current data centers, there is much left to be explored in the context of the complimentary systems of the geothermal along with the rich vastness of the strangely-scaled Iceland.

Fog is an effect endemic to the atmosphere of Iceland. Steam, likewise, is an inherent element of the geothermal power plant, commonly released into the stratosphere as an extract. This project utilizes steam as a mechanism that gets re-appropriated as fog to shroud the geothermal data center, allowing the building to recede into its environment. The concept of blur takes shape to conceal the structure at different scales, through both fog and the duplication of seams, allowing the building to exist functionally yet simultaneously disappear, obscuring architectural turf with geology, and in turn creating an ambiguous state of gigantism. In the satellite view - arguably the dominant form of realism for iceland, along with the constant stream of air travel flying in and out of Keflavik - the building begins to suggest itself to be a hybrid cloud-like mass. On ground level, this building only reveals itself in specific angles that are constantly in flux, with the fog dissipating as one gets closer. Ultimately, the obscurity of the structure will cement itself into Icelandic culture, where the mystery of the strange object will transform into mythology.

While fog is presented as the primary material, the building’s skin is cover in turf, another element that is very vernacular to Iceland, and one that effectively takes on the frequency, motion and direction of the fog that shrouds it. The turf sits on a substructure that is derivative of the data center grid system underneath. This grid is designed for decentralization, a highly political phenomena where companies vie for the proximity of data centers. It establishes numerous “centers” that act as catalysts for their own sub-grids (white space) that begin to radiate outwards, thus initiating expansion in a multitude of directions, ensuring that the creature will grow.

The concept of blur and decentralization establishes a variety of data center space, where the building begins to offer several different conditions for security tiers. This includes the above-ground data centers (tier 1), subterranean data centers (tier 2), pier data centers (tier 3) and water data pod colonies (tier 4), based on a relatively new form of data storage prototyped by Microsoft.

The representational aesthetic of the project takes on several methods to ground the design in multiple historical and cultural realities. Along with hyperrealistic photography and satellite imagery, the plan takes cues from post-war Icelandic geological survey mappings, the section from 18th-century geographic illustrations, the ‘creature painting’ utilizing the style of Icelandic painter Arngrímur Sigurðsson, and the model being built, ironically, as a crystallized miniature sans-fog.

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