Airy Tales

Benjamin Satterthwaite

[email protected]
Hero Hee Jin Elizabeth Cho

Airy Tales is an obsessive interrogation of air and its substance in architecture in the attempt to
embrace and acknowledge its frequently forgotten existence. It is the craft of objectifying this
vital need into a premium commodity as the uncanny selling point of an architectural
experience.

The vitality of air was put to light in the recent commodification of bottled air with entrepreneurs
in New Zealand and Canada etc., selling cans of 'fresh, clean air' to heavily polluted regions
of China. The objectification of a natural human right and a subsequent labelling of its monetary
value leads to the questioning of freedom becoming a luxury good. Though it by no means
provides a long-term solution, buyers are provided temporary relief with its therapeutic
connotations. This satirical provocation is an architectural response to the arguably new
species of commodity: the objectification of the breathing space, and the appeal of purchasing
and consuming air from other places through transductive retail architecture.

The Airy Tale begins with the Air Booth, landing in the crevices of the city, with its body
wedged into urban alleyways. Its face peeks through the street front, as a welcoming ticket
booth, where 'air time’ is available for purchase for those in urgent need of therapeutic air. It is a
place one could buy an oasis like one would buy a can of coke. With the purchase of air time,
the consumer (or named patient of therapy) ascends into the ‘runway’, a looping corridor nestled
above the urban roofline. The runway is lined with a series of recalibration stations, as spaces
injected with de-stressing agents. The airs are inhaled from adjacent alleyways, bent, then
embellished into therapeutic conditions, good enough to bottle and sell to the distressed.
Like an urban sanatorium, air is wrapped in a clinical veil as both the therapist and medication for
the mind. The architectural envelope of the stations converse like machines, like packaging for
the air, designed to craft, preserve and reveal its value and integrity.

The core interest of this thesis is to study the power of identity and seduction in ‘selling’
architectural experiences. Air is the subject choice for its neutral nature. It is an element of
architecture which can be universally understood and related to, however it is often overlooked
and more often considered as ‘nothing’. This thesis asserts the power of seduction and
cohesive branding in architecture that can use even ‘nothingness’ as its uncanny selling point. It
does this by dissecting the strategies appointed by the sellers of canned air: the epitome of
glorified and objectified nothingness.

The thesis has been named 'Airy Tales' to communicate that it is not a practical proposal, but a
provocation. Air is matter, a mass with weight, yet it remains mysterious in the spectrum of
living with its intangible, invisible and infinite nature. This thesis is an obsessive interrogation of
air and its substance in architecture, in the attempt to objectify and sell its frequently forgotten
existence.

It is important to first discuss the common methods in designing an identity in retail, to appoint a
path of design. The design element of this thesis does not end at the boundaries of architectural
composition, however. it includes the conception of the told story to the presentation of the
final product. The final architectural proposition is a component of this designed identity.

 

Mid-Development

The thesis is structured in three stages:

Part One -  Discussing Air - investigates the value of air with its connotations of freedom, divinity and thought, as the ultimate material for immateriality.
This is an attempt read how air is received from the consumer’s end. The reader is encouraged to
view the void in architecture not as an emptiness, but as the kinetic material of air. Without air,
space cannot qualify as a living space and is simply a composition of its envelope. Air is promoted as the vital activator of the lived space, the kinetic volume which life and architectural experience is strung upon.

Part Two - Selling Air - dissects the content of air, to propose a new method of reading, crafting,
and selling air. Here, the marketing strategy of existing commodities is reviewed then translated to fit the design process of an architectural experience. By combining these methods with the design of retail architecture, a brief for an architectural proposition is created. Air conditions are named and classified, then associated with material forms which could contain such air quality. The containers follow the specified air rather than merely injecting conditioned air into already defined spaces. Simply put, form follows air. Furthering Elizabeth Diller’s notion of architecture as a 'special effects machine', air is viewed as a volume of special effects, crafted, labelled, then theatrically revealed by its architectural envelope.

The project concludes with Part Three - Air Booth - a design response to the research above.

 

Finished Product

The final project, Air Booth, is a transductive retail complex as an architectural response to the
research above.

The Air Station lands in the crevices of the city, with its body wedged into neglected alleyways. Its face peeks through the street front, as a welcoming Air Booth where Air Time is available for purchase to those in urgent need of fresh air. It is a playful architectural response to the commodification of air, in particular, desired and therapeutic air, as a place where one could buy ‘oasis’ like one would buy a can of coke. Architecture is used as a seduction tool to sell this uncanny commodity.

With the purchase of Air Time, one gains the rite of passage into the thoroughfare. This transient journey takes flight as the visitor ‘vanishes into thin air’ by the Aerator, an ascending lift
breathing a gentle breeze that caresses the skin. The visitor is then welcomed onto the Runway, a
passageway to aid the discovery of a shifted self at the end of the corridor: a fantastical
notion of the better version of one self.

The Runway is lined with a series of Recalibration Stations, as a palette of de-stressing agents to suit the need of all. Rather than a can of named air, it is in a built form to entirely immerse the body, as pockets of its own micro-climates. Each entry into the station is designed like a shop front, to seduce and lure the users in.

Adopting the theory of Alain de Botton’s 'Art and Therapy', each station is filled with air labelled with the 7 methods of therapy: remembering, hope, sorrow, rebalancing, self-understanding, growth
and appreciation.

Through self-diagnosis, visitors slip in and out of the stations as they cross the thoroughfare. Like an urban sanatorium, air is wrapped in a clinical veil as both therapist and medication for the mind. The description of air is personified to emphasise its intimate conversation with the user as therapist, and as the breathing mass of the building. The architectural envelope of these stations is the packaging for the air, designed to preserve and house the value and integrity of the crafted air.

 

Critic's Text

As one of the four traditional elements ... air ... and especially its atmospheric, therapeutic and poetic associations ... are Cho's focus here in Airy Tales.

She crafts powerful technologically-knowing and psychologically-immersive environments as an uncanny selling point of a self-service, inner city rooftop retail environment.

This is a masterly interrogation of air and its provision in highly-specific and theatrical architectural conditions using the ultimate method of objectification - commodification - to acknowledge its frequently forgotten existence in architecture.

Commodified canned air is examined here ranging from the philosophical reading of breath itself to the seductive branding of 'nothingness'. This satirical provocation is an architectural response to this new specie of commodity, by selling experiences of a series of objectified and strictly controlled breathing spaces. It brings air conditioning from its traditional notions of sanitation and comfort controls to a means of therapy.

The entry is at street level as a welcoming ticket booth, where 'air time' is available for purchase for those in urgent need of therapeutic air. It is a place one could buy an oasis like one would buy a can of coke. With the purchase of 'air time', the consumer ascends into the 'runway', a looping corridor nestled above the urban roofline.

Seven types of therapy has been extracted from Alain de Botton's text on art as therapy, with each type assigned an extraordinary 'air-first' environment. Cho crafts each space as an engineered kit-of-parts like a household appliance manual ready to be configured to fit any roofline. 

Cho's preparatory research provokes our re-consideration of air not as oxygen but as architectural experience. 

The design project is unprecedented and highly realised, as a sophisticated assembly of the author's extensive commitment to air research. 

The key images are of a matter-of-fact, essentiality stripped of expected architectural tropes, like 'machines, like packaging for the air, designed to craft, preserve and reveal its value and integrity.' 


— Michael Milojevic, Supervisor