QR Cinema, or: Machines Making Films For Machines

One of my students this fall—Jonathan Rennie, at the USC School of Architecture—has had his final project featured on Near Future Laboratory; the post is written by Julian Bleecker, who served as a guest critic for Jonathan’s review.

[Image: From a project by Jonathan Rennie, produced at the USC School of Architecture].

Bleecker writes that the work is “one of those architecture projects that plays at the far end of the spectrum of architecture’s inherent speculative nature.” Specifically, Bleecker summarizes, the project works as “a sneak preview for a future of cinema, proposing a continuous cinema that is freed from both the spatial confines of the movie house and the literary expectations of narrative—told by and to non-human machines.”

[Image: From a project by Jonathan Rennie, produced at the USC School of Architecture].

You can read Bleecker’s post for more information—but I should explain that the course itself, called “Cinema City,” asked students to consider the architectural future of screen-based media. In other words, if today’s consumers are just as likely to watch films on their iPhones or home computers—not to mention TVs—as they are at the local shopping mall, then what architectural effects might these emerging audience practices and distribution technologies soon have?

More specifically, in an age of tablet computers and all-you-can-watch DVDs, we asked how architects could influence or even explicitly re-design the social future of the movie-going experience. If cinemas, for instance, like libraries, face an uncertain social and economic future, what lies beyond the multiplex and the iPad, on the other side of IMAX and at-home on-demand? What spaces or scenarios can architects imagine that might transform—and re-inspire public interest in—going out to watch movies in public? Further, how might these spaces influence and interact with the design of the city itself—and possibly even how films are produced?

It’s worth pointing out, as well, that Jonathan’s project was a particularly abstract response to the design brief—indeed, it was the only project in the class that did not, in the end, propose a specific new type of building, space, or public spectacle. Instead, it relied on a series of fictional scenarios through which Jonathan could explore a future world in which, as Bleecker writes, architects begin “embedding machine-readable (or maybe only-for-machine) texts in physical structures.”

The project thus sought to illustrate a situation where the future of cinema is not for humans at all, but is instead for ever-more intelligent machine systems that have developed an admittedly quite whimsical way to communicate with one another. These included container-stacking structures in the Los Angeles harbor and the orbiting satellite systems that surveil them from above.

[Image: From a project by Jonathan Rennie, produced at the USC School of Architecture].

The very idea of cinema being nothing but a series of moving images projected onto a flat surface would thus be replaced, Jonathan’s project suggests, by machine-readable QR codes that embed digital information in the landscape.

Cars strategically parked atop open-air garages; cargo containers precisely stacked at coastal sea terminals; patterns harvested into agricultural fields by automated harvesting equipment; even thermal gradients caused by the urban heat island effect could all become a future “cinema” of QR codes through which machines talk to other species of machines.

[Image: From a project by Jonathan Rennie, produced at the USC School of Architecture].

As Bleecker writes:

Over time, as they see the same films over and over again and become bored, [the machines] begin to look for QR codes elsewhere, perhaps interpreting barcode-like structures in the landscape at different wavelengths—for instance an infrared foliage rendering may appear to contain QR codes. They seek out new films in this way, perhaps even instructing terrestrial machines, such as the cranes at loading docks or tractors in large farm fields, to construct new QR codes containing new [films] and stories.

Insert clever references to SkyNet here…

5 thoughts on “QR Cinema, or: Machines Making Films For Machines”

  1. This was a great illustration of the very near future, if not already now, urban atmosphere, that goes beyond cinama related theme. Yours and Julian's review of it is very engaging too. Congratulations to Jonathan Rennie. Great project. Very real. It was good to see you Geoff.

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