Each space hosts the copresence of what time categorizes as “past” and “future.” Responding to the work of Rasheedah Phillips and Black Quantum Futurism, Kevin Bernard Moultrie Daye presents EXTRAORTHOGRAPHICS, a methodology co-developed with Bz Zhang, which uses a non-progressive understanding of time, as well as architecture modes of representation to visualize this temporal copresence on any given site.
“When you see that there is more than one thing
Open up in a new way”
Yaeji, Feel it Out (Nick Godmode Remix)
Tile I: A Clock is a Map is a Code is a Key ///
Exactly four years ago, Rasheedah Philips posed a question to the readers of The Funambulist. In the article “Placing Time, Timing Space: Dismantling the Master’s Map and Clock,” she concludes with a sort of checklist for engaging with maps and clocks critically. The 10 questions provide a guide to assist in Black Quantum Futurism’s ongoing project that “reappropriates clocks and maps to deconstruct hegemonic Western Spacetimes and dismantle the master’s clocks.” Indeed, the very structure of Western Capitalism necessitated the colonization, standardization and (literal) atomization of time itself.
As globalization spread from the European West, it demanded that local or indigenous conceptions of time march to the beat of the same drum. The European colonial project of ocean navigation spurred the need for more accurate clocks, useful for calculating distance as well as coordinating military troop movements. The railroad needed standardized time zones for operation and coordination. Fredrick Winslow Taylor’s 1911 Principles of Scientific Management and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth’s time and motion studies in the 1910s broke down time into “work units,” a process that optimized the increasing need for efficient (once enslaved, now low wage) workers. Time, it would seem, is not simply a neutral substrate but, in its division and measurement, it is in itself, a code. An expression of a system that, when properly decoded, can provide an insight into the system that uses it. The modern conception of time has steamrolled over local and indigenous cosmologies of time.
Before the invention of the mechanical clock, all time was relational to the Earth or the conditions of the tool of measurement. Egyptian shadow clocks needed the sun, making time disappear at night and on overcast days. Chinese incense clocks that measured time by the burning of often elaborate paths of incense were subject to the heat and speed of the flame that was ignited. Hourglasses and water clocks relied on gravity to operate, with cold days slowing time down to a crawl before freezing. These are variations on the conceptual difference between mean time and apparent time. In apparent time, time is not uniform, instead each division of time is seasonal and varied. In these, typically local, systems time was measured proportionally, by subdividing the year, month or day. As mechanical means took over timekeeping, a shift happened. Instead of being determined by something experiential, time became subordinated to an abstraction. A mathematically derived form that cannot be understood through the senses, only detected and verified through industrial processes. A second transforms from a part of the day (divided sexagesimaly or Base 60) into atomic time, or, as defined by the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures:
“The SI unit of time is the second defined as follows: The second is the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom” NOTE: At its 1997 meeting, the CIPM affirmed that this definition refers to a caesium atom at rest at a thermodynamic temperature of 0 K.
Later, we will see this process of moving from human experience to mental abstraction is one that has parallels in the history of space. Detangling, reversing and complicating this process suggests and revives alternative cosmologies and ways of relating to the natural world outside of Western capitalism. However, once un-tangled, Rasheedah Phillips’ question remains: “Once we dismantle the master’s clock, what clocks or timekeeping practices will take its place?”
Tile II: The Line is a Lie ///
For the discipline of architecture, the question is a poignant one. Space is irrevocably intertwined with Time, and its conceptualization has been a major tool of empire as well. And it too has been subject to increasing abstraction from reality. The history of the United States of America is rife with these instances. The Land Ordinance of 1785 can be thought of as the moment when the assumed rationality of “the grid” intersected the actual topography of the land. Driven mainly by an obsession with both efficiency and the Enlightenment, the Ordinance transformed the recently stolen territories into a patchwork of six-mile square settlements subdivided into 36 smaller one-mile square sections and then again and again down to the scale of a 270 x 600 feet city block. And so the land became an abstraction oriented to the cardinal directions. Every building, farm, shed, and row of corn in the quilt “America’s Heartland” pointing orthogonally North, South, East or West, save for the occasional rumpled hill or meandering river.
This example, however, illustrates an important distinction between concepts of space and time. Maps and other spatial drawings (blueprints, etc.), much like clocks, are abstractions and projections of the thing they seek to describe.
A map or clock is a mechanism for measurement of duration or distance. However, in the hands of those empowered to generate built form; planners, architects or politicians, their relationship to the thing described is much fuzzier. We would like to believe, as Phillips and Korzybski point out, that the map is not the territory. However, in architectural drawing and production a curious thing happens… the map becomes the territory. Architectural drawing uses abstracted representation to create embodied objects.
Typically, once leaving the academic institution (and much to my dismay), the main role of the architect consists in producing documents. These documents are both descriptive of existing conditions, but also are instructions on how to construct structures or buildings. And these documents are usually drawn in a fashion specific to the field of architecture (as well as to the military, but perhaps that is for another time). Most of the images we interact with are perspectival, they are representations of an image as it is seen with the eye. Things recede into the distance because the rays of light (or projection lines) bouncing off the object travel to a single point, the viewer’s eye. Architectural projections (plan, sections, elevations, etc.), however, tend to be orthographic. Those projection lines do not ever converge, they remain parallel. Every point from which a line emanates remains at a 90-degree angle (orthogonal) from the others. This is not how we see in real life. This is an abstraction of vision.
The reasoning behind the prevalence of this way of drawing is to preserve the dimensional relationships of an object’s size and shape. While this allows for the production of measurable, accurate drawings; it also makes for a somewhat surreal viewing experience. The human eyes do not experience the three-dimensional world in this way. Regardless, orthographic plans, sections and elevations make up the bulk of what are called construction documents, the drawings used to build buildings. Much like Jefferson’s grid, the parallel lines are implemented because they are assumed to be practical, to be objective. Apolitical, authoritative abstractions. The orthographic line defines and delineates space, both in representation and in reality. Yet again we see the triumph of abstraction over lived experience.
Tile III: Plexity: Simplex, Complex and Multiplex ///
Now, let us return to Rasheedah Phillips’ questions. When one dismantles the clocks, in turn, one must redraw the maps. What then, do we do with the architectural orthographics? Their utility is clear enough that perhaps we should keep them in some way, shape, or form. There is also no denying that these drawings, at best, leave out important aspects of lived reality and, at worst, are part of an ongoing colonial program designed to center Enlightenment and Fordist philosophies of space and time.
Perhaps the answer then, is to reconstruct the orthographic perspective to include the very thing they leave out, time. In most Western conceptions up until Einstein, time was considered distinct from space. During that time, however, non-western modes of thought that embraced a more integrated view of spacetime were either destroyed, died out, or their history hidden. For example, Cultures such as the ancient Incan civilization held a concept called pachas, or “world-moments.” Anthropologist Catherine Allen gives us one such example:
“The Quechua word pacha may refer to the whole cosmos or to a specific moment in time, with interpretation depending on the context. Thus the phrase, “Chay pachapin” may be translated into English either as “In that world” or as “At that moment.” The difference between a world and a moment is simply a difference in scale. To participate in a pacha, a world-moment, is to share in its sut’i, its clarity” What kind of sut’i would we find if we began to re-collapse our moments into our spaces? This requires a worldview that can handle contradiction and complexity in ways that start to challenge our notions of objectivity.
A favorite example is Samuel Delany’s novella Empire Star (1966). In it, he outlines three different ways of thinking: simplex, complex, and multiplex — each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Simplex thinking is fairly basic and straightforward, mostly black and white without shades of grey. Think of a young person who has never left their hometown or experienced another culture outside their own. Complex thinking can grasp and understand intricacies and nuance, adding depth and broader understanding to your worldview. Travelling is a useful analogue here, encountering and comprehending diverse points of view and understanding the differences between them. Multiplexity, however, makes room not just for complexity, but also contradiction. The past can be the future, over there can be over here and a single thing can simultaneously exist in multiple ways. In this view, imagine our young traveler now viewing the Earth, not as a map, but as a mosaic; each tile a different scale, jumbled in order and position, but each just as important (or unimportant) as the next, yet still forming a cohesive/fractured whole. At the climax of Delany’s story the characters finally discuss the fabled Empire Star and discover that it isn’t, strictly speaking, a place at all. Rather, it is a high intensity gravitational spacetime event where “the temporal present joins the spatial past there with the possible future, and they get totally mixed up. Only the most multiplex of minds can go there and find their way out again.”
Only a multiplex mind can make sense of a world in which time and space operate in strange, recursive ways, and use that understanding to create new possibilities that may have seemed impossible. Our reality is not so different. So then, I propose that we redraw our maps and clocks the same way, a multiplex way. I suggest we replace orthographies with EXTRAORTHOGRAPHICS, a method co-developed with my colleague, Bz Zhang.
Tile IV: EXTRAORTHOGRAPHICS ///
The word orthographic comes from the Greek “orthos,” meaning “correct,” and “graphia,” meaning “writing or drawing” — the assumption being that these kinds of drawings are somehow “correct” and can act as authoritative documents of reality. They are not, however, objective or apolitical. Too often, these drawings are tools that have silenced and shaped history to the detriment of many rich and beautiful communities and cultures. Despite its seeming best efforts, architectural production has very little to say about this erasure of context.
Typical conversations about “Architecture responding to context” center on responding to the environment as it physically exists in the current moment. Designers draw large scale site plans and trace circulation and densities. Massing models are made to adjust to neighboring buildings and typologies, while environmental models in the form of solar studies and wind charts. However, these studies, while sometimes alluding to “found conditions”, rarely make explicit this fact that architecture is not simply an intervention in space, but also in time. Context exists in space and time.
Nowhere does this fact become more apparent than in the architectural history of cities. While developers lobby for renamed neighborhoods and rebranded buildings, the citizens of a city often hold and remember the city in all its forms. As city dwellers age or move away, a city’s history is left to be documented by those in power in photos and architectural drawings. This can lead to erasure of the most potent kind. Entire communities and histories can be rendered silent in the poché of a Noli map, turned into graphical fodder. While the classic tools at an architectural designer’s disposal: the Plan, Section, Elevation and Axon, give preference to the dimensions we can then also ignore a dimension that is equally felt and experienced, yet harder to draw: time. This paradox is further heightened by the fact that, in essence, all architectural production is geared toward accurate drawings of non-existent future structures.
How then do we confront the inability of the architectural orthographic drawing to convey cultural temporal-spatial context?
The EXTRAORTHOGRAPHIC method is, at its core, quite simple. One iteratively draws a single site in plan, section and elevation at various times in its history and projected future, culminating in an experimental four-dimensional portrait of a building in its spatiotemporal context. Moving from research, to fiction, to abstraction, and always grounded in reality (with an eye to detail), we hope to draw out the ways in which histories and futures collide in architectural thought. The map becomes the clock.
Intrinsic to this process is a deep dive into the multiple histories and cultures that are embedded into time and space. In current practice, neighborhood history is often simplified into an easy-to-digest narratives of gentrification and new development. However, even a brief study reveals many overlapping (and often surprising) ways of reading any site. Space hides what time reveals. History is never monochrome, and current ethnic enclaves could also hold military histories, environmental extractions, unexpected moments of solidarity, as well as forgotten scenes of violence.
This methodology was further refined and expanded while teaching at the California College of the Arts Graduate Architecture Department, with my colleague Bz Zhang. For this iteration we chose a site in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunter’s Point neighborhood and drew it over and over and over again. Students chose three points of time between the time period of 3000 BCE (the beginning of human settlement of the San Francisco Bay Area) and 2100 CE (the extent of most projections of sea level rise) to research and draw what was occurring at that point in space — with one point serving as the project’s point-of-origin, or “Present Tense” from which future and past conclusions can be drawn.
The results were provocative. All at once we saw a single piece of land that held:
An Ohlone settlement
A livestock slaughterhouse
A Chinese shrimping village
A thriving Italian and Maltese immigrant community
A Naval Shipyard
A hub of Black Migration
A site of ongoing nuclear contamination
A site of land speculation and rapid redevelopment
And this process can be replicated and repeated at any location, anywhere, to reveal and unsettle current spatial narratives. Crucially, this process challenged the idea of the objective line in architectural drawing. By restricting the illustrations of these narratives into orthographic production, the argument then becomes that these histories and experiences are as literal and unambiguous as the square footage of the lot, or the height of a parapet. It seeks to complicate and contradict our assumptions about how truth and authority in architecture is represented. This method of contradictory understanding and movement is an intrinsic part of Black (and other non-European) folklore as a cultural guard against oppression. It is a requirement for an expanded and radical retooling of architectural practice. In her 1991 essay “Finding Our Voice in a Dominant Key,” Architect Sharon Sutton says:
“I imagine an alternative practice of architecture that simultaneously embraces two seemingly contradictory missions. In this alternative approach we use our right hand to pry open the box so that more of us can get into it while using our left hand to get rid of the very box we are trying to get into.”
The multiplex mind does not see this as a contradiction. It is simply another way of looking at truths. The prefix “extra” comes from the Latin for “outside” or “beyond” — as in the phrase, “extra ordinem,” meaning outside the ordinary or normal course of events. As Delany says towards the end of his short story, “As time progresses […] people learn. That’s the only hope.” And perhaps the more time we have, the more we can learn. Luckily, there is plenty of time. It’s all here right now, waiting for us to see it. ■