The Center for Spatial Technologies (CST) investigates the technological, economic, and political forces that form a city. Researcher Alexandra Mayboroda spoke with the director of CST Maksym Rokmaniko about home space, alternative forms of ownership, and the life cycles of buildings.
Alexandra Mayboroda: Your apartment in Kiev is simultaneously the office of CST. How did you come across the idea of connecting home and work? How do your research projects influence your personal attitude towards home?
Maksym Rokmaniko:I was raised in a Soviet apartment. We almost never had visitors, and everything was generally very normative. Mom and dad rested after their workday, my sister and I grew. I liked the home environment at my grandmother's a lot more—there was production, dinner parties, even a museum and different animals. When I studied architecture in Kiev, we were taught to design houses like that of my parents, while my American professor studied stranger home spaces. He showed us how people live and work without drawing a boundary between the private and the public, between living space and work. Furthermore, I began my career path in the Netherlands, where terraced house development is very popular. While living there, I always worked in offices located in residential buildings.
I am often asked whether I find it convenient to have my home, my work, and my public events all in the same place. I do.
AM: In your practice you propose different views upon our relationship to home space. For instance, the DOMA platform tests new forms of common real estate ownership and the project Networked Homes follows the trajectories of materials that form the urban environment. How would you describe the methodology of your work? How is your work different from a traditional architectural approach?
MR:I guess a distinguishing feature of our approach is that we tend towards systematicity. Usually architects produce unique objects for individual clients. I have always disliked this model's lack of scalability and political relevance. We find it more interesting to view the city as a cluster of spatial technologies: scalable forms that incessantly change their environment.
In fact, the story of CST began when we won an architecture competition geared towards developing new living standards. We were trying to understand how residential architecture could better correspond to contemporary lifestyles at the level of planning decisions. Later, as part of the Smart Commons project, we analyzed the way public investments lead to a substantial gouging of real estate prices, using High LineHigh LineThe park created on a former New York Central Railroad spur is an iconic example of landscape architecture. Rather than looking at its design solution, we investigated the structure of project financing, the correlation between the cost of real estate and its distance from the High Line (note by Maksym Rokmaniko). as an example, and in our DesignTech research we studied how new instruments change the nature of architecture as a profession.
The DOMA project is dedicated to the housing affordability crisis. Instead of looking at buildings and their physical properties, we develop an alternative financial architecture based on joint ownership and distribution of capital.
It is difficult to explain, without concrete examples, what it is we do. I would say that we combine a research approach with experimental design in order to look at important urban problems from a new perspective.
AM:How is the financial architecture of DOMA different from the regular real estate market?
MR:Let's examine the logic of DOMA using the example of Kiev. Kiev is second only to London when it comes to the low availability and high price of rental housing in large European cities. If you rent an apartment, in approximately twelve years you will spend as much money on rent as that apartment costs. Renting is not profitable long-term. People feel that they spend money without getting anything back.
DOMA began with a thought: what if the renter could gradually become a homeowner, acquiring small shares of real estate property for each rental payment? This mechanism is possible thanks to the shared ownership and the alternative financial architecture we are developing.
AM:Due to the growing popularity of coworkings and colivings, the merging of communist rhetoric with the instruments of capitalism is at the very least suspicious. We don't have to go very far for an example—a business-center named “Kooperativ" has recently opened in Kiev. Against this backdrop, do you feel any skepticism towards your project?
MR:Yes, this fusion of ideologies is indeed interesting. Last year we undertook a very thorough study of Property TechProperty TechInformation technologies used in real estate management, read more about it here and here. in the USA. It is the epicenter of residential financialization. Companies that use artificial intelligence to buy undervalued buildings automatize the management of real estate, inventing intricate forms of credit based on data about users.
The formula is relatively simple: socialism at the level of marketing and focussing on extracting profit at the level of the business model. Based on this research, we have made a video, “Domestic Datascapes,” for the Bi-City Architecture/Urbanism Bienniale in Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
We always look at the “dark side of the Force” in order to keep up with interesting technological solutions. I think it is precisely this aspect of our work that makes us the most severe critics of DOMA. I get the impression that people “from the outside” treat the project with enthusiasm rather than skepticism.
AM:As far as I have understood, in Networked Homes you investigate the material interactions within the life cycle of an apartment, the chain of production, conditions of labor, and many other things—all based on your Kiev headquarters. Why did you begin studying this?
MR:I have spoken about DOMA to my colleagues from Climate-KIC, a large European fund that finances sustainability projects and projects aimed at minimizing carbon emissions. They were most interested in the fact that we were proposing to work with already existing buildings. We began discussing apartment renovation and in the very same conversation someone said: "It would be interesting to calculate the carbon print resulting from the renovation of an average apartment". At that point we were doing renovations in our own headquarters and decided to try working with it.
We gathered all the receipts for all the construction material purchased for the renovation and were constantly scanning the space using photogrammetry. In order to gather data about the process, we built a detailed 3D-model of the apartment. We modeled not only the objects in space, but also their various characteristics: who did what work on them, using what instruments, how much did it cost, what materials were used.
AM:In order to gather all this data on a continuous basis, in theory, an international registry of materials is needed. Is this the most difficult part of the Networked Homes Framework?
MR:A registry of materials is merely a component of Networked Homes. It is a publicly accessible database that helps track information about construction materials and their properties. Similar systems already exist to track information concerning foodstuffs. You scan a chocolate bar, you see who produced it and where, what it consists of, how many kilocalories it has; you can even trace its carbon footprint. Buildings, according to various calculations, are responsible for approximately half of all carbon emissions on the planet.
When I showed our preliminary results to colleagues from the London team of Dark Matter Labs, they proposed to make a materials registry prototype together. Ideally, this would let us investigate the trajectories of building materials, their influence on the environment and on local economies. Later on there could be talk of the subjectivity of things as juridical persons. For instance, you buy something the production of which is linked to a large amount of carbon emissions, and the life cycle of this thing you have bought is 100 years. Then you would have to pay a fine if you throw the thing away before the end of its pre-established lifespan.
AM:How realistic is it to trace all these indicators, given the non-transparent character of the global chains of production?
MR:This is precisely what we will examine now, although tracing the connections in their entirety is not a goal in itself. Sometimes we just imagine that we have all the technological solutions in the world and try to think about which changes could become possible thanks to that.
AM:In his book Reassembling the Social, Bruno Latour wrote that “Interactions do not resemble a picnic where all the food is gathered on the spot by the participants”. He spoke of the extension and activity of matter. In the everyday, we rarely look at the things that surround us in such a matter.
Could it be said that NH turns the material hull of the house from a product we buy at a store, without posing the question of its past and future, into a knot of heterogeneous elements for which we bear collective responsibility?
MR:Yes, I couldn't have said it better. We have discussed a transition to processes from the very beginning.
For instance, right now, as part of the Networked Homes framework, we are making a film about a window. At a first glance, this window doesn't do anything, but in its life span, such a window influences a great number of places and people. Its components come from different countries. For example, the plastic profiles are assembled at a factory in Kiev Oblast. They are brought to this factory in truckloads from Germany, cut into six-meter bars. In Germany, they are manufactured from PVC-powder, produced at an oil refinery, and the oil usually comes from Russia. Many people and a lot of equipment are part of these processes. These processes bring profit and have a substantial impact on the environment. This is all regulated by neutral national and international standards.
The window is constantly doing something. It protects from moisture during rain, helps conserve heat in winter and lets air circulate through the room in summer. It lets in solar rays, which warm up the space in the morning and change the population structure of bacteria in the room.
We are used to viewing the window as an extratemporal object, inserted into the order of the universe. We do not raise questions about its history as a technological artifact and the influence that the process of its production has on the environment. Now we look at these questions in detail and thoroughly disentangle such an apparently simple and familiar thing.
AM:Somewhere in the project description you say that NH lets one view an apartment as an instrument for play. What does this mean?
MR:Being an instrument for play presupposes emergenceemergenceEmergence occurs when an entity is observed to have properties its parts do not have on their own.. There are elements of the project which we see straight away; we know how to turn them into intelligible research projects, useful for some people and financed by some parties. But in conjunction with that we also just poke around at things, building connections to look beyond the visible boundary of that which is interesting and intelligible right now.
All the projects mentioned by Maxym in this interview were implemented collectively, with major contributions by Mykola Holovko, Anastasia Chaur, Sveta Usychenko, Orest Yaremchuk, Yevgenia Berchul, Olesia Kovalenko, Francesco Sebregondi, Dark Matter Labs team, and others.