Mark Stanley and StudioMARS Pioneer Speculative Design-Research in the Late-Postmodern Present

  Mark Stanley, Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, discussed his work at StudioMARS with students, faculty, and guests at Kresge Theatre on Monday, 26 February 2018. Photo by Christina Brown.

Mark Stanley, Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, discussed his work at StudioMARS with students, faculty, and guests at Kresge Theatre on Monday, 26 February 2018. Photo by Christina Brown.

By Chitika Vasudeva

The SoA community gathered on Monday 26 February for the fourth installment of the 2018 SoA Spring Lecture Series to revisit the timeless examination of design-research workflows. Students and faculty welcomed Mark Stanley, Lecturer and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville as he discussed his current work at StudioMARS. As the co-founder of the practice, Stanley pioneers speculative design-research work, which, in his words, means that he and his team “can get away with a lot.”

Stanley clearly recognizes and embraces the cultural epoch we find ourselves in. “Our experiences are disembodied,” he says, “Our bodies are delaminated and dispersed through air waves.” His work is sensitive to the geopolitical ramifications of the blurring between markets and states, and of the distinction between “data bodies” and “meat bodies.” These differentiations have architectural ramifications too, as networks evolve faster than the designed spaces they move through. In a world that is becoming increasingly immaterial, StudioMARS aims to facilitate “a larger inquiry about the status of architecture within a digitized, anthropogenic, highly-mediated present condition.”

Opening his talk by invoking The Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde to address the seemingly opposing dualities in his work, Stanley discussed several recent and ongoing projects that reflect his varied interests. Other Spacesuits uses the Apollo spacesuit to address three architectural issues: “the atmospheric and interfacial envelope, the methods of design and production, and the aesthetic projects allied with every designed object.” The latter of these is part of what makes Stanley’s work unique, as he argues that the spacesuit and the Cold War came with their own intentional aesthetic sensibility. Other work includes Manhattan 2.0, which is based in Oak Ridge National Laboratory — the site of the original Manhattan Project and now a publicly-funded National Science Lab, and takes the form of several “proposals for the speculative reuse of the architectures and science infrastructures at the Laboratory.”

Stanley’s positioning of his work within an architectural framework was extensively discussed by students and faculty at the Back2Front session on Wednesday 14 March. While Stanley seems to consciously and resolutely frame his design-research endeavors from an architectural standpoint, his flexible definition of what constitutes architecture is not universally adopted. In response to an audience question regarding the placement of his work within the field of architecture and the simultaneous expansion of its scope, Stanley expressed his desire to be accessible to as many different types of discourse as possible. On the one hand, this seems counteractive to his mode of operation, as it places him at the center of none of these conversations. On the other hand, perhaps centrality is not the point, and he would rather perch on the periphery of the profession rather than at its core.

In addition to pushing the boundaries of architecture, Stanley also examines its current state, as he writes of the “in-between-ness” that characterizes the profession. In a postmodern condition that is intensified by the technologically-driven Anthropocene, design-research is “not only about projecting futures, but also about projecting possibilities for the discipline of architecture now.” In a reflection on the culture of architectural reviews titled “The Final Review: Negaters Gonna Negate,” Stanley hopes that his colleagues are as comfortable as he is with the lack of resolved and coherent sets of practices and calls upon students, critics, and educators to “take risks” on this front. But while Stanley waits on the rest of the profession to catch up, his work with StudioMARS continues to redefine the agency of imagery and architecture in the late-postmodern present.

Chitika Vasudeva is a third-year Bachelor of Architecture student in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture.