v.40 Devices

A Letter from the Editors
Devious Devices: Tools and Metaphors

Device—from the latin devis, meaning "intent, desire, to plan or contrive" (1)—most commonly refers to a mechanism designed to accomplish a specific action. For as long as human history has been recorded, mechanical inventions have been made to measure and manipulate phenomena, enabling us to perform a variety of tasks. From the time-giving clock to the keeping of historical records, devices set parameters that order our daily motions and shape our perception. Indispensable tools without which our ability to operate would be severely impaired, devices act as armatures of physiological and cognitive function, augmenting our senses, accelerating and superseding our manual skills. 

But a device may also be a ploy, a "trick with particular aim," (2) a tactic. Devices are not merely utilitarian, but can operate on physical or figurative levels, producing new meanings through their machinations and calibrations. The device is imbued with intent; it is a force vector, an unstoppable generative power. As instruments of both physical and cultural perception, what do they enable us to see, optically or mentally? What gets skewed by the mechanics of representation? Can a device be wielded as a subtle weapon? As the pieces in this issue reveal, devices have become both "key metaphors and tools for understanding and negotiating our increasingly complex world,"(3) their central actions gesturing toward wider ideologies. Devices inhabit both the built environment and the cultural imaginary.

In our call for articles we alluded to the technical and technological marvel of Fischli and Weiss's film The Way Things Go, where "tires roll and fuses ignite" but the apparatus is never fully revealed to the audience. A similar fascination with how things work compels architectural thinking today, driving architecture's preoccupation with environmental interaction and strategic intervention. David Gissen notes that contemporary architectural theory has taken a "performative turn,"(4) with critics and practitioners situating architecture as an apparatus within a wider concept of territory. The architect's tools and techniques—the acts of surveying and drawing, and by extension designing and building—are instrumentalized as both representations and generators of new geographies. In this issue, three broad instrumentalizations interest us, notwithstanding that a device can subvert its design intent as it perceives and performs in ever-shifting systems: regulations, deviations, and representations. 

"Regulations" is concerned with the fundamental operations of devices: to organize external phenomenon into quantifiable conditions, to set metrics or rules that govern how we interact with sensory information and material flows. Stephanie Chipeur's feature essay "Front-Door Citizens: A Vision for Accessible Design at Expo '67" traces the earliest implementation of Canada's National Building Code at Expo '67 in Montreal, the first iteration of the regulations that mandate barrier-free access across the country today. Lisa Hirmer's "Of Gift and Gleans" draws attention to the various domestic and infrastructural receptacles that filter our experience of the elemental matter of water. 

While regulatory devices codify conditions for spatial, social, or political systems to proliferate, "Deviations" showcases devices that tactically intervene in existing systems, misbehaving and distorting pre-existing perceptions. Feature photographer Jon Sasaki's literally electrifying images of the everyday objects found in a traveller's bag that do not fit in standard foreign power outlets highlights precisely this potential of the devious device: more than a simple act of plugging in, risk and agency are evoked in this action. Antonio Scarponi's "READYKEA" offers an instruction manual for how consumers can exploit loopholes in the corporate policies that dictate retail interactions. 

Finally, "Representations" refer to both the trick of showing something in another form or field—the sensorial or textual illustration of a particular experience or ideology—as well as the inevitable political agency granted to what gets represented. In "Absolutely Safe, Completely Unpredictable," Roy Cloutier describes the atomic garden, a means of genetic modification via radiation to create an array of accidental specimens, as a model for understanding contemporary strategies of open-ended design and incremental urbanism. Traumnovelle's "Eurotopie," a fabric echo-chamber built for the Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018, tells an ostensibly optimistic parable of future civic space. 

Ordinary objects proliferate in the fifteen pieces selected for this issue: skateboards, rubber gloves, drones, and building stone are all shown to be capable of reconfiguring physical and cultural geographies. From everyday tools to contemporary infrastructure to the device of the story, the pieces in this issue consider the many ways that devices propel individual experience as they navigate today's complex environments. Surrounded as we are by devices that continuously create and calibrate environmental experience, we have multiple access points to redefine our world. Both physically and metaphorically, many of us carry the weight and power to shape the world in our own hands.

The periodical is itself a device, a literary and literal artifact: a form of framing perceptions, a translation of media across disciplines, an archive of accumulated temporal readings, a vehicle to share ideas. v40 Devices is thus conceived as a two-part thematic series, with the Spring/Summer 2019 issue expanding the definition of the device, and the Fall/Winter 2019 issue exploring and enacting publication's instrumental capacity via a pamphlet series and a set of related public programs, where each pamphlet will represent, reinvent, and deploy a specific action. We think of them as devious devices perceiving, collecting, translating, and dispersing through collected publics, continuing to circulate this conversation and capture the architectural imagination.

Miriam Ho, editorial lead v40

Ruth Jones & Aisling O’Carroll, co-editors-in-chief


(1) Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. "Device," accessed April 26, 2019, https://www.etymonline.com/word/device

(2) Oxford Dictionary Online, s.v. "Device," accessed April 26, 2019, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/device

(3) Wendy Hui Kyong Chun, Updating to Remain the Same (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2016): 19.

(4) David Gissen, “Architecture’s Geographic Turns,” Log, vol. 12 (2008): 59-67.