Unclear Cloud

Philip Samartzis, Unclear Cloud, 2021
Philip Samartzis, Unclear Cloud, 2021

Unclear Cloud is an architectural and sound installation by Roland Snooks and Philip Samartzis that draws attention to the scale, accelerating growth and subsequent ecological implications of computation and ‘the cloud’ – a metaphor for the internet. The project features in Sampling the Future at the NGV Australia.

Often thought of as immaterial and benign, the cloud is in fact a vast ecosystem of over 40 billion devices, apps and software, driving trillions of uploads, downloads and their subsequent storage. The seemingly non-physical contents of the cloud have a massive physical footprint on earth. The global network of energy-hungry data centres enabling the cloud are set to consume as much as 1/5 of the earth’s energy generation by 2025, much of it from non-renewable sources such as oil, gas and coal.

Unclear Cloud seeks to draw this complex scenario into focus, questioning how we feel about the most sophisticated technologies in use today – software, AI and algorithms being powered by polluting carbon-based systems that are contributing to global heating and its consequences. Our future cities will increasingly rely on advanced cloud computing, from simple algorithmic procedures to artificial intelligence, for their design, construction and infrastructural logistics. These cloud-based algorithms become the unseen structural framework behind the evolution of urbanism and architecture. Cloud Affects explores what is not seen in this algorithmically driven computational cloud world.

The project attempts to reify a structure from the nebulous; to materialise and express these intangible algorithms and make reference to the real-world infrastructure required to prop up the virtual cloud. It seeks to offer a new architectural geometric expression, one that can only emerge from the use of advanced computation within both the design and robotic fabrication processes.

Unclear Cloud also explores the architectural relationship of structure and ornament enabled by cloud-based algorithms. The polymer skin of the project is reinforced through the use of carbon fibre and resin to give it structural rigidity and strength. This carbon fibre inlay is simultaneously expressive and ornamental, an enhanced tectonic legibility of the structural system highlighting the algorithm-enabled architecture of the installation.

The embedded sound installation explores the environmental impact of cloud computing and its massive energy requirements – capturing the sounds of the cloud and its physical implications, being composed in part from recordings of glacial melting recorded in the Swiss Alps and Antarctica, and the scientific instruments used to measure greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – creating a sonic affect as a consequence of global climate change.

Installation view of Philip Samartzis and Roland Snook’s Unclear Cloud 2021 on display in Sampling the Future at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne. Image–Tom Ross

Commissioned by the Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne with the support of RMIT University School of Architecture and Urban Design, RMIT University School of Art, Boeing, and The Hugh D. T. Williamson Foundation. Sound work supported by The Bogong Centre for Sound Culture, Creative Victoria, the High-Altitude Research Station at Jungfraujoch and Gornegrat, the Institute for Computer Music and Sound Technology at the Zurich University of the Arts, and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

This is what the changing Alps sound like - SWI swissinfo

Making Unclear Cloud - NGV Magazine