Mapping the Invisible

1_“Strategies in South China Sea: Para-Consistency, Design and Fiction”
2_Form Axioms: Design Strategies in and around South China Sea”

“Will the global radical class manage to invent social machines that can challenge capital and function as planes of autonomy and autopoiesis? Radical machines that are able to face the techno-managerial intelligence and imperial meta-machines lined up all around us? The match multitude vs empire becomes the match radical machines vs imperial techno-monsters. How do we start building these machines?” (Matteo Pasquinelli, “Radical machines against the techno-empire. From utopia to network”)

“The ability to move is the fundamental precondition of isonomia” (Kōjin Karatani, “Isonomia and the Origins of Philosophy”)

[Details and Credits]


ITERATION 1 – [Mapping the Invisible] “Strategies in South China Sea: Para-Consistency, Design and Fiction”

The South China Sea Atlas and 3 Speculative proposals:

“Bioscapes”; “Deep Aquatic Life”; “Aegis”.


ITERATION 2 – [Mapping the Invisible] “Form Axioms: Design Strategies in and around South China Sea”

5 Speculative proposals:

“Black-strata” (Itogon_16.3452N_120.6890E); “Volcanism” (Krakatau_6.1021S_105.423E); “Plas·​tic·​i·ty” (Manila_14.7003N_121.1196E); “Augmented Nature” (Mekong Delta_9.8127N_106.2993E); “Bodies of Exile” (Union Reef_9.5156N_114.2616E).


ITERATION 3 – [Mapping the Invisible] “Design the Atlas through Micro Localities”

3 Speculative proposals in the Philippines:

“Golo Island”, “Maricaban Island” and “Verde Island”.



The work present has been developed in two Advanced Option Studios, led in 2018/2019 by tutors Eva Castro and Federico Ruberto at Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD_ASD).

“Phase 1” has been elaborated by students:

1-[Peng Haonan, Sim Yi-ting (Michel), Nabila Larasati Pranoto, Chow Khoi Rong (Clara), Ho Jin Teck (Daryl), Neo Wei Lin] 2-[Chu Wy Ton, Chew Cheng York, Hun Ming Kwang, Lau Zhi Hsien (Josiah)] 3-[Ching Su Ying (Marianne), Chang Chee Kin (Jeremy), Tan Pei Ru, Chua Rui Xiang, Lim Jayne]

“Phase 2” has been elaborated by students:

1-[Ho Jin Teck (Daryl), Goh Jun Yang] 2-[Peng Haonan, Tan Shao Xuan] 3-[Chow Khoi Rong (Clara), Lee Huimin (Denise)] 4-[Nabila Larasati Pranoto, Tran Thi Thien Tam] 5-[Sim Yi-ting (Michel), Kendrick Tay]

“Phase 3” has been elaborated by students:

1-[Kelly Yeo Jing Er, Heong Kheng Boon, Nidhi Hegde, Tan Jee Khang Benedict, Wesley Koh Zhi Peng], 2-[Emir Hamzah Bin Mustaffa Qamal, Lee Qian Yi Jeanette, Thet Naung Oo, Nurul Nabilah Izzati, Grace Sim I-En], 3-[Tina Cerpnjak, Samson Sim, Paris Lau Sherneese and Xiao Yiming].


The AR-app structure has been created by IRL-Game Lab: Jacob, Alan and YB

[Meta-Speculative Approach]

The studio takes on the challenging task of rethinking the area the circles around “South China Sea”, its geopolitical and material ecology through the reconceptualization and design of large scale infrastructures and localized-material assemblages.

The South China Sea is the central core of our testing ground, an area that has multiple designations given by the various sovereignties that claim it. Its boundaries arise amidst the shorelines of China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. Within its 3,500,000 square kilometers it contains no more than 15 square kilometers of land distributed within no less than 250 islandsatollscays, shoals, reefs, and sandbars; some seasonally submerged, others permanently underwater; some in continuous state of mutation, growing, solidifying. The SCS carries a tremendous strategic importance owned to the fact that one-third of the world’s shipping passes through it carrying over $3 trillion in trade each year; it contains fisheries that are crucial for the food security of millions in Southeast Asia and, it has huge oil and gas reserves -believed to lie beneath its seabed.

Site_Issues: Environmental issues: perennial disputes among 6 countries over its ownership; huge environmental impact of dredging activity of site, destruction of coral reefs on site; subduction + low salinity of the water; weakened buffering capacity to strong typhoons. Geopolitical issues: being one of the most important slocs in the seas on the one hand, and given the ambiguity of both, its morphological thresholds and masses dusting its waters on the other, this site has been  subject of historical disputes over its sovereignty. These disputes are increasingly becoming one of Asia’s most potentially dangerous point of conflict, one with a political domino effect that could surpass by large the immediate region, creating new territorial alliances and hierarchies within the worldwide power structures.


[Meta-Fiction and Ecology]

We will read the (in)tangible lines drawn by geology, energy (resources) and politics and map the invisible, describe the submerged, uncover the concealed … in doing so we will design a future: the fictional context within which these precious square kilometres are contained. Among many possible scenarios based on the hastening events taking place now, ours will choose to be situated within the polemic, evidencing the studio’s provocation. The studio will develop alternative para-consistent realities, fiction, because as Kim Stanley Robinson writes, “science fiction is the realism of our time” 

Designers are in this course strategists, writers, conceptual and morphological explorers. Influences of the lab are the politically driven manifestos (such as that of the Russian Cosmists… recently of the “Xeno-femminist”, the “Accelerationist”…), “hyperstitional” narratives able to re-invent the present, by having the courage to reimagine-and-live right here and now, the possibility of an-Other future. To design in the course is to map and bring out layers of “controversies”, to form an alternative milieu whence a new reality could germinate. What emerges at the end of the course, we hope, are works that are politicized at core, designs that have the courage to look onto post-hyper-anthropocentric scenarios and that give now hopes to one primary mission: liberating thought from the enslaving forces that makes it a victim of its own incapacities, and with such liberation imaging new forms of living together on earth, and possibly in a future, in one of its distant horizons.


[Modelling Nature(s)]

We move into the space of reconceptualization of the very core of nature by challenging philosophical positions that take for granted a benevolent nature, and that from such position move towards the representation of the environment and its naive re-naturalization forgetting that the environment is not to be joyfully used, but that in order to live on this blue marble, it is something to be redesigned. One has to loose the trivial gaze upon things and embrace that things, and that nature as the actual set of all things, is constructed by social and political, material and ideological forces —that are to be studied and in-taken at the beginning of each design venture. Eco-systems will be by studio be developed as ecologically driven abstractions, because as Reza Negarestani put it:

terrestrial thought and creativity must essentially be associated with ecology, but an ecology which is based on the unilateral powers of cosmic contingencies such as climate changes, singularity drives, chemical eruptions and material disintegration. Any other mode of thought basking in the visual effects of Earth as a blue marble or the Sun as the exorbitant flame is but submission to heliocentric slavery” (Reza Negarestani, “Solar Inferno and the Earthbound Abyss,” in Our Sun. Milan: Istituto Svizzero di Roma, 2010, p.3-8).



We take, and develop “fiction(s)” critically, as, following Jaques Rancière,

“[Fiction] means far more than the constructing of an imaginary world, and even far more than its Aristetolian sense as an ‘arrangement of actions.’… fiction is a way of changing existing modes of sensory presentations and forms of enunciation[…] of building new relationships between reality and appearance” (Jaques Rancière, “Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics”, p.149).



We strive for a weird kind of local-universalism, a multi-layered model of interwoven local-global scales of operations. We strive for building a world in the way Negarestani put it:

“[…] universalism is at its core concerned with world-building or more precisely world-engineering to the extent that our premise, resource and space of labour is always this world and not some imaginary world or an afterlife heaven. The possible world cannot be one that is sealed off from this world, a universe or a commune that exists parallel to our world. The former is merely a fantasy, the latter is not only phantasmic but also parasitic upon the pathologies the real world without even realizing it. To sum up, the path to concrete universalism always begins from particularities of our experience of the world which are constituted by abstract universalities. So, in a sense, the trajectory of universalism should always begin from local conditions of thinking and action, rather than a purported universal condition under which we can all be integrated and unified. But this trajectory does not end with the local, it must pass through stages and encompass the global conditions of thinking and action. Remaining in the ambit the local is actually what suffers from a delusive idealism, not universalism. Why? Because this localism abides by the myth of a closed system in which jobs can get done effectively and perfectly. But a closed system is simply an idealized state, to mistake an idealized model with the messy reality is a hallmark of credulity” (Reza Negarestani, “Engineering the World, Crafting the Mind”).


We design by computationally analyzing and proposing structures as we believe, in the words of Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek that

“the left must take ad­vantage of every tech­no­lo­gical and sci­entific ad­vance made pos­sible by cap­it­alist so­ciety. We de­clare that quan­ti­fic­a­tion is not an evil to be elim­in­ated, but a tool to be used in the most ef­fective manner pos­sible. Economic mod­el­ling issimply puta ne­ces­sity for making in­tel­li­gible a com­plex world. […] The tools to be found in so­cial net­work ana­lysis, agent- based mod­el­ling, big data ana­lytics, and non- equilibrium eco­nomic models, are ne­ces­sary cog­nitive me­di­ators for un­der­standing com­plex sys­tems like the modern eco­nomy. The ac­cel­er­a­tionist left must be­come lit­erate in these tech­nical fields” (Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek, “Accelerate Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”).

[Infra-Structural Terminology]

Terms central to our methodology are:

__Infrastructure – Rather than approach the question of infrastructure as a cosmetic problem –in need to be concealed, we treat it as an opportunity to engage with the machinic processes ranged across its sites. The critical role played by infrastructure in the organisation and management of the city’s complex systems of movement, communication and exchange is recognised as the basis from which its operation can be further developed and pushed beyond its tendency to fragment and divide toward other possibilities. We pursue the formal and material articulation of infrastructure, coordinating its operations with the territorial processes, forms and parameters identified in the site, developing its relation to the ground, and elaborating its architectural composition. Beyond the problem-solving and remedial capabilities, landscape and engineering techniques, such as soil remediation, water cleansing strategies, traffic control, earthworks… to name a few, become the medium through which concepts find the material constrains to emerge as highly designed spatial structures. 

__Ground morphologies – Collectively, the approach to the different dimensions and registers of the site are coordinated through the morphology of the ground. It is especially through the treatment of the ground, through its formation, that we seek a means to resist the tendency to conceive a site as, ideally, horizontally articulated, absolutely flexible, and infinitely reprogrammable. We would argue that it is through form that we attain agency. This type of ‘groundwork’ provides an opportunity to generate artificial topographies with the formal capacity to structure relations between environmental, social, cultural and economic factors on a given site. Whilst the techniques employed for this type of groundwork may be borrowed from those used in more conventional techniques of landscaping, it is through their architectural elaboration that these forms achieve the greatest potential to articulate determinate — though not deterministic — urban relationships.

__Hybrid Strategies – Specifically we ask: what’s autonomy in nowadays multi-layered capital liquidity? How does one sustain its particular territorial “form of life”? Within this framework, and given it is a “design studio” the student is supposed to unfold the delicate knot: define the relationship between bottom up and top down strategies: “decide” how to design in a complex, vast multi-stratified territory that requires both interpolation of data and more defined —ideologically defined— interventions.