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Posted on: Friday, October 10, 2014 - 13:10 By: jstenner

he digital cinema installation, entitled Mandalation, is designed to represent and supplement the translational practice performed in the CTRB at the University of Florida. Historically architecture functioned as an interface relating microcosm with macrocosm, individual with collective mind. Visitors to a Gothic cathedral or Palladian villa were able to comprehend by means of the architecture alone their location both physically and metaphysically. The explanatory power of architecture was lost in modernity, a casualty of the collapse of wisdom traditions supporting cultural common sense due to the emergence of modern science. Knowledge necessarily became the province of experts, with each discipline sequestered within its own institution, producing a new dimension of reality for which tradition had no equivalent. The responsibility for interface with the general population transferred to popular culture and mass media, which propagated not common sense but commodities. Society has long been aware of this breakdown of cognitive mapping, with many calls for developing a new unified knowledge, of which Edward O. Wilson's national bestseller, Consilience, is a leading example.

Mandalation introduces into the CTRB a miniaturization of system translation, like the play within a play in Hamlet, that visualizes the contribution the CTRB enterprise is making to consilience (the term emphasizes that the aim ideally is not just coherence but a true unification). The installation takes up the symbolic mapping already in place in the Perkins+Will design--the "prism" concept of glass whose transparency and energy efficiency evoke the openness of the work accomplished in this setting (the movement of learning from pure research through testing to care and well-being in everyday life). This translational research has a symbolic dimension in turn, modeling wholeness as a fundamental value of education. Mandalation takes up this translational trajectory, evoking in its d!esign the resources of patterning that art and science both learned from close observation of nature.

The digital installation evokes and displays the principle of translatability leading to consilience at several levels, beginning with the figure of the mandala itself as metaphor. The mandala is a design based on the geometry of circle and sphere common in most pre-modern civilizations, and a commonplace of contemporary self-help and new age culture as well. The familiarity of the figure allows for quick recognition, evoking emblematically the basic principle of a unified order. Mandalation appropriates the functionality of mandala in this symbolic sense, but is not literally a mandala nor confined to the traditional geometries or cosmologies it represented in wisdom traditions. Rather, Mandalation addresses the possibility of a contemporary equivalent of mandala, going beyond the historical associations of the symbol to express contemporary knowledge about the coherence of reality. The principle of unity is consistent across epochs: the infinite variety of phenomena -- the surface of experience -- is structured by a reduced system of form, which in turn expresses a core of causal force. The Ancients named these causal elements Earth, Air, Fire, Water. Contemporary science has its own set: gravitational, electromagnetic, strong and weak nuclear forces. Complexity and chaos theory, topological and fractal geometries, exceed the range of traditional sacred geometries based on the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Number. Nathan Hale's classic, Abstraction in Art and Nature, charts the repetitions of forms through the three media (solid, liquid, gas). Thus the vortex eddy, for example, appears in a mushroom or the hair patterns of a dog, t!he motion of surf, and blowing smoke. The brain is a cauliflower, morphologically (or vice versa).

Mandalation takes up the mandala function, then, at several levels. In purely visual terms mandala figures express intuitively the principle of coherence as a unified image. The digital cinema display gathers itself periodically into a unified configuration, and then repeats the unfolding of juxtapositions across phenomena, a kaleidoscopic movement simulating the meditative effect of the traditional figure. Mandalation rewards further attention through its montage representing forces, forms, and phenomena, displaying the abstractions that unify art and nature. Cultural and social iterations of the forces are included in the unfolding assemblage, in architecture, city forms, traffic patterns, and related processes and events. Complexity mathematics inverted the relationship between order and "chaos" assumed in traditional civilizations, so that turbulence, instability, and dispersal are included within consilience. Translatability in all endeavors counters entropy, breakdown, decline, catastrophe, the resistance in general of what Sartre called the practico-inert to the designs, ideals, capacities, and aspirations of humanity not just to survive but to thrive. Mandalation visualizes the principle of measure at work in the CTRB.


The architecture of the CTRB takes up the mission of translation, expressing it through transparency, relating the internal functioning of its occupants with the external world. The bidirectional flow of inside and outside, are key concepts that organize the structure. The entry vestibule leading into the main lobby is one place where this flow is articulated such that the passage from one to another is highlighted. This liminal space is the boundary between inside and outside, mirroring the building concept literally and figuratively. Formally, Mandalation takes this one step further, reinforcing the overall CTRB concept while introducing the virtual, unseen or unnoticed structures that allow us to make sense of our world. A reflective cube is suspended between inside and outside spaces. As people enter the building, their presence is reflected on its sides. Video monitors are embedded in each end of the cube. Viewers outside the building will recognize the content on the screen as a view looking into the lobby. Viewers inside the building will observe an outward view, looking towards the entry drive. One can tell these are “live” views because motion on either side is present in the image. The cube functions as a sort of “portal” between inside and outside, that makes literal the bidirectional relationship of in and out. But, amplifying the concept of translation, Mandalation augments this image with sequences of animated content and image processes that show us how pattern is a fundamental order. For example, the torus is but one part of a fractal pattern that can explain a forest. These forms appear to float or otherwise perturb the three-dimensional spaces portrayed by the “portal.”


The Mandalation “portal” will be composed of a welded steel frame with exterior panels of Type 304 mirror polished stainless steel. The panels will be 11 gauge in thickness to avoid oil-canning so the surface is flat and maximally reflective. Panels on the top and bottom will be removable for easy access to the internal components of the structure. The structure will be suspended from hollow stainless steel support tubes concealing power and network cables routed from the plenum above. The support tubes will be attached to the structure above via steel angle brackets and mechanical fasteners. Each end of the “portal” will contain two industrial quality LED monitors configured as a “video wall” with content that spans both screens. These monitors are designed for 24 hour, 7 day per week operation over long periods of time. The structure will be designed to allow easy replacement or service of any equipment, should that be necessary in the future. In addition to the monitors (two each side) will be two computers, each with a dedicated video camera. The cameras will also be industrial quality intended for 24/7 operation. In addition to the computers, a backup media player will be installed. The backup playback device will deliver pre-recorded content in the event of hardware failure or periodic maintenance. Mandalation will be designed to be accessible for service via the network. It will use off-the-shelf components and open-source software where possible to maximize its long-term viability and maintenance.

Project Initiation:
2014-03-01 00:00:00