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The London Institute of ‘Pataphysics

    2015 - 2016

“London Institute of ‘Pataphysics”

Design & Research
Speculative Architectural Proposal

Tom Greenall & Nicola Koller
(ADS4, Royal College of Art)

The Royal College of Art (2016)


Nominated for the West London RIBA Prize (2016)

The use of computer simulation is on the rise: in films, disaster planning, architectural practice, and job trainings. They are a chance to practice or make predictions, to optimize reality or make it more exciting. Ultimately, the aim is for  simulations to become so realistic that they are indistinguishable from the real world. This point, where reality and simulation will one day converge, is termed the simulation singularity.

“The London Institute of ‘Pataphysics” is a speculative architecture project which explores the social consequences of this trajectory and resulting knock-on effects for the built environment. It imagines two ideological factions emerging: those in pursuit of the reassuring predictability afforded by simulated test-runs, pitted against those who harbour a growing desire for chaos and unpredictability.  

In architecture practice, BIM technologies are hailed as the software of the future. A building’s design development, construction process, and entire life-span can now undergo a simulated trial run, which allows for construction processes to be increasingly rationalised and streamlined.

Through the lens of ‘Pataphysics, the project speculates on inevitable reactions and counter-reactions to this escalating rationality. ‘Pataphysics is the self-declared science of nonsense—coined by French writer Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) as a parody of science. It argues that physical laws, which imply relationships of cause and effect and predictability, don’t exist. Instead, everything is exceptional, with some exceptions simply happening more often than others. Today, ‘pataphysical institutes and organizations exist around the world, which all celebrate uselessness as a positive antidote to an era of utility.

Through the mis-use and re-appropriation of simulation tools, the project sets out to develop a ‘pataphysical approach to architecture. It grapples with questions of chaos and order, chance and predictability. The unhinged aesthetic that emerges at once encapsulates the unsettling beliefs and value systems of its followers and hints at the untapped creative potentials of digital technologies. The London Institute of ‘Pataphysics absolves simulation of its responsibility as test-bed for reality, in turn allowing it—in its unworldliness—to stake its own claim to reality.

The institute’s departments include the Bureau for the Investigation of Subliminal Images, Committee for Hirsutism and Pogonotrophy, Department of Dogma and Theory, Department of Potassons, Department of Reconstructive Archaeology, and The Office of Patentry. The institute also houses a museum which uses simulation, rather inconveniently, as a curation tool. Its contents feature a peanut enlarger and a giant peanut, as well as an extensive wand collection—including the Golden Dawn Fire wand, tickling sticks, and a Toast wand.