Semiautomatic Cenotaphs are memorials for victims of mass gun violence in the United States; the projection of an architectural antidote to the increased frequency of shootings and the disturbingly short cycle of shock, grief, loss, and forgetfulness that accompanies the spectacle of the tragedy.
The project considers how contemporary design technologies and techniques might find political agency, transforming automated design and construction into a critical practice with a social agenda. The work was focused by questioning if the coded language of computational scripting can be asserted with the same ideological force of prose in the modern manifesto.
The rhetoric and capacities of mass customization are germane to recording the effects of gun violence in architectural form. Every mass shooting affects culture at two scales: holistically when considering the tragedy of mass shootings as a national (or global) phenomenon, and locally in the nuanced experiences of communities, families, and individuals. The design approach for the Cenotaphs commences from this observation in the development of a system to account for both the common resemblance and personal specificity of each event of gun violence. Similarity is achieved by constraining the proportion and shape to a sphere modeled after Boullee’s Cenotaph for Isaac Newton, scaled down to reflect the intimate context and for ease of implementation. The distinct aspects of each shooting are captured in the architecture through an algorithm that articulates material differences between structure, thickness, and opacity from data unique to each event.
Upon the receipt of information about victims, shooter, weapon, and location of the mass shooting, the Cenotaph design is instantly generated from the parametric script without the architect’s intervention, fabricated by robotic casting from a concrete with metallic aggregate from recycled guns, and air-lifted into place immediately after the site is cleared by security personnel. Capitalizing on the acceleration available through automation, architecture can short-circuit the process of implementing a memorial, and by its very appearance protract awareness of singular acts of gun violence before they are forgotten. As a population of memorials across the United States, the repetition of experience brings attention to the ongoing debate regarding America’s relationship with the gun, and collectively manifests a significant architectural response to the nearly 220 mass shootings since Columbine massacre in 1999.