The architecture of spam


[Image: From Spam Architecture, ©Alex Dragulescu].

Alex Dragulescu has some extremely interesting projects up on his website right now. For the most part, they're "experiments and explorations of algorithms, computational models, simulations and information visualizations that involve data derived from databases, spam emails, blogs and video game assets."
However, this one – called Spam Architecture – totally blows me away: "The images from the Spam Architecture series are generated by a computer program that accepts as input, junk email. Various patterns, keywords and rhythms found in the text are translated into three-dimensional modeling gestures."


[Image: From Spam Architecture, ©Alex Dragulescu].

Applying this to large-scale architectural design would be endlessly and hypnotically fascinating – not to mention quite profitable if you turned it into a kind of immersive, 3-dimensional version of Tetris. You turn digital photographs of your last birthday party into architectural structures; your Ph.D. thesis, exported as an inhabitable object; every bank statement you've ever received, transformed into a small Cubist city.
Your whole DVD collection, informationally re-presented as a series of large angular buildings.
Of course, you could also reverse the process, and input CAD diagrams of a Frank Gehry building – thus generating an inbox-clogging river of spam email. The Great Wall of China, emailed around the world in an afternoon. The collected works of Frank Lloyd Wright.
In any case, Dragulescu currently works at the Experimental Game Lab at UC-San Diego – the same institution at which Sheldon Brown developed his Scalable City project.

(Thanks to Brent Kissel for the tip about Dragulescu – and you can read more here – and to Brian Romer for Scalable City).

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Blogger Tim said...

What do you get if you put the Wikipedia through that thing?

July 28, 2006 7:16 PM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

Or if you feed it this post?

July 29, 2006 3:54 PM  
Anonymous cenoxo said...

Couple the online Spam Generator (refresh the page to see new results) to Alex's interpreter, feed the data to a 3d printer, cast the results in bronze, and sell them as individually unique paperweights.

Getchyer SpamWeights right here, folks! No two alike!

July 30, 2006 12:37 AM  
Blogger Norman Blogster said...

Architecture as frozen spam!
Thanks for introducing me to this guy. I actually don't think this is his most interesting project (blogbot and sorts are cooler), even though it's 3D. You can take anything and turn it into 3D form but it doesn't mean anything unless the mapping from genotype (spam in this case) to phenotype (3D form) means something. Maybe there is an interesting mapping here, but it's not explained, and therefore you can't read the resulting form in any way, so they become just random shapes in space. A certain Distinction from archi-school then!

July 30, 2006 3:39 AM  
Blogger Geoff Manaugh said...

They're random shapes, and you do have to take the process behind them a little bit on faith - i.e. you have to trust Dragulescu that he actually did take spam email and turn it into these virtual objects – but the very idea is so attractive to me that I have to confess to really enjoying this project. As cenoxo's comment implies - or Tim's – you could feed almost almost anything through a kind of Dragulescu Filter®, plug that into a 3D printer, and you're suddenly pulling material shapes out of immaterial clusters of data, almost like snowflakes appearing mid-sky. The distance between your house and every national capital in the world - boom: that's an object, it's measured, designed, and printed right there in front of you.

The insane thing is then tracking this process backward, and looking at an object and being able to say: you know, that object is the speed of every fastball thrown in a World Series since 1944. Printed as a 3D object. Clearly this could go too far: you go hiking in Utah, and suddenly every rock formation and geological oddity around you takes on informational characteristics. Hermeneutic overload. You see data everywhere, encoded in 3D form.

In any case, I do agree that the process is obscured and it has to be taken on faith, but the very idea that this might be possible makes me sort of giddy. It's reversing the process that really gets me: turning the internal volume of Notre-Dame into spam email. Or reading natural landscapes for hidden data. Where computer programming takes over from poetry.

July 31, 2006 8:17 PM  
Blogger Norman Blogster said...

"turning the internal volume of Notre-Dame into spam email" - then you'd have the Hunchback of Notre-Spam. Boom boom! ;)

Reversing the process is indeed really interesting. Tufte has made a career out of it, albeit in 2D.

August 01, 2006 12:38 PM  
Anonymous nb said...

Geoff, I just discovered your delightful blog, and am inspired to point out that natural landscapes ARE full of "hidden data," "informational characteristics" -- the geologist reads the Utah rock formation's history out of the form of the rock itself.

Thanks, I'm looking forward to exploring further.

August 10, 2006 11:53 AM  

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