Blackout In Render Street

I've recently been thinking about the structural and computational limits of rendering. I've written a lot previously about how this media is rapidly become a key popular orientating mechanism for the future, but unlike print, it obviously has dependencies. Then I was going to write a blog about it, then I wrote a story. ...

The flickering lights on the nearby crane, diffused by the thick city air, caught her attention. It was coming up to 9pm and the evening brownout would be up soon with power cut to non-vital services. During winter there were four a day, each for an hour and she was constantly amazed at how quickly the city had adjusted and normalised this dramatic infraction over the last two years. Gazing out of the window over her laptop into the never-dark of the city she glared pointedly at the ever-shifting urban landscape. The rapidity of construction was staggering but it was hard to remember it being any different, adjusted and normalised as everything in the city was.

She examined the site in front of her block; a massive pit of gravel and half-finished foundation that extended to the next street over. Trucks and machinery littered the site and huge halogens illuminated the ground casting harsh and perfectly black shadows under the machines and concrete and wire. All ringed by the defensive palisade of the standard 8 foot construction hoardings. ’What used to be there?’ she wondered. Last week there was one crane, now three, next week… six? Who knew?

She walked past the site and others like it everyday. The buildings grew and changed, were demolished again and rebuilt all over again. The city was pockmarked with pits and piles of rubble and foundations forever. Her streetscape was mostly digital hoardings; glaring and glowing LED screens proclaiming property lifestyle choices. Smiling families catching frisbees in opulent green spaces that never seemed to materialise in the ceaseless churn of construction and deconstruction.

She flicked open a new tab in her browser and went to Street View. Entering the time machine, she scrobbled back through bookmarks from the last few months when the Google cars had been through; hoarding, hoardings, mesh fence, hoardings, hoardings, hoardings.. all the same but different. Eventually she found something. Five years back, the time before the hoardings had arrived. A nondescript, squat concrete block of two or three storeys receded from the road with a ramp leading up to the heavy wooden security door. No indication of what it was. A community centre or hall, maybe some shops or classrooms. It didn’t actually matter. She felt no personal nostalgia for the boring building. It’s just.

It’s just that it’s been five years since anything on this street had been real. Not a promise or a speculation, a future, a rendering or an investment opportunity. A future ever receding behind the CGI towers and greenscape. Five years since that squat concrete bulk of sink-estate architecture had been replaced by ‘City Living With A Wholesome Lifestyle’ or ‘Urban Choices’ or ‘Metropolitan Family Quality’ or ‘Quality. Efficiency. Living’ or ‘Completely Global. Completely Local’ or ‘Live Your Dream’ or ‘Living: Redefined’ or ‘The New Face of Iconic’ or ‘Celebrating Heritage, Creating Opportunity’ or, or, or…

She studied the concrete block on her screen. It sat, blissfully unaware of its fate, obscured by a mix of vegetation and the stretched distortion of the Google car’s camera. The trees were gone for sure. The block eradicated, how was it the same place? Google’s rendering made it so she supposed. Using her mouse, she tried to rotate around and zoom, find out more about the hideous little thing but to no satisfaction. She was stymied by Google’s limited data capture of the time and a generation of architecture that refused to broadcast any intentions.

She looked back out of the window. The hoardings on the site oppostie were still going, looping their kitsch little animations, the gleeful renders and future promises unaware of the brutal power cut on its way. Her laptop battery was charged in advance as always, the blackouts were scheduled and she was well-attuned to making time for them and normally she’d continue through the hour. But. She hesitated.

After a few moments she closed her laptop, put on a coat and left the flat. She descended the stairs and crossed the street.

She concentrated on the hoarding on the other side of the road from her apartment building door. From this perspective she could see none of the concrete foundations, rubble or machinery behind it’s dimming digital glare. In front of gleaming towers, on a glorious sunny day a young woman in sunglasses, gliding down a non-existent gravel path smiled back at her, her hand reached out, she laughed, beckoned and turned around. The CGI view panned up to the sky, the promised apartment towers gleamed in the rendered skybox, constructed from some foreign atmosphere. The view faded to white. ‘Live in Tomorrow’s City.’

She stepped over the road in the chill and quiet and walked over to the hoarding. The animation restarted. The woman walked towards her, smiled, laughed, beckoned, turned, the view panned. ‘Live in Tomorrow’s City.’ Fade to white. The animation restarted.

She moved closer, following the woman’s face as she smiled, laughed, beckoned. ‘Live in Tomrrow’s City.’ Fade to white.

Closer still. She reached out with both hands and touched the dirty surface of the hoarding layered with grime and soot from the street and the site. Smiling, laughing, beckoning. ‘Live in Tomrrow’s City.’ Fade to white.

Closer. Smiling, laughing, beckoning, ‘Live in Tomorrow’s City.’ White.

Closer. The image became blurred, the laughing, the beckoning, the tag line became enmeshed and blurred with the bright LEDs.

She felt the cool plastic of the hoarding touch the tip of her nose. In front of her eyes, a handful of impossibly bright LEDs struggled to maintain focus, blinding her and filling her vision. Somewhere else there was laughing, beckoning, ‘Live in Tomorrow’s City.’ White.

And then just gone. Just black. Her eyes adjusted. Her ears suddenly attuned to the absence of the gentle buzz of electricity. In front of her eyes, the LEDs resolved to dark grey bulbs and she could see the smudged brown of the dirt. No one laughed or beckoned. The future had turned black.

She stepped back, all along the street, the hoardings had cut leaving nothing but grimy screens. She was alone and the street was empty but it was more and less than that. It was empty of itself. As if she was looking at the shell of the street. It came form nowhere and belonged to anywhere. Cracked pavement, unmarked road, black walls. With only the blank LED screens becoming obelisks in her eye line she felt trapped. She looked at her hands, her fingers rubbed with the grime of the LED hoarding. Her hands were grey. She tried to remember the concrete block that stood here five years ago but could only summon Google’s rendering, an overcast day, trees, blurred edges where the software stitched the mediocre panorama into reality. She turned around in the grey, everything suddenly real between renders of past and future.

Then the most brilliant illumination. She saw her hands cast in shadows and white then blues and greens. Colours so bright and real, impossible reality.

Smiling, laughing, beckoning. ‘Live in The City of Tomorrow.’