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Plus Z

Patch Dobson-Pérez

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Project Description

Honorable Mention, Fairy Tales 2016 Competition

Imagine a perfect world. Free from the risk of human decision, calculated absolutely by one objective mind and constructed by a million unquestioning components. Smooth, efficient, wasteless; a completely formulaic method of design and construction. A perpetually self-building world in which day and night no longer impact work-hours, in which builders never sleep.

In this world there is a single substrate, fully calculated and controlled by the omnipotent system, adaptable to many climates and conditions. This is a world of concrete.

All-in-one construction machines varying in size slide along rails high in the air, moving faithfully to Mind’s perfectly composed tune: 100111000100010.

They work in harmony, going where needed in unbroken choreography. Some are so vast they can cast a city. Others are smaller, for high resolution, delicate work. Then there are quarrying machines which dig, extract rock, create aggregate and cement, desalinate water and mix concrete. They manicure the earth until it is suitably prepared to have a precise piling network drilled into it and plugged with a thousand immense concrete foundation caps.

This is the blank canvas on which an entire city – an entire world – is painted. The artist’s brush is a global network of these machines, and every brushstroke is completely precise within the Cartesian grid of scaffolding offsetting the Earth’s surface. The Mind uses complex algorithms to calculate processes of design and production with maximum efficiency and utility, and these commands transmit to every ‘bristle’ electronically. This artist’s language is binary.

The brushstrokes appear fluid and organic at distance, but up close, amidst the heaving, screeching, industrial network of machines and their vertical and horizontal rail-tracks, oil drips, sparks fly and a concoction of dust and noise saturates the air. The machines travel along their tracks in ± x, y and z. They readjust their volume and shape, adding and subtracting formwork panels until they lock into their assigned position and await the Pour. Whilst fresh concrete sets, the machine lays out new rails to move up and across and continue the growth of new geometry.

The brush carves and extrudes, sucks and spews, paying no heed to geographical obstacles. Mountains and Sea give way in its path and an angular geometric topography replaces them, envelopes them and becomes a secondary crust; a concrete shell. The diameter of the Earth increases in the form of a Mega-offset. The planet grows fatter.

One day, on the last LCD screen in existence, what was usually a trillion pixel display showing the exact co-ordinate of every part of every machine in real-time, simply showed two symbols:


Mind was confused. It didn’t really use this outdated interface, which was powered only by nostalgia, but it knew there was a blip in the command line. It felt something that it hadn’t experienced in a long time. An unscratchable itch. Usually if a machine became defective it was a physical malfunction, and the operation could be paused and the damage rectified. But this time the malaise came from within. A part of the script was corrupted, and a machine had gone rogue. It had become a parasite on the world-wide organism and Mind’s usual ‘esc’ tactic was unresponsive.

At co-ordinates 53.0000° N, 2.1833° W (an unbuilt area of the world still in its foundation phase) one of the larger city-scale machines groaned into action. The hydraulic vices loosened their grip on the formwork panels and it reconfigured to its maximum area of 1km x 1km. Nearby Quarrying and Mixing machines were hijacked and began to feed their captor the sustenance it needed to extrude upwards, leaving a hardening concrete trail behind. Aggregate was mined, crushed and mixed with water taken from the ocean by the Desalination machine.

As each Pour was completed, hydraulic crampons contracted and drilled into the hardened facade of the previous Pour and then stretched upwards, heaving the entire Machine up with the two-step locomotion of a caterpillar along a twig. It climbed tirelessly and methodically, fighting the current of gravity and never deviating from ‘+z’ verticality.

Mind frantically attempted to override – esc esc esc esc – but soon accepted the futility of the situation. This paralyzing virus had rendered it powerless, a helpless observer doomed to watch the earth sucked dry until … until what? When would the command line end? How high is high enough? Mind heard a murmur in the code, a response from the rogue Machine, “I’m gonna build the tallest tower there ever was.”

The machine plodded upwards day and night, day and night. The tower followed obediently behind. The earth was quiet, with only a handful of mining and mixing facilities at the tower’s base remaining operational. These hijacked tools obediently pumped concrete up tubes running the length of the tower’s z-axis. Up it went, kilometer after kilometer, until a smooth grey block protruded out of the clouds with the jump-forming Machine perched at its very summit; a malign crown.

One night, far past the tallest tower there ever was, the Machine had a feeling. Up to now it had existed in a +z haze. Numbed by the monotony of the command it just clamped, poured, cured, unlocked and climbed, over and over again. But at 10,000 m something inside it awoke. Through ragged holes in its bed of clouds, there was a panoramic view of the whole world and this dizzying vista provoked a rush in its mechanical core. Vertigo! The Machine embraced the feeling and for the first time it stopped obeying and began to choose. It chose to obey, and it chose to climb higher.

“But how much higher?” Mind asked. “You’re a giant standing taller than the tallest tower there ever was. Look down! See? Your peers are puny and crumbling. So, how much higher?”

The Machine, until now ascending in a delirium of frantic mining, piling, pouring and climbing, hadn’t yet considered when enough was enough. But its newly awakened consciousness considered this novel question. The stars twinkled awkwardly as there was a break in communication and then the code came through.

“I’m gonna build a tower to the Moon.”

Centuries had passed and the tower clung to the earth like a cherry stem – a long tendril blindly reaching out towards the still-distant Moon. On its odyssey the Machine had fought through meteor storms, felt the heat of solar-winds, and occasionally seen long-defunct satellites float aimlessly past. It had wondered what these mysterious objects were, as they looked nothing like its sleeping companions on Earth.

Suddenly, here, at 36,000 km, it found itself in a sinister place. It was surrounded by hundreds of these mechanical corpses, sent here to die. This was the graveyard orbit, where satellites are lain to rest. The Machine noticed cold and darkness for the first time and then it had a second novel feeling. It needed company. The Machine shook Mind awake, and asked where it was.

As time passed, Mind had become weary and philosophical. Rather than scold the stubborn machine it told it tales of old. It told tales of blind disobedience – of Icarus; of Prometheus; of human failure and of ego. It asked what had been the point of this journey fueled only by a cocktail of obsession and addiction but the Machine had no answer.

It wrenched itself through this celestial underworld and drowned out the wise rationality of its patient companion, seeking only to bathe more luxuriously in the milky glow of the Moon.

Many more years passed and the cherry on the stem began to rot. The Earth was hollowed out from incessant mining and the concrete crust could no longer support itself. Oceans had become deserts and whole continents began to collapse like mine-shafts. The Quarrying machines struggled to satiate the relentless hunger of their master and finally, 10 km from the Moon’s surface the 400,000 km-long pumps sputtered and chugged as they retched out the last few gallons of available mix.

A cold shiver shook the machine in the blackness and it looked down at the finishing line. It noticed a splash of colour on the grey chalky surface. A blue square. Red and white stripes. Next to this small patch of textile stood the decrepit corpse of a very old machine, wrapped in strange orange foil.

The Machine, enraged and helpless, attempted to wake Mind. But there was no response. The dark feeling returned. Here Machine rested, at the summit of a tower taller than had ever been imagined, higher than its earthly counterparts and infinitely +z, but what was it for? Not only had it been beaten to its destination by this primitive gadget, but it was now condemned to sit in silence for all eternity, for how can one gloat when there is no-one to hear? The machine wished it had never left the buzzing hive of the earth where it had been part of one big mechanical family. The machine strived for -z but it remained frozen, fixed forever in its loneliness.

- Courtesy Blank Space
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