Pyramid Schemes

Video essay, 18mins, 2018

“Architecture is prosthetic memory—a way for society to write without words.”

Pyramid Schemes is a treatise on architecture in eleven chapters. Narrated by a computer-simulated voice, the video takes Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) as its historical point of departure.  In his novel, Hugo foretells the death of architecture as civilization’s universal language of communication. Speaking about the gothic cathedral across the street, and thinking about the printing press that produced the book on his desk, the novel’s villain laments: “Small things overcome great ones... the book will kill the building.”

Over the remaining fifteen minutes Lek offers a sweeping journey through the evolution of architecture—spaces that reflect and inscribe power structures—by interfusing scenes from the video game Assassin’s Creed with other simulated environments. The first-person perspective of a role-playing game assert the agency of the video’s wandering protagonist, and reflect how virtual spaces reflect real-world issues of migration, access, and the privilege of being able to go different places. In the words of the artist, “the simplest form of freedom is the freedom of mobility.”  

As print has evaporated into hypertext and cathedrals have grown into skyscrapers, the narrator implores: “To progress we must create a space that can shelter the collective, not just reflect it. Architecture must not simply express novelty, it must absorb difference. Difference in culture, difference in technology, difference in language, difference in dreams.”


[Coming Soon]


Written and edited by Lawrence Lek

Originally commissioned for Rendered Cities at ApexArt, New York City, 2018

Related Works

Pyramid Schemes continues an exploration of the political relationship between real and simulated architecture, following Bonus Levels, a series of virtual worlds created between 2013 and 2016.

︎︎︎ Read the essay.

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