Operative Agency was formed in 2008 by partners Bryan Lemos Beça and Steve DiPasquale as a spatial-political research think-tank based in Vancouver, BC. With the primary concern of developing engaging ways to enhance the spatial agency of the citizenry, we undertake both self-generated conceptual projects and community-driven design initiatives. With a critical disposition towards design we seek to enhance public engagement with the built environment, excavating and teasing out new opportunities for interaction, play, and civic awareness. Central to this goal is an understanding that the politics of the public realm are an embodied, lived experience—critical design frees the latent potential of the urban commons.
Surrey Urban Screen: Proposal
The Space of Difference
Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre stands as the primary public building on a site that is a complex of overlapping biological and mechanical ecologies: indoors, the Centre sees hundreds of users move through its spaces each day; outdoors, its sculpted fringes teem with the athletic maneuvers of skateboarders, in-line skaters, and BMXers; adjacent, sports teams race across nearby fields; to the west, Skytrain cars thread their way along the Expo Line's concrete piers; and, to the northwest, condo towers afford occupants expansive views from sky-borne domestic parcels.
Its present diverse energies befit the site's equally plural past. It has been, as it is now, a site of multiple occupations, and multiple edges.
It has, at times, been a stand of Douglas Fir, a productive agricultural land, a home to transient migrants, a sacred place of funerary rites, a pasture for animal husbandry, and a contested cultural and biological landscape.
Spatially, the Centre's immediate context makes manifest a theatre of sorts, renders its west wall a focal point that holds the capacity to gather in the interest of an often mobile audience—the Expo Line hurtles tens of thousands through the Chuck Bailey site every evening. Projecting on Chuck Bailey's 'billboard' an examination of the site's multiple incarnations can enrich our understanding of the site today and help us envision as yet unmade futures.
The passengers on the Skytrain are often passing time in a commuter-induced ennui, or, phrased another way, simply participating in an everyday practice of resolute necessity. For Michel de Certeau, a thinker fundamentally interested in the everyday, this passage through space is not something to be dismissed. The stories that we tell about our movement through the world are inherently spatial, and likewise, the way we tell stories about space are loaded with productive capability. 'Narrative structures have the status of spatial syntaxes', and as such, they 'regulate changes in space (or moves from one place to another) made by stories in the form of places put in linear or interlaced series'.1 The interweaving of past and present speaks not just to a tale of days gone, but to a heightened understanding of the pluralistic reality of the place. Through this movement, a generative spatial story is told, one in which the Skytrain passengers are simultaneously creating, reading, and interpreting.
In excavating the past and present for visual artifacts a host of uncanny pairings—consonant and dissonant—begin to announce themselves. Two important train systems have played major roles in shaping the local environs. Aggressive landscaping practices trope the site, beginning when slash-and-burn techniques first made way for arable land, and then later, when recent occupants set concrete infrastructure down into, and also above, grade. Lamp standards capped with projection boxes bear formal similarity to the tree burial boxes of the Kwantlen people. And the cantilevered canopy atop the youth recreation park evokes the structural logics of tents pitched by transient occupants of the past. The thrust of the project is to stitch these artifacts into a compelling visual narrative.
1. Michel de Certeau. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press (1984), 115.
Left: Jiři Kolář, Baudelaire (Les Fleurs Du Mal) Series, 1972.
Right: Outdoor advertisement, Hornby and Drake Streets, Vancouver, BC.
The project arranges an aleatoric cycle of confrontations between past and present artifacts. But, much like rollage art and rotating billboards, there is embedded in the liminal space of their coupling the potential for something else to be disclosed, a third and uncertain meaning—an allele.
In pursuit of these alleles—the catalysts of unforeseen interpretations—a generative taxonomy of 12 past and 12 present artifacts is created, and a grid constructed to foment their productive collisions. With every permutation performed, 132 distinct possibilities emerge—possibilities, however, that nevertheless require an act of imagination to make real.
Strategically striating the artifacts manifests past and present in a radical simultaneity, as realities that now occupy the same spatio-temporal territory. The jointed pairing of the sliced images demands the active engagement of the viewer: in searching for the allele that resides in the space between the past and present, another possible reality, perhaps a future, is glimpsed. Goats graze in a vertical pasture of condo towers, and the lights of the city beckon through the golden corn fields of an autumn evening.
The vast number of possible combinations of both artifacts and density patterns makes for a work that remains novel for habitual commuters and adjacent residents, groups which will encounter the piece repeatedly, perhaps even several times a night. The system of contingency ensures that no two engagements with the piece will ever be the same: over one-hundred alleles will be seen through an expansive continuum of striated patterns.
The scale and density of the masks are governed by a sinusoidal graph derived from the water level cycles of the Fraser River (as measured at Port Mann, just north of the site).2 The lowest water level, the nadir, corresponds to the coarsest scale of masks in which a binary condition is created between the present and the past. At the median water level, the masks reach their median scale, while at the peak of the water level, the zenith, the masks reach their finest condition. With 100 vertical striations, the images are synthesized into a new composition in which the past and present are collated into a single, timeless interpretation of the space.
2. Environment Canada Water Office. Station 08MH126 Fraser River at Port Mann Pumping Station. http://www.wateroffice.ec.gc.ca/graph/graph_e.html?stn=08MH126
A second webcam will be installed, focused on the Skytrain tracks. The activity of the piece is directly tied to motion in the field of view of the webcam—most importantly, the passing of the Skytrain at regular intervals throughout the evening. The piece begins with a projection of a hyper-real present in the form of video or stills that capture the experience of the site in its most energetic current forms. The motion of the Skytrain serves to mutate the conditions of the wall: as the train explodes into the field of view of the camera, it pushes a temporary, new condition into the piece, a layering of a subjugated past that melds with the present as the train pushes the images into an oscillation of unrest. The nose of the train pushes the masks into place and as the train momentarily occupies the entire field of view, the past and the present are subsumed into a third reality, a unique combination of conditions that provokes glimpses of unmade futures. As the train departs, it pulls this condition with it, revealing a new present condition and preparing a new subjugated past beneath. The piece is again pregnant with possibilities, awaiting the next motion to catalyze its production.
1. The field of view of the webcam is empty. Condition X (a present) is playing without interruption.
2. As the Skytrain enters the field of view of the webcam, Condition Y (a subjugated past) is pushed into Condition X with the motion of the train.
3. As the Skytrain occupies more of the field of view, Condition Y is gradually merged into Condition X.
4. When the Skytrain occupies the entire field of view, Condition X and Condition Y synthesize into a rollage. The present and past become entwined producing a new understanding of the space itself.
5. As the Skytrain begins exiting the field of view, Condition X+Y gets pulled across the façade revealing a new present, Condition Z.
6. Condition Z is gradually pulled across until the train exits the field of view of the webcam.
7. The field of view of the webcam is empty again. Condition Z (a present) is now playing without interruption, awaiting the next train to reveal another subjugated past.
Imagination is the space of difference between present reality and future possibility. Opportunity lives when art demands the public address its participation in its own narrative. By setting forth a framework of imaginative connection, the work offers viewers a place of their own making.
Operative Agency is the product of a profound interest in the agency of the citizenry, explored through the lenses of art, design, architecture, politics and everyday experience. Individually, Bryan Lemos Beça and Steve DiPasquale contribute to a diverse array of creative production in the Lower Mainland. Together, as Operative Agency, they are currently coordinating the spatial aspects of a comprehensive feasibility study for the Safe Amplification Site Society, and were recently recognized with a berth in the Regional Exhibition of the Migrating Landscapes competition as well as receiving the People’s Choice Award for best of show.
Bryan Lemos Beça, educated with a Bachelor of Design from the University of Alberta and a Master of Architecture from the University of British Columbia, has worked for high-profile design firms in the realms of visual communication, architecture and urban design, and is currently an Intern Architect and Urban Designer with regionalArchitects in Toronto. He has operated a successful design firm, Bryan Beça Design, that undertakes projects in a diverse array of scales and media from spatial to visual communication design. He is actively involved as a design educator and critic: as a regular visitor to the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design in Toronto, as an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (UBC SALA) where he has taught design media and tactical information design, and at the Langara College Publishing Program where he taught page layout for magazines and books. He was also a key researcher with the UBC Transportation Infrastructure and Public Space Lab where he helped to develop electric vehicle infrastructure for the province of British Columbia. He has worked with Plumbheavy Design, McRobbie Group, Ekistics Urban Design + Architecture, Pechet and Robb Art and Architecture, Matthew Soules Architecture and McFarlane Green Biggar Architecture + Design.
Steve DiPasquale, educated with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy, a Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies and a Master of Architecture from the University of British Columbia, has broad experience in design at many scales, and has worked for several architecture and design firms in the Lower Mainland. In addition to his earned degrees, Steve has been educated in Industrial Design at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He is currently a registered Intern Architect with Hughes Condon Marler Architects where he is contributing to important civic projects, specifically two libraries in Edmonton, Alberta. He has previously worked for VVV Engineering, GBL Architects, Splyce Design + Build, and Nick Milkovich Architects. He is active as an educator, serving as a Teaching Assistant and regular guest critic at the University of British Columbia School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture.
Bryan Lemos Beça
- Master of Architecture (MArch), University of British Columbia, 2010
- Bachelor of Design (BDes) with Distinction, University of Alberta, 2005
Selected Professional Experience
- Intern Architect and Urban Designer, regionalArchitects
- Toronto ON, February 2013 – present
- Owner and Tactical Media Designer, Bryan Beça Design
- Vancouver BC, 2006 – present
- Researcher, Transportation Infrastructure and Public Space Lab, UBC
- Vancouver BC, April 2011 – February 2013 (part-time)
- Intern Architect, Matthew Soules Architecture
- Vancouver BC, February 2011 – March 2012 (part-time)
- Intern Architect, McFarlane Green Biggar Architecture + Design
- Vancouver BC, June 2010 – February 2011
- Designer, Ekistics Town Planning
- Vancouver BC, June 2007 – August 2008 (interrupted)
- Graphic and Interactive Designer, McRobbie Group Design
- Edmonton AB, May 2005 – May 2006
- Graphic Designer, Plumbheavy Design
- Edmonton AB, April 2004 – April 2005
- Adjunct Professor, School of Architecture + Landscape Architecture
- University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, 2010 – 2013
- ENDS 401 Institutions Studio – Fall 2012 (with Edward Porter)
- ARCH 515 Design Media 1 – Fall 2012
- ENDS 320 Design Media and Representation – Fall 2011
- ARCH 544 Tactical Information Design – Summer 2011
- ARCH 517 Design Media 2 – Spring Term 2011 (with Ian McDonald)
- ARCH 515 Design Media 1 – Fall Term 2010
- Instructor, Publishing Program, Langara College, Vancouver BC, 2011
- PUBL1129 Page Layout – Fall Term 2011
Selected Research Projects
- Electric Vehicle Fast Charge Station Infrastructure in BC, TIPSLab, UBC
- Vancouver BC, April 2011 – February 2013
- Nesting Community: A Housing Strategy for Refugee Integration, UBC
- Vancouver BC, 2009 – 2010
- Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Student Medal, UBC, 2010
- Arthur Hullah and Dorothy Cleveland Memorial Scholarship, UBC, 2008
- Werner Forster Memorial Scholarship, UBC, 2007
- Louise McKinney Scholarship, U of A, 2004
- The Earl of St Andrews Chapter Prize in Fine Arts, U of A, 2004
- Master of Architecture (MArch), University of British Columbia, 2010
- Foundation + ID2, Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design, 2004 – 2006
- Master of Arts (MA), University of British Columbia, 2002
- Individual Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program (IISGP) combined disciplines of Philosophy, Germanic Studies, and Music
- Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy (BA), University of British Columbia, 1996
Selected Professional Experience
- Intern Architect, Hughes Condon Marler Architects
- Vancouver BC, February 2010 – present
- Student Intern, VVV Engineering
- Vancouver BC, May 2009 – August 2009
- Student Intern, GBL Architects
- Vancouver BC, May 2008 – August 2008
- Student Intern, Splyce Design + Build
- Vancouver BC, May 2007 – Jan 2010 (interrupted)
- Student Intern, Nick Milkovich Architects
- Vancouver BC, July 2006 – August 2007 (summers)
- Advertising Coordinator, DISCORDER Magazine
- Vancouver BC, August 2001 – December 2003
- Teaching Assistant, School of Architecture + Landscape Architecture
- University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, 2009 – 2010
- ENDS 402 Final Design Studio – Spring Term 2010
- ENDS 404 The History of Environmental Design – Fall Term 2008 & Spring Term 2010
Selected Symposia + Committees
- Board Member, Craft Council of British Columbia. 2012 –
- Admissions Committee Member, School of Architecture + Landscape Architecture, University of British Columbia, Vancouver BC, 2008
- Refrains: Music, Aesthetics, Politics, Speaker. “The Liveness of the Live: Musical Performance in the Age of Technicity”, 2001
- Elsie Boone Memorial Scholarship, Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, 2004
- University Graduate Fellowship, UBC, 2002
Curated and Designed Exhibitions
- Sense and Scale – Ideas for a World Imagined. Gary Cherneff, Crafthouse Gallery, Vancouver BC. Opening August 27, 2012.
- Curated by Steve DiPasquale.
- SALA Works: An exhibition of faculty research, writing and design. Or Gallery, Vancouver BC. February 25 – March 15, 2012.
- Curated and designed by Bryan Lemos Beça and Matthew Soules.
- SALA Works: An exhibition of faculty research, writing and design. Or Gallery, Vancouver BC. February 25 – March 15, 2012. Work from Bryan Lemos Beça with MSA and TIPSLab.
- Migrating Landscapes Competition: British Columbia Regional Exhibition. Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver, BC. November 3 – 27, 2011.
- Master of Architecture Thesis Exhibition. 221A Artist Run Centre, Vancouver, BC. February 5 – 7, 2010.
- Mountain Mardi Gras. Public Dreams Society. Grouse Mountain, North Vancouver. 2006.
- Viaduct Harpsichord. Dunsmuir Viaduct, Vancouver. November 1, 2006.
Selected for exhibition at the regional level, this competition entry of a video and architectural model sought to reflect on how cultural memory plays a role in our way of thinking about space and home, starting with the prompt of exploring (un)settlement. The video utilizes a fragmented narrative structure that collapses generations of family history into a unified story, representative of the process of personal identity construction. The model presents an abstracted dwelling positioned within a sloping landscape, exploring ideas of tension, rootedness, mobility, instability and otherness. It was resoundingly selected for the People’s Choice Award through public voting over the duration of the exhibition.
Operative Agency Short Film
This short film is centrally preoccupied with the ways in which we interact with the built environment and the structures that enable or prevent us from exerting agency in space. Through a continuous series of shifting binary relationships and oppositions, similarities and contrasts are revealed to produce a specific set of concerns about the city. Each binary is constructed from existing Youtube videos, harvested, curated and juxtaposed. From traffic to political office, skateboarding to public housing, homelessness to stock markets and infrastructure to appropriation, the film explores agency both existing and unfulfilled.
The piece—a howitzer made from traffic safety apparatus—was installed on the boulevard and sidewalk just outside a construction site. Seen in the context of the other traffic safety devices that line the site, the new object registers almost as a chance refiguring of existing equipment, perhaps the result of a storm that miraculously swept these Platonic forms into something recognizable. But beyond its entertaining absurdity lies a critical engagement with the organization and construction of the built environment. Weaponizing traffic safety apparatus—built of plastic and designed to organize the flow of vehicles—transforms these objects into a genealogy of the 20th century city. Read as such, the work suggests that the most important organizational strategy to shape our cities—the grid—is an outcome of our dependence upon the military-industrial-petroleum complex. The piece catalyzes a mood of interpretation in which the seemingly inevitable constituents of our built environment for the moment appear as sinister manifestations of Empire.
The Viaduct Harpsichord draws attention to the acoustic experience of a forgotten site, a void in the city that exists as an interruption, a gap, a dark space. Rather than perceived as dead, the space under the Dunsmuir viaduct is positioned as a cathedral of light: sonorous and sweepingly vertical. The placement of five harpsichord wires along the vertical axis of the light aperture and grounded in the sloping concrete of the ground plane creates a set of musical notes, the pitch of each related directly to the slope of the ground. When played together, the wires produce a dissonant chord—a sonic identity for the space enabling a new, visceral experience.
Collaborators Bryan Lemos Beça, Idette de Boer, Jonas Dodd, Mary Rose Drescher, Alana Green
Kinetic Sound Sculpture
Three microphones—two swinging free from a fan, and one merely spinning in place—are plugged into amplifiers connected to loudspeaker enclosures for the express purpose of producing feedback. By varying the speed of the fan, the user manipulates the duration and spatial coordinates of the magnetic disruption in the audio chain. In controlling speed, the user modulates the character of the sounds. Paradoxically, an organic, elephantine-avian dialogue emerges from the most coarsely mechanical array of equipment and banal signal path.
Re-Ordering Live Experience
The work is designed to offer visitors to William Reifel Bird Sanctuary a hyper-real version of their walk through the park. Participants wear an ordinary bike helmet outfitted with two microphones routed through a laptop computer. Audio signals are subject to real-time digital manipulation in the Radial application before being sent back through headphones also worn by the user.