Case Study —

Cyber-Alchemy 1.0 — circular incentives.

How can the circular economy be actualized?


What is Cyber-Alchemy 1.0?

Cyber-Alchemy 1.0 is the first instance of a panel conference series. The framework applies design-thinking to contemporary societal systems. It is especially interested in the transformational potential of digitlzation.

How can material on material transformations and plenitude.

Key Project Goals

Deploy parametric geometric concepts to create a kinetic design system solving an identified spatial problem.

Role & Responsibilities

Unlinked was developed with Jorge Cornet and Ayesha Ghosh under the mentorship of Chuck Hoberman and Jean Gu in the context of a seminar titled Transformable Design Methodologies pursued in the Fall of 2015 at Columbia University GSAPP. Within our team of 3, my role focused on developing a design strategy and coordinating execution.


Cyber-Alchemy 1.0

Alchemy bears many similarities with contemporary entrepreneurship, lending a wistful lens through which critically observe today's technology practices.

Project Statement

Scope & Constraints

At once a science, a philosophy and an art, alchemy was both a philosophy of nature and a practical technology. Its aim was to understand and transform ordinary materials into extraordinary ones to fulfill goals such as human salvation, eternal life and synthetic gold. While chrysopoeia and the philosopher's stone remain mythical to this day, the quest of alchemy enabled some entrepreneurial patrons to achieve high social and monetary yield, and laid the foundation of modern chemistry, physics, medicine as well as psychology and literature through its elaborate symbolism and visualizations. Practiced in Europe, Africa and Asia over the course of millenniums, alchemy was exercised by scientists, philosophers and artists alike. As such, alchemy is not only one of the most decidedly ambitious material practices known to this day, it was also global and transdisciplinary. These similarities that alchemy bears with the practice of entrepreneurship as we know it in the fourth industrial revolution lend the opportunity to use the old art as a lens through which to critically observe our current situation in the incubators and echo-chambers of New York City. If reading waste as a financial asset enables the circular economy, can the blockchain leverage how online retail brands find their footing on the high street? Waste, retail and currency are three mechanisms of material transformation that are currently mutating and morphing under the muscular pressure of digital culture.

Outcome & Lessons
Hello everyone, welcome to the GSAPP incubator. For those unfamiliar, GSAPP is the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University.This incubator is designed to encourage a wide range of experiments at the nexus of the university, the city and local ways of life. It enables the emergence of expanded modes of professional practice at the encounter with technology, big picture thinking,creativity and high culture. Tonight’s gathering focuses on the agency digital entrepreneurship has on material culture. The world of alchemy will supply a historical lens that distantiates from the current situation and enables to bear a sharper eye on its disposition. Practiced in Europe, Africa and Asia over the course of millennia, alchemy drew together a variety of practices, skills, and knowledge bases. Today, we think of many of these as medical, metallurgical, or perhaps natural-philosophical. Curiously, one of the most highly achieved alchemists is commonly identified as a scientist. Indeed, Isaac Newton, who conceived the principle of gravity, practiced alchemy throughout his life."Newton was not the first of the age of reason: he was the last of the magicians"famously said 20th century economist John Keynes who owned much of Newton’s archive. Sir Newton settled black magic by being the first alchemist knighted by the British crown. This designation relinquished alchemy as an enigmatic, secretive and politically contentious practice. And transformed it into the apparatus known today as modern science. Consequently, alchemy’s most sought after goal, the philosopher’s stone—a material capable of turning base metals into gold and of granting immortality—was gradually abandoned as the activity grew in service of sovereign power.Today, the large-scale dissemination of personal computing enabled by science challenges long established power structures. Through its mobilization of popular optimism, digital entrepreneurship self-drives civilization towards a goal as extravagant as the philosopher’s stone. In The Singularity is Near (2005), Ray Kurzweil describes how the exponential growth of information technology will extend human reach beyond the biological by turning matter into superhuman intelligence. Kurzweil’s law of accelerating returns would enable people to protect their bodies from the effects of aging, making life expectancy limitless. As such, the underlying premise of the digital economy is not very different from alchemy’s quest of eternal life. Furthermore,singularity’s tacit end game of superhuman machine intelligence emulates the turning of base metals into gold in that both are virtuous processes of material transformation. As such, the intelligence of matter is the final objective of both the singularity and the philosopher’s stone. In consequence, it seems plausible to consider digital entrepreneurship as an enhanced form of alchemy.“Future of Alchemy” seeks to examine how contemporary digital entrepreneurship is affecting the material world. Humanity’s long term-future is apparently inevitably the singularity, an inflection point when physical matter outsmarts humans. But how does its short and medium-term stages manifest? If material intelligence is the final aspiration of digital pursuits, is it not paradoxical that it is currently driving us into a state of material confusion so complex it seems beyond repair? Carbon emissions, ocean gyre garbage patches, hunger in simultaneity with obesity, natural disasters, water shortage, the list of chaotic material dispositions goes on. Can the engine of the singularity be re-oriented to sublimate today’s material disposition? Three propositions on new forms of material exchanges will guide our expedition into this subject. Amir Zwickel will explain how on-demand physical retail space can generate meaningful community spaces. Danielle Joseph will reveal how investments can make wasted materials a resource and enable the circular economy. Mike Goldin will describe the potential the blockchain has in impacting human behavior at the intersection with the material world.

Text LinkProject StatementScope & ConstraintsProcessOutcome & Lessons
Cyber-Alchemy 1.0